V.—A 6 h.p. De Dion Bouton of 1902, and hozv, after many vicissitudes, it finally reached Brighton.
SOME time ago, in the early summer of 1930 to be more accurate, the idea came upon me with overwhelming force that I must somehow get possession of an early motor car of an age which rendered it eligible for the London to Brighton Run and other similar functions. Thereupon I began to make discreet enquiries, and after some little delay I was informed by the village garage that they had heard of a motor that they thought would do nicely for me. It soon transpired that some short time previously the owner had been presented with the car which had been left neglected since its former possessor had abandoned it at the beginning of the war. The new owner was in his family business of traction engine builders, and he had therefore removed the engine from the chassis; and carted it away to the traction engine works. There he had taken it all to pieces, and then apparently despairing of putting it together again, had lost interest. I am not altogether surprised, for although I may be quite wrong, the thought of building traction engines conjures up in my mind visions of enormous and villainous adjustable spanners and equally sinister pipe-wrenches. At any rate when we reached the traction which was en was joying its Saturday afternoon we skirted a number of leviathans of the road in various stages of manufacture, and discovered under a bench a large wooden box containing a complete set of parts of an early single-cylinder De Dion Bouton engine. At the same time the owner produced a letter from his pocket which was from the De Dion Bouton Company’s agent in London and which stated that the engine number so-and-so “according to our records” left the Puteaux factory in
the year 1902. So far so good, and getting back into the car, we climbed the hill out of the town, and arrived at a house on its outskirts. Here at one end of the kitchen garden a wooden shelter was built against a wall, and under the shelter, exposed on three sides to the fury
of the elements, there stood the remains of a motor car. As we approached it a hen, which had been nesting comfortably in the boot at the back, departed clucking peevishly.
The motor was of course innocent of engine. It had once apparently been painted fawn, though having presumably been standing there for about a decade and a half, the weather and the hens between them had successfully obscured its pristine glory. The leather of the seat cushions was dry and cracking, and the tyres, still brilliantly white, were mere twisted bands.
The ancient chassis was loaded onto a lorry with the wooden box containing the assorted engine parts, and the whole outfit was transported to the village garage. Now at this point it is necessary to introduce a most important influence in the life of the De Dion in the form of George. The village garage, I should explain, really had its origin in the combination of factors of the local laundry investing in a tube-ignition Daimler with which to deliver the washing, and the purchase by my father of just such a De Dion as that which I had just acquired, both in the young years of the century. At that time George was “the boy,” who was perpetually sent underneath the motors to get at the really inaccessible and oily parts which nobody else wanted to tackle. The result is that what George does not know about a 6 h.p. De Dion is hardly worth knowing, while he has a firstclass working knowledge of most other early cars. on the De Dion was started, and Thus work on the De was as I had to be in London all the time except for the week-ends, George was left largely to his own devices. At this stage I think that some description of it would
not be out of place. In the first place, as connoisseurs will see from t he photographs, the car
is not really a De Dion Bouton. At the beginning of the century the Panhard et Levassor held a place in the world motoring of that gave it without question in a pre eminent position among cars.
Everyone wanted to own a Panhard, but not everyone was willing to pay the price which its design and workmanship demanded. Thus it was that various enterprising people found it worth while to purchase a Panhard gear-box and various chassis parts, and supplement them with certain components of their own manufacture. The car was then powered with a 6 h.p. De Dion Bouton engine, which was so popular that even such great constructors as Renault freres of Billancourt found it convenient to use it for their cars.
The Power Unit.
The engine itself is a single-cylinder of 100 x 120 mm. bore and stroke, thus having a capacity of 942 c.c. The original De Dion carburettor, of which more anon, supplies mixture to an automatic inlet valve in the head, situated directly above the side exhaust valve. The crankcase is large and the webs of the crankshaft form two heavy fly-wheels, while there is also the ordinary exterior flywheel enclosing the leather cone clutch. In order to drive the magneto we mounted a sprocket on the nose of the crankshaft and used an ordinary motorcycle type chain drive. The car carries a large water tank on the dashboard, whence water is circulated through the jacket and the coiled gilled-tube radiator.
Behind the cone clutch a short shaft leads to the 3-speed and reverse single selector Panhard gear-box, and thence by an open propellor shaft of diminutive length with two universal joints to a straight bevel final drive. Coining round the corner by the village green one Saturday afternoon, I came upon the De Dion abandoned by the roadside and George walking back the way it had evidently just come, apparently searching for something on the ground. It transpired that during the week he had completed his reconstruction work on the car, had started it up, and had just been on his first test run. “She was coming along a treat,” explained George, “till, just about here it must have been, the bolt and pin fell out of that back universal joint.” A protracted search failed to disclose the missing parts, and finally I had to consent to postponing my first drive on the ” Comtesse II,” as the car had been named after my father’s similar mount. (Its maker I may explain was the Comte de Dion in the early days, although I think that he is now a Marquis). So we pushed the car
back to the garage, and George set about laboriously turning down a massive bar, which he found in one of his many drawers, into a new universal joint pin.
interest of those who are not familiar with the control of early cars, as was my own case at that time, some description of driving the De Dion may not be out of place. On the floor there are, of course, the usual piano type pedals for the clutch and brake operation. Throttle, however, there is none in the ordinary sense. Under the diminutive steering wheel, there are three levers, one of which was originally of the first importance as it worked the advance and retard mechanism of the ignition system ; now, however, the car has a magneto without variable timing, and this lever is thus out of commission. The place of honour as the main engine speed control has thus fallen to the second lever, which operates a device interposed between the cam and tappet and which determines the lift given to the exhaust valve. If the valve is only allowed to open half way the exhaust gases cannot all escape, and therefore a reduced charge enters the cylinder.
The third lever certainly approaches the status of a throttle, but is really more of a mixture control and does not have very much affect except when used in conjunction with the exhaust valve control. The De Dion carburettor consists of a single chamber, with the needle valve at the bottom. The chamber contains an anular float, in the middle of which is the jet. Air enters at the tip of the carburettor, and meets a baffle which deflects it downwards, round the bottom of the baffle, over the jet, up again and into the inlet pipe at a point directly opposite where it originally entered. By turning the baffle a passage is opened direct from the air intake into the inlet pipe, and it is this function which is performed by the third control lever, which thus weakens the mixture as opposed to determining its quantity.
To start the engine the second lever is set so that the exhaust valve opens fully, and the mixture is given full rich. Then the engine is pulled over once or twice with a rag held over the air intake of the carburettor, after which a sharp pull up “is sufficient” as they say in the text books “to set the motor in motion.” As a matter of fact, it starts running all out, and there follows a race round to the driving seat to slow it down before the whole car disintegrates from vibration. Usually this results in stopping the engine, and the whole process has to be repeated. However, finally one gets the motor running slow enough to engage first speed, the clutch conies home and the car is off.
The next problem is to get into second. It will be easily understood that the effect of either the exhaust lift or mixture control on the engine speed is neither immediate nor accurately determinable, and there is no process available equivalent to shutting the throttle and changing up. If the engine is slowed down early, either with first speed or in neutral (which anyhow is pretty difficult to find on the quadrant between first and second), the car speed falls so far that the engine cannot pull second speed when you do get it in. The only practical method therefore, is to leave the engine running pretty fast, jab at the clutch and simultaneously shove the gear lever into the second speed notch, which requires a little practice if one is not to overshoot the mark on the quadrant. As a matter of fact, I have driven other cars with quadrant changes, but I have never come across one with a more difficult change than that on the De Dion from first to second. Going into top is of course, much easier, as third speed is the end of all things on the quadrant and one can therefore, shove as hard as one likes. Downward changes also, are absurdly easy.
Well having mastered more or less the control of the veteran, we set out on a number of test runs in the neighbourhood. It was soon apparent that the old car went really well, and bowling along at 28 m.p.h. on top felt delightfully thrilling when one was not used to rather worn rack and pinion steering, a four foot wheelbase and a one foot diameter steering wheel. Of course, a good many things happened. Inadequate knowledge of the controls resulted in the engine stopping fairly frequently and refusing to start again. On one occasion it was discovered that the pin had fallen out of the crankshaft nose and there was nothing for the starting handle to engage with. A long nail found in the boot was tried, but only bent up so that nothing would get it out again, and the car had to be pushed home a long mile in the pouring rain. But on the whole the car went remarkably well, and climbed all the local test hills. Of course also, everyone had to be given a run in the Comtesse, including the gardener who looked most suitable for the part, being complete with a long and patriarchal white beard ; while we became rather =popular with the village football team for distracting the attention of their usual audience of small boys who panted after us on bicycles.
These adventures on the road were interspersed with extensive decoration activities. The old paint was rubbed down as far as possible and I tried my hand as a car painter in giving the Comtesse a coat of purest white, while the wheels were painted crimson, and the chassis given some fresh black. Investigation with oxalic acid and sand paper discovered beautiful brass strips down the shoulder line of the bonnet and the radiator, and the brass flat ventilator over the engine. Somewhere in the stables we discovered the oil lamps of the original Corntesse, and these were cleaned up and affixed. Returning from abroad at the beginning of November we immediately set out for the country to fetch the Corntesse up to London in preparation for the Brighton Run. Hitherto we had made no journey which took us very
far from home, but the Comtesse started off in fine style and we did the 50 odd miles to London with no trouble in 2 hours 40 minutes. Of course, it was a wet day and greasy tramlines gave us some nasty tastes of the “deadly side-slip,” but we arrived safely for all that. Inspection of the car in London however, revealed a rather serious loss of compression, and we set to work to try and improve the inlet pipe joint. Packing with asbestos string, new C. and A. washers and so forth finally affected a partial cure, and at half past ten on the morning of Saturday, 22nd November we set off.
A Spot of Bother.
At the Marble Arch we were held up in a traffic block, and while waiting there the engine stopped. Getting out to restart it I discovered that there was no compression, and full of apprehension we pushed the car to the side of the road. I decided that the spring of the inlet valve had broken, but on taking it down things proved to be worse, for I discovered that actually the head of the valve had broken clean off. 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and the Run the very next day . . .
My companion however, had hastily departed to a garage, and thither the Comtesse was towed. The foreman was gloomy and shook his head. They had no valve anything like that, and the men went off at twelve. One of the mechanics however came to our aid. In a methodical way he extracted the old valve head from the cylinder, where luckily it had done no damage, found an ordinary valve and imperturbably began turning it down to the right sue. By 2 o’clock the Comtesse’s engine was running and we proceeded.
The next day, thank goodness, was gloriously fine, and as we got away at the start we felt we really did not mind if we only got a few miles as it was something to have been a starter at all. However. the Comtesse had never gone better in her life and we bowled merrily along making shrewd adjustments to the controls.
About sixteen miles from Brighton a following car came up alongside of us, and informed us that we were losing water. Just as we were pulling up outside a farm. to investigate, the fact became all too obvious as a gush of water poured out by the near side front wheel. But it transpired that the only trouble was that the water pipe had come unscrewed from the pump, and we only bad to replace it, fill up with water and proceed.
A few miles further on and more water began to appear on the road. This time we found that the packing of the pump had gone, but by taking up all the screws by which its two halves are held together, we reduced the stream to a trickle.
Brighton at last, and as the Comtesse chugged into the Aquarium Garage we felt that the old lady had scored perhaps her greatest triumph. At any rate, the R.A.C. presented her with a most beautiful certificate which states that Number 33 ran from London to Brighton in 3 hours 36 minutes and 5 seconds, which includes stops aggregating about half an hour, and at 15.9 m.p.h. Well that is not so bad for six 27-year-old horses— especially if you knew how many clothes we wore !
—E. K. H. K.