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THE MARQUIS Jules Félix Philippe Albert de Dion was instrumental in founding the De Dion-Bouton automobile company in 1883. His name is forever attached to a particular bit of suspension design, the de Dion axle.
In contrast to a conventional live axle, the de Dion’s lightweight tube keeps the wheels parallel to each other without adding the weight of a differential. In a sense, it’s a first step toward independent suspension.
Variations of the de Dion layout found themselves in everything from early De Dion-Boutons to numerous Alfa Romeos, Lancias and Opels to today’s Smart Fortwo. The famed Auto Union Type D, Mercedes-Benz W125 and W154 dominating grands prix in the late 1930s also featured de Dion rear suspension.
The Count de Dion, though, was not your average auto executive. As reported in The New York Times, October 31, November 1 and November 5, 1902, De Dion participated in what turned out to be the last duel of honor fought in Paris.
It began in the French Chamber of Deputies where De Dion, a Nationalist, and Gerault Richard, a Socialist, got into a row concerning the Dreyfus Affair, Judaism, Catholicism—and, one guesses, general distaste for each other.
“The Marquis de Dion slapped M. Gerault Richard’s face,” reported the newspaper, “and the latter kicked the Marquis’s shins.”
The shin kicks seemed to have done it, and “seconds called at M. Gerault Richard’s office this afternoon.”
“The Marquis de Dion,” the newspaper added, “has a reputation of being a good swordsman and a good shot. His opponent is rather heavy.”The duel was fought with swords.
It took place at 11 a.m., November 4, 1902, in the Paris suburb of Neuilly (also the location of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte; Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George).
Alas, nothing was settled. De Dion gave Richard a scratch on the arm. “No reconciliation occurred, the participants leaving the field without the usual formalities.”
However, to end here on a happier note, I offer an appropriate bit of poetry from Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, by Harry Graham.
I ran into a tripper in my De Dion-Bouton.
Knocked him flatter than a kipper,
Aussi mort qu’un mouton.
What a bother trippers are:
Now I must repaint the car.