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Pedalling like Hercules: in the saddle of a 1901 De Dion Bouton Tricycle

1901 de_dion_bouton_tricycle_470

In 2012 Geoff Gray bought a 1901 De Dion Bouton motor tricycle in need of restoration. I suggested he first spoke with De Dion tricycle expert Mick Penney who is the UK’s best kept secret for all things De Dion tricycle. Upon closer inspection of the project, Mick found the engine was in a sorry state; and it eventually took three engines to rebuild a single good one. The original front forks showed poor repair, indicating the tricycle had suffered an accident in a distant past. It was also discovered it originally left the De Dion factory in Puteaux as a quadricycle which also explains the large leather seat which is still on the tricycle. However, Mick worked his magic and made a new set of front forks from scratch and replaced various later modifications with the correct fittings.

Geoff got in touch again recently to tell me the tricycle was back from De Dion hospital and invited me back to ride the machine for the first time. Now, it’s not often you get the chance to ride a 1901 French motor tricycle around an Essex housing estate, so I took up Geoff’s offer.

Upon arrival, Geoff reminded me of the controls and I remembered from my previous experiences, that you never have enough hands for the amount of levers on a De Dion tricycle. We turn on the fuel, prime the oil, open the de-compressor, prime the carburettor and set the throttle lever; then I limber up and prime my legs. I climb aboard the machine and start pedalling like Hercules, at the point at which I think I’m up to speed, I then close the de-compressor lever and the 2.3/4 horsepower engine behind me fires and away I go.  Geoff told me to keep turning left, so I did. Past the people washing their cars and mowing their front gardens; all blissfully unaware of the pioneer machine chugging past them. As the tricycle warmed up, I began to adjust the throttle and choke; all in a rather random way I might add, but I find a happy medium where the engine sounds and feels happy and I settle in to the ride; leaning into each corner as demonstrated in this short video.

The trick is not ride it using the throttle lever, but with the twist handle bar grip which neatly houses a kill switch. This kills the electric feed to the coil and you can feather the speed accordingly. Now, it does become tricky when you need to slow down while approaching a junction. The problem is; if you are going too slow and the throttle lever is set to its optimum position; you have to pedal to get back up to a speed the throttle is happy with; if you don’t, then the engine will stall and this is a time when the de-compressor may have to be opened; otherwise, your wedding tackle will suffer a chance meeting with the cross bar and the local choir will be requiring your services. It all sounds rather complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. (It has to be).

I soon discover that the Circuit De Geoff is about a ¼ of a mile long; and after 4 laps I pull up to his house. I kill the coil and open the de-compressor and the tricycle grinds to a stop. Despite feeling like you have an engine strapped to your backside; the top speed is about 25 mph which is enough. Geoff is still getting to grips with his new machine, but plans are afoot to enter many veteran events; including the VCC London to Brighton run in November, along with the events hosted by the excellent 'De Dion Bouton Club'. Thanks Geoff, for letting me take your tricycle for a ride; a machine which was last on the road 100 years ago.  

(main photo is a still taken from the video by Geoff Gray; report and images by Tim Gunn)   
Sunday, 27 July 2014 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

What is it? Quiz #375

What is it? Quiz #375

Here we have very formal body on a very noble chassis. The slightly Rolls-like radiator may point you in the wrong direction. Yet the location of the factory - be it not British - is not lightyears away from London.  Give us  the Marque, the Year and the Model of the car depicted. And if possible give the coachbuiders name (from another nearby country).  We blurred the coachbuilder's name, which is on a plaque resting against the front wheel, so coming up with the right coachbuilder will give you an edge over anyone who may come up with the same basic facts as you do. In order to have a chance of winning the infamous PreWarCar T-shirt, please check The Rules under 'Read More'. Results will be published next Saturday.
Saturday, 26 July 2014 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

Fast moving girl, or the Princess Braganca d’Avellar

Fast woman - 1908

The quality of this photograph begs for close inspection and you won’t be disappointed. The lady in the driver’s seat is Miss Ruth Maycliffe.  Notice I didn’t say she was the driver because this carefully staged shot took a lot of preparation. She would have been driven from  the Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue – the imposing building behind the car and just two blocks away from The White House.

It might have been to promote our subject – described as an ingénue (“an innocent or unsophisticated young woman” says the dictionary).  A more familiar title would be actress and she was one of the three girls in Clyde Fitch’s ‘Girls’, the 1910 satire on the bachelor girls of the time which had been so very successful at Daly’s Theatre, New York. She played the youngest and most impressionable of the bachelor girls, and was the first apostate from the non-marrying faith.

Or perhaps it was to promote her motor car, and it's that which now deserves our attention. 1908 were difficult times for the American Auto industry and her machine was a rarity even when this picture was taken. One historian identifies it as a 1908 Maryland Roadster as manufactured by the Sinclair-Scott Company of Baltimore, a company far better known for their apple peelers and food canning machines. Read more HERE. I think he’s right,  but have a look at this 1907 Hay-Berg Roadster and you’ll see a very similar car?

Let me leave you with news of Miss Ruth Maycliffe.  She was the subject of gossip when she disembarked at New York from the Cunard Liner ‘Laconia’ in 1914 proudly announcing she was now ‘Princess Braganca d’Avellar’ having married a Portuguese nobleman. The New York Tribune of May 8th 1914 reported the story. “ I met the prince in Madrid having been introduced to him by King Alfonso”. “Do you speak Portuguese?” She was asked, “No, not a word.” She answered promptly. “Does the prince speak English?” “No, not exactly.” She replied with a smile. “He can say ‘two freed aigs’ and ‘Geev me wan kees’ and  ‘Ah loff you deery’  but that is the extent of his English. But we both speak French fluently, although love needs no language.”

Text Robin Batchelor, photo courtesy SHORPY. 

Friday, 25 July 2014 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

The most horrendous Hispano ever built?

hispano suiza_j12_470

The french Hispano-Suiza factory of Bois Colombes closed its doors in 1938. Around 120 J-12 chassis had been produced, all these bodied by the most prestigious coach builders of the era. The car pictured above however has a strange body supposedly created in the late 1940s in Spain by an unknown amateur(?) craftsman in the style of the "modern" american cars. In our view the general lines were inspired by the 1946 Packard Coupe, especially the rear end. The only information we have is that the photos were taken at the San Sebastian seafront - probably in the early 1950s due to the Opel which can be seen in the background. The front, the radiator and "old" separate headlights were kept untouched between these too wide front wings. In photo 3 and 4 you can spot the interior with its set-up with three seat lines... somewhat bizarre for a two door coupe! It's hard to understand why they didn´t create a four door saloon with more room if the car was destined to carry a lot of people.  Also hard is to imagine what wonderful old body was destroyed in order to create something which can be considered as the ugliest Hispano-Suiza J12 ever on wheels.

(photos collection Francisco Carríon)  
Thursday, 24 July 2014 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

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Post War Choice

1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster
You can't get more car on less money: Rally or Restore: 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster...  Go >>