In the early part of the twentieth century, the World’s best car was unquestionably the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.
But a legion of fresh luxury cars soon appeared, and the Rolls-Royce revolution was challenged by Lanchester, Leyland Eight, Hispano-Suiza, Ensign, Farman… and the Sheffield-Simplex.
And yes, for loyal younger readers… Sheffield could and should have been a centre for car production.
The Sheffield-Simplex owed its success to Earl Fitzwilliam, from Wentworth Woodhouse, whose attempt at the Templeborough works to make the finest motor car in the world very nearly succeeded.
The company received financial backing from the Earl, the first few cars called Brotherhoods, and were a continuation of the Brotherhood-Crocker cars made in London in which he had been an investor.
Brotherhood sold the London site in 1905 and moved to Peterborough but could not get permission to build a car factory, so the Earl suggested a move to Sheffield where he built a new factory in Tinsley.
In 1908, the first cars to bear the Sheffield-Simplex name appeared designed by Percy Richardson, ex Daimler and Brotherhood. The LA1 had a six cylinder 6,978 cc engine and three speed gearbox.
It was joined in 1908 by the LA2, intended for lighter open bodies which did without a conventional gear system.
Four smaller cars joined the line-up in 1910 but lasted only one year, and in 1911 were replaced by the LA7 with a six cylinder 4,740 cc engine.
Sheffield-Simplex considered their only rival to be Rolls-Royce and even opened a London showroom in Conduit Street very close to theirs.
During World War One, the company made armoured cars which were supplied to the Belgian and Russian armies, as well as making ABC Wasp and Dragonfly aircraft engines and munitions.
Car production resumed in 1919, and judged by pre-war standards, the Simplex was a very fine car indeed. But it was also very costly, and it never again captured the exclusive market.
Sheffield-Simplex went into steep decline, building a few Shefflex trucks and the Ner-a-Car fully enclosed motorcycle to the designs of the American, Carl A. Neracher. When the doors finally closed, around 1500 cars had been made during the company’s history… and it seems that only three survive, two of which are at Kelham Island Museum.