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Gordon Watney – Motorcar Rebuilder, Coachbuilder and Dealer

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Recently there was a popular post here on these pages covering a pioneering female: By Motor to the Golden Gate – Emily Post – 1915. It covered her cross-country trip by car, and even though she did not identify the maker of the chassis or the coachbuilder, the styling of it looked quite familiar. The apparent reason that Post did not reveal who built it was because its chassis was made by Mercedes, and at the time World War I was raging and there was considerable anti-German sentiment. Reader Michael Ling has pointed out that the car was identified in Emily Post, by Laura Claridge in 2009, and also that writer Beverley Rae Kimes had done so in the past.

In Claridge’s book, it was stated: In 1914, Emily agreed to stay in London for a few weeks to get their car remade to Ned’s (Edwin, E.M.) specifications. With Emily’s permission, Ned had ordered a Mercedes for the family. Now he would have it Americanized with parts from the States added on by an English entrepreneur who specialized in souping up Mercedes and providing them with eye-poping aluminum touring bodies, external exhaust pipes…., great disc wheels, and flaming scarlet upholstery”.

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  • Emily Post’s six-cylinder Mercedes with a custom coachbuilt sports touring body.

In the earlier article on Post, we remarked that it: looks very much like it was remodeled in the manner that racer and car dealer Gordon Watney did at the time. Having had the photo at the top of this article for quite some time now, it was clear that Post’s car was possibly wearing coachwork by him. It was only yesterday the photo was it located and compared to the Mercedes that can be seen above. Having done so it looks quite likely that Watney did in fact build the body for this car and if so added three of his signature items, an outside exhaust system, an Auster windshield and disc wheels with Dunlop detachable rims.

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  •                            Advertisement for Gordon Watney’s 135 h.p. De Dietrich Sports Touring Car.

Watney, who was a racer, frequently entered events at the nearby Brooklands Race Track located only 1.5-miles from his establishment. He was also car dealer and rebuilder that at the time specialized in remodeling older Mercedes and other high-quality chassis. The photo at the top of the post shows a 135 h.p. De Dietrich that the dealer had rebuilt and equipped with a Sports body. Behind the glass of our framed image is the press clipping shown above that covers in detail all of the changes and the new coach work built for it.

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Above and below is a one-page advertisement for Watney that was in the May 10, 1913 issue of The Autocar. The Mercedes racing car (above) is identified in the ad as a 1903 60 h.p. model and trophies displayed with it attest to the establishments success with it at the race track. The 45 h.p. Mercedes (below) was offered for sale at 750 pounds, and shares the same styling and construction as both Post’s Mercedes and the De Dietrich did.

Apparently before or during World War I Watney turned the skills of his shop towards the war effort and aeroplanes. A surviving advertisement (1917) lists the outfit as Aeronautical and General Engineers, who were Contractors to His Majesty’s War Office. A January 1919 ad again showed the operation offering the G.W. Sports Body. Through the twenties, Watney sold a variety of small cars at a location on the West Side of London. Do any of our readers have any other early Gordon Watney photos?

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18 responses to “Gordon Watney – Motorcar Rebuilder, Coachbuilder and Dealer

  1. This is a nice lesson in “How to disguise your car”! I hope that at least the radiator was Premier … However I’m not surprised regarding the size of the car that there is a Mercedes underneath. According to my information the Mercedes six was developed in 1913 and there were only few sixes sold before WW1, so this must be one of the rare examples. Could it be one of the 1913 racers, which competed in the Grand Prix de France of that year? I’m not a specialist in this, but maybe someone knows.

  2. Bev Kimes wrote an excellent eight-page article on Emily Post’s trans-America drive in the Sept/Oct 2001 issue of The Star, the national magazine of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America. The trip was also described by Emily in her 1917 book By Motor To The Golden Gate. According to Bev, Ned was actually the driver, not Emily, and they toured Europe in the car, at least until war broke out, at which point they high-tailed it home.

  3. The Mercedes 60HP – in the advertisement showing its trophies – was originally the car in which Jenatzy won the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup in Ireland. According to Bill Boddy (Brooklands: The Complete Motor Racing History), Watney found it “in a dilapidated state in a West End garage.” It was modified and re-bodied as shown.

  4. A friend of mine recently drove across the country on the Lincoln Highway tour driving a 1960’s Dodge Dart convertible. He wrote a little book about his trip, the title of which was “By Mopar to the Golden Gate” as a tribute to the pioneering Emily Post. Her story, “By Motor to the Golden Gate”, by the way is an interesting read.

  5. I think it speaks volumes that we couldn’t figure out what her car was! The reason is that Ms. Post was afraid her readership would lynch her in 1915 if she turned out to be driving a German automobile and so didn’t tell. Poor Mr. Kamp (of the large grocery store on 25th street) in Oklahoma City nearly got killed in 1917 by a mob who hated his being German. Dachshunds=Liberty Dogs Sauerkraut=Liberty cabbage! Sound familiar? We were always xenophobic jerks! I don’t know why we didn’t look at the chain drive cover, that would have ruled out Premier and Locomobile!!

  6. What’s that external housing at the rear axle ? In the book she talks about the trouble the exhaust system gave out west where it was torn off. You can see that would be a problem! They put the car on a flat-bed train car in Arizona for shipment to Los Angeles. I wonder if that was to avoid the long, up-hill slog as you come out of Needles?

  7. Is the first picture in this posting, of her car? …or another Watney special. In the pictures of her car included in the book there appears to be a shaft-driven, differential.

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