2019 Busselton Motorfest | Mystery surrounds big old thistle oil engine

Motorfest event organiser Phil Ashton with engine restorer Phil Scott.
Motorfest event organiser Phil Ashton with engine restorer Phil Scott.

Mystery surrounds the origins of a Scottish thistle oil engine circa 1895 that enthusiast Phil Scott's son acquired for him to restore.

The only documentation Mr Scott can find on the engine is from a publication titled The Engineer in 1895 in an article, Steering Engine of HMS Venus and Diana.

The article stated, "the electric light is fitted throughout the entire building. The dynamos generating the current for which the purpose made by RD Smiley & Co of Glasgow are driven by the thistle patent oil engine.

"Scattered about the general directing shop at the time of our visit were numerous seamen hand steering gears both of noble and merchant ships and several of the thistle oil engines."

Mr Scott said whether his engine was the one being discussed in the article he did not know.

The people involved in the making of the engine moved around in lots of various businesses including shipping, and were known to build huge steering engines.

Mr Scott's been restoring his thistle oil engine since 2012 and said the process had been difficult.

"It has been a challenge, in the fact that to date we have not found another one in the world," he said.

"It is a bit of a different setup to all the other engines.

"In the restoration fraternity some people go for tractors and cars, I go for small engines, when this one came along I thought, yeah okay."

Part of the restored thistle oil engine.

Part of the restored thistle oil engine.

The stationary engine was designed to sit on a concrete block and used a belt to pull up to a line shaft, and in a different direction to hook up to something else.

Mr Scott said the engine could have been used in a saw mill or a factory full of sewing machines.

"They typically started out as a cottage industry then they moved to the industrial side where they had steam boilers which drove steam engines, that drove wheels to make motion," he said.

"Then they went to internal combustion engines which was the next step up, from there engines haven't changed much.

"This is a four cycle engine exactly the same as the car you drive, the cycle is still the same it has not changed but there are a few variations."

Mr Scott's thistle oil engine will be on display at this year's Motorfest, with event organiser Phil Ashton saying the thistle oil engine had a crankshaft, a conrod which joined to a piston and a head to operate valves to let fuel in and out.

"From 1895 right until modern day engines have not changed, it is amazing, absolutely amazing," he said.

To checkout the old engine in action visit Busselton Motorfest from 9.30am on Sunday, November 24 at Sir Stuart Bovell Oval.

Busselton Motorfest will feature some of Australia's best muscle cars, vintage cars and hot rods. For more information please busseltonmotorfest.com.au/.