Frederick Simms

Young Engineer who started the Daimler Motor Syndicate 

Early Years – Meeting Gottlieb Daimler

Frederick Simms

Frederick Richard Simms was born on 12 August 1863 in Hamburg of an old Warwickshire family, the son of Frederick Louis Simms and his wife Antonia Hermans.  His Birmingham-born grandfather had established a trading company there to support the Newfoundland fishing fleet, but lived in England for most of his life.  Simms became a British mechanical engineer, businessman, prolific inventor and motor industry pioneer.  He also coined the words “petrol” and “motorcar”.

In 1889 (aged 26) he was visiting the Bremen Exhibition where he was captivated by the small ten-passenger rail-cars that were busily taking visitors around the Exhibition showground.  Simms had been looking for a small self-contained power source for a venture that he was hoping to market.  This was an overhead passenger cable-borne carriage system that would bring visitors to exhibitions, showgrounds and funfairs the sensation of flying.  He enquired about the rail-cars and was told that the engines were made by a man called Gottlieb Daimler.  Simms lost no time in seeking out the inventor, who, though he was twice Simms’s age, recognised a kindred spirit.  Daimler explained what he was trying to do and the problems that he was encountering, especially with the steamboat lobby.  He also told Simms about his work on a new engine for a motorcar, which was then in-build so Simms must have seen it.

Maybach and Daimler continued with the development of their new two-cylinder Vee engine and fitted it to a motor car of their own design.  Although Daimler had set out from the onset to produce an engine specifically for a ‘horseless carriage’, he did not spend as much time on the design of the actual carriage.  This drew heavily on the standard carriages of the day, modified only for steering purposes and for the engine, which was mounted under the rear floor.  However, Daimler’s car was practical and he exhibited it at the 1889 Paris Exhibition.  Although it did not create as much interest with the visiting public as he would have liked, it did, however, attract Messers Panhard and Levassor, who developed the Daimler engine in France and began to manufacture automobiles of their own in 1891.

Simms had, by now, really got to know Gottlieb Daimler and was very interested in doing business with the German engineer.  He was also involved in another prank that Daimler played with his new boat at some military manoeuvres in Potsdam.  Daimler’s boat was capable of a speed of 12 knots and he announced his intention of demonstrating the vessel on the Wannensee near the Kaiser’s palace at Sans Souci.  Unfortunately, Daimler had already sold the boat and the new owner (who had not yet taken possession) was displeased that it was going to be used to upstage the official demonstration by the Marine Salvage Corps in front of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  He issued a writ to stop Daimler, but the vessel was already on the lake and making great progress with Simms, Paul and Daimler on board.  An official trying to serve the writ set off after the Daimler, but he was in a slower steam-powered launch and simply could not catch up.  The writ was not served.  Watching the spectacle was the Kaiser and he was very interested in the Daimler, so much so that he invited Simms to explain the petrol launch to him.  History does not record what the customer of the Daimler launch had to say about the episode.  He was probably pleased that his boat had attracted the attention of the Kaiser.

British Rights to Daimler and Formation of The Daimler Motor Syndicate

Frederick Simms

Meanwhile, Simms decided to take up an agency for Daimler engines and acquired the British rights, which includes the rights to sell in the British Empire and Dominions.  A letter written by him on 8 February 1891, to his London solicitor contains the first recorded use of the term ‘motor car’.  ‘I have started a department for petrol motor boats  and cars,’ he wrote, ‘and I have concluded an agreement with the Daimler Motor Company of Cannstatt which has just been turned into a limited company.  I am going to exhibit a motor car at the German Exhibition at Earls’ Court, London, and I want to run a beautiful motor boat on the Serpentine to show the grand thing in England which I have secured.  The motor is unequalled, no smell, quite dangerless, fifty per cent cheaper than all other motors and with a very small consumption, viz 2 lbs. per horse-power hour.’

Daimler appointed Simms as their British agent and, as a show of good faith, decided to lend him one of their motor launches.  This was a good move as the existing Locomotives on Highways Act in Britain made it virtually impossible for Simms to import a Daimler Motor-Wagen (motor-car) for demonstration purposes.  For the Earl’s Court Exhibition a single Daimler 1 hp engine was shown on the Dresden stand driving a chocolate-making machine.  Not quite what Simms had in mind.  Undaunted, he despatched his German mechanic Johann van Toll to make ready the Daimler boat, which was operational by May 1892 on the River Thames by Putney Bridge.

The Daimler agency proved so successful that in 1893 Simms founded the Daimler Motor Syndicate.  Two years later, Simms announced his plans to form the Daimler Motor Company Limited, to build Daimler engines in this country.  The motor launch business flourished and Simms rented a railway arch beneath Putney Bridge Station, for £25 per annum, as a workshop.  One of those who had purchased a Daimler-engined launch was the Hon. Evelyn Ellis, a wealthy landowner.  He also purchased a Daimler-powered Panhard et Levassor in Paris and for some time kept and drove it in France, as the unreasonable Highways and Locomotives Act of 1878 meant he was unable to run the car on British roads. 

In parallel with his motor-boat and motor-car interests, Simms was trying to develop a Daimler motor powered ticket machine and he resigned as Director of the Syndicate from 31 December 1894, with his place being taken by Thomas Instone, a Scottish ship’s engineer who had moved to Birmingham.  The ticket machine venture was a failure and returned to the Syndicate in April 1895 with Instone stepping aside to allow Simms to re-join the board.

However, after a change in the Act on 3 July 1895, and the car was licensed by Daimler Motor Syndicate, it arrived in Britain.  Ellis drove the 3½ hp car from Southampton docks to his home at Datchet in Berkshire at an average speed of 8 mph (13 km/hr) without incident, either mechanical or from the law.  He had collected Simms from Micheldever Station, north of Southampton and Simms accompanied him the rest of the way to Datchet.  Ellis converted part of his stable at Datchet to store the car and from the French word ‘garer’ meaning to store, he coined the term garage!

Frederick Simms in his 1895 Cannstatt-Daimler

It must have been quite a drive; this was the first petrol motorcar to be seen on the roads in Britain, whole villages turned out to see it pass, and from Simms’s account, it did not frighten the horses!  Later, Ellis would make the first long journey by car in Britain when he drove a Coventry-built Daimler from his home to the Malvern Hills.

The stage was now set for cars to be imported and manufactured in Britain.  Following this demonstration of motor-power the Daimler Company received many orders and enquiries about the car.  Consequently, they took out a licence with Panhard et Levassor, and would receive ten per cent commission on British sales.

In June 1895 Simms and Ellis bought, in France, and brought to England, one of the first petrol–powered cars into the UK.  In 1895 Simms bought himself a belt-driven Cannstatt-Daimler, which he imported to England.  Ernest Instone (Thomas Instone’s son) joined the company in August 1896 and within days was shown how to drive Simms’ new Canstatt-Daimler by Simms’ mechanic, Johann van Toll.  This car was later displayed at Crystal Palace, driven on the inaugural Brighton Emancipation Run and he continued to drive and demonstrate it for the next couple of years.

Shortly afterwards everything was about to change as an enterprising and colourful company promoter named Henry Lawson entered the picture.

Henry J Lawson and The Daimler Motor Company 

Following a very profitable purchase and flotation of the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company,  Lawson had formed the British Motor Syndicate and started buying up patents in an attempt to gain control of the nascent British motor industry.  On 15 October 1895 Lawson’s syndicate offered Simms £35,000 to acquire his Daimler patent rights.  Simms sold out, repaying all his initial investors and returning them 200% of their original investment – an excellent rate of return in less than three years.

He remained as a consultant, and the new Daimler Motor Co. Ltd. (DMC) was registered by Lawson on 14 January 1896.  Daimler was appointed to the board for two years, but there is no record of him attending any meetings.  Ellis was listed as a director in the prospectus.  Lawson wasn’t listed, possibly to keep his name out of the press due to some of his previous financial dealings, although he was subsequently nominated to the board and became the Company’s first chairman.

In early 1896, Simms was appointed as a director of Stuttgart’s Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) which later became Daimler-Benz.  He remained consulting engineer to Lawson’s The Daimler Motor Company Limited but, perhaps wisely, did not join its board of directors.

On 7 November 1896 Simms drove his Cannstatt-Daimler in the parade at the London’s Lord Mayor’s Show.  Exactly one week later on 14 November 1896, Simms and Daimler used the same car to take part in The Motor Car Club’s Emancipation Day procession from London to Brighton.  Co-organised with Lawson, the event celebrated the lifting of the speed limit under the Locomotive Act which had required vehicles to travel no faster than 4 mph (6.4 km/h).  Lawson piloted the lead car on the run and the Mayor of Brighton later recalled (in 1935) that Lawson had handed out a printed report of his participation in the run – two days before it happened.

Before the purchase of the Daimler ‘Motor Mills’ in Coventry, Simms had recommended the purchase of a factory in Cheltenham and felt that the new company was not what he had wished for and resigned in 1897.  

After Daimler

Simms went on to found the Automobile Club in 1897 (which became the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in 1907) and then in 1902, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).  Simms with other motor manufacturers in February of 1902 to discuss industry related issues and the SMMT was created on 22 July 1902, with Simms elected as president. The principal aim of the Society was to exercise control over motor shows and the first SMMT exhibition was held at Crystal Palace in January 1903, then later moved to Olympia where it remained for 32 years.

Simms’ Motor War Car

1902 Simms Motor War Car

Simms’ Motor War Car was the first armoured car ever built.  It was designed and ordered in April 1899 and a single prototype was built by Vickers, Sons & Maxim on a special Coventry-built Daimler chassis with a German-built Daimler motor.

Due to various mishaps, including a gearbox destroyed by a road accident, Vickers was unable to deliver the prototype until early 1902, and by then the South African (Boer) wars were over.  The vehicle was an improvement over Simms’s earlier design, known as the Motor Scout, which was the first armed (but not armoured) vehicle powered by a petrol engine.  Simms drove it from Coventry to London to be fitted with its armour plating and guns.  

The vehicle had Vickers armour, 6 mm thick, and was powered by a four-cylinder 3.3-litre 16 Horsepower Cannstatt-Daimler engine, giving it a maximum speed of around 9 miles per hour (14.5 km/h).  The armament, consisting of two Maxim guns, was carried in two turrets with 360° traverse. Some sources also mention a single QF 1 pounder pom-pom.

Fully equipped, the vehicle had a length of 28 feet (8.5 m) overall, with a beam of 8 feet (2.4 m), a ram at each end, two turrets, and two guns.  It was “capable of running on very rough surfaces” and was designed to be operated by a crew of four men.

When it was presented at the Crystal Palace in London, the Army did not even turn up and the War Car was never commissioned.

Simms-Bosch Magneto

Simms-Bosch Magneto

In conjunction with German engineer Robert Bosch, Simms invented, developed and patented the Simms-Bosch ignition magneto. 

It enabled engine designers to precisely time the ignition of fuel because it was tied to the rotation of the engine. 

Their initial low-tension system was not an unqualified success but they became the first to develop a practical high-tension magneto. 

In 1899 they established the jointly owned Compagnie des Magnetos Simms-Bosch but it foundered in 1906 on personal differences between the partners.

In 1907 Simms established the Simms Magneto Company Ltd to manufacture magnetos under licence from Robert Bosch but he was unable to compete with European prices and it closed in 1913. 

He had however, contributed to Bosch’s business by his stimulus to their further product development and in opening up the French market for Bosch.

Simms Manufacturing

1898 Simms-Welbeck

In 1900 Simms set up Simms Manufacturing Company Ltd in Bermondsey, south London and moved the business in 1902 to Welbeck Works in Kimberley Road, Kilburn. 

There they made Simms-Welbeck cars, lorries and marine engines, fire engines, agricultural vehicles, military vehicles and guns, and aeronautical devices until about 1908. 

Pneumatic Bumpers

US Patent 814171
Impact Absorbing Buffers

While at Welbeck Works,  Simms invented a system of  pneumatic, impact absorbing buffers for use on motor vehicles.   These were metal bumpers, one per corner, attached to spring-loaded brackets which would slide longitudinally back into the chassis frame upon impact. 

They had the added benefit that a rubber buffer attached to the front of the bumper bar could be either leather filled, or pneumatic and inflated in the same way as the car’s tyres and would absorb low speed impacts without any damage.

He patented these in Great Britain in 1905 and in USA in March 1906. 

Simms Motor Units

In 1913 Simms started Simms Motor Units Ltd, at first to sell and repair components, in particular dynamos and magnetos.  In World War I it became the principal supplier of magnetos to the armed forces, mainly from his Simms Magneto Company Limited of New Jersey which he had established in 1910.  Another subsidiary was set up in 1915, Standard Insulator Company Limited.  In 1920, following the virtual destruction of the Kilburn works by fire, the company took over a former piano factory in East Finchley, north London.  A separate subsidiary to manufacture Simms-Vernier couplings (a method of adjusting the magneto’s ignition timing) was set up in Lyons, France.  During the 1930s the factory developed in conjunction with Leyland Motors a range of diesel fuel injectors, in particular the Uniflow injection pump of 1937.  In World War II the company again became the principal supplier of magnetos for aircraft and tanks, also supplying dynamos, starter motors, lights, pumps, nozzles, spark plugs and coils. Experimentation with compound metals for electrical contacts led to the formation of Compound Electro Metals Limited.

Frederick Simms died on 22 April 1944 aged 81, at his home, Storth Oaks, Walden Road, Chislehurst.


Postscript – Memorials

Frederick Simms’ name and contribution to the motor industry has been immortalised with a number of memorials.

1) – Simms Grave – Chislehurst

Simm’s ashes are placed at a memorial just inside the Lychgate of the Annunciation Church in Chislehurst, Surrey, below a large white memorial which is a copy of Michaelangelo’s Pieta in St Peter’s, Rome, accompanied by a bronze plaque.

Sadly this bronze plaque has been stolen (2020) presumably to be melted down for scrap, and the JDHT together with the Chislehurst Society are trying to raise funds to replace this with a marble one which can’t be melted down, together with a matching one for his wife.

2) – Simms Gardens – Finchley

Simms’ East Finchley factory continued to expand after the war, eventually reaching 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2), and the company took over many other firms.  Simms Motor Units was itself taken over by Lucas CAV in 1968.  Manufacturing in East Finchley was steadily run down as UK manufacturers lost market share.  The factory closed in 1991 to be redeveloped for housing. 

Simms is commemorated by Simms Gardens alongside Lucas Gardens on the new housing development.

Blue Plaque in Ranelagh Gardens, Fulham, London SW6 (Nick Harrison)

3) – Blue Plaque – Fulham

A blue plaque affixed to a Railway Arch at Ranelagh Gardens, Fulham, SW6 commemorates the location of his first workshop.

Beneath this arch was situated the first workshop of
1863 – 1944

4) – The Simms Medal – RAC

The Royal Automobile Club
Simms Medal (RAC)

The Royal Automobile Club Simms Medal is awarded to recognise a genuine contribution to motoring innovation by individuals or small companies.

Like the RAC’s other major award for British engineering, the Dewar Trophy, the Simms Medal is awarded only in the years when an example of sufficiently innovative automotive design and/or manufacture has taken place, rather than being an annual award.  The Simms Medal is complimentary to the Dewar Trophy, and the two awards are made in a joint ceremony.

The Dewar Trophy Technical Committee is responsible for choosing the recipients of the Simms Medal.  The Committee is composed of several automotive industry experts who meet regularly throughout the year to discuss candidates and submissions.

The Royal Automobile Club Simms Medal Winners 2003 – 2019 (Source: RAC)



First winner

Mr. Mick Hyde of Radical Motorsport for the SR3 sports racing car.


Professor Gary Savage of B.A.R. Formula 1 Team for the team’s carbon fibre gearbox.


Mr. Simon Saunders of Ariel Motor Company for designing the Ariel Atom sports car.


Mr. Bill Gibson of Zytek, for developments in the fields of motorsport and electric vehicles.


Mr. Richard Parry-Jones CBE, in recognition of his immense contribution to the UK and world automobile industry (as the Ford Motor Company Group Vice President and Chief Technical Officer).


World Steam Land Speed Record team, with a special dedication to former Project Manager, the late Mr. Frank Swanston, for breaking the 103 year-old world record and raising it to an average of 148.308 mph over two consecutive runs over a measured kilometre.


Ben Bowlby for his brilliant realisation of the ground breaking DeltaWing racing car.


Lord Paul Drayson for setting four Electric World Land Speed Records for sub-999 kg vehicles.


Williams Advanced Engineering for the design, development and production of the battery powering Formula E racing cars.


Riversimple for the development of the Rasa hydrogen fuel cell electric car.


HIPERCAR Consortium for the development of the HIPERCAR.


Zef Eisenberg:  A man driven by technology and daring and very successfully – demonstrating its potential in the most extreme manner.


Author:  Tony Merrygold

© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (unless stated)


Sources and Further Reading: