The car with the back-seat driver

The creators of the miniscule Bedelia wanted to reduce the machine’s parking footprint – so they put the seats in line

The Bedelia cyclecar, made in Paris from 1910, had an unusual layout with the driver at the extreme back of the two-seater body in a hammock-type seat. One of the occupants would steer, and the other, if there was one, would change gear! Presumably if the passenger was taller than you it was just too bad. The reason for the tandem seating was to make a Bedelia possible to keep in a confined space, a strip of garden perhaps, or a narrow place beside a house or in a crowded workshop where a motorcycle and sidecar once stood.

The first of these curious voiturettes was made in the Rue Felicien-David in Paris. It had an air-cooled vee-twin engine in the front of the ash frame, driving to a countershaft by chain and then by two long external belts to the rear wheels. The front axle turned on a simple central pivot (no king pins), operated by a wire wrapped round the steering column, while a cable running in greased leather served to tighten or slacken one or other of the driving belts to give high or low ratio. So a Bedelia was devoid of a normal clutch, differential and gearbox. The clutch was lever-operated, and for braking a pedal lifted the exhaust valves while the two back-wheel belt-rim shoes were applied.

It weighed 2 to 3cwt and the width was only 3ft 6ins. It had a wheelbase of 8ft 6ins and a track of only 3ft, and ran on 26in tyres. You could have your Bedelia in grey, blue, green or red. I have somewhere a little model about 6ins long made by a friend using bootlaces for the external belts.

For general competition work the two-seater form was unchanged but for racing the driver sat normally. Bedelias won many first places at Le Mans in 1911 and 1912 as well as important wins in cycle classes and a great many other important venues, such as first and second at Val-Suzon in 1911, first at Gometz-le-Chatel, first in the Tour de France in 1912, first at the Circuit de Paris, first at Val-Suzon in 1912, first at Boulogne and first and second in the GP de France in 1912.

The Sabelia Motor Car Company of Budge Road in London EC took up a sole UK agency. A single-cylinder Quentin engine version for which 25mph and 90mpg were claimed cost 59 guineas, or with a larger engine 69gns, with a top pace of 30mph and giving 80mpg. With a 5½hp 80x100mm engine and magneto ignition 40mph and 70mpg were offered, at 87gns, and for two more guineas there was the twin-cylinder or two-seater Duo model with JAP engine, Bosch magneto and enlarged flywheels, providing a claimed 45mph with 60mpg.

There was even a commercial version, while the two-seater racing Bedelia with an 80x100mm power unit cost 100gns. A bulkhead shield to convert a Duo into a racer with a streamlined tail was priced at 50 shillings. The tax on all these Bedelias was two guineas per annum.

One of these fascinating pieces of motoring history has survived here, appearing in recent ‘Sloth’ Rallies, but its owner had a 30/98 Vauxhall which must have seemed satisfactorily quick after the Bedelia.