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Lot 10: Decauville 8hp Tonneau

Collectors' Cars, H&H Sales Limited (26 November 2008)

Rare indeed is it that an unrestored but 'all of a piece' car from this early period of motoring is offered on the market. Although many of its smaller parts and linkages are missing, the major assemblies all are present and in place, and the evidence is that all these parts came from one individual car. This early Decauville presents both a challenge and a most rewarding prospect for the keen veteran car enthusiast and restorer. The Decauville company of Seine-et-Oise had a long history in engineering, especially with narrow-gauge steam railway locomotives, when it launched its first petrol-engined car in 1898. This was a light rear-engined 3¢hp twin-cylinder vehicle that they called a 'voiturelle'. It met with considerable success and boasted independent suspension of the front wheels, yet had no springing whatsoever at the rear! By mid-1900, the company was promoting its larger engined, 5hp version of the 'voiturelle', and at the same time offering a more advanced and quite different car of 8hp, the layout of which was very much more in line with the designs of the foremost contemporary manufacturers. The new 8hp was a front-engined 'twin' with separate cylinders, and one of these was exhibited at London's Crystal Palace Show in December 1900. This lot is an example of a further development of the 8hp, with monobloc cylinder casting, which also has some detail differences including the rear axle side tube design and inlet manifold shape from the first pattern of chassis. The monobloc type of 8hp Decauville is illustrated in The Automotor Journal in September 1901, and, by the end of that year, illustrations in periodicals now indicated further refinements of design not shared with this survivor; the likely conclusion being that it was produced at some stage during the year of 1901. Sir Henry Royce's first car was a slightly later and larger Decauville of 10hp, and the old story goes that it was his disenchantment with this car that led to him determining to manufacture his own. But recent research has indicated that Royce spent much time experimenting with carburation and ignition systems on his Decauville, and the fact is that when the twin-cylinder Royce made its bow in 1904, it had much in common with the Decauville. A failure to keep abreast of the rapid developments taking place in car design later in the first decade of the century led to falling sales, and Decauville's motor vehicle factory was closed by 1911 as the company had opted to concentrate on its core engineering activities. The 8hp Decauville of 1901 featured a tubular steel chassis, semi-elliptical springs both front and rear, and wooden artillery wheels carrying 810 x 90mm beaded edge tyres. The engine was a water-cooled monobloc twin of 95 x 100mm bore and stroke, giving a capacity of 1418ccs. The camshaft, placed on the nearside, opened the side exhaust valves, above which automatic inlet valves were placed. A monobloc casting of twin cylinders was remarkable at this date, as likewise was the feature whereby a cast trough firmly located the gearbox and engine in relation to each other, to create an early example of unit construction. This power unit was supported in a central cradle, and by substantial and beautifully-made double brackets at both front and rear extremities. The clutch was of the cone pattern. Contemporary descriptions state that the gearbox offered four speeds. There was a contracting band transmission brake behind the gearbox, and the transmission was by an early form of torque tube, again well-engineered, to a remarkably advanced (for 1901) live rear axle. Inboard of the rear wheels were contracting band brake drums with twin shoes. The steering box contained worm and nut-pattern mechanism. The gilled tube radiator was fitted horizontally above the rear axle. This car was purchased circa 1960 by the vendor from the late James E Crossman, a prominent and highly regarded veteran car enthusiast from the 1950s to 1980s, who lived in the North West and became a President of the Veteran Car Club of GB. Sadly, its earlier history is unknown. Beyond some minor dismantling, no restoration work appears to have been carried out, and detached parts available include the dashboard oilers, and most of a rear-entrance tonneau body obtained from another source and considered suitable for adaptation to fit this chassis. The registration number linked to this car, 'AJ 120', was issued by Yorkshire (North Riding) County Council circa mid-1904. In the absence of paperwork, reclaiming it is problematical. The engine turns and the valves operate. A worn bronze gear on the front of the crankshaft would have operated the ignition timing mechanism. The valve timing gears are enclosed - yet another advanced design feature. The carburettor is, as expected, a Longuemare, a favoured type at this period, and pipework remains in place that led to the dashboard-mounted drip-feed oiler and a now-departed fuel tank. The radiator has lost its steel gills and come asunder, but the copper pipework and brass fittings remain, sufficient to make a pattern for reconstruction. Missing parts include all bodywork other than the tonneau body mentioned above; the steering wheel, handbrake lever and starting handle, ignition system, the gearlever and quadrant; the automatic inlet valve covers, exhaust system and other small fittings and linkages. The wheels and their rims appear in sound condition but the tyres are perished. Despite presenting perhaps as a daunting prospect, closer inspection brings realisation that this car is eminently restorable, and when this is done it will be more authentic than many of its kind. The Veteran Car Club holds records of two other 8hp examples, plus two of the similar 10hp Decauvilles, so, with the cooperation of their owners, correct patterns for the missing parts could be obtained. We feel that little more time will elapse before this car will appear, fully restored and looking exactly as it did in 1901, on the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. PLEASE NOTE: The chassis number associated with this lot is listed in newer editions of the Veteran Car Club's 'Members Handbook & List of Veteran & Edwardian Motor Cars' as 3603 but appears in earlier editions as 3630.

Lot Details
Auction Collectors' Cars
H&H Sales Limited, The Pavilion Gardens, Buxton
Lot Number10
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)£90200
Condition rating
Registration number
Chassis number
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors