It was 100 years ago

tomorrow that the

first motor-car arrived

in Scotland -- and so

created the country's

first shaky motorist.

Ross Finlay relives

engineer George

Johnston's big moment.

EXACTLY 100 years ago, a Glasgow engineer called George Johnston must

have been feeling rather impatient. On the following day, October 28,

1895, there was due to be unloaded at Leith docks a Panhard car shipped

from Antwerp. When he collected it, and the accompanying barrel of

petrol, he would be the first motorist in Scotland.

It was not a matter of simply driving the car home. For one thing, he

did not know how to drive. The car was brought to Glasgow by rail,

unloaded, and then towed by horse to the family residence, Mosesfield

House, on the edge of Springburn Park.

Johnston's nephew Robert Thomson also lived at Mosesfield, and took a

keen interest in the Panhard. In March 1966 he wrote a letter to The

Glasgow Herald recalling its arrival:

''The first operation was to find out how it could be started, and

then how to control it on the road. After some degree of skill had been

achieved in the private ground around Mosesfield House, and with

permission obtained, the carriageways in Springburn Park were used,

after closing hours, to achieve additional skill.''

Someone else familiar with Johnston's car was R J Smith, the Glasgow

accountant who became the first and very long-serving secretary of the

Royal Scottish Automobile Club.

At a dinner to mark his 40th year in office, he said: ''I recall

driving with Johnston on his car through the Glasgow streets, and the

amazement and excitement of the public, at the presence of the first car

seen here.''

The RSAC preserves the original consignment note for the Panhard,

which unfortunately spells Johnston's name wrongly. Curiously enough,

the next car to be brought to Scotland was the same model of Panhard,

imported two months later by T R B Elliot of Clifton Park near

Morebattle in Roxburghshire.

These men were Scotland's first motorists, in the accepted sense of

owning four-wheeled petrol driven vehicles. Researcher Robert Grieves

has discovered that in October 1896 Elliot sold his own Panhard to

Johnston, for the sum of #110.

There is clear evidence that Johnston's original Panhard was the first

car in Scotland. But some people regard 1995 as being too late for the


One influential statement to that effect came in a series of articles

in 1946 in Motor World magazine, by Scotland's first motoring

journalist, James MacFarlane. They were published in a booklet called

The Very Early Days, which many later writers have taken as basic source


While MacFarlane admitted that he knew George Johnston only by repute,

he contradicted the October 1895 date for Johnston's first car by saying

that ''it was in the latter part of 1894 that Johnston shipped to

Scotland a Daimler dogcart''.

Similar claims have been made since then, including one which involves

Johnston buying his first car for #10 from a ''Mr Elliot of

Galashiels''. The real centenary is perhaps the time to squash them once

and for all.

Robert Thomson and R J Smith, a man personally and professionally

involved with the start of motoring in Scotland, both described the

''October 1895'' Panhard as Johnston's first car.

If Johnston was supposed to have owned a Daimler in 1894, especially

since the early Panhards used Daimler-patent engines, how was it that in

the following year he still had to figure out how to start, let alone

drive, his Panhard? Who was the mysterious Mr Elliot of Galashiels from

whom he is supposed to have bought a car earlier than October 1895? That

#10 purchase price is absurdly low, and may well have been a mistaken

recollection of the #110 which Johnston actually paid T R B Elliot in


Elliot came from Morebattle, a place even yet unfamiliar to most

people outside the Borders. A certain geographical vagueness gradually

crept into published references to him. First of all Morebattle, then

Kelso, so why not, eventually, Galashiels? And James MacFarlane's

statement was made on very flimsy grounds. A rather defensive letter

from him on this subject, written in July 1947 to A K Stevenson,

successor to R J Smith as secretary of the RSAC, survives in the club's


MacFarlane had had the information at third hand, from a named source,

who in turn got it ''through a director in Albion Motors''. Albion had

been founded in 1899 by Thomas Blackwood Murray and Norman Fulton, who

both previously worked with Johnston.

However, when MacFarlane asked his source to try for some further

information, ''he wrote that he would not like to approach again,

because he really does not know him very well''. Despite that brush-off,

MacFarlane decided to go public with the 1894 date. We can fairly safely

ignore it, and take tomorrow as the genuine 100th anniversary.

Johnston became involved with the All-British Car Company of

Bridgeton, which was a spectacular failure in 1908. Perhaps wisely, he

promptly left Scotland, and spent almost 20 years managing the affairs

of a Mexican mining concern.

Tim Amyes, of the Classic Car Collection at New Lanark, is preparing a

book on the old Scottish motor industry, based as much on the

personalities as on the vehicles involved. Johnston should play a

prominent part.

George Johnston turned up, over 80 and almost a ghost from the past,

to watch an old-car rally at the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow. He

died in Edinburgh seven years later, without ever writing the memoirs

which would certainly have told a lively tale.