Frederick Simms and the first armoured car
Was there anything before the tank? Yes, there was. But it’s highly likely you’ve never heard of Frederick Richard Simms. He was quite the innovator – starting the first UK car show and founding the Automobile Club of Great Britain. He also came up with the first use of the word ‘motorcar’ and ‘petrol’. What we’re interested in though, is the fact the he was the first man to put a gun on a car!
In 1899, the Simms Motor Scout consisted of a quadracycle with a maxim gun that was mounted on the front. A single sheet of iron plate wrapped around the cycle to protect the driver from bullets being fired at the vehicle.
To call it an armoured car is a bit of an exaggeration as it was essentially a 4-wheeled cycle with a motor, no real body and less than 4hp. However, it was the start of the concept that you could drive and kill at the same time.
As a war machine, it was far too vulnerable, so Simms decided to go one better. Simms’ Motor War Car was a far more formidable beast and could be argued as the world’s first tank even though it had wheels and not tracks.
Whether it was the first tank or not, it was certainly the start of more effective armoured vehicles. The Motor War Car was an impressive creation built on a Coventry-made Daimler chassis and a German Daimler 4-cylinder engine. It also boasted an impressive 16hp! Enjoy your own armoured vehicle adventure with Tank Driving Days. Jump in a tank with Armourgeddon.
Information from the time states that Simms was a well-known engineer and was making a few of these motor war cars for Vickers Sons & Maxim in 1898. They could be driven on ordinary road surfaces with four speeds and two 8mm Maxim guns mounted on revolving turrets to shoot in any direction.
The armour on the car had a height of 6 feet above the axles, encircling the vehicle like a skirt. It was suspended by springs to prevent possible jarring. The front and rear of the armour was strengthened so it could be used as a ram or for cutting its way through crowds. Simms even thought about preventing anyone from trying to gain access to the vehicle by attaching revolving steel rollers on the top.
At the bottom of the steel plates there was a protrusion of about an inch which would injure the enemy just by passing. It could also be connected to the current of the engine so as to shock anyone trying to mount the vehicle. The cars were to be fitted with a searchlight and include storage space for ammunition and between 3 to 6 men.
The design features that Simms included were pretty horrifying, created to cause maximum injury and destruction to any perceived enemy. Whilst not finished in time for action in the Boer War, the war machine was unveiled at the Brussels Salon de l’automobile in 1902.