Three-wheeled motor vehicles were known from before the turn of the century. But they are better remembered from the cyclecar era of 1912 to 1922, one reason being that, if you were not averse to crudity, you might as well save tax. In the rosy 1920s a tri-car cost £4 per year for its Road Fund licence, and could be taxed from 1924 at 22/- a quarter, whereas a year’s tax on a Jowett or a 7/12 hp Peugeot four-wheeler set the owner back £7, and Austin Seven believers had to pay £8.
So there may have been some justification for no fewer than 87 makes of three-wheelers coming onto the market in these years and others arriving later, of which the most famous and successful was the Morgan, which emerged from Malvern Link in 1909-10.
These three-wheelers came from all over the world, but were especially common in Britain, where eccentrics were prepared to indulge in eccentric forms of transport. In spite of the predilection of the French for the cyclecar, those with only three wheels were not all that popular, perhaps on account of the French having more lenient taxation of motor vehicles. But although it never really made the grade in this country, the D’Yrsan was not easily ignored in the country of its origin. Indeed, it has been termed the only wholly French-produced three-wheeler, because the Darmont had Morgan connotations, as had the Sandford from Paris.
The D’Yrsan was the brainchild of Raymond Siran, who seems to have wanted to make a conventional four-wheeler but perhaps realised that by restricting himself to three his design would stand a better chance of achieving fame in competitions. The specification of the D’Yrsan was quite conventional, and only the single rear wheel gave Siran’s game away! There was a conventional radiator at the front, and as the Salmson was distinguishable by the X across its radiator, the D’Yrsan had a Y.
The first versions used a four-cylinder Ruby engine, driving through a three-speed-and-reverse gearbox. There was independent front-suspension, not by means of springstruts as on the Morgan, but using pairs of transverse half-elliptic leaf springs, one above the other, to locate the steering-pivots, the steering track-rod ahead of the lower spring.
A tubular chassis frame was used, and the rear wheel was suspended on a pair of fork-ended radius-rods to which the outerends of a pair of quarter-elliptic springs were attached. There was no brake drum to impede removal of the rear wheel, the third brake being on the cross-shaft of the bevel reduction-gear. Final drive was by a Renold roller-chain. Houdaille shock-absorbers were fitted at the back, Hartfords at the front.
The 57 x 95mm 970cc Ruby water-cooled engine had the metal-to-metal disc clutch running in oil and the gearbox in unit with it, and the drive to the reduction-gear was by an enclosed propeller shaft. Ignition was by a Saga magneto, a Solex carburettor was used, and the sports models had the push-rod-ohv Type TS Ruby power unit. The two-seater D’Yrsan weighed only 7 cwt. The early models had acetylene lighting and their wire wheels were shod with Dunlop cord tyres.
Siran put his attractive three-wheeler into production in 1923, at Cyclecars d’ Yrsan, Quai d ‘Asnieres on the Seine, and news of it reached these shores the following year. An agency with the rather unprepossessing name of Trailers Ltd, with offices in London’s Victoria Street, was appointed by the summer of 1924, to sell the standard model for £150, which was £55 more than the cheapest Morgan, and the sports D’Yrsan for £160.
Almost immediately news came in of competition successes. A couple of D’Yrsans gained gold medals in the 1925 Paris-Nice Trial, a strenuous event calling for an average speed of 26 mph in the mountains — the Cyclecar Cup, the Voiturette Cup and another special award going to them. These were the sports models, with flared mudguards, bonnet-strap, and nearside spare wheel.
A gold medal had also been won by the D’Yrsan driven in the 1924 Paris-Les Pyrenees-Paris Trial by Rene Krebs. In the 1925 MCC London-Land’s End reliability trial, W C G Metcalfe competed with a D’Yrsan, making impressive ascents of Porlock and Lynton hills, but failing after the corner on Beggars’ Roost and retiring before he reached Bluehills Mine, whereas of the dozen Morgans that started, eight finished.
Late in 1924 MOTOR SPORT was able to test the standard D’Yrsan demonstrator, which had run more than 7,000 miles and required a decoke. The tester was coy about top speed, but enjoyed the gear change, which had a central lever in a ball-joint. He found the engine lively, but the seating rather cramped. The latter shortcoming was to be remedied, and already electric lighting had replaced the former gas-lighting. The price of £150 now included a spare wheel and tyre, spare inlet and exhaust valve, and a windscreen and hood as standard fittings.
The D’Yrsan Car Company had its own office and service station by 1925, at 33 Kinnerton Street, Knightsbridge, a fashionable part of London, and it certainly seemed to be making every effort to attract enthusiasts. For example, the range ran from the £145 Touring model, through the £155 Sports job and the smart Shell racing-sports D’Yrsan at £160, to the De Luxe Touring car at £173 and the Sports De Luxe priced at £183 (the last two models having Ducellier starting and lighting equipment). All had spare wheels, hoods and screens included in the price.
The Racing-Sports job, with its simple but attractive shell body, was quoted as capable of 70 mph, with an easy cruising speed of 50 mph, and 50 mpg. There was a most imposing Special Racing D’Y rsan which had a fully-faired body with the bonnet blended into the front fairing, and this model was claimed to do 85 mph. The price was quoted only to those who applied, which implies that it was not in regular production.
As if this was not enough to rope in the speed merchants, extras available included a special camshaft for the Ruby engine at £4, 710 x 90 tyres at £1 per wheel (which causes one to shudder at the thought of how slender the normal tyres must have been!), or the security of straight-Sided tyres at £2 extra per wheel, a speed-indicator for £4, a dashboard watch for £2, and an aluminium bonnet for £5 extra. Special colour schemes were to be had for an additional £2. Happy days!
A Coupe de France had been won in the touring section of a French endurance race and on Chateau Thierry hill a D’Yrsan had pulled up from 34 mph in 6.6 sec, in some kind of kilometre-long emergency brake-test down a 10% gradient.
“To try one is to buy one” was the D’Yrsan slogan, yet to my knowledge none came to Brooklands and I know of only one Englishman who had one of these three-wheelers, apart from the aforementioned Mr Metcalfe. He was Mr Brian Carson, who found what appears to have been a 1924-25 ohv sports D’Yrsan (Reg No MH3645) in an old coach-house. It remained in a shed for many years after its new owner became more interested in a rather special 14/40 by Sunbeam, and eventually he gave it away.
Although it had looked promising in the beginning for this high-grade French cyclecar, as the 1920s wore on there was less and less demand for three-wheelers, both in this country (where the new miniature full-size cars, led by the Austin Seven, were ousting it) and in France (where the taxation rates gave it little advantage over the four-wheelers). For a few years Raymond Siran made D’Yrsans of the latter kind, which appeared in some of the minor French races, but by 1928 this make went out of production.
It had been a courageous venture. The D’Yrsan’s chassis frame, for example was made of heavy-gauge steel tubing, and the rear forks were two very substantial drop-forgings of special steel, supported on a cross-member and hinged to the back of the steel casing housing the 2-to-1 bevel reduction gears. Both the propeller-shaft and the countershaft ran on SKF ball-races, and the rear sprocket also ran in ball-bearings.
D’Yrsan was rather proud of how easily the back wheel could be removed in the event of a puncture (the sprocket remaining on the fork), so it is rather surprising that three well-known authors who have discussed the D’Yrsan in recent times have wrongly called it a shaft-drive job. In fact, the D’Yrsan’s back wheel possessed two dogs which engaged with slots in the sprocket, so that, after removal of a bolt and lock-nut, the taper wheel-spindle could be pulled out, freeing the wheel with its ball races.
The day of the D’Yrsan may be long gone, but enthusiasm for the three-wheeler continues among members of the Morgan and BSA Three-Wheeler Clubs, and you can still see this most economical of vehicles on our roads, in the form of the Reliant Rialto. WB