A family hoard hidden away on an airfield for years is finally coming to light
I see that Bonhams is selling 50 motorcycles from the private and little-known Du Pont car and ’bike museum. Years ago I was taken by a member of the Du Pont family to see this collection, housed in a hangar on a small airfield on the East Coast of the USA. I was fascinated by the contents. This branch of the Du Ponts (the same family as the industrial giant) once manufactured cars and there were several of these inside, cars which in their time aimed to be a high-quality rival to Lincoln and Stutz. Sadly the firm was shot down by the Wall Street Crash after Paul Du Pont had also bought the Indian motorcycle business – hence this hangar packed with dusty, unrestored ’bikes of all types but notably Indians, which has got two-wheel fans drooling over the sale.
But over three generations the family had collected plenty of other mechanical excitement: several Vincent ’bikes, a 500cc Cooper untouched since the ’50s, a pedal-powered aeroplane (honestly!) and scads of model planes, cars and automobilia, including a motorised mini-Du Pont built by the factory for a junior family member. My personal highlight was something the firm was making before cars – a petrol-powered washing machine. I guess that if you lived out west in the 1900s and mains electricity wasn’t coming your way any time soon, the idea of filling, priming and pull-starting a small four-stroke seemed a small price to pay to banish those washday blues…
Though Du Pont cars folded in 1932, it arranged an ongoing service service, if you see what I mean, for owners which remarkably was still extant in the 1990s when I visited, still run from the same factory building by the same man. Allan Carter joined the firm in 1926, and while we inspected a very grand Model G Du Pont he told me all about 1929 when, along with Chrysler and Stutz, Du Pont went to Le Mans.
Allan, who effectively was the competition department, prepared the car, a pointed-tail Speedster with 5.3-litre straight-eight Continental engine, and went to La Sarthe with it. If you look it up you’ll find the car reported as retiring after four hours because the sandbag ballast (cars had to carry the weight of four people) broke through the floorboards and damaged the driveshaft, but Allan told me that in fact the team didn’t want to admit that the transmission simply failed. Dissimulation is nothing new.