Veteran Types XXX — A 1914 Bébé Peugeot

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37

We are very glad to be able to continue this popular series with a contribution from E. K H. Karslake, who originated these articles. — Ed.

Count Stanislas Boguslas Leszczynski (if the printer can manage that one) having, to his own and practically everybody else’s extreme astonishment, been elevated to the throne of Poland, and having, to practically nobody’s astonishment at all, been rapidly dethroned again, found himself, owing to his foresight in having married his daughter in the meantime to King Louis XV of France, relegated to the status of Duke of Lorraine, in which situation he was burdened with few political cares and blessed with a comfortable income. A part of the latter he expended on the most worthy objects — his beautiful buildings at Nancy remain to this day as his enduring monument — but a part of it he frittered upon such frivolities as the collection of dwarfs.

The real name of the first of them, who came from the Ardennes, was Nicolas Ferry, and he was 33 inches high; Stanislas called him “Bébé.” But when his reign as dwarf to the Court of Lorraine had lasted unchallenged for some 11 years, there arrived one day from Poland a young gentleman of 22, named Joseph Boruslawski, whose stature attained only 28 inches. Stanislas was delighted, appointed him also to be a court dwarf, and called him “Joujou.” Whereupon poor “Bébé” died of a broken heart.

All of which may or may not be found of interest by my readers, but would seem to have singularly little to do with veteran motor cars. However, the dénouement approaches. When one day about two hundred years after Nicolas Ferry’s arrival at Luneville, a friend of mine informed me that he knew of a Bébé Peugeot which he believed to be for sale, my mind rather naturally flew to the original Bébé Peugeot, which appeared in 1901 and which, with its vertical 5-h.p. single cylinder represented the first break-away of the house of Peugeot from the horizontal engine. Quickly I turned up a contemporary description of it. “The motor is a 5-h.p. vertical engine,” I read, “and can be accelerated to give 6 1/2 h.p. The approximate weight of the car is 7 cwt. Ignition, high-tension system with sparkling (sic) plugs, and induction coil with tremblers. . . .Some 3 1/2 gallons of water are carried, which is sufficient to do about 300 miles without replenishing . . . The foot brake acts upon the differential, and the lever brake upon the hubs on the driving wheels, holding as well backwards as forwards . . . The machine is absolutely weather-proof, covered in red leather, and carries, two passengers."

Well as to its being “absolutely weatherproof,” the operative word in this context is obviously the “machine,” because it is clear from the accompanying illustration that it was innocent of windscreen, sides or hood, and as far as the two passengers were concerned, certainly wasn’t weatherproof at all. However, it was covered in red leather, which is more than you would get nowadays, and I suppose you can’t have everything.

In any case, as far as the Bébé Peugeot of 1901 is concerned, I was not being offered the chance of having anything at all; for closer enquiry revealed that the car to which my friend was referring was of a type which first saw the light of day about eleven years later. In fact it was not really Bébé at all, but Joujou.

When this second “Baby Peugeot” was introduced in 1912, our contemporary The Autocar felt constrained to refer to it as “the new Baby Peugeot.” “The forerunners of this car,” it remarked in October, “were the Baby Peugeots of 1901 and subsequent years, many of the earlier types of which are still on the road.” It was no more than was due to the old single-cylinder that this should be made clear; there may even have been a thought at the back of the writer’s mind that, in 11 years from 1912, it wasn’t very likely that there would be many of the new-fangled 4-cylinders still going. And in three times that number of years, well . . . !

As a matter of fact the “new” Baby Peugeot was not as new as all that. Some time before it made its appearance, its design had been conceived in the fertile brain of none other than Ettore Bugatti. Its prototype had even been built — in the guise of the Baby Bugatti. The directors of the great house of Peugeot had seen this remarkable creation and had been conquered; forthwith they had bought the rights to the design. Having done so, however, they apparently became a trifle bashful. It really was such a curiosity — what would the motoring world say to it? Diffidently, they decided that Bébé — or rather Joujou — should be first shown to the public in the provinces — and at an exhibition of agricultural machinery!

But of course their fears were completely-groundless ; the new Bébé Peugeot caught on at once, and became, I suppose, a great deal more famous than ever the old one had been. After all, a,”single” of 94 by 94-mm. bore and stroke was nothing very remarkable in 1901; in 1912 a 4-cylinder engine with dimensions of 55 by 90 mm. and a capacity of only 850 c.c. undoubtedly was. It created the same sort of impression as did the Austin Seven when it made its appearance a decade later.

Since a bore of 55 mm. did not otherwise permit of very large valves, Ettore decided on a T-head — always an endearing feature where the present writer is concerned. Otherwise the engine was a fairly conventional reproduction in miniature of larger 4-cylinder power units, although its neat monobloc casting has a decidedly Bugatti air. Even more Bugatti was the provision of reversed 1/4-elliptic springs at the rear, a feature which in 1912 caused an unusual degree of interest, seeing that the products of Molsheim were not then so well known as they became in later years. It was upon the transmission, however, that le patron really expended his ingenuity. Like Georges Sizaire before him, he decided that it was time for somebody to break away from the tradition of Levassor’s “brutal but it works” change-speed gear — I have, in fact, been accused of a special penchant for such departures, but that is by the way. Bugatti’s solution in any case was quite different from Sizaire’s. With an 850-c.c. engine, he apparently decided that two speeds were quite enough; and in order to provide them he devised two concentric propeller shafts, one solid and the other tubular, both of them in constant mesh with their own bevels in the back axle. On the forward end was a sliding sleeve, equipped with internal and external dogs, one or other of which could be engaged with dogs on the clutch-shaft, whereupon either the solid propeller shaft drove and the tubular one ran idle or vice versa. I suspect that in the original design no reverse at all was provided — after all, Bébé, or rather Joujou, was so light that you could always wheel it backwards. By the time, at any rate, that it became a Peugeot, however, those responsible for it had retreated from this position and, rather reluctantly, one feels, an intermediate pinion had been provided in the back axle, which could be brought into use by means of — a Bowden wire!

As a matter of fact, M. Bugatti’s estimate of the power range of his engine, which admitted to 6 h.p., proved a trifle optimistic, and after it had been in production for a couple of years as a Peugeot, it was decided to provide it with a third forward speed. Accordingly, the front end of the propeller shaft grew a gearbox in the shape of a bulge on one side of it, a sliding pinion to give the necessary reduction for a lower first speed was encased in it, as well as a reverse gear, and a second selector-rod took the place of the original Bowden wire. For the second time in its career, the house of Peugeot had bowed to the inevitability of the Levassor principle. All this had happened before the car that I was seeking had been built; it was, in fact, a very up-to-date Bébé Peugeot indeed.

It was late summer when I first saw Joujou, and it was not much later in the summer when, completely captivated, I had succeeded in becoming his proud possessor. Duke Stanislas of Lorraine had nothing on me now; my dwarf was minute! Admittedly, he had a sheared magneto drive, but that seemed unlikely to prove incapable of fairly easy repair. Of much greater moment, his tyres clung around his little wire wheels wrinkled with all the cares of extreme old age. And the size of them was 550 by 65.

For the rest of that summer we vainly searched for replacements. Tyre manufacturers up and down the country were sympathetic but regretted that they were too busy making 550 by 16, or some such uncouth sized covers, to press me a set of 550 by 65. Most of the acknowledged experts in old tyres confessed that they had never even heard of the size. At last, as summer gave way to autumn, we reluctantly decided that there was nothing for it but to rebuild the wheels.

Autumn gave way to normal winter, normal winter gave way to unprintably abnormal winter, anyone I tried to talk to about the spokes for my wheels could only talk to me about the spokes that Mr. Shinwell was putting in their wheels, winter reluctantly gave way to spring and my spokes got lost on the railway, spring began to merge into early summer and the spokes were found again — and found to be too long. The Veteran Car Club announced a rally and hill-climb for May 17th and my six months’ patience gave way to its unbounded opposite.

And then suddenly the whole scene changed in the twinkling of an eye. The magician in charge of Joujou having at last been provided with the necessary ingredients of a magic wand, waved it with remarkable success and a few days at the beginning of May sufficed to accomplish what we had been waiting for in vain for months.

Joujou, with tyres duly fitted and magneto securely coupled up, was accommodated at certain premises on the North Circular Road which are not unknown, I understand, to a number of persons who are in the habit of taking their motor cars there in search of those elusive hundred revs, which will enable them to clip that all important fifth of a second off the existing record for Shelsley Walsh or Prescott. I found him, when I got there, surrounded by Type This and That Bugattis (his younger brothers), by Grand Prix Sunbeams and racing Maseratis. He was literally tiny. By comparison with all around him, he looked rather like a “Blue Bug.” stood against a 1912 Grand Prix Fiat. He who was in charge of the tuning of the somewhat potent motors all around, however, was regarding my piece of agricultural machinery with something apparently akin to awe. “I have now done what you asked me to do,” he said, “and unless you have any other views, I don’t propose to do any more. With cars like this, once you begin, you never know where you’ll end.” I agreed hastily that the first thing to do was to see whether it would work.

As a start, we decided to drain and refill the sump. Now, unfortunately, I had, during those long months of waiting, had one piece of what I thought at the time was excellent good fortune. I am not unacquainted with a certain number of secondhand booksellers who are aware that I am interested in motoring literature and are kind enough to put on one side anything of the sort which chances to fall into their net. Passing one of these dangerous ports of call one day soon after the acquisition of Joujou, I looked in and was offered nothing other than an instruction book for a 1912 6-h.p. Peugeot. I paid the modest 2s. asked for it with less than no demur and bore it home triumphant.

With regard to the grade of oil which we ought to put in, the instruction book did not prove a very great help. “Only a very fluid mineral oil of good quality should be used,” it remarked airily. And with regard to the quantity, it was a positive handicap. “Two taps,” it remarked, “will be found on the side of the crankcase. Open the lower of these, and if oil flows out the quantity in the crankcase is sufficient. Then open the other and if oil flows out here also the quantity is excessive. The capacity of the engine is about gallon.”

This seemed rather surprising as the sump did not look very big, but I opened the top tap (I should have done better to open the bottom one) and we started to pour. The filler was very small and the oil, though reasonably fluid, went in very slowly, and after Joujou had sunk his first pint we were beginning to wonder however long this business was going to take when we suddenly noticed that oil was coming out of the top tap. The quantity inserted, alas was already excessive! We then realised that the “capacity of the engine” referred to in the instruction book meant the combined capacity of the sump and the auxiliary tank on the scuttle, whence the former is replenished by way of two drip-feeds. However, we added a gallon of petrol, flooded the carburetter and, trembling with excitement, I twiddled the starting handle.

The engine started on about the second turn and, the throttle being set rather wide open, proceeded to run at a brisk speed. From the back of Joujou there poured a dense cloud of stifling blue-black smoke, and in a few seconds visibility in that elegant tuning shop was reduced to about three inches. At this point we became aware that there was no earth wire on the magneto, and consequently no very speedy method of dispatching this monster that I had thus light-heartedly let loose. Ignominiously Joujou was pushed out into the open to belch rudely at the passing traffic on the road.

However, we managed to get the surplus oil to drain out of the crankcase, Joujou was put through his paces on all forward speeds and reverse, and on the evening before the Rally I took him along to the pumps to take on some more petrol. The interested owner of a box-on-wheels who was similarly engaged thereupon entered into conversation.

“How old would that one be then?”
“1914.”
“How fast does it go?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know; I’ve only driven it about a quarter of a mile.”
“What’s it do to the gallon?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know that either, but it hasn’t used a gallon yet.”
“Oh ! Quite a novelty.”

I forebore to suggest his trying a similar ending to a conversation with one of the more snooty assistants in some particularly expensive antique furniture shop.

Contrary to every precedent, the morning of the Rally dawned bright and clear, Joujou started like an angel, and at a quarter to nine we were bowling along the North Circular Road, bound for the Hog’s Back Hotel. One member of the party having been delayed, the particularly business-like Aston-Martin which was to have accompanied us had to be left behind to wait for him. But Joujou was going like a bird and we felt that a tender would have been quite unnecessary anyhow. Admittedly, one noticed that there were hills in places where you never knew there was a hill before, but that just provided a little pleasant exercise in gear-changing. I soon began to think that perhaps there was something in the theory about my penchant for unconventional boxes, or rather, lack of boxes, after all. Certainly I found playing with these dogs extremely attractive, although the motions required are somewhat curious. First is towards you and back, with reverse forward on the same selector; but in order to reach second, you have to go through the gate and back again (of course Bugatti always was addicted to pushing the lever forward for top). This change from first to second, however, did not prove difficult, once one had mastered the fact that, in order to make any change at all, you have to push down a knob on the top of the lever which feels as if it ought to be a reverse stop, and has steeled oneself to go so far forward in search of the gate that you are convinced you must bit reverse. As to the change from second to top, it is only excelled by that from top to second.

Staines was reached and still no sign of the Aston-Martin. However, so far we were well up to time, and at this point we remembered that for the purposes of the hill-climb which was to succeed the Rally, all competing cars had to bring with them a certificate of their weight. We therefore repaired to the gasworks, and put Joujou on the weighbridge, much to the disgust of the good people of Staines, who had come to fetch their week-end coke and found that no one would attend to them because they were much too interested in looking at Joujou. He turned the scales, so it proved, at 8 cwt. 2 qrs. and 14 lbs. The man in charge gave me a certificate to say so, and requested me to go and pay 6d. at the office. Arrived there, I was asked for 1s., meekly paid it and was walking back when I was overtaken by the man from the office, flourishing a sixpence. He had just caught sight of Joujou, and he had charged me for something weighing 8 tons!

We passed through Chertsey and Woking; owing to my inefficiency we went through Guildford as well, instead of taking the by-pass, and slowly but surely we climbed the long hill to the Hog’s Back. Arrived at the top, Joujou seemed to be going better than ever, and as we bowled along at about 40 m.p.h. on a slight downgrade, it felt as if we were doing eighty. At a quarter past eleven we triumphantly clocked in at the Rally point. At the other end of the line of cars, looking slightly disdainful, stood a real Bébé Peugeot, vintage 1902. Five Minutes later the Aston-Martin turned up.

We were, of course, feeling pretty pleased with ourselves; we were suffering from the sort of pride that goes before a fall. After lunch the cars had to go in procession to Charterhouse School, and to this Joujou objected strongly. It had turned into a blazing hot day, the traffic on the Surrey roads continually held up the procession, and the water pump, which had been leaking moderately during the morning, decided now to leak most immoderately. Joujou was getting hot and bothered; a valve cap where there had earlier on been a slight compression leak, blew its gasket altogether. Joujou developed the speed of a snail and nothing like the requisite power to remove the skin from the proverbial rice pudding. We reached Charterbouse and descended the test hill, very slowly, in accordance with instructions. When we got to the bottom Joujou had oiled all his plugs. We set about remedying matters as best we could. We cleaned the plugs — even fitted two spares to the worst offending cylinders. We filled up with water and we tried to tighten the leaking valve cap. By the time our turn for the climb came, Joujou had been restored to life, at least as a 3-cylinder. As such, however, our progress up the hill was not rapid; three times the luckless and heroic passenger was constrained, on a very hot afternoon, to dismount and take advantage, of the permission accorded to him by the rules to render “light manual assistance.” However, we reached the top eventually and our misfortunes at least gave us an opportunity to appreciate the good manners of our hosts: instead of jeering, they clapped !

I perceive, Joujou, that before you can also be relied upon to be such a perfect little gentleman, we shall have to have some long quiet hours together. But this much at least I know, that they will not be hours misspent. After that 50-mile run to the Hog’s Back, I have learnt what you can be if you try. And if you do succeed in overcoming your distemper, you shall have a lovely new coat of sky-blue paint, instead of the dirty elephant grey which some previous owner thought suitable for you, and I will polish your brass radiator until you are the cynosure of every eye.