1901 De Dion Bouton Vis-A-Vis news, pictures, specifications, and information
Vis-A-Vis
Chassis Num: 126
Engine Num: 2822
Sold for $163,750 at 2010 Bonhams.
Sold for $115,500 at 2014 RM Auctions.
In 1900, De Dion, Bouton et Cie. had built steam cars, gasoline tricycles, and four-wheeled voiturettes. They had the unique distinction of being the largest engine manufacturer in the world, supplying power-plants to 140 manufacturers around the world. The four-wheel, four seat vis a vis (face-to-face) voiturette was very popular. Even America had taken notice, after a De Dion was demonstrated in Boston in 1898, and subsequently, Kenneth Skinner, of Boston, took up licensing De Dion patens in the United States.

There were several importers, but in 1900, a consortium of Americans, headed by Cornelius Field, took a license from Skinner and set up the De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company in Brooklyn, New York, with a salesroom on 66th Street in Manhattan. The company offered three models, including a Brooklyn Motorette with a single two-passenger seat, a New York Motorette with facing vis à vis seating, and a telephone-booth-like Brougham.

To boost confidence in the model and to further promote the vehicles, the De Dion went racing. They took prizes in hill climbs on Long Island, they raced with the Auto Club of New England at the Pan-American Exhibition at Buffalo, and one took 1st place in a September 1901 New York-to-Buffalo endurance test.

Unfortunately, the life of the Brooklyn-built De Dion was short. By mid-1902, Skinner had canceled the company's contract, citing violations of its conditions.

There were a few hundred De Dion-Bouton motorcars manufactured in Brooklyn, New York in 1900. These French engineered vehicles would have a significant influence on the emerging American motorcar industry. Even Louis Chevrolet was an employee of the Brooklyn-based De Dion Company. They were produced in three distinct models, with approximately five of these 3.5 horsepower Vis-a-Vis models still known to exist. These particular models were referred to as the New York Motorette.

This example is an original and un-restored vehicle that has had only four owners from new. For a quarter of a century this car was in the car of Ben Moser's collection.

This New York Type Motorette was discovered in the 1960s by the late California collector Ben Moser. It had been owned by a single family for at least half-a-century, before being purchased by Moser from the grandson of the long-time owner. When purchased, it was removed from a barn intact and virtually original, with only a few cosmetic touches made by the grandson. Moser went on to collect additional period-appropriate tools and memorabilia to go with the car.

Prior to Mr. Moser's death in 1992, the car was acquired by Jeremy Hass. The car was in good condition and quite complete, except for the fact that its leather seating was loose. The paint was largely original, and the engine ran well after a brief tune-up. Hass entered it for the 1992 London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run in England. It made it most of the way; on the final hill, however, it stalled with engine trouble.

Mr. Hass had the engine and gearbox rebuilt after returning to the United States, and the differential gear was also changed to a more favorable ratio. In 1993, he sold the car, and it has had two owners in recent years.

By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2014
Motorette Vis-A-Vis
Chassis Num: 128
Engine Num: 5222
Sold for $191,400 at 2013 Bonhams.
During the early years of automobile production, many individuals and businesses went searching for a foot-hold into the potentially lucrative market. Established automakers looked for ways to increase reliability of their product and to grow their business. One market that proved to have the largest barrier to entry was the market in the United States, which levied large fees sanctioned on imported automobiles.

A number of Americans were impressed by the performance and quality of the European vehicles. They sought was to commercially market them at home. One solution was to gain a license to build an American equivalent of the European brand in the United States. Some of the cars would be imported and assembled here, others built the majority of the product in the U.S.

By 1901 De Dion Bouton was one of the largest volume manufacturers of automobiles, nearing 20 years since Count Albert De Dion had commissioned Georges Bouton and Charles Trepardoux, brothers-in-law and engineers, to build light steam carriages for him. They had turned their attention from steam power to the internal combustion engine, first attaching them to tricycles and quadricycles before marketing a full-fledged voiturette or small automobile in 1899. Owing to its center facing seating arrangement for its passengers, the voiturette quickly became known as the 'vis-à-vis' a name which has stuck to this day. These lightweight vehicles were given a single cylinder motor offering roughly 3.5 horsepower which allowed a top speed in the neighborhood of 25 mph.

At the back of the voiturette was a unique feature; the power from the motor was sent to the rear through 'universal' type joints with cardan shafts. This would allow constant drive to the rear wheels, while the engine and gearbox sat rigidly in the chassis frame. This allowed for more driver comfort and more versatility in the terrain that it covered. This setup is generally attributed to Trepardoux who had already by then parted company with the organization, now named DeDion Bouton.

Kenneth Skinner was the enterprising man behind the inevitable marketing of a De Dion Bouton-inspired product in America. For the American market, he labeled these cars as 'Motorettes' rather than voiture. Many of the parts of the car were cast with 'NY' next to their part numbers and most of the aluminum castings have 'Motorette' cast into them. They were built on Church Street in Brooklyn and sold in Manhattan on West 66th. Unfortunately, sales were not as strong as they were in Europe, and the company seems to have failed within a year.

Production lasted for six-months to a year with total production in the 'hundreds' rather than 'thousands.'

Chassis no. 128
Famed for its floating rear axle design, the Brooklyn based Motorette Company built DeDion Boutons under license for just a few months. The voiturette was not up to the rugged American roads so it was not the success it had been in Europe. In the 1940s Alton Walker, who served as Chairman of the first Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, discovered this Motorette in a hayloft where it had rested since the early teens. He restored the car and sold it to MGM Studios, which used it in the Red Skelton movie Excuse My Dust.

It is not known if the vehicle was used in any other films. It did remain in M.G.M's possession until 1970, when the company changed hands. The car was sold at auction to a New Jersey resident, who later sold it to a Delaware collector, arriving in its current ownership in 2010. By this point in history, it was in poor cosmetic order and a decision was made to restore it. The car still retained its original inlet and exhaust valves, numbered to correspond with the engine number. Most parts of the bodywork were found to be stamped with the number '128' which is thought to be its car number, showing that it was both original and had always been complete.

After removing several layers of paint, an original base of dark olive green was found.

When the restoration was complete, it was shown at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concurs d'Elegance, where it was awarded with Second in Class.
Motorette Vis-A-Vis
Chassis Num: 159
Engine Num: 5638
Sold for $110,400 at 2012 Bonhams.
As DeDion-Bouton entered the 1900s, they were one of the largest volume manufacturer of automobiles, having turned from steam power to the internal combustion engine. The 'vis-a-vis' was named due to its center facing seating arrangement for its passengers, and was a light four wheeled automobile powered by a high-revving single cylinder motor of roughly 3.5 horsepower. Top speed was in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 mph. The engine transferred its power through 'universal' type joints with cardan shafts allowing constant drive to the rear wheels.

The enterprising man behind the marketing of a DeDion-Bouton inspired product in America was Kenneth Skinner. He marketed the French voiture as motor and marketed the cars as Motorettes. Thus, there were many cars built in the US and many parts were cast with 'NY' next to their parts number. Unfortunately, this venture would prove less popular than its European counterpart. During a six month to a year production span, it is believed the total production numbered a few hundred.

This De Dion-Bouton 4 ½hp Motorette still has an original 1905 California license brass disc. It is believed to have been in California for most of its life. By the 1970s it was in the property of Irv Perch. In July of 1983 it was sold by Perch to Ed Morgan of Scotts Valley, California who would keep the car for seventeen years. During that time it received a sympathetic restoration and regular use.

This American built DeDion has many US features such as the fold down seat back on its front seat, engraved 'Brooklyn' engine and gearbox oilers, Motorette chassis plate, and on/off switch.

In 2012, the car was offered for sale at the Quail Lodge sale presented by Bonhams Auction. As bidding came to a close, the car had been sold for the sum of $110,400 including buyer's premium.

By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2012
Marquis Albert De Dion was an industrialist and automotive genius. He pioneered many 'firsts' for the automotive industry and recognized the power and potential of the gasoline engine. He teamed with Georges Bouton, an engineer, and together they produced a self-propelled steam vehicle in 1882. To improve the ride of the vehicle a light rear axle was invented and later patented under the name 'de Dion'. In 1890 they patented a gasoline single cylinder engine and in 1895 they were producing vehicles. The single cylinder engine was also used to power sporting tricycles until 1901.

In 1985 De Dion created the first automobile club and in 1898 organized an auto show in Paris, the first auto show the world had ever seen. By the close of the 1890's, the 3.5 horsepower rear-engined petite voiture had become the world's first series-production small car.

Over 150 various motorcycle and automobile manufacturers bought licenses to build the Bouton and De Dion engine. By 1900 De Dion and Bouton was the world's largest maker of automobiles with annual production of 400 cars and 3,200 engines. By 1904 De Dion had supplied over 40,000 engines produced by their Puteaux facility.

In 1902 a 6 horsepower engine appeared still being placed behind the driver and powering the rear wheels. It used a two-speed expanding clutch transmission. An 8 horsepower engine was later introduced, placed under a hood in front of the vehicle and dubbed the Model K.

By 1903 a two-cylinder engine had been produced increasing the horsepower rating to 12. Two years later a four-cylinder version capable of producing between 15 and 24 horsepower, depending on configuration, had been developed.

In 1908 the company produced their final 8 horsepower single cylinder engine and all models were now equipped with conventional gearboxes.

In 1910 De Dion and Bouton introduced a eight-cylinder engine in 'Vee' configuration, another innovative achievement for the duo. The 6.1-liter engine was capable of producing 35 horsepower. The displacement was further enlarged to 7.8-liters and again to 14.7-liters. The eight-cylinder engine was used until 1923 when a new OHV 12-cylinder engine with aluminum pistons was introduced.

With national tragedies such as World War I and the onset of the Great Depression, the De Dion company began to struggle financially. During 1927 it ceased production temporarily and when it resumed production it had a new 2.5-liter straight eight-cylinder and a 2-liter four-cylinder engine. Sales were sluggish so the decision was made to increase the displacement to 3-liters in 1930.

In 1932 the last automobile produced by the De Dion Company was produced. It continued to produce trucks until the close of the 1940's when it shifted its focus to servicing automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles.

By Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2010
 
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