From the archive: Should doctors swap horse for car?

As cars emerged in the 1890s, among the keenest adopters – aside from the rich and the landed – were doctors. 

Before the advent of the NHS, it was common that you would call your doctor and they would come to visit you at home, by means of horse and cart.

This method of transport felt completely natural, of course, having an unbroken chain of use back to anicent times, so many were tentative, if not outright dismissive, when a patently superior but unfamiliar and perhaps even frightening alternative emerged.

In fact, so obvious was the appropriateness of the car for men of medicine that many manufacturers produced bespoke doctor’s cars. Two that frequently advertised these in Autocar at the turn of the century were Decauville and the International Motor Company.

International was a London-based seller of various French and British models, and its ‘doctor’s car’ – of untold origin but, the advert said, “the best and the most suited to their [doctors’] requirements”. 

One doctor wrote of this car: “I have run it about 5000 miles in all weathers and over all kinds of roads. I have used it daily in my work and have never had a stop or breakdown but once. I have done as much as ninety miles in a day and have just returned from a trip of 170 miles to the south coast and back, which we managed without a hitch of any sort.

“It has answered every expectation and has done the work of more than two horses, easily and reliably, and I am more than satisfied with the car.”

As for the Decauville, one Dr Ivor Davies said: “I have no hesitation in recommending the car (three speeds) to any gentleman. I think it especially useful to medical men who have many daily visits to pay, as the motor can be stopped quickly and entirely, and restarted with such ease. I find my motor has easily done the work of a brougham and two or three horses. I find in my practice that the car is economical, speedy and as ready to hand as a bicycle.”