Video: The motor car driven to the top of Ben Nevis

It was a madcap venture of the highest order - and one that is to be permanently remembered in the shadows of Ben Nevis where it was staged.

Monday, 18th September 2017, 9:06 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th September 2017, 12:06 pm
Henry Alexander on his ascent of Ben Nevis in 1911. PIC: TSPL.

Henry Alexander, the son of an Edinburgh car dealer, struck publicity gold when he decided to promote the new Model T Ford by driving it up and down the mountain in May 1911.

It took him five days to get his vehicle to the top with workmen on hand to clear snow and widen the track as he went. Sometimes, a portable bridge was laid down to ease the journey.

The descent, watched by the press pack transported on a pack of ponies, took just two-and-a-half hours.

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Henry Alexander on his ascent of Ben Nevis in 1911. PIC: TSPL.

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Alexander organised the expedition in a spirit of determination to promote this new motor car from Detroit.

The feat has long been celebrated in Fort William with 77 vintage Ford enthusiasts carrying the parts of a Model T to the summit - minus the engine - and reconstructing it to mark the 100th anniversary of Alexander’s efforts.

Last week, that same car was delivered to be Powderhall Bronze foundry in Edinburgh where it will be cast, part-by-part, into a permanent statue to be placed outside the West Highland Museum in Fort William.

The ascent took Alexander five days and the descent - watched by a team of journalists - took just 2.5 hours. PIC: TSPL.

It will sit around five metres from where Alexander set off on his mountain mission.

Dr Chris Robinson, vice chairman of West Highland Museum, said the statue will be unveiled outside the museum on May 19.

He said: “It was quite a feat and Alexander clearly wanted to raise the profile of the Model T Ford. Of course, Ben Nevis was not designed for a motor car. He went up what was basically a pony track. Even getting a pony up there would have been very uncomfortable.”

Dr Robinson said the idea for the permanent statue had been inspired by the car reconstructed on the centenary with the Ford later included in the museum collection.

A portable bridge was used in some places to get Alexander to the top. PIC: TSPL.

“We hope it will be a big draw for the museum,” he added.

The Scotsman reported the “difficulties of an almost insurmountable nature” that were faced by Alexander on his 1911 venture.

The original route behind the old Long John distillery was abandoned with Alexander choosing instead to access the mountain on a lower slope near Inverlochy.

Despite encountering snow, bogs and boulders, Alexander continued with the workmen widening the bridle track as he progressed.

Henry Alexander on his ascent of Ben Nevis in 1911. PIC: TSPL.

The report added: “The venturesome automobilist did not confine himself to the track and, in parts, he drove his car over the thickly strewn porphyry stones.

“Further difficulties were encountered on reaching the snow, which on the summit, still lies to a depth of 10 feet.”

On reaching the top, journalists joined Alexander and his party for an alfresco lunch with hot drinks retrieved from the hotel on the summit which was surrounded by around 12 feet of snow.

Following the descent, the group dined at a hotel in Fort William when “numerous congratulatory toasts were proposed.”

- Film clip taken from Motoring Over Ben Nevis (1911), BFI National Archive, part of Britain on Film available via BFI Player

The ascent took Alexander five days and the descent - watched by a team of journalists - took just 2.5 hours. PIC: TSPL.
A portable bridge was used in some places to get Alexander to the top. PIC: TSPL.