What Would Charles Dickens Have Driven?S

As those of you curious enough to click on today's Google Doodle know, it's the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. We're all familiar with his work, at least in holiday-time Muppet-based formats, but I'm sure the real question we all have about Dickens is "what would he have driven?"

Dickens lived from 1812-1870, so his choices in motor vehicles were, admittedly, pretty scant. But there actually were some options. So, I'm going to make the best guess, based on a few careful assumptions, of what, hypothetically, Charles Dickens would have driven if he had decided that he was sick of staring at horse anuses any time he wanted to go anywhere, and wanted to buy an automobile.

The first assumption I'm going to make is when he would have purchased his car. I'm picking around 1846, which is after he'd written some of his most famous works (like A Christmas Carol, 1843), and was sufficiently wealthy that people were coming to him for philanthropical reasons (in 1846 he was asked to help start a home for "fallen" women. Hot!). So, if he has fallen women philanthropy cash, he can have himself a car.

I'm also going to assume he's going to pick a car made in, and in use in England, since, while he travelled, a purchase like a car at that time would be more likely if he was actually somewhat acquainted with the vehicles, to some degree. Amazingly, there's a pretty likely candidate for Mr.Dickens: a Gurney Steam Carriage.

What Would Charles Dickens Have Driven?S

Goldsworthy Gurney was a brilliant steam engineer, having developed a steam blastpipe mechanism that greatly improved the steam engine's power-to-weight ratio. He started building steam carriages and omnibuses that he sold for use by private operators in and around London starting around 1825, and was making regular, 20+mph runs from London to Bath and other routes, but was eventually driven out of business by the devious tactics of groomsmen and railroad owners (including roads being covered with 18 inches of gravel to impede his carriages' progress).

His carriages had good technical and safety records, though a major boiler explosion, caused by the lax safety standards of an independent operator, did prompt Gurney to make a "steam drag", which moved the passengers from atop the boiler to a carriage pulled behind a boiler/motor tractor. This removed the danger from the wealthy passengers to the working stiffs pulling them, potentially turning a boiler explosion from a disaster to that favorite Victorian pastime, watching working-class folks die.

Gurney's development of the steam drag led him to build, in 1831, an experimental "one-horse" steam car, smaller than his usual steam drags and designed to carry one or two people, plus some luggage. This is the best candidate for Dickens' choice of car.

What Would Charles Dickens Have Driven?S

So, in my hypothetical scenario, around 1846 Dickens decides he wants a motor vehicle, and recalls the (now defunct) Gurney steam carriages, which he'd certainly have been aware of, living in and around London. About this time, Gurney was living on a farm about 200 miles from London, which makes me think some of his steam carriages would be sitting in storage somewhere in London. Let's say that's what happens, and Dickens, after making some inquiries, is told about a very serviceable small Gurney carriage, perfect for a noted author to tool around town in. I imagine the London edition of the Craigsford's List broadsheet listed the '31 Gurney as having ran when parked, with several blurry daugerrotypes showing the vehicle.

So, there you have it. In this alternate universe where Dickens was a motorist, he'd be driving a sweet '31 Gurney One-Horse Steam Carriage, tearing ass around Covent Garden, and hopefully putting at least one car chase in A Tale of Two Cities, which could really use one.