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24 September 2021

A Wheel of a Time: Treatment of a 1908 Argyll motor car (Part I)

argyll motor poster

Recently the team at the Leather Conservation Centre had the pleasure to work on one of Britain’s earlier cars but before we accelerate straight to the conservation treatment, we thought it worth sticking on the brakes and getting under the bonnet of this fascinating object – we hope this fuels your interest!

Alexander the 1908 Argyll and focus of this conservation project.

This 1908 Argyll motor car was manufactured by the Scottish motor car marque Argyll Motors Ltd (1899-1932).  The site of production was for the longest time based in Alexandria, Dunbartonshire which is where this car first came to life! Opened in 1906, this factory was the largest car factory in the world outside of the United States.

Former Argyll Motor Ltd. factory in Alexandria (Lesley Mitchell 2021- Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Detail of façade (Lesley Mitchell 2021 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In 1889, the company found its origins when chairman, William. A Smith, a wealthy Glaswegian merchant, and managing director Alexander Govan decided that there was a future in this ‘motor car invention’ and decided to come together to form Hozier Engineering Company which would later become Argyll Motors Ltd.

Alexander Govan (1869-1907), a local man of humble origins, found his in interest transportation at the young age of 24 when he began manufacturing a bicycle known as the ‘Worvan’ however due to a lack of demand, this endeavor came to an end in its infancy.

During a brief stint in England with the intention of learning more about the cycle industry, Govan had discovered a faster beast… The motor car! Like many of his contemporaries, this new engineering feat ignited a spark in Govan, and having excelled in his engineering evening classes, he began manufacturing cars and sought financial support from Smith, laying the foundation for Argyll Motor Ltd.

1907 advertisement for Argyll (Grace’s Guide Ltd © 2021).

At the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, their Argyll car excelled in its 5-day trial and stood out against others in its class, achieving a distinction. The car achieved many awards including the John o’ Groats to Land’s End record of 42 hours and 5 minutes!

Interior at Argyll Motors Ltd. (The Scottish Motor Museum Trust© 2021).

The highly competitive car manufacturing world unfortunately led to the demise of the Argyll Motors Ltd. culminating in 1911 with Daimler taking the company to court over patent breaches. Despite winning their appear, the court case left Argyll bankrupt and in 1914, they went onto liquidation.

The unfortunate death of Alexander Govan in 1907 has been understood by many to have contributed to the demise in the company, given the loss of their ‘visionary’. Many have  compared Govan to fellow car mogul Henry Ford and perhaps had Govan not died at only 38 years old, Argyll Motors Ltd. would still be producing cars today.

Today, their cars remain a firm favourite among classic car enthusiasts and as an artefact of historical significance to Scottish industry and early car manufacture. If you would like to read more about this 1908 Argyll’s conservation, click here.

If you would like to read more, visit the links below:

Alexander Govan 1869 -1907

The Leather Conservation Centre
Grosvenor Chambers
Grosvenor Centre
Union Street

01604 719766