News Story

Early petrol-electric hybrid car, dating from 1927, recognised with an Engineering Heritage Award by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

  • The Lanchester Mark VII Petrol-Electric Hybrid Motorcar ‘OP 13’ pre-dated modern hybrid vehicles by nearly 100 years
  • Developed in Birmingham by Frederick Lanchester, the innovative and prolific motor engineer, and on display at Thinktank, Birmingham’s Science Museum
  • Now awarded with an Engineering Heritage Award by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
The front of a pale grey car dating from 1927 on display at Thinktank.
The Lanchester Mark VII Petrol-Electric Hybrid Motorcar on display at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has recognised the importance of the 1927 Lanchester Mark VII Petrol-Electric Hybrid Motorcar – registration ‘OP13’ – by awarding it the 144th Engineering Heritage Award.

Held in Birmingham’s collection and displayed at Birmingham Museums Trust’s Thinktank, Birmingham science museum, it is the only surviving prototype of the innovative petrol-electric hybrid motorcars built in by the Lanchester Motor Company.

Frederick Lanchester was a talented and prolific motor and aeronautical engineer. A serial inventor, Lanchester submitted some 426 patents over the course of his career. He received numerous fellowships, awards and medals in his lifetime, acknowledging the importance of his contributions to engineering, including in 1945 the James Watt International Medal from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Lanchester spent much of his life in Birmingham, moving to the city at the age of 20 after securing employment as assistant works manager at the Forward Gas Engine Company. Together with his brothers George and Frank, he formed the Lanchester Motor Company in 1899. Over the course of his career, he developed inventions for four-wheel brakes, four-wheel drive, roller bearings and turbo-charging, as well as authoring theories about aerodynamics that became a standard reference text for aircraft designers.

Lanchester spent over a decade in the 1910s and 1920s developing his ideas for a hybrid petrol-electric motor engine – a system he called the ‘Petrelect’. He built a number of prototype motorcars attempting to perfect both vehicle and engine design but, running out of money and facing competition from increasingly affordable family cars from manufacturers such as Austin, they never went into general production.

Thinktank’s Mark VII was the last prototype vehicle to be created and is the only surviving example of Lanchester’s innovative hybrid vehicle designs. Between its production in 1927 and its donation to Birmingham’s collection in 1961, it clocked up just 757 miles on the odometer.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has recognised the importance of the model by awarding it with a coveted Engineering Heritage Award, marked with a plaque. The inscription reads:

Lanchester's Prototype Hybrid Car

The last surviving prototype vehicle of Frederick Lanchester's pioneering experiments in petrol-electric hybrid motorcars built in Birmingham in 1927. This foreshadowed modern automotive practice and arose from work to build a car for 'everyman'. Lanchester, a serial inventor, made important contributions in automotive and aeronautical engineering.

Felicity McWiliams, Curator of Science & Industry at Birmingham Museums Trust, said:

“The Lanchester Petrol-Electric Hybrid Motorcar was a ground-breaking piece of technology, pre-dating modern petrol-electric hybrids by nearly a century. Thinktank is proud to have this important vehicle on display, and delighted that its significance has now been recognised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.”

John Wood from IMechE added:

“The Institution’s Engineering Heritage Scheme is now in its 40th year, and continues to go from strength to strength. During this time, The Engineering Heritage Committee has presented awards to a wide range of engineering achievements, such as pumping stations, trains, aeroplanes, brickworks and submarines. We are committed to recognising engineering heritage and are proud to add Lanchester Petrol-Electric Hybrid Motorcar to this list of recipients.”

The Engineering Heritage Awards were established in 1984. Awards celebrate pioneering engineering artefacts, locations, collections, and landmarks past and present. Recognising irreplaceable artefacts from hovercraft to sewage works, railway lines to bombers, the awards raise public awareness of the vital role mechanical engineering plays in modern life.

The Lanchester Petrol-Electric Hybrid Motorcar is on display at Thinktank, in the main visitor concourse on Level 2. (Entry charges apply.)