Sideslips

Author

Baladeur

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by “Baladeur”

The name of Marius Barbarou is not, it would seem, as well known in this country as it ought to be. Indeed, so much is this the case that, when English commentators have occasion to mention it at all, they seem invariably to spell it Barbaroux; but I am convinced that the ‘x’ is quite intrusive. His Christian name alone is enough to label him a southerner, and I believe that I should have philological support for the contention that the “-ou” termination is almost equally racy of the provencal or some allied language. As a matter a fact, he was born at Moissac, which I suppose is really in Guyenne, and where they specialise in white grapes, shad, and, believe it or not, lampreys. But that is beside the point.

What is to it, as far as we are concerned, is that in 1900, when Marius Barbarou was 24 years old. they had an exhibition in Paris; and although, much to the disgust of the healthy, if infant, French industry, they did not make much of a splash over motor cars in the exhibition proper, they did just let some into an annexe.

“There were some cars in the annexe at Vincennes,” records Pierre Souvestre, a trifle bitterly, “but no one knew it, because no one went to Vincennes.” However, if they had gone there they would apparently have seen, among others, a small car designed and built by Barbarou, having a V-engine fitted with what a German account that is before me appears to call “mechanically steered suck-ventilators,” the English for which is, of course, mechanically-operated inlet valves. If there had been a greater number of visitors, they might have placed on record more details of the Barbarou car; the English contingent might even have learned how to spell its builder’s name.

But if the public was absent, the trade presumably was there, and among its more dynamic figures at this time was Adolphe Clément. Clément had started as a racing cyclist, had gone on to build the machines he raced on, and then, in 1894, had sold his by then very flourishing bicycle business to a syndicate headed by Harvey du Cros. Having brought off this deal, he turned his attention to motor cars, and, according to H. O. Duncan, devised the remarkable means of gaining access to what he realised was a growing industry, of buying the land which he equally well realised Messrs. Panhard et Levassor would sooner or later need for expansion. All went according to plan; Clément sold the land to Panhard et Levassor for an interest in the business, and when Emile Levassor died in 1897, Clément, as one of the largest shareholders, was made a director of the Société Anonyme des Anciens Etablissements Panhard et Levassor.

This, however, did not satisfy the energetic Clément; and, taking with him Commandant Krebs, who was Panhard et Levassor’s general manager, he set off to manufacture cars on his own in his factory at Mézières. The only slight snag to the scheme was that, like others since, he had sold his name along with the bicycle business. He couldn’t, it seemed, quite call the car a Clément. But if not, what should he call it? A statue of Bayard outside the factory apparently supplied the answer. The car should be called a Bayard; or, just. to make sure, a Clément-Bayard; or even, just to be difficult, a Bayard-Clément. As for the foreign editions, when eventually they came along, they were called Diatto-Cléments in Turin and Clément-Talbots in Kensington.

In the meantime, by the autumn of 1900, Clement had met. up with Barbarou, presumably at Vincennes, and Barbarout was rewarded for his enterprise over the voiturette by being invited to join the Mézières party, which by now had moved to Levallois. It is not quite clear what Barbarou’s functions were to be, but they seem to have been in no way connected with schemes for mechanically-updated inlet valves. Commandant Krebs was a carburetter expert, who long after this was still convinced that automatic inlet valves, with his carburetter, were just as good as mechanically-operated ones with anybody else’s.

Neither he nor Clément had severed their connection with Panhard et Levassor, and, indeed, it is a little doubtful whether as yet they built any cars of their own design at all. “The Socété Clément,” says a report of the Paris motor show of January 1901, “exhibited three of their well-known types of Panhard voiturettes, one of them a very elegant vehicle in the form of a double-phaeton, but there is no change in the mechanism calling for attention . . .”

By the time of the next show, which was in December, 1901, however, there was something more to be said about their products. “The Société des Cycles Clément,” it was recorded, “have brought out a new type of light carriage, in which they aim at the greatest possible simplicity, to the extent that all the parts that are not essential to the efficiency of the mechanism have been done away with, thus leaving a motor, a train balladeur gear, and a universal jointed shaft.” I am glad that the “train balladeur gear” was considered essential, especially as such trifles as brakes and steering, for example, appear from this description to have been “done away with,” a form of economy which may have induced the reporter to add that “the vehicle has a very neat appearance,” but which would hardly, one would have thought, have conduced to its general usefulness.

Whether or not Barbarou had contributed to the design of this early volkswagen, he had by now become a racing driver, the occasion being the Paris-Berlin race, in which he and Domptet started on “12-h.p. Clément light carriages,” Barbarou’s name appearing on this occasion as “Barbereau,” which is enough to cause endless confusion with the real Barbereau; who drove a Serpollet steamer, not to mention the fact that one is set off on a completely false trail after the 5-h.p. Barbereau-Bergéon car, which weighed 1,280 kgms., and finished a good last, driven by Bergéon, in the Marseilles-Nice race of 1898. However, Barbarou finished the first stage, from Paris to Aix-la-Chapelle, last but two, and Domptet did not finish it at all; so that as Barbarou did not manage the next day’s run, from Aix-la Chapelle to Hanover, that was the end of that, so far as Paris-Berlin and the Clément light carriages were concerned.

However, they returned to the attack the next year, in the Circuit du Nord, only this time, while Domptet and Tart drove 16-h.p. light cars, Barbarou and Vonlatum started on 10-h.p. racers in the voiturette division. And, curiously enough, it was Barbarou who proved much the fastest of the team. From Paris to Arras on the first day his 10-h.p. voiturette took 7 hr. 7 min. 25 scc., while Vonlatum took over 12 hours, Domptet did not finish at all, and Tart on the other 16-h.p. car took 8 hrs. 6 min. 28 sec. Vonlatum got no further than Arras, and although Tart did better on the return journey, Barbarou beat him by five minutes and finished fourth in the voiturette class, behind the time victorious Renaults, being beaten only by the first four light cars. Whatever may have been the case with the standard model, I cannot help feeling that Barbarou’s 10-h.p. racer, having averaged over 30 m.p.h. for more than 500 miles, must have had something more than “a motor, a train balladeur gear, and a universal jointed shaft.”

By the time that Paris-Vienna was run a month later, the Clément light car had grown into a 20,h,p., although the rating seems a little generous when compared with those of the other competitors. The inlet valves were still automatic, while the bore and stroke were 75 by 110 mm., which gives a capacity of under 2 litres; by contrast, the contemporary “16-h.p.” Panhard et Levassor engine had dimensions of 100 by 130 mm. and was thus volumetrically more than twice as big. For all that the Clements put up a very creditable performance. Half-a-dozen of them started, driven by Barbarou, Tart, Domptet, Vonlatum, Comiot and Weigel, who was the English agent for the marque. Domptet, as usual, fell out on the first stage, but all the rest finished, Tart being sixth in the class, Barbarou ninth and Weigel twelfth, although the last named had some very hard things to say afterwards about the criminal folly of those who had induced him to face the terrors of the journey over the Arlberg.

He had, perhaps, had enough of racing for the time being, as he did not appear for the last event of the season, the Circuit des Ardennes in Belgium. Barbarou and Tart, however, were present with their 20-h.p. light cars, and Vonlatum with a voiturette, which was now called 12 h.p., and which may well have used the same engine as the “light carriage” of 1901. In any case it proved highly successful, and finished second in its class; while Tart and Barbarou, less spectacularly, were eighth and ninth in theirs. Somewhere in western Germany, Barbarou had been forced to abandon the Paris-Berlin race, and I do not know whether this fact had any connection with the next step in his career. At any rate, the truth was that down at Mannheim the old firm of Carl Benz was in grievous trouble. From the first, Benz had pinned his faith to the horizontal engine and belt drive, and the majority of other manufacturers in Germany and Austria were content to follow his example. Levassor’s French revolution, which moved the engine to the front of the car and grossly complicated matters by introducing a sliding pinion change-speed gear, probably left him entirely unmoved. It was only in 1901, when his compatriot Daimler, or rather Daimler’s successors, took over these French ideas, improved upon them and called the result a Mercédès, that Benz was seriously shaken.

With low-powered engines and for slow speeds the Benz conception had its points; for the fast and powerful car of the twentieth century something entirely different was obviously needed. The “Benz racing car of 14 h.p.. . . propelled by a double cylinder motor of the Benz pattern and combined belt and spur-gear and chain transmission, giving four speeds, the maximum of which is stated to be from 34 to 37 miles per hour,” which “took the first prize in the Berlin-Leipzig race of 115 miles in September, 1899,” must have been a terrifying vehicle.

But if Benz was to make a radical change, then clearly one of these Frenchmen must be called in to effect it, and for some reason the choice fell upon Barbarou. In October, 1902, he left Levallois and repaired to Mannheim.

Arrived there, he evidently did not waste a moment: the Barbarou-Benz, which sounded the death-knell of the horizontal engine, was ready for exhibition at the Paris Salon a couple of months later. But Barbarou had just finished a two-year course of Krebs, and the “mechanically-steered suck-ventilators” of the Vincennes voiturette were, for the moment, a thing of the past.

“The chassis exhibited by the Benz Co.,” reported the Autocar, “has a vertical two-cylinder motor developing 12 h.p., running at about 1,200 revolutions. The induction valves are automatic, and the throttle valve on the carburetter is regulated as usual by the governor and by hand . . . The change-speed gear has a sliding train of wheels for three speeds and reverse, and power is transmitted by a cardan shaft to the differential on the rear axle.” It certainly sounds suspiciously like the voiturette with which Vonlatum had done so well in the Circuit des Ardennes in July. Benz, in fact, was a little apologetic about it. “We understand,” remarked our contemporary, “that the mechanism exhibited does not represent the definite type of Benz vehicle, as the firm intend adopting many of the Mercédès features in their new motors and transmissions”; adding, as if to soften the blow a little, “the tonneau and double-phaeton exhibited are well-constructed vehicles.”

In any case, they called the new car the Benz-Parsifal, and I suppose there was really no very good reason why they shouldn’t. Bayard’s statue was set up in Meziérès, because he defended the place, sans peur, no doubt, et sans reproche, against the German emperor Charles V, which really had very little to do with Adolphe Clément; and even if the new Benz was probably not very commonly used by searchers for the Holy Grail, its makers were genuinely searching for the secret of the Mercédès success.

By the time that Paris-Madrid was run in May, 1903, a larger edition, rated at 40 h.p., was ready. I do not know whether by now the Mercédès features had been adopted, but the new racer was notable among the big cars in that it only weighed 783 kgms., or well below the maximum of 1,000. Only one car started in the race, driven by Barbarou himself, and it looks as if it must have been entered at the last moment as it carried the number 315 and must have started at the very end of the procession in a race where the back markers did not in general have the best of it. In spite of which Barbarou duly reached Bordeaux, and put up the respectable average of 39.8 m.p.h. in the process.

At this rate one might have expected soon to see Barbarou’s Benz-Parsifal contesting the right of Mercédès to represent Germany in the Gordon Bennett races. But it was not to be, and the reason for this was that in 1904 Messrs. Delaunay-Belleville, boiler makers, of St. Denis, decided to add motor cars to the range of their products. And like Clément and Benz before them, they decided that the man for the job was Barbarou. Barbarou, accordingly, returned from Germany to his native France, and when Benz did make a brilliant re-appearance in racing, in 1907 and 1908, it was with cars designed not by Barbarou but by Fritz Erle, who drove one into seventh place in the 1908 Grand Prix.

However, the new Delaunay-Belleville car was duly ready for the Paris Salon of December, 1904. The Autocar’s reporter, admittedly, was not notably impressed. “The four-cylinder motor,” he remarked, “is a somewhat heavy-looking job, with nothing remarkable about it save the extraordinary curves given to the induction and exhaust pipes.” He does not appear even to have found the round radiator remarkable, in spite of its curves. I do not know whether it was intended to be reminiscent of a boiler, but undoubtedly it was destined to become by far the best-known feature of the Delaunay-Belleville.

Apart from that, quite the most remarkable feature of the Delaunay-Belleville in general is that, almost alone among French marques that can lay any claim to fame, it has never figured in the least prominently in the world of racing. Stately berlines and lordly limousines, yes; but Delaunay-Belleville racing cars, no. And yet for ten years, Marius Barbarou, racing driver, stuck to his new engagement. By 1914 few followers of motor racing can have even remembered him.

But the story of Clément and Benz was destined to have a sequel. The end of the Kaiser War found Barbarou moved again, a few kilometres further down the Seine from St. Denis and on the other side of the big loop of the river from his old haunts at Levallois, down to Argenteuil, where he was now in charge of the Lorraine-Dietrich factory. And very shortly after peace had broken out (very shortly indeed by later “reconversion” standards) it had been celebrated by the appearance of the 3 1/2-litre Lorraine. In its original form, the new model for which Barbarou was responsible was not, to be quite frank, intended at all for a sports car. With its push-rod operated overhead valves it was, let’s face it, an attempt to provide a relatively cheap six-cylinder car; the more expensive models had overhead camshafts.

Perhaps it was this fact which first introduced it to the Grand Prix d’Endurance at Le Mans. Strange though it may seem at this distance of time, the event when it was first run in 1923 was regarded less as an out-and-out race than as a high-speed reliability trial. The object, at first, was not so much to cover the greatest distance in the 24 hours but to cover the requisite distance to qualify for the next round of the Rudge-Whitworth Cup contest. I have been asked before now why such famous French cars of the period as the Hispano-Suiza were never entered for the event. The answer, it seems probable, was that their makers and the public had no doubt of their ability to run at high speed for two rounds of the clock, and the fact needed no demonstrating.

But with the less expensive type of car like the 15-c.v. Lorraine-Dietrich the position was different; and in 1923 two of them, fitted, it was remarked, with particularly comfortable bodies, duly turned out to show what they could do. The result, in the circumstances, was satisfactory: the first car, driven by de Courcelles and Rossignol, covered eighth greatest distance, averaging 48.2 m.p.h., compared with the winning Chenard et Walcker’s 57.1 m.p.h., while the second Lorraine, driven by Bloch and Stalter, was nineteenth.

The next year, 1924, the Lorraine-Dietrichs found themselves the fastest cars on the course, with the significant exception of Duff and Clément’s 3-litre Bentley. The one driven by Bloch and Stalter went out when running second, while Stoffel and Brisson on another finished in that position and de Courcelles and Rossignol’s was third. The greatest distance, 1,291 miles, was covered by the 3-litre Bentley.

It is a curious thing, but there is nothing like a foreign victory for adding prestige to a motor race. After 1924 nobody, quite frankly, cared one of Mr. Shinwell’s kettle-mender’s imprecations about the Rudge-Whitworth Cup; the Grand Prix d’Endurance was the thing, and a thing, from Barbarou’s point of view, worth winning. He brought it off the very next year, when de Courcelles and Rossignol on the leading Lorraine covered 1,388 miles, winning by 45 miles from Chassagne and Davis on the 3-litre Sunbeam, with Stalter and Brisson’s Lorraine third. And he confirmed it in no uncertain manner in 1920, when the Lorraine-Dietrich team scored a grand slam with the first three places and a distance for the winner of 1,589 miles. That was the apotheosis of the post-war Lorraine-Dietrich, and it was also, perhaps, the high-spot in the career of Marius Barbarou.

Lorraine-Dietrich, I am told, are still going. I believe that they make lorries now.