Is This the Real Mr. McKim?

Did "Genevieve" screenplay writer William Rose choose the name
"Alan McKim" because he happened across  this article
about a Mr. McKim who thought his motor car was best,
and therefore challenged a famously difficult man to a race?
You be the judge.

The Automotor And Horseless Vehicle Journal - January, 1897
His £5000 Challenge, And Opinions On Motor Vehicle Matters Generally.


n our last issue we announced the fact that Mr. J. L. McKim of 81, Canon Street, E.C., had challenged the Motor-Car Club generally, and its president particularly, to a contest, offering to back the Duryea Car, in which he is interested, against any other four-wheeled vehicle of equal horsepower for the sum of £5000.  Nothing having come of this (as the authorities at Holborn Viaduct elected to stand down), a representative of ours recently waited on Mr. McKim to ascertain how matters stood, and to gather his opinions in general on motor affairs.

After some difficulty an appointment was obtained with Mr. McKim, in his handsome offices, which are noteworthy asan example of furnishing in the most tasteful of American styles -- everything that can secure comfort to the visitor, and at the same time facilitate the rapid transaction of the work at hand, having been studied in the arrangements, which en passant are models of what the surroundings of a high-class business establishment should be today. 


The door having been locked to keep out for 10 minutes the thousand and one applicants for admission to the presence of a successful organizer of commercial undertakings, our representative at once asked Mr. McKim whether he had heard anything more from the Motor-Car Club as to his challenge.  To this he replied: --

"No; and the most peculiar part of the transaction is, that while a secretary of the Club tried to obscure the real issue by asserting that speed trials are not allowed in this country, he was at the same moment sending letters to the press offering a prize of £2000 for a Motor-Car Derby, and a special prize for the vehicle which could accomplish a mile in one minute.  I cordially agree with the Automotor -- the opinions of which I like as much as I dislike its title -- that speed is by no means the only, or even the chief, test of a motor vehicle, and that such a competition as proposed by the Club could only, if carried out, bring the industry into contempt and discredit."

 "You are aim then was?"

"Simply this.  I believe -- in fact, I know -- that the Duryea, judged by all the practical points which will appeal to the engineer and the commercial man, is a long way ahead of any other motor vehicle, and I wished to prove that by an open challenge to the President and all other members of the Motor-Car Club to run it against any other vehicle over a course sufficiently long and varied to settle the matter and for a stake large enough to make it worth the winning."

 "Nothing has come of your offer?"

"No, and I do not think Mr. Lawson could take it up -- if he did, defeat for him would be certain, and he is hardly likely to risk another Waterloo just at present.  At any rate, I think the honors remain with me by forfeit."

"Well, as I cannot make ‘copy’ out of a contest which is not likely to take place, will you tell me something of your connection with the vehicles in which we are both concerned and of which my readers would learn all that can be known?"

 "My interest in the motor-car industry first received birth during a conversation which I had many, many years ago -- almost more than I care to remember -- with the inventor of Perkins's steam boiler, which, by the way, was the father of all those made recently for very rapid evaporation, and the engineering world is today perhaps hardly aware how energetically Perkins followed out his system and how fully it has been copied by others. 

Since then, of course, the conditions of English law made it impossible for anyone to carry out very full experiments in public, and it was not until French and American engineers, being somewhat more free from grandmotherly legislation in this direction, turned their attention to applying mechanical motion to street traction that the matter became a fixed idea in my mind that the time would come when this country would have opportunities of handling motor cars with freedom; hence, during the last five years, either personally or through my agents and correspondents, I have visited all the motor engine works in Europe and America, where the power employed was either gas, oil, or electricity."

 "And, as a result, what do you think is the most suitable type of motor for general highway work?"

"I scarcely know how to reply to your inquiry as to what I think the best motor for road traction purposes.  There seems to be so many varying sets of conditions that one should feel nervous in expressing an opinion.  You must remember that I am merely an observer and not an inventor, but I may say I am impressed with the belief that a crude oil motor is an absolute impossibility, and that for several reasons, the principal one of which would be that perfect combustion cannot take place. 

Crude petroleum has for its constituent parts hydrocarbons of varying specific gravity and limits of boiling point, and when the conditions operating for the perfect combustion of any one of its several parts are put into operation, it follows that others must remain more or less outside the range of the combustion which operates successfully on one."

 "As to the fully advertised claim re ‘Master Patents,’ so prominently brought before the notice of the public recently -- are you not afraid of moving in the face of threats such as those made by Mr. Lawson?" 

"I'm somewhat reluctant to reply to this question. 

I do not believe that Mr. Lawson or any of his friends acting for the several companies in which he is interested have possession of any ‘Master Patents.’ Using that word in its correct sense -- and if it is a fact that they have, I should not value the possession of them very much.  I wish to examine the question from the very much broader standpoint of efficiency and economy. 

Curiously enough, the essential point towards the production of a successful motor-car has been altogether ignored by Mr. Lawson in all of his different prospectuses and all his different statements, but I consider that his great parade of claims for ‘Master Patents’ is merely the traditional ‘red herring’ used to prevent people from inquiring too closely as to the more important points of the motors. 

Just think for a moment what effect would be produced on the minds of any board of directors of any railway company, if any engineer were to tell them he held the ‘Master Patent’ for Locomotives.  They would merely smile, and continue to make their engines, or have them made, on lines which embodied the idea of economy of fuel; and these points, efficiency and economy, have been hidden away for very obvious reasons by Mr. Lawson and his friends when speaking of motor cars. 

It would be a very easy matter for me to design a motor-car for traveling to the moon, and I might call it a ‘Master Patent,’ but I believe ‘Old Mother Goose’ went ‘20 times as high as the Moon’ on a broomstick, at least so I read in the nursery, years and years ago, and such baby stories as being the possessor of the Master Patents for motor-cars should be used for nursery purposes, and not for commercial enterprises such as this -- babies might or might not believe, but the average commercial man cannot. 

No, sir, a Master Patent motor-car or motor engine of any sort is today impossible, although the details associated with such cars and engines may be patented with advantage -- however, I believe that Mr. Lawson uses this question of Master Patents merely for ‘red herring’ purposes, and I am satisfied that he and every one of his advisers or sympathizers are very well aware of the fact that the Duryea motor has passed the stage when it is necessary to bolster it up with ridiculous nursery stories of the broomstick style. 

As sole owner of the Duryea Motor-Car European patents I claim that it is the most economical engine -- it is of course known that is the most reliable -- and because of that knowledge I offered to run a Duryea car against any other commercial four-wheeled car of equal horsepower belonging to any other owner, for stakes of £5000 each side.  The Duryea motor has passed the experimental stage, and is established as a certainty, and the engineers associated with it are now developing their attention to efficiency and economy rather than any other phase of the question -- that is, their efforts are in the direction of reducing the amount of fuel necessary for doing a certain amount of work, and this in the end must be the measure of efficiency."

"But surely electricity will be an important factor in our future operations?"

 "No, I do not believe much in electric motors for street traction purposes, principally because of the huge weight necessary for primary or secondary batteries.  I have often been amused to notice the efforts of the owners of such batteries endeavouring to offer their wares to the public by calling very distinct and prominent attention to their weak points.  You will see such expressions as ‘weight reduced by 40%,’ ‘space reduced by 45%,’ ‘plates enclosed in refractory envelope,’ ‘free from risk of short-circuit,’ ‘no loss of capacity with age,’ ‘discharge rate for upgrade work almost unlimited.’  Now these are really and truly the weak points in each cell, and when one or another inventor makes such claims as these, he points to the fact that they are merely comparative expressions. 

When the very best cell available cannot give rapid discharge without seriously spoiling the plate -- when short-circuiting is a constant and ever-present danger, and when they become too old for use in a very short time -- it is not, in my opinion, a thing possible that we, in the present generation at least, shall see commercially successful vehicles running by electric current.  Please again remember that I speak as an observer and not as an inventor.  But if at any moment it be found possible to produce a motor worked by electricity, without the weak points above referred to, I'm prepared to buy it, and pay a very large price indeed for it."

 "What will the future of the industry be and will existing vehicles crystallize into shape, or are we likely to see some absolutely novel departures?"

 "Speaking generally about the motor carriage business, I am disposed to think that there is no motor carriage existing today which in ten years time would be fathered by any prominent carriage builder.  I am more disposed to look at this question from a commercial standpoint, and I feel satisfied that the motor cars of the future will be the work -- not of one man -- but of several working in conjunction, and as far as I am able to see, the most prominent difficulty occurs by reason of the prejudices and jealousies of rival patentees -- each one wanting to consider his own particular invention more prominent than any other. 

This is more particularly so in reference to English and French inventors; American engineers are willing to combine and ‘do a deal,’ pooling their ideas as it were, and making the best effect of a number of different plans, and I am quite satisfied that to secure such men as Mr. Hiram Maxim and Mr. Charles Duryea, with their store of possibilities, their trained mechanics, their educated engineers and assistants, who are fully familiar with every particular connected with high-class motors, is to have hold of everything which is worth having in this department of mechanics."

"Have you any opinions as to the British Motor Syndicate’s attempt to get £3,000,000 for their patents?"

 "I think it would be out of place for me to make any very free comment as to my opinion of the policy followed by Mr. Lawson recently.  Generally speaking, one can be very wise after an event, and now that we know Mr. Lawson has failed so signally, nearly everyone is disposed to say, ‘I told you so.’  I am quite sure that Mr. Lawson could not do better than he has done with the motors which he had at his disposal; you see he had no high-class oil or steam motor to commence with, he had only ‘Master Patents,’ and he was therefore compelled to expend a large quantity of ‘gas’ to ‘puff’ the car along. 

This, of course, accounts for many of the wild statements made by that gentleman, but although this is my opinion I cannot think it was either courteous or wise for the holders of rival projects to flood the papers with their own particular objections and theories at a time when Mr. Lawson was going to the public with his scheme.  I am a great believer in the doctrine of fair play, and wish every man to have a full innings without let or hindrance -- criticising afterwards as much as you choose, but not at the moment when no good effect can be produced.  I think every commercial man interested in motor-car business will recognize the difficulties which Mr. Lawson had to contend with, and whilst sympathetically smiling at many or all of his wild-cat ideas, yet I think he should get credit for anything which he has done well. 

He has most certainly amused the European and American engineers immensely, he has proved conclusively that the comic element is a mistake in company promoting, he has added to be picturesque appearance of your Lord Mayor's Show Day by appearing in a fantastic costume more usually associated with the Whitechapel holiday element at Margate during the summer season, he has driven a ‘pilot car’ (one of the Master Patents, I suppose) to Brighton on Motor-Car Liberty Day (14th November last), and has succeeded in being "all at sea" and in a village blacksmith's shop at the same time (a truly marvelous feat), and he has fully supported one of the traditions of this great city by providing a dinner at the Hotel Metropole, Brighton, in celebration of that day's events, but (how sad it is to use ‘but’) he was evidently still ‘at sea,’ or suffering from the effects thereof, when he failed to recognize the presence of ladies in commencing his after dinner speech on that occasion. 

With this reservation I think Mr. Harry J. Lawson has done well, and deserves to be thought better of than is the case, and I, for one, will always be glad to see his ‘yachting costume,’ his ‘pilot car,’ and his ‘Master Patents,’ in evidence, as long as they add to the pleasure and amusement of engineers generally, and to the profit of Mr. Lawson particularly.”

[At this point our representative thought it well to leave, as his editor has resolved to consign the British Motor Syndicate prospectus, as far as possible, to the region which holds those things which should never have been.]

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