Centenarian Cars: Audibert & Lavirotte, Benz and Clément
Audibert & Lavirotte was one of the
French pioneering manufacturers of cars. Their products resembled horseless carriages and
were powered by two-cylinder engines. In 1901 the company was taken over by Berliet, the
well-known Lyon based factory. Berliet was looking to expand its car production that had
started in 1895 by adding the Audibert & Lavirotte designs.
Berliet continued car production up to the second World War. After the second World War Berliet concentrated fully on truck production. In 1967 Citroën took over Berliet and sold it in 1974 to Renault. The last real Berliet truck was produced in 1977, by then the company was fully integrated into Renault's SAVIEM conglomerate, what's now known as RVI (Renault Véhicules Industriels).
of the "fathers" of the modern petrol engined car was German Carl Benz (the
other being of course Gottlieb Daimler). Carl Benz had a factory that produced stationary
industrial gas and petrol engines and had also experience working as a coachbuilder. Very
early on he wanted to fit his petrol engines in coaches but he didn't found financial
backing for his experiments until 1885. In that year he produced his first car, the Benz
Patent Motorwagen, a three-wheeler powered by a one-cylinder four-stroke engine delivering
He continued his experiments and started car production in 1890. In 1891 the expensive four-wheeled Victoria model was introduced, which was followed by the more affordable Velo in 1894. The depicted Benz Ideal was a more luxurious version of the Velo. In essence its mechanics date back to the first Benz; it has a one-cylinder 1050 cc engine producing 4 hp which gave it a speed of up to 40 kph.
Carl Benz was very conservative and hold on to his original designs until they were out of date. The introduction of new designers in his firm to boost the declining sales lead him to leave his own company in 1903. He returned for one year in 1905 and then left definitively. Chief engineer Hans Nibel took over the helm and made Benz into a successful company again.
The disastrous German economics after the first World War left no room for both the Benz and the Daimler company, so the companies decided to merge in 1926. In that year the Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft was formed which grew out to be an enormous industrial giant until the current day, producing cars and trucks under the Mercedes name.
Clément of France was one of the first people to get into the car business out of
commercial interests rather than innovative ones. He made his fortune making bicycles and
pneumatic tires. In 1896 he started to make motorcycles and cars on a small scale based
upon the French Gladiator (a company founded by Alexandre Darracq) designs. From 1899 his
company produced three and four wheeled cars with De Dion engines, of which the depicted
car is an example.
In 1901 Clément started a serious car production line based on an design by Commander Krebs, a manager of Panhard & Levassor. This rear-engined car was known as the Clément-Panhard and became quite popular in England, where it was produced as Stirling-Panhard or Clément-Stirling. This popularity lead to the production of Clément cars in a modern factory in Ladbroke Grove financed by Lord Shrewsbury and Talbot. These cars were known as Clément-Talbot and formed the base of the famous Talbot marque.
Adolphe Clément involved himself in all sorts of business deals and in doing so even lost the right to sell cars carrying his own name. So in 1903 the French company was renamed Clément-Bayard (after a famous French knight from Mézières, the home town of Clément). With this name the company constructed excellent cars up until the first World War, among them many successful racing cars.
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