The Old Grey Mare

The story behind Leicester Museums & Galleries most beloved objects.

Published: 21 June 2020

Clyde motor car, 1908

Nicknamed the 'Old Grey Mare' by a previous owner, this car was manufactured in 1908 by the Leicester engineering firm of G.H. Wait. Marketed under the name Clyde, this is the sole surviving example left from around 250 Motor cars produced by G.H. Wait & Co. of Queen Street, Leicester between c.1902 and 1930.

The Clyde car has unusual features, including a three-cylinder engine and chain-driven rear axle gearbox. The internal combustion engine within the vehicle was made by White and Poppe of Coventry and is a rare model, especially to still be in working order. The rear of the vehicle is dis-mountable to allow it to be used as a commercial vehicle.

This car illustrates the nature of the fledgling UK motor industry in the early 20th century where market share could still be found by a small local firm employing skilled craftsmen able to produce a range of products.

G.H. Wait & Co. is one of a number of firms listed as being in the motor engineering trade in Leicester in the early 20th century, but no other Leicester firm is known to have actually produced a complete motor car for sale - certainly no other examples survive. They are an excellent example of a company that began making one form of transport and moved into new areas as engine technology progressed and became more affordable.

By the time they folded in 1930, 75% of the UK motor industry was dominated by three factory-based firms using production line techniques and most such local business had been squeezed out of the market.

In the Edwardian era, motor car ownership was restricted to middle and upper classes and in this case, the vehicle is known to have been originally sold to a local doctor for £245 (around £20,000+ today) according to the original sales catalogue.

After two years, Mr. George Wait, the company founder, bought the car back as part of a trade-in on an updated model. It was then used as a company car and a means of promotion, especially as over time it became more of a historical curiosity. The car regularly appeared around the city at various gala events and festivals up to the 1940s. The car was renovated in 1964-66 (including new paintwork and upholstery) but no major components were replaced.

This rare example of a locally made Edwardian motor car can be seen on display at Abbey Pumping Station museum when it reopens as part of the Made in Leicester Gallery