The shadowy “Owen” motor car

There have been many examples of “shadowy” makes in motoring history, with little hard evidence of any manufacturing.  Some of these were linked with stock market fraud to fleece investors and customers. The granddaddy of the “shadowy” makes was the Owen, a make with at least six different names, listed on and off for 36 years, no press descriptions after 1902, no road tests, advertisements or even a photo to show that even just one Owen was built.

The first reference to an Owen car was in March 1901, when Edward Hugh Owen announced that the Automobile Transport Company of Comeragh Rd, West Kensington, London was building a 3.5 hp voiturette called the Twentieth Century. By December of that year, Owen told the Motor Car Journal that he was prepared to take orders for 9, 12, 16 or 24 hp cars, with delivery in early 1902. In January 1902 the company name had changed to the Twentieth Century Travel Co, and the cars were now named Lococars. Only one model was described, a 24 hp powered by a 4-cylinder engine. No illustration was forthcoming.

By 1905 the company had reverted to the name of the Automobile Transport Company, and was listing cars under four different names – 10hp Parisia, 20hp Londonia, 30hp Twentieth Century and 40hp Owen’s Gearless. These cars were listed up to the beginning of World War 1, along with a 60hp model listed up to 1913. Cars named Models A, B & C were said to have been made during World War 1. Owen provided details of chassis numbers, but this doesn’t prove that complete cars were manufactured. While most makes would provide names of famous people who drove their cars in publicity materials and advertising, Owen conveniently said “On Application”, thus hiding the fact that no cars had been built and sold.

After World War 1 Owen listed the smaller Orleans model, with 10hp, 15hp and 20hp models. The first 8-cylinder car was listed in 1921 – the Model OE with a 5.3 litre V8 engine, 2-speed gearbox and a starter motor and carburetor of Owen’s own manufacture. A chassis price of £2,250 pounds was quoted, £150 pounds more expensive than a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The car was actually illustrated in the “Buyers’ Guide”, (picture below) but the side view is suspiciously like the American Kenworthy, with slight retouching. The Kenworthy was never offered for sale in Great Britain and would be thus sufficiently obscure to be unknown to most British readers – another example of Owen’s cunning.

 

1921 Owen Eight
The only known photograph of an Owen car.

In 1925 the V8 gave way to 7.6 litre straight-8 engined model with a chassis price of £1850, which was steadily reduced to £1775 in 1929, staying at that price until the Owen disappeared from buyers lists in 1935. Owen never took any paid advertising in any known magazine. All of the lists which contain details of the Owen are in buyers’ guides and insurance manuals, which would have been free insertions.

Two addresses in Comeragh Road pop up in regard to the Owen – Nos 6 and 72. No. 72 is part of a terrace of late-Victorian era houses with no commercial premises. No. 6 consists of a small shops with a flat above, so once gain there is no chance of any manufacturing taking place there. Links to other cars produced around the same time and in the same area show that the Owen was not one of these cars. The most plausible explanation is that EH Owen was a fantasist in the Walter Mitty mould, and judging by all of the contradictions in his history and specifications of the car, not a very good one.

Nick Georgano’s “Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile”, Stationary Office, London, 2000, was used as the source for this blog post.

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