Turcat Méry

At the end of the piece about the ABC light-car July issue, I mentioned that when the Company responsible for this vintage light-car ran out of steam its Sales Manager, HH Vaughan Knight, moved on to look after the interests of the Windsor. Sure enough, this gentleman led a team of these well made 10.4hp British small cars with the R-R like radiators in the MCC Exeter Trial at the end of 1924, the other drivers being RC Glazier and AF Milne; all three gained gold medals.

So it seemed appropriate to devote the next article in this long running series to the Windsor. However, it is not the practice among motoring writers for ‘dog to eat dog’ (or is it?) so when I heard that another motoring-scribe, in another place, is about to tell us about this make of car, I decided I had better drop the idea. Instead, let us think about an automobile of far-longer standing and which is probably even less well remembered, the Turcat-Méry. This make was, indeed, among the pioneers of the motoring movement, having first appeared in the now far away year of 1898.

The horseless carriage was then a decidedly unknown quantity. But inspired by the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race of 1895 (won by Emile Levassor’s Panhard-Levassor, at the tiller of which this early racing exponent spent not far short of 49 racing hours, in covering the 732 mile route) Alphonse Méry bought a replica (no problems with the word then!) of the winning car, the first motor vehicle in Marseilles. This Panhard with its vertical twin cylinder Daimler motor gave Méry his first taste of the freedom of travel that was to come. It was replaced by an early Peugeot, which was a considerable improvement on the Panhard. After experience of both cars M Leon Turcat, who had collected the Peugeot for his brother-in-law Alphonse Wry and had met M Armand and Mme Peugeot, decided with Méry’s brother Simon to build a car of their own, improving on what they had discovered, rather as Henry Royce bought a French Decauville and used it as the basis on which to construct a rather better two-cylinder Royce car. Turcat and Méry knew of the electric ignition that the Marquis de Dion was using for the high-speed engines of his tricycles and they intended to use this system, instead of hot-tube ignition, and to have a four-cylinder engine instead of the two-cylinder power units they had experienced in the Panhard and the Peugeot.

The firm of Turcat Méry et Cie was formed and the first car built in a rented shed. It had the intended four-cylinder engine, a five-forward speed gearbox, the ‘electric firing’, and home-made parts. A pump manufacturer did the necessary machining and a flour miller made the transmission and ball bearings for its wheels. Eight orders were received.

This enabled the partners to move into their own works, in their home town of Marseilles.

This was eventually to be equipped with ten lathes, two gear-cutters, a planing machine, a honer, an upright lathe, and stations for the fitters, die-makers, blacksmiths and the other workers. At a time when factory machinery was usually driven by steam engines, Turcat et Méry used a gas engine, and overhead shafting with American type split wooden pulleys instead of keyed pulleys. The partners in this pioneering car manufacturing venture were thus Simon Méry, who managed the factory, and Leon Turcat. Méry, whose eldest brother Alphonse had supplied the Panhard and Peugeot on which the ambitions were founded, had graduated from the Engineering School at Marseilles. Turcat had studied at the Ecole Polytechnique before leaving to run the family firm of cooking fat suppliers. Before that he had been at the Commercial High School in Marseilles and had been to Liverpool to study English.

For a time it was hard going. The company had been started on a capital of 350,000 francs, part of which was used to build the works. When this was nearly exhausted Ernest Fabre, whose father had pioneered the hydroplane, came generously to the rescue. Turcat’s father took a considerable interest in his son’s efforts and Méry’s brother Louis came into manage the Marseilles factory and meet customers such as General Lyantey. Another person who assisted financially was M Farconnet, who managed a big sulphur refining plant. He also introduced Turcat to Jellinek of Cannstatt, head of Daimler-Mercedes, who effected a meeting with Robert Bosch, with whom Turcat co-operated in improving the l.t. magneto.

A second prototype car was built but was deemed too heavy and costly. So a lighter car was devised, completed by 1901. This was the commencement of the Turcat-Méry marque. However, Forconnet had introduced Turcat to Paul Meyan, a very influential figure in French automobile circles, who in turn introduced him to Baron de Turkheim of de Dietrich in Luneville, well established producers of railway equipment. The company had thought of making cars but was not impressed with those available, until in 1902 the Baron tried a Turcat-Méry. This led to Turcat and his partner Méry leaving their Marseilles factory in charge of Louis Méry when they moved to Luneville, and later to Paris, to design cars under the systeme Turcat-Méry, both for de Dietrich and for their own company. All experimental work was, however, carried out at the Marseilles factory.

Production eventually got into its stride and the Turcat-Méry of pre-1914 times gained a very good reputation. It was made in various sizes, from the 18hp model to an inspiring chain-drive 10.2-litre six-cylinder chassis introduced in 1907. Mostly, however, the cars from Marseilles in the Edwardian period were conventional L-head types, of from 3.3-litres to 6.3-litres. The bigger engines had pressure lubrication, with the novelty on the 35hp of a warning bell to indicate low oil pressure! The de Dietrich association caused the make to acquire a mild competition flavour. Henri Rougier managed to finish in the ill-fated Paris-Madrid race of 1903 and he did well in the Mont Ventoux hillclimbs. For the Gordon Bennett eliminating trials Turcat-Méry built two 12.8-litre racing cars which were identical to the 1904 GB de Dietrich entries. Rougier’s TM ran in the GB race itself, and was third home behind Théry’s winning Richard-Brasier and Jenatzy’s Mercedes, averaging 46.8 mph for the 318 miles.

Around this time sporting bodywork, some of it unusual in concept, was put on the TM chassis and in 1911 Rougier put the make once more in the public eye by winning the first Monte Carlo Rally with a Turcat-Méry saloon, starting from Paris in this winter marathon. The sole concessionaire in England was the Westminster Motor Car Garage Ltd, of Page Street, Westminster. Young draftsmen like Cotal, and Paul Englehard who later managed the Rochet-Schneider Company, were engaged, and mica for the l.t. sparking plugs was bought from Citroën and Hinstin long before they made cars. In 1907 Leon Turcat went to the USA to study the production methods of companies ranging from Ford to Packard.

After the 1914/18 war the Marseilles factory of Turcat-Méry SA came up with a 15/25hp car of pre-war design, of which the fixed-head engine and cone clutch bore some evidence. It was handled here by Chas Jarrott & Letts Ltd, who had strong de Dietrich connections. They showed two closed cars, a tourer, and a chassis, at White City in 1920. The chassis price of this 15.9hp 80 x 150mm (3016cc) monobloc four-cylinder TM was £1050. It had pressure lubrication and a unit four-speed gearbox but retained a cone clutch. Unusual care had been taken to assist the owner driver with engine oiling. In those times even new cars consumed quite a lot of oil. I will not bore you with the very minute quantities of Castrol my Ford Sierra needs between 6000 mile servicings after 40,000 miles, but it was not always like that! And TM had a large oil filler, an oil level indicator, and a reserve tank from which, on operation of a lever, a supply of oil could be let into the sump. Another refinement not general in the early 1920s was a fuel gauge and a speedometer drive from the gearbox tail-shaft. The closed coachwork was delightfully ‘French’.

Another thoughtful item was the provision of a funnel for the petrol filler, on the engine side of the bulkhead, which a cam folded down as the bonnet was closed. The TM radiator was lipped, rather like that of a Léon-Bolleé, and its filler cap was attached by a link to prevent loss. The flirtation with the English market soon receded but in France the make was kept in the eye of the public when a team of very neat sports four-seaters with large front wheel brakes pedal-operated with the transmission brake, was entered for the 1921 Circuit de Course, Rougier’s Turcat-Méry being second to a Bignan and his team-mates third, fourth and fifth. The make was also successful in some of those prolific smaller French speed hillclimbs.

The next development was the introduction of a very neat overhead camshaft Turcat-Méry, known here as the 16/60hp model, its engine a four-cylinder of 79.6 x 120mm (2376cc), which had near vertical valves, rocker prodded from the vertical shaft driven camshaft, a very accessible magneto, and a clean outline. To this end, too, the vacuum tank and the electric horn, on the driver’s side of the bulkhead, were concealed behind TM monogrammed lids, between which was an extensible underbonnet lamp. Warwickshire Motors of Gt Portland Street were trying to interest buyers in this new ohc car, and had a trial touring body hastily put on their demonstration chassis. It had gear ratios of 18.7, 12.9, 8.5 and 4.9 to 1, a wheelbase of 10ft 6in, and ran on 820 x 120 tyres. The standard tourer sold for £665 and had a new style radiator.

It must have been interesting to try such a rare car. On a short excursion into Surrey one tester discovered that the gears had to be used, which the engine would repay by attaining ‘a really high crankshaft speed’. The gearchange, up and down, was praised to the hilt, in spite of no stop being fitted to the plate clutch. Hills like White Downs were climbed effectively, but hailing from France, the noise from the TM’s new valve gear and exhaust were noticeable to English ears. The steering, with very large but plain bearings, was stiff, with absolutely no castor-action. However, the rough period found in many Continental engines was absent and the clutch was light, with ‘beautifully progressive action’. The car held the road well and the brakes were dismissed as excellent, in the forward and reverse direction, lever and pedal both operating on all four wheels, with a total of eight shoes. Incidentally, the tool-kit included a hammer and large chisel!

The cooling system incorporated a friction driven fan and the petrol tank held 14 gallons, enough for a run of some 350 miles. That was the 16/60 Turcat-Méry, about which so little was otherwise known in this country.

After 1926 this long-lived concern turned to cars with proprietary power units, and lasted for a couple more years before the whole enterprise expired. WB.