Invented by American Carl A Neracher in 1919, the hub-centre-steered Ner-a-Car commenced production two years later in Syracuse, New York State. The design met with some resistance in the USA where larger machines were generally preferred, despite its practicality being demonstrated by ‘Cannonball’ Baker, who rode one coast-to-coast from New York to Los Angeles, taking only eight days. US production lasted for only a few years but Neracher’s invention enjoyed considerably greater success in Europe.
The Ner-a-Car was imported into the UK for a short time before a manufacturing licence was acquired by Sheffield-Simplex, a firm better known as maker of fine, and very expensive, luxury motor cars. Although Sheffield-Simplex was based in the eponymous Yorkshire city, Ner-a-Car production began in part of what had been the Sopwith Aviation works in Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey. The basic design remained unaltered: pressed-steel chassis, voluminous front mudguard, hub-centre steering and friction drive transmission, the latter being infinitely variable – in theory – but in practice five ratios were selected by a lever. Whereas US-built models were powered by a two-stroke engine of 221cc, Sheffield-Simplex chose to fit their own 285cc unit. Four-stroke sidevalve and (later) overhead-valve 350cc Blackburne-engined versions equipped with conventional three-speed gearboxes followed.
Endowed with excellent stability and good weather protection, the Ner-a-Car was a great success, its ease of ingress/egress particularly commending it to priests and lady riders. Sheffield-Simplex advertised its products in the high-quality journals of the day and was able to claim numerous members of the nobility among its satisfied clients. Indeed, production only ceased in 1926 because of problems within other parts of the Sheffield Simplex group, and the Ner-a-Car works was taken over by the newly formed Hawker Engineering, which need the space to expand its aircraft manufacturing activities. It is estimated that some 10,000 were produced in the USA and a further 6,500 or so in the UK.
This British-built Ner-a-Car was offered for sale at a local auction in Somerset in December 1987 and purchased there by the immediately preceding owner, one Toomas Rohulaan. The owner before Rohulaan was one William Hazell (see old V5 on file) while the accompanying old-style logbook lists the preceding three owners, the first of whom, Miss Alice Webb, had acquired ‘TA 4643’ in 1929. Owned by the current vendor since September 2011, the machine is offered with a copy of the Western Gazette, an original manufacturer’s brochure, and a current V5C document.
Report by bonhams.com