The First Car Comes to Christchurch

Reckless Drivers Rush Hither and Thither at Breakneck Pace

Charles Nicholas Oates and his motor-car, 1901. ]"The passengers are Mr P Denton, Mr N. Oates and two of his children". The Canterbury Times, 5 June 1901, p. 24-25. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img00797 .
Charles Nicholas Oates and his motor-car, 1901. “The passengers are Mr P Denton, Mr N. Oates and two of his children”.
The Canterbury Times, 5 June 1901, p. 24-25. Image: Christchurch City Libraries File Reference CCL Photo Collection 22, Img00797.

A Chat with Mr N. Oates  (By Our Special Reporter)

Mr N. Oates, of the firm of Oates, Lowry and Co., cycle manufacturers, returned from England and the Continent on Friday, and on Saturday morning a “Press” representative had a chat with him.

Mr Oates went Home in April last, chiefly to gather information about the motor car, and to study the machine in what might be termed its native haunts. As it was twenty-six years since Mr Oates was in England before, he also made the journey a pleasure trip, and a right royal time he had, returning to the colony the picture of health and strength.

Replying to enquiries, Mr Oates said the cycle industry in the Old Country had suffered a tremendous collapse. So many firms, big and little, rushed into the trade in the boom times, that it became vastly overcrowded, and, though the slump had not been as rapid as the boom, week after week saw the small firms dropping out, and many of the big ones steadily going to the wall. Those best able to judge reckon it will be a couple of years yet before the bottom is reached, and in the meantime it is a case of the survival of the fittest. He mentioned the names of several large firms who had gone under, and even the strongest reckon that for the next two years they will not make a penny profit. For instance, a firm he deals very largely with is determined to keep up the standard of its machines, in the hope of better days, but will be more than pleased if it can manage to pay expenses. Some large firms are at their wits ends. They entered into large contracts to supply goods, and the rise in the price of iron and coal has almost paralised them.

Mr Oates found that the increased price of coal seriously affected the cost of travelling, as most of the companies had put up the rates ten per cent, at least. A great many cycle firms are turning their attention to the motor, and a good many, having put together a machine or two, are now lying low watching developments.

On Mr Oates’s mission becoming known, he received numbers of invitations from manufacturers to take trial trips on their machines. He eventually took a car and with a young man as guide and driver, started out on a tour through England, riding from Coventry to Land’s End, and away north to Whitehaven, on the borders of Scotland. The result of his experiences was that he bought two machines, one to hold three, and the other four, passengers. These are now at Wellington, but before long will be set up and running in Christchurch.

Great things are expected of the motor car in England, where it is rapidly becoming a popular mode of conveyance. It has, however, fairly taken Paris by storm. Here everything in the streets gives way to the motor car, even the trams pulling up to let it pass. It fairly takes charge of the city, and the drivers, who are extremely reckless, rush hither and thither at a breakneck pace.

The charge there for riding on the cars is 10s per hour, and the pace is such that one needs to hold on to his hat all the time. Mr Oates was much struck with the reckless driving of the Parisians generally. The cabs and omnibuses appeared to dash all over the place, and he saw some of them overturned. The drivers keep up a constant shouting, and the din, to a stranger, who does not understand a word of the language, is worse than Bedlam. The roads in and around Paris are described as perfect – ideal roads for tire bicycle and the motor car.

Mr Oates hired a car at the office of the Cleveland Cycle Factory, and on going to sign the visitors’ book, was not a little surprised to find the name of Mr A. E. G. Rhodes just in front of him. In France the machines are got up to perfection. They are gorgeously painted, gilded, enamelled, and plated, and look more like some handsome ornament for a drawing room or a lady’s boudoir than a vehicle to run through mud and dust. [5]

There is on view in the window of Oates, Lowry and Cos. cycle shop, a photo of one of the latest pattern motor cars or automobiles, lately purchased by Mr Oates in England. The car is very like a phaeton, and will carry three passengers, at any reasonable speed desired. Mr N. Oates, who in the photo has a seat in the car, will arrive in New Zealand about September 20th, and as it is the firm’s intention to have the trial trip from Christchurch to Timaru, he will have an opportunity of showing the car to his many friends and the cycling public in South Canterbury. [6]

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