The name Frederick Richard Simms (12/8/1863 to 22/4/1944) probably means little to anybody now as his most famous invention, his machine gun armed four wheeled bike, is commonly seen on the internet and in books usually for the purposes of humor. The man and his designs are quite real though and were no joke at the turn of the 20th Century. The modern repeating machine gun had only just started to enter common service with some armies and motor cars were a rare sight. Armored warfare at that time was so new terms we use today like ‘armored car’ had not entered the lexicon. The ‘tank’ was still more than a decade away. Frederick Simms was a pioneer of blending these emerging technologies of mobility and warfare.
Mr. Frederick Richard Simms, Photo: Autocar magazine
Frederick Richard Simms was born in Hamburg, Germany in August 1863 to a British father and German mother. He befriended Gottlieb Daimler and moved to London establishing Simms Motors and in 1896 became a consulting engineer to the newly formed British Motor Syndicate (BMS) in 1896. In 1897, he also became a founding member of what is now known as the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain, and in January 1898 submitted a patent for his first design of military application, namely “Improvements in Armouring or Protecting Surfaces against the Action of Projectiles” which may have been connected to his later ‘War Car’.
The Motor Scout Quadricycle
The first attempt from Simms to design a military vehicle was very similar to the design of Mr. E.J. Pennington. The quadricycle based ‘Motor Scout’ as he called it, is Simms’ most famous creation and it was finished in March 1899. Admittedly, in hindsight, the image of the bowler-hatted Mr. Simms on this machine is ridiculous but in the context of 1899 it is less so. Queen Victoria was still on the throne, the lessons from the slaughter of World War One were nearly a generation away and no nation could claim experience in armored warfare. Simms was taking the new “light Maxim type” machine gun and making it mobile on a cheap and simple 4 wheeled commercial quadricycle.
Mr. Simms mans the Scout’s main gun in 1899 while it is on display at Richmond Park. Photo: Autocar magazine
Most sources cite the quadricycle as being a de Dion Bouton but it appears to actually be a license-built model 1898 machine made by the firm of The New Beeston Cycle Company of Coventry which was owned by Harry Lawson at the time. The frame, despite having pedals, was also provided with a small 1.5 hp petrol engine which could drive the rear wheels via a chain and sufficient fuel for a 120 mile (193 km) range at 18 mph (29 km/h) or with a double tank for 240 miles (386 km).
The wheels themselves appear to remain the standard pneumatic road wheels rather than any kind of protected or bulletproof tire.
Simms Motor Scout of 1899 on display at Richmond Park, Photo: Autocar magazine
Illustration of the Motor Scout based on the original line-drawing
Illustration of the Motor Scout based on the historical 1899 photos added with Mud-Guards.
Both of these images were illustrated by Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker, and were funded by our patreon campaign.
The machine gun, a .303 caliber Mark IV Maxim was fitted with a small bulletproof shield and, despite the pose with the gun ‘in use’ from the riding position, it was actually intended to be more of a mobile mounting from which the gun could be dismounted for use. The quadricycle frame was then to be reused as a frame on which to place a litter to evacuate wounded troops or just for moving supplies; a concept far less ridiculous than the famous photograph would suggest. If the rider wanted to use the machine gun he certainly could, it was arranged so as to not interfere with the view of the rider. Within the frame and within reach was an additional store of 1000 rounds of ammunition. The ammunition would be mounted on a rail below the machine gun between the front wheels.
1899 Patent for the Simms Motor Scout. Photo: Public domain
Despite having produced a working example of his patented Motor Scout, the machine did not sell. The concept did sell, however, as other bicycle and motorcycle-based units with machine guns mostly for experimental purposes were formed. The fate of the Motor Scout is unknown but likely it simply got turned back into a quadricycle and sold off. Frederick Simms might not have won any contracts for his idea from the Army but he didn’t give up and he followed this small design with a much bigger design, a War Car.
|Maximum speed||18 mph|
|Range||120 miles standard or 240 miles extended|
|Armament||1x Mark IV Maxim .303 machine gun (1000 rounds)|
|Armor||Single Bulletproof Sheild|
Links & Resources
Autocar Magazine 26th August 1899
Simms War Car – Additional Notes, BT White, landships.info
Allgemeine automobili-zeitung May 1902
Patent GB22610 filed 12th October 1896
Patent GB2297 filed 28th January 1898
Patent GB7337 filed 26th March 1898
Patent US641897 filed 20th October 1898
Patent GB5885 filed 17th March 1899
Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain
Journal of the Society of Arts, 14th July 1899
The Motor Car Journal, 12th April 1902
Motor World, Volume 2, April 1902
Engineering Times, Volume 7 , January to June 1902
Autocar Magazine, 11th November 1916
Early Armoured Cars, E. Bartholomew
Early Armoured Cars, Maj. Gen. N. Duncan
War Cars, David Fletcher
Coventry’s Motorcar Heritage, Damian Kimberly