George Edward Milligen Collection: Steam Cars

This page provides information and photos of the steam cars that are known to have been in George Milligen's collection.

Gardner-Serpollet Steam Car 1905

This is a Gardner-Serpollet 18 hp Type L steam car. Unlike most of the cars listed here that were auctioned in 2004, George's family kept his Gardner-Serpollet but then decided to sell it 5 years later at the Bonhams Royal Air Force Museum sale in Hendon on 20 April 2009.

Leon Serpollet and his brother Henri were early French steam car pioneers and worked together on a 'flash tube boiler' that proved to be an efficient and new way to produce steam. After further development its advanced design and quick steam output made the use of steam power in an automobile more practical. They made a steam tricycle in the late eighteen-eighties to test the principle and soon convinced others of the merit of the design. They entered four Serpollet vehicles in the Le Petit Journal Contest for Horseless Carriages competition from Paris to Rouen. Two failed to finish but the others took 14th and 16th places.

A flash boiler is a type of water-tube boiler with the tubes close together. Water is pumped through the flash boiler to make steam as required differing from a monotube steam generator in which the tube is permanently filled with water. The tube is kept so hot that the water feed is quickly flashed into steam and superheated.

Flash boilers are lighter and less bulky than other types, and take less time to raise steam from a cold start but they are more prone to overheat as there is no large reservoir to cool the tubes if the water flow is interrupted or runs out. Similar principles were employed in the design of Lamont boilers that were used in the construction of Steam Gun Boats during WW2 to hunt down German E-boats.

Steam from Serpollet's flash boiler was fed into a very advanced four-cylinder enclosed engine similar to the contemporary petrol engine design and included poppet valves and an enclosed crankcase.

In 1898 the brothers met Frank Gardner, a wealthy American. They formed the Gardner-Serpollet Company which began producing cars in 1900. Leon Serpollet became the first driver of a non-electrically powered car to hold the Land Speed Record. His ovoid steam car Oeuf de Pâques (Easter Egg) reached a speed of 75.06 mph over the flying kilometre on the Promenade des Anglais at Nice, France on 13 April 1902, exceeding the long standing record of Camille Jenatzy's La Jamais Contente. I have not been able to find any information about how many cars the company made overall.

Donald Osborne said this about the car on Keith Martin's Motorcycle Collector website [4]:

This Type L Steamer was sold new in London to C.W. Wilding-Jones, who lived 150 miles away in Cheshire, but after him the car's history is sketchy until 1946. However, the trail since then is clear, and Milligen bought it in 1957. He drove it a great deal in his 47 years of ownership, recorded his trips in detail, and rebuilt and improved it mechanically. He and the car participated in the London-Brighton run in 1984, '85, '86, and '90 and would have been there in 2001, except the transporter broke down.

The car is large and sophisticated for its time, with Tulip Phaeton four-place coachwork, Cape Cart top, two-piece windshield, and a roll-forward cover for the chauffeur. Lights are Polkey oil headlights and Frankonia oil sidelights. Dashboard equipment includes a Watford 60 mph speedometer, Royal Motor Clock eight-day clock, and pressure and steam temperature gauges.

The car was dated 1904 by the Veteran Car Club in 1950, though subsequent evidence suggests it was built in early 1905. However; the period document means it is "grandfathered in" to the London-Brighton event.

This 1905 Gardner-Serpollet 18hp Type L Steamer sold for $345,100, including buyer's premium, at the Bonhams Royal Air Force Museum sale in Hendon, England, on April 20, 2009. While all eyes were on the Supermarine Spitfire sold by Bonhams for over $2.5m in their April sale, a rather more remarkable result occurred on quite a different lot. This Edwardian steamer from France flew, relatively speaking, 55% over its high estimate of $222k to sell at $345k. The sale of the Gardner-Serpollet Type L at such a level was clearly down to an auctioneer's dream confluence of circumstances. A rare car, believed to be one of two surviving, out of well-known long-term ownership, and with a coveted VCC certification of eligibility for the London to Brighton run, it was sure to excite eager would-be owners.
George Milligen's 1905 Gardner-Serpollet Registration AH 100 Steam car at auction in 2009 [4]

The car came up for auction again in 2014. The Norwich newspaper the Eastern Daily Press published an article on 22 Oct 2014: [7]

The 1905 Gardner-Serpollet 18HP Type L Phaeton Steamer, with its early Norwich number plate AH 100, was bought by Stalham farmer George Milligen for £450 from Suffolk harpsichord maker and steam car enthusiast, Alec Hodsdon in 1957, when the average weekly wage was £12.

While £450 in today’s money would be about £9,467, the car's value has rocketed and at Bonhams on April 20, 2009, it sold for £238,000.

Now it is expected to fetch between £340,000 and £360,000, when it is auctioned at Bonhams in London on Friday, October 31.

Auctioneers Bonhams said: "The late George Milligen was no ordinary Norfolk farmer. Born into a privileged family, his father being a successful industrialist, George's decision to embark on a farming career was a bold one and from the outset he saw the advantages of mechanised farming at a time when the horse was still a most frequent sight on Norfolk farms.

"This foresight undoubtedly contributed to George's success in his farming career and this in turn enabled him to indulge his passion for all things mechanical, provided that they intrigued his inquisitive mind. Around his East Ruston Manor Farm, at Stalham, the mildly eccentric Milligen was a familiar sight in any one of his amazing collection of early motor cars, whether at high speed at the wheel of his 1929 supercharged Mercedes-Benz SSK, tootling along in his 1909 AX Renault, or more spectacularly keeping the pressure up on one of his steam vehicles.”

Nearly 60 years after Mr Milligen bought his 1905 Gardner-Serpollet Type L Steamer, the car is still going strong and is due to take part in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run on November 2.

In the 2010 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, it was voted the historically most important car in the event.

Mr. Milligen’s Cars

At his East Ruston Manor Farm, at Stalham, the late George Milligen quietly and patiently put together one of the finest collections of veteran and vintage cars ever assembled in Norfolk.

At a Bonhams auction at Goodwood, near Chichester, Sussex, on September 3, 2004, a total of 38 of Mr Milligen’s cars, along with his steam and marine engines and automobilia, sold for more than £6m. One car alone – a 1929 7.1-litre Mercedes Benz 38/250 Model SSK, which Mr Milligen had bought for £400 sold for a staggering £4.18m.

Mr Milligen was in his late 40s in 1957, when he bought the 1905 Gardner-Serpollet Type L Steamer.
George Milligen's 1905 Gardner-Serpollet Registration AH 100 Steam car at auction in 2014 [5]
George Milligen's 1905 Gardner-Serpollet Registration AH 100 Steam car at auction in 2014 [5]

In summary, George Milligen purchased the car from Alec Hodson a harpsichord-maker who lived in Lavenham, Suffolk in 1957 for £450. It was sold to an unknown buyer at auction in 2009 for £238,000 and again in 2014 for £371,100.

White Model 'O' Steam Car 1909

This is a White model 'O' steam car with a 15 hp engine and double phaeton coachwork by Cann of Camden Town.

I was not familiar with the term 'phaeton' but Wikipedia describes it thus:

The term phaeton had historically described a light, open four-wheeled carriage. When automobiles arrived it was applied to a light two-seater with minimal coachwork. The term was interchangeable with spyder, derived from a light form of phaeton carriage known as a spider. Originally meant to denote a faster and lighter vehicle than a touring car, the two terms eventually became interchangeable.

A detachable folding or rigid roof could be added before a drive in preparation for inclement weather, and side curtains or screens could be installed once the roof was in place. This was mainly temporary and partial relief rather than the more permanent, watertight protection offered by a convertible. As a result, a phaeton was much lighter than the sturdier, weather-ready convertible. Since the body was entirely open, it was easy to add or remove an extra row of seating where space had been left in the original construction. A phaeton differs from a convertible in having no winding or sliding windows in the doors or the body, and no permanent roof, whether rigid or folding.

There were also double phaetons, with two rows of seats, triple phaetons, or even closed phaetons.

Rollin White was a great name in US steam car production. He had started business making sewing machines but branched out into steam cars after devising an effective and quick-steaming flash boiler in the 1890s. His cars were said to be unmatched in near-silent running. A White 'M' model was the first car to be driven by a President of the United States when President Taft drove one in 1909; it is preserved by the United States Historic Vehicle Association. William (Buffalo Bill) Cody also owned one. George purchased this car in 1957 for £650.

White Steam Car
White Model 'O' steam car Reg. D 3818 at the Veteran Car Club rally in 1953 [4]
White Steam Car
White Model 'O' steam car Reg. D 3818 ready for auction in 2004 [4]

The estimated sale price in the 2004 Bonhams auction catalogue was £40,000-£60,000. It sold for £62,000 including premium.

Salvesen Steam Cart 1896

This is an 1896 Salvesen steam cart with no registration. The vehicle was once part of the collection of John Cuthill Sword; it was a number of cars that George purchased when Sword's collection was auctioned after his death in 1960. The Salvesen family came to Scotland from Norway in the mid 19th century with Christian Salvesen founding the shipping company that bears his name on the port of Leith near Ediburgh. This steamer was designed and built by a member of the family who used it on his estate at Polmont. George is believed to have driven it briefly but seems then to have put it into storage. It was cleaned up before the 2004 auction.

Salvesen Steam Car
Salvesen steam cart in storage at Manor Farm prior to the 2004 auction [4]
Salvesen Steam Car
Salvesen steam cart ready for auction in 2004 [4]

The photo below from a Bonhams auction in 2017 shows this steam cart once more for sale. It sold for £158,300 [6].

Salvesen Steam Cart formerly owned by George Milligen [6]

The estimated sale price in the 2004 Bonhams auction catalogue was £50,000-£70,000. It sold for £69,700 including premium.

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