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Knight Engine Mystery

Everyone loves a mystery. The only thing they love more is solving the mystery. For mystery-lovers, here's a Transatlantic mystery - but we don't yet have it solved.

Image of brochureAt a vintage paper show a few years ago I was intrigued by a brochure titled The Equipage of King George the Fifth. I opened it up expecting to see a British brochure extolling the merits of a British or Continental vehicle. The surprise - and the root of the mystery - was discovering that the booklet was issued by Willys-Overland Inc. of Toledo, Ohio.

There is a lovely illustration of the car, and a narrative that describes His Majesty's Knight-engined Car. "The Knight-Motored Car now on display in this country under the auspices of Willys-Overland Inc. was built especially for His Majesty King George V of England in 1910 and was used by him from that time until 1924. It was then replaced by another vehicle of the same make, with the same type Knight motor. After 14 years in the service of the King, the car is now touring the United States under its own power."

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Described elsewhere as the "King's Knight" (by Daimler) the vehicle was fitted out luxuriously with features that included "The back body of driver's seat is entirely of wood, and is finished in the Royal colors - maroon with a striping of vermilion and black. The interior is lined with goat skin, a unique feature to those familiar with modern cars. A separate pocket in the lining is provided for each passenger. The interior fittings are complete - cigar and cigarette trays, vanity cases, etc. For the convenience of those in the Tonneau, two speedometers are installed in the front of the rear compartment. One of these registers the trip - in both miles and furlongs. The other registers the constant speed per hour, and the maximum speed per hour during the trip. One speedometer in front gives the driver the same information."

Describing the engine as "The power-plant of royalty" the brochure claims that "In the personal automotive establishments of King George of Britain, the Prince of Wales, and of King Albert of Belgium, the cars most highly favored are those engined with the patented Knight sleeve-valve motor."

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This is not surprising, given that Knight had licensed the manufacture of its revolutionary sleeve-valve engine to parties in the UK and Europe after successful testing by the Royal Automobile Club, and in fact the engine had received additional refinements in England.

The brochure itself explains part of the mystery, by reporting that "On July 20, 1925 this grand old car passed its 176,000th mile, and the engine is today as quiet, flexible and trouble-free as ever - a shining example of the supremacy of the Knight sleeve-valve engine."

Q Now the challenge to all the would-be Sherlock Holmes out there in the United States and the United Kingdom:

  • If the chassis was by Daimler, who did the custom bodywork on the car?
  • Is there any other information about the car's American tour?
  • Does this car still exist today in someone's collection? If not, what happened to it after its American tour?
  • What information is there about the other Knight-engined cars referred to as being in the 'equipage' of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and King Albert of Belgium?

John G. Sayers



This regular feature invites answers by email to members’ questions on an item of ephemera.