CHAPTER XX. The Internal-combustion Engine
We have several times remarked upon the great handicap placed upon the pioneers of aviation by the absence of a light but powerful motor engine. The invention of the internal-combustion engine may be said to have revolutionized the science of flying; had it appeared a century ago, there is no reason to doubt that Sir George Cayley would have produced an aeroplane giving as good results as the machines which have appeared during the last five or six years.
The motor engine and the aeroplane are inseparably connected; one is as necessary to the other as clay is to the potter's wheel, or coal to the blast-furnace. This being the case, it is well that we trace briefly the development of the engine during the last quarter of a century.
The original mechanical genius of the motoring industry was Gottlieb Daimler, the founder of the immense Daimler Motor Works of Coventry. Perhaps nothing in the world of industry has made more rapid strides during the last twenty years than automobilism. In 1900 our road traction was carried on by means of horses; now, especially in the large cities, it is already more than half mechanical, and at the present rate of progress it bids fair to be soon entirely horseless.
About the year 1885 Daimler was experimenting with models of a small motor engine, and the following year he fitted one of his most successful models to a light wagonette. The results were so satisfactory, that in 1888 he took out a patent for an internal- combustion engine - as the motor engine is technically called - and the principle on which this engine was worked aroused great enthusiasm on the Continent.
Soon a young French engineer, named Levassor, began to experiment with models of motor engines, and in 1889 he obtained, with others, the Daimler rights to construct similar engines in France. From now on, French engineers began to give serious attention to the new engine, and soon great improvements were made in it. All this time Britain held aloof from the motor-car; indeed, many Britons scoffed at the idea of mechanically-propelled vehicles, saying that the time and money required for their development would be wasted.
During the years 1888-1900 strange reports of smooth-moving, horseless cars, frequently appearing in public in France, began to reach Britain, and people wondered if the French had stolen a march on us, and if there were anything in the new invention after all. Our engineers had just begun to grasp the immense possibilities of Daimler's engine, but the Government gave them no encouragement.
At length the Hon. Evelyn Ellis, one of the first British motorists, introduced the "horseless carriage" into this country, and the following account of his early trips, which appeared in the Windsor and Eton Express of 27th July, 1895, may be interesting.
"If anyone cares to run over to Datchet, they will see the Hon. Evelyn Ellis, of Rosenau, careering round the roads, up hill and down dale, and without danger to life or limb, in his new motor carriage, which he brought over a short time ago from Paris.
"In appearance it is not unlike a four-wheeled dog-cart, except that the front part has a hood for use on long "driving" tours, in the event of wet weather; it will accommodate four persons, one of whom, on the seat behind, would, of course, be the 'groom', a misnomer, perhaps, for carriage attendant. Under the front seat are receptacles, one for tools with which to repair damages, in the event of a breakdown on the road, and the other for a store of oil, petroleum, or naphtha in cans, from which to replenish the oil tank of the carriage on the journey, if it be a long one.
"Can it be easily driven? We cannot say that such a vehicle would be suitable for a lady, unless rubber-tyred wheels and other improvements are made to the carriage, for a grim grip of the steering handle and a keen eye are necessary for its safe guidance, more especially if the high road be rough. It never requires to be fed, and as it is, moreover, unsusceptible of fatigue, it is obviously the sort of vehicle that should soon achieve a widespread popularity in this country.
"It is a splendid hill climber, and, in fact, such a hill as that of Priest Hill (a pretty good test of its capabilities) shows that it climbs at a faster pace than a pedestrian can walk.
"A trip from Rosenau to Old Windsor, to the entrance of Beaumont College, up Priest Hill, descending the steep, rough, and treacherous hill on the opposite side by Woodside Farm, past the workhouse, through old Windsor, and back to Rosenau within an hour, amply demonstrated how perfectly under control this carriage is, while the sensation of being whirled rapidly along is decidedly pleasing."
Another pioneer of motorism was the Hon. C. S. Rolls, whose untimely death at Bournemouth in 1910, while taking part in the Bournemouth aviation meeting, was deeply deplored all over the country. Mr. Rolls made a tour of the country in a motor-car in 1895, with the double object of impressing people with the stupidity of the law with regard to locomotion, and of illustrating the practical possibilities of the motor. You may know that Mr. Rolls was the first man to fly across the Channel, and back again to Dover, without once alighting.