c.1898 DARRACQ 4 HP 2-SEAT VOITURETTE
Engine No. 160
Engine: single cylinder, 4 hp (84 mm x 90 mm); Gearbox: 2 speed belt drive; Suspension: front full-elliptic leaf springs, rear, semi-elliptic; Brakes: transmission on gearbox and back axle. Right hand drive.
Following research by the vendor and Christie's this recent find is believed to be a Darracq dating from late 19th Century during which time Alexandre Darracq was producing a succession of basic quadricyles and tricycles at Suresnes.
Darracq's entry to the world of motorised vehicle production, as for many of this period had come from bicycles. Born in Bordeaux in 1855 he had worked in several manufacturing concerns before he joined Jean Aucoc in a partnership to make Gladiator bicycles in 1891. By cutting prices they were successfully able to compete against French and British competition from their factory in Pre-Saint-Gervais, north-east of Paris. The company was incorporated in 1894 as the Société Anonyme des Cycles Gladiator with a capital of 3.4 million Francs.
Darracq experimented at this time with various motorised vehicles and in 1895 exhibited a small petrol car at the 1895 automobile exhibition in Paris.
In 1896 the English syndicate of E T Hooley, M D Rucker, H J Lawson and Harvey du Cros bought out the Gladiator works together with the Clement bicycle firm and the French branch of the Humber bicycle company in one fell swoop.
At first Darracq and Clement joined the board of the new Clement Gladiator bicycle Co, but Darracq soon left to build a vast new factory of his own at Suresnes, the "Perfecta" works, just south of Puteaux. Manufacturing of motorcycles, tricycles, quadricycles and voiturettes began in their thousands early in January 1898. The company was a resounding success from the start, making a net profit of 335,000 Francs at the end of this first year (a figure Automobiles Peugeot would have envied).
The car on offer is believed to be from the first year of production carrying engine no 160. Like De-Dion, Darracq introduced their first water-cooled engine in 1898. The Darracq back axle no 579 indicates a very early date and the Darracq-Perfecta logo is cast into it, the initials D.P. are also stamped into the chassis.
The car appears structurally complete having been acquired quite recently in this condition, from the original family, a Mr Ménil, who are based in Northern France between Bernay and Menneval, further details of these owners are on file.
As can be seen, the chassis has age and minor pitting but no serious damage and may be considered sound. It has not received any restoration work, fortunately however the mechanical elements of the car all appear to be in good condition. Drive is from a front-mounted, single cylinder engine of 4 hp via belt to the clutch drum and 2-speed gearbox at the rear, which should give a speed of around 20-25 mph. Braking is either by transmission or in the back axle.
This vehicle offers a straightforward restoration opportunity for the new owner, missing items including radiator, rear wings, upholstery, engine ancillaries, and some control rods should be easy to source or replicate. The car carries new wheels.
The earliest Darracq currently listed with the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain is dated 1900 (being the later Ribeyrolles design), so there is every chance this may be the earliest of the marque to survive, though additional research would be required to prove this factually. This said, small cars of this type were very much the rage in the late nineteenth century with Georges Richard, New Orleans, Pieper & Phebus etc all having cars of a similar construction and size in their range, in fact they may have been influenced by this design.
Once proven, the completed vehicle will be eligible for the London-Brighton run, Teuf-Teuf in Compiegne, Tour de Leman in Geneva, Veteran Car Club events and all the other runs for early cars, which are proving to be so popular today. Nineteenth century cars have in recent years justifiably been highly collectable and chances to acquire untouched vehicles of this era have become increasingly rare.