The kerosene-fuelled Pioneer was once heralded by the press as ‘Australia’s First Horseless Carriage’.
If was launched with great zeal and photographs were published around the world.
The Pioneer had its beginnings when Henry Austin, an amateur inventor from Fitzroy, Victoria, designed a lightweight, petrol-fuelled engine. He wanted to follow it up by building a complete vehicle and 20 local businessmen formed the Australian Horseless Carriage Syndicate to back him,
Austin, however, withdrew from the project when the Syndicate pressured him to have the vehicle ready for exhibition at the February 1897 Melbourne Cycle Exhibition, The syndicate then hired Grayson Engineering to fit a single-cylinder, stationary-type engine under the driver’s seat of what was little more than a horse-drawn carriage.
Magnificently painted and trimmed, the prototype Pioneer was capable of 16 km per hour. A public demonstration was arranged in which Lord Brassey, Governor of Victoria, took several rides with ladies from Government House.
An article on the demonstration was published in the Scientific Australian of 20 March 1897, saying that Lord Brassey was ‘well pleased’ with the demonstration, This report included a mini ‘road test’ which stated: “the driver has not only a brake and steering handle within easy access of his seat but also the stopping and starting handle. The petroleum engine gives no great evidence of either vibration or smell”.
Only one Pioneer was built. Several months after being exhibited it disappeared from sight, probably seized by a supplier in lieu of money owed by the Syndicate.