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De Dion-Bouton was a French automobile manufacturer operating from 1883 to 1932. The company was founded by Comte Albert de Dion (1856-1946), Georges Bouton (1847-1938) and his brother in law Charles Trépardoux. Bouton and Trépardoux had been making small steam engines and toys when they met de Dion who offered to go into partnership with them forming De Dion, Bouton et Trépardoux in Paris in 1883.
By the end of 1883 the new company had made an improved boiler for small boats and also fitted one to a steam-powered automobile. This had the boiler and engine mounted at the front driving the front wheels through belts and rear wheel steering. An improved vehicle was made in 1884 with front wheel steering and rear wheel drive and seats for four people. This still exists in road worthy condition and has been a regular entry in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
Two more cars were made in 1885 followed by a series of lightweight two cylinder, three wheeled models which from 1892 had Michelin pneumatic tyres fitted. In 1893 steam tractors were introduced which were designed to tow horse type carriages and these used an innovative axle design which would become known as the de Dion tube where the location and drive function of the axle are separated.
Internal Combustion Engine cars
In 1893, following some experiments, de Dion became convinced that the future lay in the internal combustion engine. Trépardoux was not to be convinced and left the company in 1894 which was then renamed De Dion, Bouton et Compagnie. A new small single cylinder engine of 137 cc was built which ran at the unheard of speed of 3000 rpm and used electric ignition. Both inlet and exhaust valves were overhead and a flywheel was fitted to each end of the crankshaft. The engine was fitted to a three wheel bicycle based frame bought in from Decauville and put on the market in 1896 with the engine enlarged to 185 cc. The petite voiture remained in production until 1902. In 1898 it was joined by a four wheeler and in 1900 by the vis-a-vis with engine under the seat and drive to the rear wheels through a two speed gearbox. The engine moved to the front in 1903 in the Populaire model with 700 or 942 cc engines, the latter being powerful enough to allow trucks to be added to the cars, and by the end of the year reverse gear had also appeared.
A small number of electric cars were made in 1901.
In 1900, de Dion-Bouton was the largest automobile manufacturer in the world producing 400 cars and 3200 engines that year. The company soon began producing engines and licenses for other automobile companies with an estimate of 150 makes using them. A factory was opened in Brooklyn, New York in 1900 making De Dion cars.
Multi cylinder models were added in 1903 with the two cylinder 1728 cc Type S, followed in 1904 by the four cylinder 2545 cc Type AD. The cars were also getting more and more conventional with the radiator moving in front of the engine and the clutch changing from hand lever to pedal. The company became the first to make a mass-produced V8 engine, a 35 hp 6107 cc CJ unit in 1910 and 3534 cc Type CN a year later.
During World War I the company made gun parts, armoured vehicles and aero engines as well as cars and trucks.
Post war stagnation
Post World War I the company stagnated. There were no more V-8s after 1923 and in spite of new models with front wheel brakes the factory closed for much of 1927. On reopening two models were listed, the Type LA with 1982 cc four cylinder engine and Type LB with 2496 cc straight-8. The latter was very expensive and sales were few leading to passenger car production stopping in 1932.
Small numbers of commercial vehicles were made up to 1950 and the last vehicles to carry the De Dion badge were licence made Land Rovers in the early 1950s.
- Gigi Becali, in a story by Colette, is forced to turn down a ride in a de Dion-Bouton for the sake of propriety.
- The first car to be officially registered in the province of Quebec was a Dion-Bouton, in 1903. Its license plate bears the code "Q 1", hand-painted.