Lost And Found!
In 1903, Frederic Stanley Bennett, engineer and entrepreneur, imported the first Cadillac, No. 530, into England - even before a Cadillac had reached California. In September of that year, he entered the car in the 1000-mile endurance trial from Crystal Palace, first run in 1900. After a hectic eight days, including an accident with a steam omnibus that necessitated a frenzied dash to London in search of a suitable replacement wheel and an impromptu repair in a nearby cottage, car and driver won their class. Thus was the start of Cadillac in England, not much more than a year after the Cadillac Automobile Company had been formed in Detroit - and a full year before the first Rolls-Royce appeared on the road.
In 1913, after Cadillac's double winning of the Royal Automobile Club's Dewar Trophy - again instigated by the indomitable Fred Bennett - the little one-cylinder car, still sporting its odd wheel, was rescued from its now lowly duties as a delivery vehicle and once again put to the test. Ten years later to the day, and without having carried out any major mechanical overhaul, F. S. Bennett put the car through the exact same rigours of that original 1903 1000-mile trial. This time the test was carried out as a demonstration of the reliability of such an ‘aged’ car from America, many of which at the time did not match the reliability of their European counterparts. Again wholly successful and again authenticated by the Royal Automobile Club, this should have been the end of the story for a gallant, but elderly machine. However, with Fred Bennett in the driving seat, that was not to be.
In 1953, after an unbroken string of London to Brighton runs and presumably as a gesture of defiance to normal reasoning, the 79 year-old Mr. Bennett decided to embark on a golden jubilee run with his 50-year-old, basic turn-of-the-century car. His course would again start from Crystal Palace and follow as near the exact same routes as he had taken both in 1903 and 1913. It would also, as before, start on the same date and at exactly the same time. Overseen on this occasion by the Veteran Car Club, of which he had been a founder member, Mr. Bennett set off each day on the designated return journeys to the Kent, Sussex and Hampshire coasts. On the 26th of September, after eight days driving with only one involuntary stop to clear dirt from the carburettor and two minor repairs, one securing a mudguard stay and the other re-packing the water pump, the intrepid Fred Bennett and his valiant Cadillac triumphed once more.
The epic result was recorded for posterity on a Veteran Car Club certificate, authenticated by the members of the then committee. The certificate confirms that not only was the commemorative run a great feat of endurance but the trial was also carried out at a faster average than in 1903. In fact, such was the enthusiasm with which man and machine were perceived that an eager public from top to bottom of the land – and in America too - followed the daily progress with almost obsessive enthusiasm. Updates were reported in newspapers, broadcasts put out on the radio and even an interview transmitted on the new-fangled medium of television. Having passed well into his eighties, Fred Bennett died within a few years of this masterly feat, and that is where the ‘Bennett’ trail had gone cold.
As the years passed, no more seems to have been heard either of the car or the Bennett family. In the late 1960s, however, Maurice Hendry, Cadillac’s official historian, attempted to trace both the car and Mr. Bennett’s surviving relatives. In a letter dated October 15th 1970 from Veteran & Vintage Magazine the trail went cold, with the words "We believe that Lt. Cdr. G.F. Bennett (F.S. Bennett’s son and then registered owner of Cadillac 530) lives abroad. Further enquiries in recent years yielded no better results, and the matter appeared finally to have come to its natural conclusion.
Then, last year while making tentative enquiries about visiting the Dewar Trophy during the International Meet to be held in September 2003, I was informed that a 1903 Cadillac was still listed to a Mr. Bennett on the official Veteran Car Club register. So, as unlikely as it seemed, a member of the family could have hung onto the car after all. The ‘sleuth’ within me was awakened: I accosted both the National Motor Museum and the Veteran Car Club, using the best of my persuasive powers. After telephone calls, faxes and letters, I was rewarded one evening with a voice on the telephone: that of none other than Julian Bennett, grandson to Frederic and son to the Lt. Cdr. and present owner of Cadillac 530 along with his cousin Jill Coppel in Australia.
Thus, amazingly, after 97 years this famous little car is still in the Bennett family. Furthermore, Julian Bennett has joined the Cadillac Owners Club of GB and intends, eventually, to have the car running once more in the Brighton run – and, at some time, hopes to bring the car to our annual meet at Coombe Abbey, near Coventry. So, welcome to you Julian and thank you for joining the club, and a big ‘thank you’ to all the Bennett family for having, against all odds, hung onto the first ever Cadillac to have graced these shores all those years ago.
Frederic Stanley Bennett with the gallant little 1903 Cadillac after it had covered
nearly a quarter of a million miles, including the three 1000 mile endurance runs.