1. Make.............................DE DION BOUTON
2. Model............................TREPARDOUX STEAM QUADRICYCLE
4. Chassis No:-.................Not Known
5. Reg No:-.......................695-CR37
6. Boiler No:-....................3.165
In the present ownership for more than 50 years
DE DION BOUTON et TREPARDOUX STEAM QUADRICYCLE
Paired horizontal underfloor-mounted two-cylinder tandem-compound single-acting steam engines with
high-pressure cylinders of 75mm bore, expansion cylinders of 115mm bore, and a common stroke of 90mm. Inlet
and exhaust via slide valves operated by eccentrics, manual steam admission control located at centre of
vehicle. Direct drive to each rear wheel by overhanging cranks.
Front-mounted coke-fired vertical water-tube wrought-iron boiler of patented design, surrounded by the
coke box, with a water tank to the rear of the vehicle beneath the dos-\ga-dos seating.
Channel steel chassis with semi-elliptic suspension front and rear, wheelbase 1.12m, front track 1,24m,
rear track 0.44m. Front wheels approx 0.8m diameter, rear approx 0.6m diameter; all wheels wire-spoked
with bronze hubs and solid rubber tyres. Centrally-operated hand-brake operating shoes on the rear tyres,
foot-brake also to rear tyres. Steering to front wheels by spade-handled twist-grip on the right-hand side
of the vehicle.
Dark green and black with red coachlining, black leather seat cushions.
In 1937 the Marquis Albert de Dion published a book: Images du Passé (Pictures of the Past); that reviewed
and illustrated his extensive involvement with the automobile and motoring from 1883 up to 1926. The introduction
recounts how it came about that de Dion and the brothers-in-law Georges Bouton and Charles Trepardoux began their
partnership that produced some innovative steam-powered motor vehicles over a period of more than twenty years,
and the development of the famed De Dion Bouton petrol-engined vehicles from 1895 onwards. The beginning of the
story, freely translated, can be summarised as follows:
In 1882 MM Bouton and Trépardoux operated a modest engineering workshop in Paris where they made models and
scientific toys for the firm of Giroux. Count de Dion [he became a Marquis in on the death of his father in 1901],
a young man-about-town, was organising a ball with the Duke de Morny and went to Giroux's shop to buy presents for
the ladies but his attention was taken by a beautifully made small steam engine and he immediately went to find the makers.
This somewhat capricious sequence of events soon saw Trépardoux and Bouton in the Count's employ at a workshop in Puteaux,
on the north-western edge of Paris. The results of their labours rapidly led to the creation of a lightweight steam generator,
and then to the construction of a carriage to demonstrate the practicality of this new boiler. The different abilities
of the members of the triumvirate could not have been better suited to the tasks in hand. The Count seems to have taken
the initiative in driving these developments forwards, whilst Trépardoux who was a graduate engineer provided the scientific
and theoretical background which Bouton as a brilliant intuitive engineer was well able to turn into practical
results. Initially the business traded as Trépardoux et Cie, although opinions vary as to why this was so.
Like many clever inventions the boiler design was simple both in concept and construction, consisting of a number of
vertical cylinders of diminishing size made of wrought-iron sheet that stood one inside another like a set of Russian
dolls. The outer layer held the water, the central tube served as the hopper for the coke-feed to the fire grate at the
base of the boiler and from here the hot gasses rose to heat the upward sloping water tubes, the steam from these feeding
into the space surrounding the central tube. To demonstrate the efficacy of this lightweight and quick-steaming boiler a
four-wheeled vehicle was made in 1883, this having the boiler between a pair of large front wheels that were each driven
by belt from a separate engine, whilst central-pivot rear-wheel steering was used. Experience gained from this prototype
machine led to a number of other designs being built and improvements were made to the boiler, notably the fitting of a
downward exhaust flue that carried both smoke and spent steam out and away to the rear.
In the latter part of 1886 De Dion felt confident enough to produce a sales catalogue of the firm's vehicles and one of
these was a lightweight quadricycle with back to back seating capable of carrying four people with the drive from the
two separate engines to a pair of closely placed rear wheels, giving at first glance the appearance of a tricycle
layout. The following year it was on a quadricycle of this pattern that the Count successfully accompanied a cycle race
in the Bois de Boulogne area of Paris. Come 1888 and a proper race for mechanically propelled vehicles was organised
from the west of Paris to Versailles and back, although only two vehicles took part. Georges Bouton used a single seater
tricycle whilst de Dion again drove a quadricycle with Trépardoux as his `fireman’, and took first place, covering the
20-mile (31 km) course at an average speed of almost 16 mph (25 kph). As he comments in Images du Passé: "that's not
so bad at all for the period"².
By this time the name De Dion, Bouton & Trépardoux had been adopted for the business and the workshops had been relocated
from an address in the rue des Pavillons to 12 rue Ernest, both being in Puteaux and close to the River Seine. Also the
firm had appointed Fernand Mérelle as the exclusive concessionaire for its products. At the 1889 Universal Exhibition
- the focal point of which was the Eiffel Tower, specially constructed for the occasion – De Dion, Bouton & Trépardoux
exhibited its boilers, whilst Mérelle showed a variety of the firm's steam vehicles, for which a silver medal was
awarded. Also on show were the petrol-engined cars of Benz and Daimler, whilst Armand Peugeot exhibited a steamer designed
by Léon Serpollet. The Exhibition was in part a centenary celebration of the Revolution of 1789, but it seems unlikely that
the revolutionary nature of this small display of motorcars was recognised.
A number of quadricycles of the pattern used by de Dion for his racing appearances were built and the example offered
here is of this type.
Specific history of this vehicle.
Its early history is not known.
Letters with the vehicle date back to 1953 from the current owner’s family, while documentation with it confirms registration
for road use in 1957.
Since the mid-1980s, it has been on exhibit at the Musée de la Sarthe at Le Mans.
Documentation exists recording that the boiler received a detailed inspection by a specialist firm in 1958. It was tested
to a pressure of over 250 pounds per square inch (18 kg cm²), well above its working pressure of 170 psi (12 kg cm²), and
the appropriate certification was issued. Interestingly, the certificate notes that the boiler had last been tested in
It has not been possible to establish beyond doubt the precise age of this De Dion, Bouton & Trépardoux steamer. The maker's
plate riveted to the boiler is stamped 3.165, but the significance of this number has not been resolved. The plate also
carries the rue Ernest address, which means that the vehicle is obviously not one of those made when the works were in
the rue des Pavillons. However, the precise date of the move from this location to the rue Ernest is uncertain, various
period sources give the year as being 1887, 1888 or 1889, so the vehicle is not of an earlier date than that covered by
about a three-year period. There is also on the boiler a plate as required by a French government decree of April 1880,
giving the working pressure of the boiler and the date when it was tested. The stamped figures read 5.9.91, which is
taken to mean the 5th September 1891. It has been suggested that when a test plate was first fitted to a boiler no date
was required on it; this only happening once the boiler was tested at the required five-year intervals if the vehicle
continued in use. In this case such a view conflicts with the evidence of the address on the maker's plate, so a circa
1890 date seems reasonable until the matter can be investigated further.
When inspected recently the vehicle was found to be complete in all respects, including not only the major components
but also the various gauges, taps, drain-cocks, levers large and small, controls, and components. Both the boiler and
the water tank appeared to be in good order as far as it was possible to check, and in neither instance was there any
evidence of corrosion. There is some surface rust on exposed steel components such as the transmission rods, whilst the
seat cushions and the woodwork are somewhat distressed. However, considering that the vehicle is approaching 120 years
of age, it is in remarkably good condition.
A reasonable number of steam carriages from the second half of the 19th century survive, but they are almost all in National
museums or similar institutions and are not in anything like running order. The number of surviving De Dion, Bouton & Trépardoux
steam vehicles are few and again they are mostly in museum collections. An 1885 front-wheel drive carriage is at the Le Mans
museum; the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris houses a similar vehicle to that offered here but of tricycle pattern; and
a lightweight tricycle is on display at the Musée de l'Automobile de Vendée. There is a later, larger, four-wheel vehicle
in the collection at Compiègne but this is probably a De Dion Bouton, dating from the period after Trépardoux left the original
business in 1893. The one other known quadricycle is in private ownership in England.
The vehicle in this sale is a rare example of one of the earliest products of a business that was to have such a significant
impact on the early days of the automobile industry. It represents the transition between the large steam carriages of an
earlier period and the true steam cars that many thought at the time would provide the automobiles of the future. This
quadricycle's completeness and condition is such that one could dream that it would only take an hour or two to add fuel
and water and then light the fire and the vehicle would be in running order. However, it will of course need a thorough
and comprehensive overhaul and require a boiler certificate before this result can be attained, but the opportunity is here
to make such an exciting dream to come true!