Centenarian Cars: De Dion-Bouton and Delahaye
Georges Bouton and his brother-in-law Mr.
Trépardoux started out experimenting with steam powered tri-cycles and caught the
attention of the rich count (later marquis) De Dion. This classic sportsman liked the
tri-cycles so much that he associated himself with Bouton and Trépardoux in 1883, forming
one of the first French car marques: De Dion-Bouton. The company produced all kinds of
steam powered vehicles and even boats until De Dion saw the petrol engined cars of Benz
and Daimler at the Paris World's Fair of 1889 and got very impressed by them.
Using the technical geniuses of Bouton and Trépardoux the company rapidly developed their own petrol engines, the first patents concerning those date back to as early as 1889. In 1895 a very successful petrol engine was introduced: a lightweight air-cooled single-cylinder unit that could reach a in those days staggering 1500 rpm. This 137 cc 1 hp engine was fitted in light tri-cycles and these 'cars' were sold at a modest price. In 1896 the engine was enlarged to 250 cc, producing 1.75 hp, and became available to other manufacturers to fit in their own chassis.
Next to the single seater tri-cycle a two seater "Quadro" version was introduced, as depicted here. The Quadro had four rather than three wheels and was made up of the back part of the tri-cycle with a new front half attached to where normally the front wheel was placed. In the front part a passenger could be seated in a normal chair, whereas the driver sat on a bicycle saddle. The tri-cycle and the Quadro were produced up to 1902 and several hundreds have been made.
After the successful participation of
a petrol engined car in the Paris to Rouen concours in 1894, Mr. Trépardoux decided to
leave the company, being not convinced of the merits of petrol engines in favor of steam
power. De Dion and Bouton continued the development of petrol engines and after a
financial injection by the Dutch baron Van Zuylen they introduced their first real
production car with a petrol engine in 1899.
This was the Vis a Vis ("face to face") model that succeeded the company's cyclecars. It too became very popular, mainly because of its refined mechanics. The car was fitted with a single-cylinder 3.5 hp @ 1700 rpm engine and a two speed gearbox. This car in all kinds of variations formed the base of most of the De Dion-Bouton cars until 1908. In 1912 the production of all single-cylinder cars was ceased.
The first four-cylinder front-engined car was introduced in 1903 and in 1910 a V8 engine was introduced. The company concentrated more and more on the production of big luxury cars and commercial vehicles. After the first World War funds were not sufficient to start up car production on a large scale and De Dion-Bouton became less and less competitive in the car market. In 1927 the car production ran into big trouble and only with financial backing of the French government it could continue till 1932. After that only small numbers of commercial vehicles left the company. The year 1952 was the last in the company's existence, in 1953 marquis De Dion died and the French Rover importer bought the remaining factory buildings from his estate.
Emile Delahaye, an engineer with experience in building steam engines,
bought a machine and agricultural equipment factory in 1894 and reformed it into a car
factory. In 1896 his company entered a few 6 hp cars (as depicted) in the
Paris-Marseilles-Paris race with some success: Delahaye cars became sixth and eight.
Remarkable was the fact that they were fitted with pneumatic tires. 1897 saw the
introduction of the first Delahaye production car: the 4.5 hp, fitted with a
single-cylinder petrol engine, belt-drive and and a three speed gearbox. This car was
produced up to 1900.
The factory moved to Paris in 1898 to team up with the Morane factory and in 1900 the single-cylinder engines were replaced by two-cylinder units, producing up to 9.5 hp. All Delahaye cars since 1896 had water-cooled engines where the cooling elements consisted of horizontal steel tubing placed in the chassis of the cars. The first front-engined cars were produced in 1902, fitted with a single-cylinder 8 hp unit or a 15 hp two-cylinder.
In 1901 Emile Delahaye resigned due to his poor health and he died in 1905. Charles Weiffenbach became the new manager and stayed on till the end of the company. He rapidly made Delahaye into a luxury car marque serving even royalty like king Alfonso of Spain. Next to that he expanded into building trucks and engines for ships.
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