THE GREAT PIONEERS
ALMOST everyone of the younger generation must have had to suffer at one time or another from the implied reproach of the old timer who complacently remarks, ” You’ve no idea what motoring was when we started ; tube ignition and tiller steering took some skill in operating, I can tell you. Nowadays cars are so reliable that the romance of motoring is dead.” And in the face of these reminiscences our journey to Scotland non-stop on an effete sports car which we bought for a tenner seems a feeble performance. Yet some little consolation may perhaps be derived from the fact that old so-and-so who started motoring in 1900 was really indebted to a whole host of predecessors in automobilism who through trials and tribulations had already done much to perfect the motor car.
To the average person, I suppose, the beginning of motoring dates back only to the Emancipation Day Run of 1896 or perhaps to Paris-Rouen of 1894, and one is inclined to forget those real pioneers, hardy individuals who almost before the dawn of motoring history were undertaking journeys with machines which really would leave the modern motorist aghast and with adventures enough to satisfy the most daring.
Of such, for instance, was Leon Serpollet. Since his earliest youth Serpollet had had a passion for things mechanical, and at the age of 23 he went to Paris where he acquired a little workshop and set to work ofl the realisation of his dream of constructing an automobile on which he could journey over the long white roads of France. At that time, for we are Speaking of the eighties, steam was the Obvious motive force, and Serpollet was 300131 engaged in the study of the steamengine. His experiments as everyone knows resulted in the invention of the famous Serpollet boiler, but although he himself constructed two rudimentary steam tricycles, the realisation of his dreams had to await his meeting with 11. Armand Peugeot, the head of the famous bicycle factory. In the great industrialist Serpollet found a sympathetic hearer when he expounded to him his
schemes for an automobile ; and as a result of these conversations there was built in the Peugeot factory at Audincourt, then under the control of M. Rigoulot, a really practical vehicle which was to be driven by Serpollet’s engine.
The machine was a tricycle, with two large wheels at the rear and a small one in trout, mounted in a fork terminating in a handle-bar, The seat for two passengers was set across the car just in front of the axle, behind which was the Serpollet water tube boiler, and the twocylinder vertical engine which drove the axle by a chain. The vertical chimney at the back lent an air of comedy to the little car. The machine was exhibited at the Tuileries in 1889 and aroused much comment both favourable and hostile, but Serpollet was impatient to undertake a really long run on his new car, and in BY K. H. KARSLAKE
January, 1890, in spite of the inclemency of the season he decided to set out on no less a journey than that from Paris to Lyons, a distance of 300 miles. In this desperate endeavour he was accompanied by his friend Archdeacon, a man who was always ready for any sufficiently sporting adventure, and who dressed himself for the run in a high stiff collar and a bowler hat.
Paris to Lyons in 1890!
Together therefore they set off from Paris one cold January morning on the road to Lyons. The first day all went well, and at 7.30 in the evening they drove into Sens, having covered the last 40 miles from Melu.n in less than 4 hours— good going when it is remembered that the boiler was coke fired and that stops to clear the grate were consequently frequent. The next day, however, the pioneers’ adventures began, for just as they were arriving at Briennon, where a crowd of people had collected to see the new ” horseless carriage, “Serpollet discovered that the steering had failed. He managed to stop the tricycle in safety, but investigation showed that the front fork had broken. Serpollet, however, was not the man to be stopped by such trifles, and telling Archdeacon to look after the throttle and the brake, he himself lay flat on the floor of the car and steered it by means of shrewdly directed taps on the revolving front wheel. Thus to the general excitement the car threaded its way through the curious crowd in Briennon and finally reached a wheelwright’s where a repair was effected,
the weight of the car being sensibly increased as the result of his efforts.
Thus with constant incidents and adventures the two hardy travellers continued on their way. One Sunday, about midday, the car was coming down the long hill into St. Florentin, when without warning the single brake suddenly ceased to function. In a moment the tricycle was away down the hill, gathering speed at every yard, and as they hurtled down the gradient Serpollet had horrible visions of arriving in the town at full speed with his machine quite out of control, probably just at the moment when the good people bf St. Florentin were pouring out of church. However St. Christopher apparently was watching over the travellet’s; the hill ended just where the houses of the town began, and a side street which climbed uphill again gave Serpollet his chance to pull up. Slightly shaken but otherwise none the worse the automobilists dismounted and set about repairing the brake.
A broken axle.
Once more en route all went well for a time, until while bowling along merrily on a good stretch of road near Darcey, not far from Dijon, the horrified motorists suddenly espied one of their back wheels careering along ahead of them on its own. The next moment the car made a lurch to the left, the bottom of the boiler descended on to the road and using it as a pivot the car turned completely round to finish up facing the way it had come. Investigation showed that the driving axle had broken, while the wheel which had gone on by itself for a hundred yards had. mounted the bank and finished up ii a bush. There was nothing for it but to telegraph to Paris and await the arrival of a new axle by the train.
At last, however, after innumerable adventures of which those recited are but a selection, the travellers reached the La Buire works at Lyons, having covered 300 miles in an automobile in mid-winter 1890. Arrived in the town Serpollet took his machine to a weighbridge, where he discovered that by reason of the repairs which had been effected his car had gained 150 kilogrammes en route !
The experience of building Serpollet’s tricycle had not been lost on M. Armand Peugeot. The latter at this time was in close touch with M. Levassor of Panhard et Levassor, and the latter firm had lately begun to build in France the petrol engines invented by Herr Gottlieb Daimler of Wurtemburg. One day M. Levassor suggested to M. Peugeot that the latter should build the cars to be equipped with Levassor’s engines, and Peugeot Was delighted with the idea. Without delay he set about the construction of an automobile, a little quadricycle with wire wheels and a hollow tubular frame in which the cooling water for the engine circulated. The V-twin 2+ h.p. Daimler motor was mounted at the back, and drove through a sliding pinion change speed gear of the type invented by Levassor and a belt forward to a countershaft whence the final drive was by side chains. Ackerman double-pivot steering was used with a two hand grip tiller, and the wheels were equipped with solid rubber tyres.
The Peugeot Quadricycle.
In 1891 was run the first long distance bicycle race, organised by le Petit Journal” from Paris to Brest, and M. Peugeot decided that his car should undertake no less a task than that of following the race and thus having its performance officially verified. First of all, however, the car had to be got from the Peugeot works at Valentigney in the
East of France to Paris, and it was decided that this journey of 290 miles should be made by road. One fine morning, therefore, M. Ri-• goulot, chief engineer, and M. Doriot, foreman of the works, set off on their long journey. On the whole the car went well, but they soon discovered that the petrol tank which supplied the burners which heated the platinum ignition tubes had been placed too low, with the result that the burners were starved and their wicks charred. This trouble, however, was not nearly so noticeable in the early morning and in the evening as in the middle of the day, and the ingenious automobilists soon had the happy idea of covering the petrol tank with wet grass which protected it from the rays of the sun and kept it cooler. Thereafter the car went better, but while it was capable of some 12 m.p.h. on the level, anything like a steep hill usually brought it down to the lowest
of its four speeds which gave it a maximum of 2+ m.p.h. On these occasions one of the crew invariably walked behind to lend a helping hand if the motor began to fail, but Rigoulot was proudly able to state afterwards that assistance of this kind had not proved necessary on any occasion whatever. At last after sleeping three nights on the road the drivers triumphantly arrived on the fourth day at the Panhard et Levassor works in Paris, having averaged 8+ m.p.h. for the whole of their long journey.
Following a Bicycle Race.
After a short time spent in overhauling the car in the Avenue d’Ivry works, the great day arrived, and at the tail of the long procession of cyclists the little Peugeot set out on its 360 mile journey to Brest. The ‘first day all went well and the automobilists covered the unprecedented distance of 125 miles. The next day they started off again in grand style and hoped to do as well, but after covering rather over 100 miles something broke in the differential Prodigies of ingenuity permitted a repair to be effected with the help of a local blacksmith, and the car not only reached Brest successfully but succeeded in regaining Paris without further breakdowns. All along the road it had aroused the greatest interest and amusing incidents had not failed to result therefrom. A good many of the villages on the route had stationed a man with a trumpet at the entrance to announce to the inhabitants. the approach of the racing cyclists or of the Peugeot automobile, and as soon as the trumpet call was heard the people fairly tumbled out of the houses to get a sight of the travellers. In one village in Brittany the approach of the Peugeot was announced just as one gentleman was changing his clothes ; but determined not to miss seeing the car this individual appeared in the road with one leg in his trousers and the other out, in spite of the fact that according to Rigoulot, he was not wearing any underclothes. Next door to him was a man who had dashed out of the barber’s shop, with the cloth still round his neck, one half of his face shaved and the other covered with soap One of the troubles which beset the crew of the Peugeot were the dogs, which were not in the least accustomed to motor
cars and sometimes threatened to upset the little machine. However, MM. Rigoulot and Doriot equipped themselves with a long coachman’s whip, and found this a most effectual means of keeping off inquisitive members of the canine species. Not content with regaining Paris, the two adventurers pushed on to Valentigney, where they finally arrived having covered over 1,500 miles at an average speed of nearly 10 m.p.h., with the differential trouble as their only serious breakdown. Not bad going for 1891 There are many other real pioneers some of whose adventures have been handed down to posterity. M. Lucotte, for instance, one of the first clients of Panhard et Levassor, to whom a car was delivered early in 1893 with a serious warning : “the car is fitted with three speeds, the high gear giving 1.2 m.p.h., but such high speed demands great attention on the part of the chauffeur and is not always advisable.” M. Lucotte, however, travelled many miles in France : once his car was refused admittance to the yard of a hotel as the proprietor considered it dangerous : once its owner was stoned by some carters and had to seek sanctuary in a rectory : while one day MM. Panhard et Levassor received the following letter from him :—
“I am in Burgundy with the car and without oil, as I have lost my supply. Please send me without delay a quart of oil, by post.”
The St. Gotthard Pass Surmounted.
Then there was Comte Cognard who in 1895 assayed no less a feat than the passage of the St. Gotthard Pass on his Peugeot quadricycle. On the way up the party met a Swiss soldier on a horse, which promptly took fright and communicated all its terror and a bit more besides to its rider. The latter as soon as he could safely dismount telephoned to the next village that an ” amende ” (fine) should be prepared for the people who were arriving in an automobile ; but the postmaster, who was also the local hotelkeeper was not yet very good at hearing on the telephone and thought the soldier said ” chambres ” with the result that the motorists found a pleasanter reception awaiting them than they had expected. The inhabitants of Andermatt also were so impressed with the performance that they prepared the following testimonial
We, the undersigned, attest that M. le Comte and Mme. la Comtesse de Cognard, with a mechanic, more than 75 kilos. of luggage and a watch-dog were able to cross the St. Gotthard in their Peugeot petrol car without any other assistance than that of the engine of the quadricycle.”
Andermatt, 18th August, 1895.
But space would forbid a complete chronicle of the doings of the pioneers, even if all their adventures had been chronicled. Yet I love to think of them sometimes, those lonely travellers, setting forth on the long white roads of France, untouched as yet by the wheels of the automobile. Their contemporaries thought them mad ; and yet they were blazing a trail in which a million of their successors were to follow.