The cult of the vintage car is, it would seem, of longer standing than some of us are apt to suppose. Not, of course, that before the days of the Veteran Car Club and the Vintage Sports-Car Club (to say nothing of Motor Sport, nor with all due humility, of “Baladeur”) anyone was under any illusion that a car was better or more interesting just because it was old; but simply that it was conceded that if a car had once been specially interesting, it might continue to be so, even though it was no longer the latest thing. Thus in the years before 1914, our contemporary, The Autocar, published a series of articles entitled “Famous Cars in Retirement,” and in the course of their researches the authors ran to earth, among others, the 1902 Gordon Bennett Napier, still going strong in 1911; a 1908 “Four-Inch” Beeston Humber and a couple of “Four-Inch” Darracqs, all three of which Darracqs were apparently still in existence in 1913; a 1907 8-litre Kaiserpreis Benz and a Minerva which had taken part in the same race; a 1905 Tourist Trophy Arrol-Johnston; a 1912 Grand Prix Lorraine-Dietrich, which was already regarded as a famous relic in 1913, although it may, I suppose, have been none other than “Vieux Charles III,” which has lasted on into our own day; and a 1908 Grand Prix des Voiturettes Isotta-Fraschini, which I covet exceedingly, in spite of Mr. C. R. Abbott’s assurance that it did not go very well.
But much as I should like to find the little Isotta, still more do I wish I knew what has happened, since 1911, to the Paris-Madrid Ader. I have long had a considerable regard for the Ader (though I do not think that I have ever been sufficiently fortunate even so much as to see one) for several reasons. In the first place, it was a car with a really resounding name, of which “Ader” was a mere vulgar abbreviation, such as “Royce,” its full title being “Société Industrielle des Téléphones-Voitures Automobiles, Système Ader”; and in the second, its makers, as and when they wanted some more power, did not, in pedestrian manner, increase the size of the engine cylinders — they increased the number of them.
The Société Industrielle des Téléphones-Voitures Automobiles, Système Ader car (hereinafter, in the interests of paper economy, called the Ader) first appeared, I think, in 1900, fitted with a 90 degree V-twin engine, which, in the words of a contemporary description, “gives a perfect balance at whatever speed the engine may be running,” and having a bore and stroke of 100 by 100 mm. (1,566-c.c.). In this guise, two Aders started, a couple of years later, in the race from Paris to Vienna. Their makers, apparently, described them to Gerald Rose as voiturettes, but as they weighed 607 kilogrammes, and a voiturette was, by definition, a machine which weighed under 400 kilogrammes, they were set to run with the light cars. They would not, it must be admitted, have been very, successful in whatever category they had competed. The one driven by Valentin apparently broke down irreparably on the first day, and although Simon, on the other one, did reach Belfort, the 233 1/2 miles which separated his first goal from the start at the famous fourche at Champigny took him no less than 1 day 5 hours 15 Minutes and 10 seconds. I calculate that his car, which carried the number 135, left Champigny at about 5.30 a.m. on June 26th, and from this it would appear that it was going on for 11 o’clock on the morning of the 27th before he got to Belfort, by which time his speedier rivals must have been half way across Switzerland. By contrast, the Chevalier Réné de Knyff, who left Champigny at 3.36 a.m. on his 70-h.p. Panhard et Levassor, got to Belfort in 4 hours 18 minutes 30.4 seconds, so that, even allowing for the time spent in the controls, the first day’s racing must have been all over for him by the time that well-regulated people nowadays would be sitting down to breakfast.
Exploits such as this have had their due meed of praise, but no historian has ever properly recorded the courage of such people as Simon, who battled on all through the heat of a June day, who chugged on through the terrors of the unlit night, determined to reach their goal some time, even if their efforts could scarcely still be called racing. Tenearts, on a 20-h.p. Déchamps, apparently took so long to get to Belfort that the officials despaired of him and did not wait to time him; but at the end of the second racing stage, he duly turned up at Salzburg, and his “net racing time” to that point was 2 1/2 days, while Henry Farman had covered the same distance in a little over 10 hours. [Praise is due, yes, but we sometimes wonder how many cars the dictum of a famous driver-journalist, “Finish at all costs,” has sent irretrievably to the breaker’s yard ! — Ed.].
Simon took about the same, 10 hours 9 minutes 55.2 seconds to be exact, for the 197.2 miles from Bregenz to Salzburg; and as this stage included the dreaded passage of the Arlberg, his average of nearly 20 m.p.h. was really better than respectable. Salleron on a 16-h.p. Georges Richard took more than 33 hours over it, and the fact that his time is recorded at all seems to me to indicate a very large measure of patience on the part of the timekeepers, as he must have finished well over a day after the leaders. On the last stage of 184 1/2 miles from Salzburg , to Vienna, Simon took only 6 hours 56 minutes 30 seconds, and thus averaged over 26 m.p.h., in spite of the dreadful canniveaux, which were the feature of the day’s run. His perseverance in continuing after the disasters of the first day was, in fact, amply rewarded; he duly got to Vienna, at an average speed of 13.2 m.p.h., and beat Tenearts in the process by nearly a day.
The next year, one of the 12-h.p. V-twin Aders, driven by Sommier, started in Paris-Madrid, but in the meantime its weight had been reduced by a third, to 399 kilogrammes, and it was thus able to run in its rightful place — as a voiturette. But for all that I think it must have been a private entry, for the firm by now had bigger and better ideas. In the first place the bore and stroke of the V-twin engine were reduced to 80 by 90 mm., and then two of these smaller engines were run in tandem, to give a V-four engine with a capacity of 1,800-c.c. They were mounted, perhaps, in similar chassis to Sommier’s, because they, too, weighed just under 400 kilogrammes, and thus counted as voiturettes. But Simon and Valentin themselves were even more ambitious. If a V-twin could be doubled to make a V-four, why should not a V-four be doubled to make a V-eight? It was, and, voila! there was a team of 32-h.p. voitures legères, with 8-cylinder engines of 3,600-c.c. in a chassis weighing less than 650 kilogranunes.
The Aders really did very well in Pari-Madrid, for the three V-eights, the three V-fours and the one V-twin which started all reached Bordeaux, and all did so in very respectable times. But what is rather remarkable is that the V-four, driven by Birnbaum, proved itself the fastest of the team, averaging 40.5 m.p.h. compared with Valentin’s 38.6 m.p.h. on the fastest of the V-eights. The former must, in fact, have been a most delectable vehicle, and when I add that it was one of these V-fours which came to England, and was discovered, eight years later, “in retirement,” my interest in it can, I think, be excused.
This much I have known for some time about the Ader car, without, frankly, evincing any very great curiosity about Ader the man, on whose “system” it was built. But in this, I suspect, I have been greatly at fault, because there seems to be good reason for supposing that the Ader in question was none other than Clément Ader, who can, it seenis, at least lay claim to being the father of French aviation. As this is a subject on which I am abysmally ignorant, perhaps some of my more erudite readers will confirm or deny my possibly presumptuous supposition. In the meantime, it seems that Clément Ader was by profession a telephone engineer — I have even seen it stated that he installed the first telephone lines in France — and this fact seems to tie in well enough with the Société Industrielle des Téléphones. He was born in 1841 at Muret, which is a small town on the Garonne, a dozen miles south of Toulouse, and where, apparently, there stands a monument to him to this day. There are, according to the Michelin Guide, five garages in the town, one of which is the agent for Peugeot, another for Berliet, a third for Citroen; none of them, I am sorry to say, is agent for Ader. When Clément Ader built his first aeroplane, which he called “Eole,” in 1890, he was nearly fifty, in spite of which he proposed to fly it himself. It had a wingspan of 14 metres, which, being interpreted, is 46 feet, as near as may be, the wings, on either side of its box-shaped fuselage, being modelled on those of a bat, and it weighed 256 kilogrammes, or just over 5 cwt., “all up,” including the inventor and a 12-h.p. steam engine. On October 9th, 1890, this machine, it is alleged, “skimmed the ground” for a distance of some 50 yards, but even Ader, I gather, hardly claimed that it flew. M. Freycinet, the War Minister, however, was interested, and succeeded in getting the inventor a subsidy so that he could carry on. Thus encouraged, he fitted a 20-h.p. engine in place of the 12-h.p., but I do not gather that, even thus equipped, “Eole II” got any farther off the ground than had “Eole I”
But by 1897 Ader had made real progress. “Eole III,” with which he appeared on October 14th to give a demonstration to the authorities, was substantially larger than “Eole I” and “Eole II.” It weighed 400 kilogrammes — as much as the voiturettes of Paris-Madrid — and was powered by a couple or steam engines, each of 20-h.p., and each with its own propellor. Half-a-dozen years later a couple of V-eights might have taken their places, but for the moment the intrepid Ader was prepared to trust to steam. A couple of days before, the inventor had made some tests, which convinced him that “Eole III” asked nothing better than to take the air, but was a little tail-heavy. In the meantime, he had made some adjustments to the trim, and now he was confident.
Unfortunately, October 14th proved to be foggy. All day they hung about on the parade ground at Satory, while General Mensier, who had been deputed by the War Ministry, to observe the tests, became more and more impatient. At last, at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, a little breeze got up and dispersed the fog. It must have been nearly the dusk of an autumn day, but steam was up, and Clément Ader, full of hope, climbed into the pilot’s seat. Brunet, the engineer who accompanied General Mensier, stationed himself 200 yards ahead, while the sappers clung on to “Eole III,” pitting their weight against the pull of the turning propellors. Brunet held up his hand, the sappers let go, and the machine, shivering a little as it started, began to taxi across the field . . .
Once under way, Ader shut off steam a little, as he sought the exact fore and aft trim. The aeroplane was skimming across the field, drumming the earth with its three wheels. At last Ader was satisfied that the trim was right. Already “Eole III” had covered 300 yards, and it was now or never. The pilot stretched out his hand towards the throttle lever, to pull it open — and at that critical moment a sudden gust of wind struck the machine, pitched it over on to its left side, so that the tip of its bat-like wing ploughed into the ground, and “Eole III” went head over heels, with a hideous clatter, in a cloud of escaping steam.
Clément Ader, I should say at once, survived this alarming experience. But, and this was the burning question, had his aeroplane flown? “It just raised itself enough,” said General Mensier, “to skim the ground.” “I have examined the tracks,” reported Brunet the engineer, “and in two places they are interrupted, which proves that the machine left the ground.” “Had I given her full steam ahead,” declared the inventor, “I should have risen five or six metres.”
Perhaps. But the crude fact remained that that untimely puff of wind had come just too soon, and “Eole III ” was a wreck. If Ader was to continue his experiments he must have another subsidy to pay the repair bill, and at this point, the War Ministry, in the manner of Government departments, suddenly exhibited a typical excess of caution. Poor Ader waited so long for his subsidy that at last he got tired of waiting, and, in a moment of despair, bundled all his drawings, all his notebooks, and even the reimains of the luckless “Eole,” into the fire.
So that was the end of Ader as an aviator, but it was not the end of Ader, who lived on until May 3rd, 1925, when he died at Toulouse, close to his native Muret And in the meantime he had, as I believe, presented the Société Industrielle des Téléphones-Voitures Automobiles with the “système Ader.” Moreover, even if all those notebooks and drawings had really been burnt, I wonder whether their contents had been wholly forgotten. I am at least rather impressed by the following extract from a contemporary description of the 1901 Ader. “There is nothing novel in the transmission, which consists of the usual train of spur wheels and chains; but a valuable feature of this car, is the system of balancing the carriage body so that it remains perfectly steady, whatever vertical movements may be given to the front wheels in passing over uneven surfaces. To each end of the front axle are fixed a couple of rods above and below, and these are carried back in the form of a triangle to a point underneath the carriage. The front of the carriage body rests on a similar pivot secured to the lateral leaf spring on the axle, so that while either wheel may be raised as much as possible, the carriage body maintains a perfectly horizontal position. The triangle formed by the rods and the axle seems, moreover, to add to the rigidity of the underframe.”
Does this “underfrarne” resemble, perhaps, the underframe that might have been used on the ill-fated “Eole,” or is this merely fancy? In either case, the Ader car does not seem to have survived much longer than the Ader “avion” (the word, it seems, was Ader’s invention, and this at least has lived on in the French language). But in the war of 1914-18, the pioneer aviator was once more in the limelight, as the author of a standard work on aerial warfare; and as he watched the successes of the French squadrons, it may have pleased his fancy, as his thoughts went back to Paris-Madrid, to think that the Hispano engine which powered so many of their machines was at least a V-eight.
[We wish with our valued contributor that an Ader may yet come to light, but feel that a more likely find would be the 1914 G.P. Nagant, which the Autocar pictured. during 1928 as road-equipped and in active use by an enthusiastic gentleman residing in Scotland. — Ed.]