1914 DARRACQ 16HP TYPE V-14 TWO SEATER AND DICKEY
Registration No. OB 3723
Chassis No. 29753
Engine No. 36588
Yellow with black mudguards, black interior
Engine: four cylinder monobloc, 85 x 130mm bore and stroke, 2,950cc with pumped cooling and lubrication, magneto ignition and Darracq-SU carburettor; Gearbox: four speed and reverse, cone clutch, shaft drive to worm driven back axle; Suspension: front and rear, semi-elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: rear wheel and transmission brakes. Wooden artillery wheels with beaded-edge tyres. Right hand drive.
Alexandre Darracq had made a fortune from the French cycle trade in the 1890s but it was not until 1900 that he marketed his first successful motorcar. A single-cylinder vehicle, it was very competitively priced and over 700 were sold in the first year. Darracq concentrated on the popular end of the market, giving good value for money with a range of single-, twin- and four-cylinder cars. Although Darracq was neither a driver, nor personally interested in motor racing, he pursued a vigorous and successful policy of racing and record-breaking to publicise his firm's products. He was also very astute at spotting new technical developments that would give his cars a competitive edge in the market place, such as the adoption of the one-piece pressed-steel chassis in 1903.
The business was very profitable and for five years from 1904 the shareholders were paid a dividend of 20 or more, on their investment. However, on two occasions Darracq's perception failed him. The first occasion was beyond his control. In 1906 he signed an agreement with Léon Serpollet to make Darracq-Serpollet steam buses in quantity but the untimely death of that technical genius the following year meant that the project was doomed. Then, at a time when many car-makers were looking for alternatives to the then noisy poppet-valves, Darracq heavily committed the firm to the production of cars with the Henriod rotary-valve system. Theoretically sound, in practice the cars performed poorly and the public would not buy them. In 1912 profits plunged to almost zero and at the age of 56 Alexandre was obliged to retire from the firm he had founded, his pain perhaps eased by a move to Monte Carlo where he had significant business interests.
In a rescue mission the directors brought in Owen Clegg, the designer of the very successful 2-litre Rover Twelve. Clegg retained almost all the elements of his Rover design, including the integral manifolding which gave such a clean appearance to the engine, but increased the bore of the Darracq unit by 10mm. Production was soon running at 60 cars per week but dividend payments did not resume until the period of munition production during the war.
A plate on the dashboard of this car records not only details of the model, but refers to it as the 'New Darracq' - leaving the owner in no doubt that he was not in possession of a rotary-valve aberration. The OB registration is a Birmingham issue and the supplier's plate shows that the car was sold by Heath's Garage Ltd, John Bright Street, Birmingham, a firm still in existence as George Heath Limited but today selling Peugeots as there have not been Darracqs of any form available for well over six decades. As well as the plates, the dashboard carries a CAV volt/ammeter and switch-gear, the latter to control the fine CAV lamps, which was standard fitting, at least for cars sold in Britain. The car also has a CAV electric starter, which was an optional extra at £25, not cheap when set in the context of a total purchase price of £350.
The two-seater and dickey-seat body is also a standard product, a neat feature being the placing of the spare-wheel immediately behind the main seat. Whilst it has been re-painted, the upholstery could well be original, as is the brass-bound windscreen. The hood has seen better days and the mudguards are speckled with rust but otherwise the car presents well. Those who are familiar with other surviving examples of this Darracq model commend them both for their practicality, even in modern traffic conditions, and for their reliability.