Unlike many of its Coventry competitors, the Standard Motor Company did not develop from a Bicycle Company but was founded specifically to build Motor Cars. Its founder, Reginald Maudslay was born in London and definitely underwent a privileged upbringing, being educated privately at St. David’s school in Moffat and then at Marlborough College.
His father was Athol Edward Maudslay, a descendant of a famous Engineering dynasty and his mother was Kate Golder Lucas, daughter of Sir Thomas Lucas, patron of a large Victorian Civil Engineering concern.
Phil Homer describes how he founded the Standard Motor Company and its progress to the outbreak of the First World War.
Maudslay seemed destined to follow a career in civil engineering. Sponsored by his family to the tune of 500 guineas he became articled to Sir John Woolfe Barry for five years of training. Barry was an eminent Engineer responsible for Tower Bridge and many other famous projects.
Maudslay clearly excelled because his employer saw fit to pay back £50 in the final year, something that only happened to those pupils that were considered exceptional and to have earned it.
We have to look back to Reginald’s great-grandfather Henry Maudslay ( 1771-1831), another great engineer responsible for the screw-cutting lathe and the first micrometer. Amongst many activities, Maudslay founded a marine engine business on the Thames. The company gained favour with the Royal Navy and was responsible for hundreds of Marine engines to be supplied for the fleet. The company passed to his Son, Walter Henry on Henry’s death, but the family continued this highly successful trade.
Reginald’s cousin, Cyril and his father Walter Henry set up an offshoot of the marine business in Coventry in 1902, principally to build Internal Combustion Engines for marine applications. Reginald, who had been living in some comfort in London must have been taking a real risk when he moved to Coventry to join his cousin’s firm, named as Maudslay Motors.
However, Reginald did not stay with the Coventry concern for long before striking out on his own. Maudslay rented a small workshop in Smithfield Yard and set about dismantling a number of contemporary cars to learn how they worked. In early 1903 he sketched out a drawing for his first Motor Car.
He was assisted in this task by Alexander Craig, a consulting Engineer, who was working with a number of local concerns at that time. He briefed Craig by saying “I want my car to be composed purely of those components whose principals have been tried and tested and accepted as reliable standards, in fact, I will name my car the ”Standard”. The use of the word “Standard” has unfortunately become debased over time. In 1903, it certainly meant something “of the highest possible Standard, something to be looked up to” but it has become debased today. Never the less, the name on the cars soldiered on for 60 years before acceding to another name, Triumph.
By 1905 the company moved into the rarified (for the time) area of 6 cylinder models. This was an area not yet catered for by Rolls Royce, whose name later became synonymous with the breed, so Standard was really breaking new ground. Indeed the company issued a technical booklet, which today we would call a “white paper”, extolling the virtues of smoothness and balance inherent in 6 cylinders, and indeed, an 8 cylinder configuration. Although there is no evidence that the company actually produced an 8 cylinder model, certainly the company’s first 6 cylinder model, an 18/20hp dates from that year.
Another surprise, therefore, is that despite Maudslay’s penchant for 6 cylinder cars, he entered a 4 cylinder 20hp car in the first International Tourist Trophy race on the Isle of Man. The car finished 11th of 44 starters, no doubt good publicity for such a young company.
The company exhibited at the Motor Show of November 1905 and fortuitously, the stand was visited by one Charles Friswell. Friswell was a Motoring evangelist, enthusiast and successful Motor trader operating from substantial premises in Camden Town. He offered to not only take all the output that Standard could produce but also guaranteed the Company overdraft allowing it to expand significantly. In return, Friswell becomes the sole distributor of Standard cars.
Friswell became chairman of the Company in January 1907, effectively demoting Maudslay, who became a salaried employee at that point. Friswells energy showed no bounds. First, he arranged to provide a fleet of twenty 6 cylinder 20hp cars to be made available for the 1909 Imperial Press Conference in London. Later that year, Friswell was knighted for his services to the Motor Industry.
It did however bring Friswell into conflict with Maudslay and his chief Engineer John Budge. Friswell had even greater ambitions for Luxury Limousines, but Maudslay was keen to exploit the market for light cars, which was emerging amongst the middle classes of Doctors and Solicitors. Things had to come to a head and when they did, Friswell offered to buy out Maudslays shares in the Company. However, he was already in debt to the company for vehicles supplied via his London Agency and could not raise the required capital.
Maudslay gathered new investors around him, Charles Band and Siegfried Bettman and they put together a successful counter-offer. Friswell relinquished his role in November 1912 and was replaced as Chairman by Band, a role he was to fulfil until the 1950s.
The end result of this political hiatus was that the go-ahead was given to develop a new small car, the Model S. Indeed it must already have been secretly on the stocks whilst Friswell was still in the chair.
The spring of 1913 saw the launch of the bull-nosed Morris, which immediately became a best-seller, proving the market for a light car really was there. Morris’s approach was to buy in almost everything and just assemble the cars. Standard’s business model was quite different, they were used to designing and building everything in-house and that policy continued into the Model S. This model is so significant, it is important that we spend a little time examining it.
After the behemoths that the company had recently built, the new car was tiny. The new 4 cylinder engine was just 1087cc and was coupled to a new 3-speed and reverse gearbox. The chassis had a wheelbase of just 7’ 6” and a track 4’ and weighed in at just 8cwt. The footbrake operated a clamp on the prop shaft whilst the handbrake operated on drums on only the rear wheels.
The first body announced was a 2 seater Tourer, named the Rhyl, which was catalogued initially at £185. Lots of things were available as options at a cost, however, including an acetylene lighting set, speedometer and an optional dickey seat that folded out of a locker on the rear of the car.
Standard did not put all their eggs in this new basket however and continued to catalogue 4 cylinder cars though the sixes were deleted. It is clear however that the “S” sold like hotcakes, at up to 50 cars a week, and a total of 1933 before the war was declared.
The Company then went over to armaments and aircraft manufacture.
The history of the Company is available here: