Simanaitis Says

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THE 1884 DE DION, BOUTON ET TRÉPARDOUX is “the oldest running car in the world,” as described by Gooding & Company at its Pebble Beach Auction, August 19, 2007. The car originated at a time when such contraptions received individual names; this one, La Marquise.

This and following images from Gooding & Company catalog, 2007 Pebble Beach Auction. 

An Automotive Triumvirate. Gooding noted, “As Rolls was to Royce, so De Dion was to Bouton—a partnership between a well-connected nobleman and a gifted mechanic…. But in the beginning there was also Charles-Armand Trépardoux, a qualified Gadz’Arts engineer who had graduated from the Angers Ecole Impériale des Arts et Métiers in 1871. He had gone into business with the mechanical engineer Georges Bouton, whose sister Eugenie he married in 1879.”

In 1881, Count De Dion commissioned Bouton and Trépardoux to adapt their model steam boat engine to a full-size pedal tricycle and, in 1883, a Victoria quadricycle. By 1886, the firm issued the automotive industry’s first sales catalogue.

La Marquise in 1884, with Count De Dion aboard.

Gooding noted, “The De Dion’s super performance and its power of steam excelled in this field for at least the next 10 years.”

Dos-à-Dos Seating. The 1884 De Dion, Bouton et Trépardoux steamer, Gooding described, “seated four people, with the rear passengers sitting with their backs to the driver and front passenger, an arrangement known as dos-à-dos.”

Steam Mechanicals. Gooding continued, “The base of the dos-à-dos seat was a large rectangular sheet-iron tank containing the water for the vertical boiler, which was positioned ahead of the driver, three-quarters surrounded by a steel-plate coke box feeding two hoppers at foot-board level that kept the firebox well-supplied with fuel, eliminating the tiresome chore of stoking.”

This chore, of course, would have been the responsibility of the vehicle’s “heater;” in French, “chauffeur.” 

Gooding noted, “There were two independent tandem-compound engines underneath the floor, each driving a rear wheel through connecting rods and overhung cranks.” 

This particular De Dion, Bouton et Trépardoux carries Chassis No. 6 and Engine Nos. D6 and G6, as in Droit/Right and Gauche/Left, respectively.

A Family Car. Gooding quotes De Dion later proudly declaring, “This vehicle can be considered as the embryo of the first touring automobile. It had four seats: It was already a family car.”

I add with delight one of my favorite bits of automotive poetry, originally appearing in Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, 1902, 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.” 

La Marquise’s Moniker. “De Dion,” Gooding noted, “did not get on with his father, who attempted to put a restraining order on him to prevent him squandering his means on the pursuit of the ‘crazy idea of a mechanical vehicle,’ however the young count made the pleasant gesture of naming his company’s first real automobile ‘La Marquise’ in honor of his mother.”

Pont de Neuilly to Versailles, Round Trip. In 1887, the Sport Vélocipédique Métropolitaine (Paris’s most influential cycle club) organized a 20-mile race from Pont de Neuilly southwest to Versailles and back. 

La Marquise in the 1887 race. Subsequently, this car had a goodly number of competition runs, both in original as well as refurbished state. 

.La Marquise was the sole light steamer entered in Pont Neuilly/Versailles. It completed the trip in one hour 14 minutes averaging nearly 16 mph. Gooding noted, “According to an anonymous English sportsman who timed the run, La Marquise touched a heady 37 mph over the fastest stretches.” 

I would imagine it felt a great deal quicker to those aboard. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, 2021 


  1. David Nelson
    June 15, 2022

    I built a working model of the La Marquis a few years ago. See images of my model on my web site. In doing this one of the things that always puzzled me was ‘what type of fuel was used in the lanterns?’ Can you tell me what was used.

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