The first motor car in Cambridge arrived in 1905 and was owned by Mr James Sinclair of the Masonic Hotel. It was a White Steam Car, and took an hour to raise sufficient steam to get the car mobile. Two early petrol cars were Hugh Ferguson's Vauxhall and Frank Bunyard's French Vinot � both were small two-seaters, 5 horse power, two speeds forward and no reverse, tiller steering and chain-driven.
Cambridge was bounding into the motoring age.
From the Independent newspaper 11 August 1906 � "Motor cars are becoming almost as numerous as stray cows. Messrs Souter & A Wilkinson are the latest to import one of these modern pace eaters". This was a two-seater, 5 hp 'Starling' imported originally from the Star Cycle Works in Wolverhampton, England. This car had a steering wheel, three forward speeds and reverse. But as Neville Souter said at a meeting of the Historical Society in 1969, "Beauty was only skin deep and the car was passed on to someone in Waihi and replaced with a 10 hp Cadillac. This was a real car."
H J Jefferies the Post Master invested in a 12 hp Darracq in October 1906, capable of seating 6 people and with a steering column gear change!! Miss Jefferies was the first local to drive a car over the Victoria Bridge on 14 December 1907.
Also in 1907 the first Ford in New Zealand was imported by W Souter & Co and sold to Mr R B Cranwell in 1908. The motor industry was developing quickly and Souters held the Ford agency for the Auckland Province. Their Cadillac was sold on to W F Buckland and in 1908 William Thornton (Cadillac - learning to drive in an afternoon), Henry Greenslade (Oldsmobile) and Boston Couper, all joined the motoring fraternity. Among others Dr E E Roberts bought a Cadillac, Frank Ross a Diamler and the next year Dr Edmonds and Arch Deacon W Willis both had Cadillacs, bringing the total cars for the district to 14.
Jared Allwill, a farmer at Hautapu, was to make history by buying the first Model T Ford in Cambridge in 1910. According to Neville Souter it was a left-hand drive, had neither hood, wind screen nor lamps and cost £375.
In 1910, Mr A Hopkirk imported a fine new Humber 15 hp car, complete with all accessories. January 1912 "Mr Carr has got a new car" was the topical joke around town. Sam Lewis joined the ranks of Ford buyers as did Hunter & Banks the local land agents.
In 1912, R T Tudehope bought a Krit car and the Independent reports � "after taking two or three lessons is quite a proficient driver".
C H Priestley bought the first Warren in Cambridge - 30 hp, five-seater and of very handsome design.
By 1916 Souters were selling on average a car a day (over the Auckland province) and at this time they ended their Ford franchise, turning to Dodge and several other makes.
In 1918 new by-laws had to be put in place. Certificates of Competency had to be obtained by drivers and all licensed vehicles inspected for efficient brakes, sounding signals and lamps. Speeds were limited to 15 mph in Duke Street and along Victoria Street from the Hamilton Road corner to Victoria Bridge. Any other street was restricted to 20 mph and 8 mph around corners.
Neville Souter took control of W Souter & Co in 1923 and sold to Bruce Boyle in 1961 when new showrooms, office and workshop were being built. Neville Souter died February 1976. Now the motor industry has gone from the west side of Duke Street as Wrightsons have moved in.
Researched and written by Eris Parker
Ref: Cambridge Museum Archives