Motoring events to remember: The Ellis Journey 1895 – 2017

In July 1895, the Honourable Evelyn Ellis went to Paris to buy his first motor car. The 4 hp Daimler-engined Panhard-Levassor had been built to his special specification (like the left-hand (!) tiller steering, to have a better view on the road edge), and after some instruction, he drove it from Paris to Le Havre. Nothing special in France, in those days, as cars were built there in rather larger numbers already (his car was Panhard-Levassor nr 394). Not so in Britain, because when Ellis set foot in Southampton, he was the first to import a proper (petrol) motor car. Although steam and some other prototype petrol cars had been tried, it was this machine that would write history. Fortunately, the trip was recorded by Frederick Simms, who joined for the drive from Micheldever Station to Ellis's home in Datchet.

On 2 July 2017, 122 years later, the De Dion Bouton Club UK re-ran this last section, and 21 vehicles (not only limited to De Dion Bouton cars, but with 1904 as the youngest) did the journey. Roy Tubby's 1897 Panhard-Levassor, only two years younger than the original Ellis vehicle, is duly tested for a passenger ride during its warm-up lap. The Phénix twin-cylinder engine gives a surprising performance, the power being brought to the rear wheels (through a four-speed gearbox) via chain-drive, the feeling of speed is 'quite fast'. But the uneven size of front and rear wheels, and the tiller steering, give away the pioneer status of this design: a bit top heavy, and rather direct on the controls.

On the actual run, I am passengering in Andy Watt's 1904 Berliet. The difference between this car and the Panhard-Levassor is massive. Andy's car is equipped with a 40 hp four-cylinder engine of 6,5 liter, and capable of 60 mph ! The six-seater body can luxuriously carry a whole family. Its lines have a great resemblance to the Mercedes of those days, but strangely, the engine's ignition is by make-and-break contact inside the cylinder. It works a treat ! We easily overtake all other cars, which go from quite a few De Dion Boutons (of course), but also representations of the British car industry, like the 1899 Star of Wolverhampton, 1904 Humberette  and the very rare 1904 Norfolk. Mike Everett is bravely tackling the 47 miles on an 1898 De Dion Bouton trike, but like ALL other participants, reaches Datchet without any major problems.

This excellent new event by the DDBUK club happened in glorious sunshine and on stress-free roads. This first edition having had a good start, will hopefully expand, and for future editions any pre-1905  bicycle, trike, motorcycle or car of any make is invited. Keep an eye on Text: Nick Jonckheere, photos Nick Jonckheere & Claire Shek      

Published: Monday July 17th, 2017


  • All are welcome to take part in next years Ellis Journey with any vehicle built before 31 December 1904. make a date in your Diary for next year 30th June / 1st July 2018

  • Pre- 1905 FORD'S anyone?

  • Looks to be a great event, would like to subscribe.

  • So sorry to have missed this event by being away on a wet and windy day in northern Germany. All reports echo those of the Automobile in saying that this is an event which will go from strength to strength. Well done the organisers and put me down for next year please.


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