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Overview

The French make Berliet became famous largely as a result of its lorries, but this make also originally started by producing cars.  In 1895, Marius Berliet built his first motorcar.  It was powered by a one-cylinder engine, which was placed above the rear axle.  Production got off the ground very slowly .  After four years, Berliet had sold only six cars.  In co-operation with constructor Pierre Desgouttes a model fitted with a four-cylinder engine delivering 12 bhp also came about that same year.  In France Berliet sold almost 100 cars that year.  The four cylinder engine was so good that it was also built under licence in England, at Sunbeam.   In 1906, the American ALCO company (American Locomotive Company) also showed an interest in Berliet-engines.  The companies entered into an agreement that brought in $500,000 for Berliet.  But perhaps even more important was the fact that the company was also commissioned to design a locomotive.  Within a short period of time, the company became France's biggest manufacturer in this field.

During World War I, the factory only built lorries for the army.  In 1919, the company started to build cars again.  In 1936 the Dauphine was launched, a car with a 2.0 litre engine, aerodynamic bodywork, and independent front suspension.  Demand for this model was limited.  In 1939, the company's board decided to focus exclusively on the production of lorries.  In 1967, the company was taken over by Citroen.

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1895-1939

Marius Berliet (1866-1949) of Lyon made his first experimental motorcar in 1895. Production cars followed in 1899 and two years later a range of front-engined cars was being sold, a four-cylinder 12hp version serving as the basis for the first conventional English Sunbeam motorcars of late 1902.

By 1904 cars on the Mercedes pattern with radiators to match, pressed-steel frames and mechanical inlet valves were being made and the following year a license was granted to the American Locomotive Co to make Berliet cars under the ALCO name. The $100,000 for this not only enabled Marius to build a new factory but also resulted in the Berliet radiator badge showing the head-on view of an American railway locomotive. Manufacture of commercial vehicles dates from this time and it was in this field that the firm became best known. Berliet becoming part of Renault's truck division in 1974.

Today the Fondation Marius Berliet in Lyon, headed by his son Paul, houses a large collection of French commercial vehicles and Berliet cars plus an extensive French truck and Lyonnais car archive.

Source: Society of Automotive Historians in Britain







Models produced by Berliet

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