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When the owner is away in November, and he asks if you want to drive his 1900 De Dion Bouton Vis-à-vis during the coming London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, the answer is easy... But then one needs to learn to drive it first, and what better location than a disused airfield ? And why not the track used by Top Gear ? And why not during the 'Supercar Event' in favour of 'The Children's Trust', a charity for children with brain injury ?
Already for the third time, the De Dion Bouton Club UK used this event as an excuse to race veteran tricycles, and over the complete weekend, some 15 machines, ranging from 1898 to 1901 and mostly powered by De Dion Bouton engines competed in the ' Team Jarrott' race, named after one of the first British racing drivers, of course first on a tricycle: Charles Jarrott.
But just before the turn of the century, Count De Dion and mechanical mastermind Bouton realised that this most successful tricycle needed upgrading anyhow, and the De Dion Bouton Vis-à-vis was launched.
When it comes to learn to drive it, forget everything you know about driving cars and start from scratch. Most controls are on the single column that comes straight out of the floor. It carries a handle for the steering, and a handle for the gearchange. Use of the steering handle is logical and straightforward, the gear handle is a little different... But first, to start, one has to get in the boot, where the engine is located. Make sure the engine is oiled, open the petrol tap, tickle the carb and adjust two more levers that are on the steering quadrant. The lever nearest to the driver is the throttle, the one opposite is the advance/retard. Set this one to fully retard, and the throttle at a third or so. Beneath the drivers left leg, there is an ignition switch, that must be set from A (Arrêt) to M (Marche). Then to the starting handle, which is located on the right side of the car. A few hefty rotations should make the engine start ! If it doesn't, check if the automatic inlet is not sticky. If it isn't, it should make a gargling sound, meaning it lets the air in.
Once the engine is started (and the advance lever advanced), to get the car in motion, the gear lever is gently moved by the drivers left hand from its neutral position (at 9 o'clock), towards the driver (6 o'clock), which makes it go into first gear, very very smoothly. Throttle up a little, and when speed is gained, move from 6 to 12 o'clock, clockwise, to get to top gear. Indeed, there are only two gears ! In the meantime, do not forget to keep steering, with the right hand, mostly.
An important question comes up: how to stop it ? For braking, the driver's left foot can push the transmission brake, but it is not as effective as the contracting band brakes on the two rear wheels. The control of this is with the gearchange lever, which can also be pushed down, when in neutral, thus giving a most effective braking.
All of the above takes about a minute to explain, and three and a half minutes to get used to ! And most importantly: once one gets the hang of it, it is tremendous fun !
One of the most used and at the same time superfluous words in body description in the years before WW1 is the word torpedo. In fact, in the period 1910 to 1914 most cars were in a way torpedo, and before that many were. However we have to distinguish here between the natural development of body design and the word itself. To start with the latter, the word 'torpedo' was introduced in 1908 for a specific Grégoire design by the Belgian captain Masui, who was at the time the english agent for Grégoire. Early 1910 two letters were published in La Vie Automobile under the headline "Toujours le 'Torpedo'". In the first letter the engineers Rheims and Auscher, the owners of the famous coachbuilding firm Maison Rothschild, claimed that they had in fact invented the torpedo body, referring to La Jamais Contente built for Jenatzy and the De Dietrich built for M. de Païva, both in 1899. In the reaction letter captain Masui disagreed with this claim, arguing that he had been the first to use the word, although he admitted not to have invented the concept.
The torpedo concept meant the same to body design as the 1901 Mercedes had done to mechanical design. It referred not only to the gradual transition from bonnet to body: other aspects were the introduction of front doors and straightening of the body line. Besides the body structure was made both lighter and stronger. It was a natural development and led to the definitive breakaway from the traditional horseless carriage body shape: you could say that modern body design started here! Although the torpedo was designed to increase the comfort of the driver and front passenger, a negative side effect was that the removal of the engine heat became more problematic. In hot areas like the South of France in summer this sometimes led to 'Senegalic' temperatures inside the vehicle. However, as a famous dutch soccer player once stated, every disadavantage has its advantage: a Frenchman noted that people suffering from rheumatism experienced a serious reduction in complaints in this 'oven', so he decided to start a Society for the Exploitation of Torpedo-taxis to be used by rheumatic patients ...
The light car above is British and as many as five examples survive from a production of about 2,500. It was another make to suffer from the popularity of the Bullnose Morris, but nevertheless featured in competitions and won Gold medals.
The designer responsible for it was an engineer and inventor of extraordinary vision and his pioneering work in other areas brought him widespread fame.
That should be enough you point you in the direction, so please tell us make, year and model and whatever other interesting facts you come across during your research, but in not more than 100 words. Don't forget, your victory may depend on small if not trivial details! Be sure to send in before Monday 25 July to have a chance to win.
Before posting your answer in the comment box below be sure to check The Rules under Read More.
Have a great weekend!
1. Post your answer BEFORE Monday, July 25th
2. Use no more than 100 words
3. Unless otherwise stated there is ONE winner
4. Be sure to mention if you were an earlier winner (1, 2 or Judge)
5. THREE time winners automatically become jury member, but there is no obligation in any way
6. Check next week Saturday if you are a winner and then provide us with your mailing address. Send it to: office & prewarcar.com (exchange & for @)!
Antonio Canova's neoclassical statue 'The Three Graces' is said to depict the three daughters of Zeus - Euphrosyne, Aglaea and Thalia who represent beauty, charm and joy. The statue came to mind when we saw the picture of Hannah, Jessica and Annie taken at Chateau Impney's Hill climb recently.
As the three young ladies posed beside their favourite cars before going in to the saturday evening ball, we certainly see beauty, charm and joy.
Hannah has chosen the 1911 28½ litre FIAT S76 ( The Beast of Turin), while Jessica enjoys the radiator's warmth from the 1909 Lorraine De Dietrich of 16½ litres and Annie leans against the 25 litre 1905 Darracq V8 which history describes as 200HP but owner Mark Walker reckons it's nearer 300HP and they didn't have the instruments to measure so much back then.
Hannah is more at home in her Morgan Super Aero and it looks like Jessica might follow in her footsteps.
Text Robin Batchelor, pictures courtesy Hannah Enticknap.
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