MarqueTimes ... De Dion-Bouton


Born: 1882 Nationality: FrenchThe name comes from the financial backer Count Albert de Dion and an engineer, Georges Bouton, but much of the original genius behind the marque was steam enthusiast Charles Trepardoux, Bouton's brother-in-law.

His name was on the original company, but after a falling out in 1894 because de Dion wanted to go the petrol engine route, Trepardoux's name was deleted from the enterprise.

Prior to that, the steam-powered automobiles built from 1882 were well received, and included among their innovations a rear axle system developed by Trepardoux, the de Dion tube, which was to be used by many other manufacturers subsequently.

The first petrol-engined vehicle, a single-cylinder 3-wheeled "petite voiture" launched in 1895, had an engine based on the Benz and Daimler engines that de Dion had seen at the 1889 Paris World Fair. It was very successful, and many other manufacturers came to use de Dion engines in their own cars, including Louis Renault and Delage in the early days.

De Dion-Bouton's first 4-wheel car arrived in 1899, with a 6hp engine in the rear. It remained in production until 1901, and by then De Dion-Boutons were being exported to Australia and the Americas. The first car owned by the founder of the Gordon Bennett car races, James Gordon Bennett Jnr, was a De Dion-Bouton.

The company had also produced a popular Doctor's Coupé in 1900 with a 499cc engine. In 1902, a new front-engined model came along, designated the K2, with 8hp under its bonnet. It was a very smart-looking compact 4-seater.

Apart from by now being perceived as one of the most successful car-makers of its time, the company was also producing commercial vehicles, which prompted it to produce a 2-cylinder petrol engine in 1903, with an output of 12hp. Following its failure to gain a prestigious contract to supply buses to the Paris municipal transport system, De Dion-Bouton developed a range of more powerful engines, 4-cylinder units with 15 and 24hp power. The company built the world's first series production V8, in 1910. The smallest was a 3.5-litre, but a massive 14.7-litre was developed for the American market - the format was subsequently copied by the key American makers.

In 1910, the company was producing cars, trucks, public transport vehicles including trains, and also aeroplanes. Its public utility vehicles -- including police cars, fire tenders, and public transport vehicles -- were common in cities such as New York and, by now, Paris. It was still growing when the first World War intervened, and most of its production of commercial vehicles became military.

After the war, like many other manufacturers of the time, the market for the large luxury cars which had now become the staple production of the brand suffered from the depression and De Dion-Bouton began to run out of money. It struggled on until 1927 when it closed.

Encouraged by the French government, the brand was bought by Peugeot, and continued with a reduced automobile production until 1932, after which it only built commercial vehicles on a relatively small scale. This ceased in 1950.

BEST CAR: Because it set a style and design for its time, the 1902 K2. But for its influence on the American automobile, the 14.7-litre V8 model produced before the first World War.

WORST CAR: Not recorded.

WEIRDEST CAR: Early tricycles, but then they all were, weren't they?