8 December 1897: the Royal Automobile Club is founded

It’s not often you can credit a gentlemen’s club with spinning out a hugely successful company. But to trace the origins of Britain’s second biggest roadside recovery service, the RAC, you have to go all the way back to the founding of the Royal Automobile Club in 1897.

To be accurate, the RAC hadn’t quite earned its “royal” status yet. That came along ten years later when fellow petrolhead King Edward VII bestowed the honour on the old boys’ club. It was just the plain old Automobile Club of Great Britain that was formally inaugurated on 8 December 1897, founded by Frederick Richard Simms and Charles Harrington Moore.

Located at 4 Whitehall Court in Westminster, the Automobile Club boasted 163 car-mad members, who shared a passion for driving and wished to promote the pastime, which was, after all, still very much a rich man’s hobby, and no more so than across the Channel.

When it came to cars at the end of the 19th century, France was in pole position. In 1895, the colourful Comte de Dion and Baron Etienne de Zuylen established the Automobile Club de France, bringing “great relief to the poor horses”. So you can see where Simms and Moore got the name from. They even went the whole hog and took the French club’s constitution as well.

A few years later, in 1901, the Automobile Club of Great Britain introduced uniformed motorcycle patrols to reach members broken-down by the side of the road. Fast forward almost a hundred years after that and this service, under the RAC Motoring Services brand, was sold off to the Lex Group following the transfer of ownership of the Club away from its members in 1998.

Now co-owned by private equity group The Carlyle Group and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, RAC Limited generated revenues of £486m in 2013, a 6.3% rise on the previous year. As for the gentlemen’s (and ladies’) club, the Royal Automobile Club still exists, residing in resplendent style on London’s Pall Mall and the 350-acre Woodcote Park estate in Surrey.

Also on this day

8 December 1864: the Clifton Suspension Bridge is opened

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, based on Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s design, was finally opened on this day in 1864. Read more here.