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Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society caters for veteran cars, vintage cars & classic cars, as well as commercials and motorcycles.


:: [cca 1910 De Dion-Bouton Busses and Lorries for Baguio City in the Philippines.] ::

The Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society website receives many interesting E-mails from all over the world asking for assistance with all sorts of questions relating to Veteran, Vintage and Classic vehicles. The SVVS attempts to answer those questions that are within their sphere of interest, and some are very interesting indeed !

One such enquiry was received from Leslie Ann Murray from The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, in Manila. Leslie advised that the Chamber is celebrating its centenary in 2002 and is bringing out a book to commemorate the event. The Chamber was founded in 1902, incorporated in 1920, with both dates being under the American flag, and is acknowledged as the first American Chamber of Commerce in Asia.

In the course of the research for the centenary book, Leslie came across some turn-of-the-century photographs in the Historical Collection of the American Historical Library in the grounds of Ateneo University showing a selection of French De Dion-Bouton busses and lorries in the Philippines. The captions on the photograph stated that these vehicles had been specially built to be used on the then new road being built to the newly developed summer capital of Baguio City.

De Dion-Bouton 'train' on Kennon Road
Click this photo to enlarge: its worth the wait !
Photo: © American Historical Collection, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines

The story of Baguio is interesting in its own right. The Americans conquered the Philippines following their victory over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in 1898. After the takeover the Americans heard rumours of a mist-shrouded valley high in the mountains where there was a need for blankets and a fire to keep warm, which was difficult to believe in a tropical humid archipelago near the equator. An expeditionary force was sent out on horseback to investigate and 'discovered' Trinidad Valley at 5,000ft populated by pine trees and with a temperate climate. 

This was the beginnings of Baguio which initially housed a sanatorium for those who needed to recover from tropical diseases without having to endure the long sea journey home. Eventually the government developed the area and declared Baguio City as the summer capital. Similar to many capitals in either very hot or very cold countries, the whole of the government would move up to Baguio City for March, April and May, these being the hottest months of the year.

De Dion-Bouton busses southbound
Click all photos to enlarge
Photo: © American Historical Collection, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines

Benguet Road started to be hacked out of the mountain in 1901 by hand involving labour and specialists from many countries including France, Italy, Spain, Japan, China etc., under the supervision of Capt. Charles Mead of the US Corps of Engineers. The project was taken over in 1903 by Maj. Lyman W.V. Kennon who completed the works by 1905. The road was subsequently renamed as Kennon Road and was the most expensive project undertaken by the American colonial government. The road, which is about 50 kilometers long, is a series of dramatic serpentines snaking across the hills and the Bued River Canyon with some very steep gradients which even today can result in some vehicles running out of power and stalling.

Baguio City was reached by taking a conventional railway train from Manila to the base of the mountain where trucks and busses transported people and goods up the mountain road to Baguio. In view of the severity of the inclines on this road some specialised vehicles were likely to be required. Leslie was interested to establish how or why a French company would be exporting to the Philippines which was an American enclave. She also wanted to identify the models of the specific vehicles shown and to get some general history of the De Dion-Bouton marque.

1911 De Dion Lorries of the Benguet Auto Line
Photo: © American Historical Collection, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines

Well,  - researching through some of my reference books and visiting some interesting peripheral sites on the internet, it seems that the De Dion-Bouton company came about mainly as a result of curiosity that the French Count Philippe Albert de Dion de Malfiance had in a model steam locomotive he saw in toy shop in Paris. This interest bought him into contact in 1882 with the maker Georges Bouton who specialised in models and scientific toys, and later with Bouton's brother-in-law Charles-Armand Trépardoux who specialised in boilers and steam engines. Their meetings eventually resulted in the formation of "Etablissements De Dion-Bouton et Trépardoux" set up in Paris to manufacture vélocipèdes. Early experiments produced a three wheeler capable of considerable speed and resulted in a number of patents being taken out for rapid evaporation steam boilers. The company's first production model was a steam driven quadricycle with the boiler amidships. Some of the steam engines were subsequently marinised and offered to the French navy for evaluation.

Count De Dion was a flamboyant playboy with penchant for publicity and was one of the very first to perceive the benefits of undergoing trials of their vehicle by the then new public 'reliability runs'. He won the first motor race from Paris to Versailles driving a steam four-wheeled vehicle beating Georges Bouton on a steam tricycle. His involvement with steam and steam vehicles, and especially his financial commitment to it, was not however, approved of by his father the Marquis nor by the family who were afraid that the family fortunes would be squandered by this enterprise.

De Dion persisted and by 1884 the second range of now 4HP quadricycles was being produced. Successful sales required a move to new premises in Puteaux where in 1887 the first of the range of single seater tricycles was in series production. In 1889 De Dion visited the Paris World Fair and was impressed by the petrol powered engines of Benz and Daimler, especially as he had learned that Panhard & Levassor were purchasing a licence.

1887_de_Dion_steam_tricycle.jpg (32397 bytes)
1887 De Dion-Bouton Steam Tricycle

Development of petrol engines was however something which Trépardoux was not interested in, believing that steam had the power that petrol lacked. Disagreements between De Dion and Trépardoux reached a point where in 1894 Trépardoux decided to leave the company to concentrate further on developing steam. De Dion was less than impressed and issued instructions for all mention of Trépardoux to be removed from company records and for the company to be renamed simply De Dion-Bouton; and he issued instructions for the development of their own petrol engine. Steam however for the time being remained their staple product.

By 1895 the development of the petrol engine was complete and trials of a rear engined tricycle had proved successful. Sales took off and the first model was quickly followed by a series of more powerful models. All this work attracted other manufacturers and De Dion was not slow in spotting that there was a very large market for proprietary engines. A decision was therefore made that their engines would be available to other constructors with the full technical backing of the company. At this time in 1898 the 21 year old Lous Renault was experimenting with his first vehicle and used a De Dion-Bouton 1.5HP engine to power the car. Other constructors also used the engine including Delage, Chenard & Walcker, Terrot etc and eventually a total of some 130 constructors either used or had experimented with De Dion-Bouton engines. Eventually over 45,000 engines were manufactured.

The first four wheel De Dion-Bouton car, the 'vis-a-vis' , was introduced in 1899 and over 1500 were sold by 1901. In 1902 the engine was moved to the front. A whole series of engines and vehicles then followed which made De Dion Bouton one of the most important car manufacturers in the world. Exports began to play an important part in company activities with agents in most of the important countries of the world. Exports in 1901 of single and multiple shipments of cars were going to such diverse countries as Australia and America. Clients in America included James Gordon Bennett Jr., the proprietor of the New York Herald and the sensationalistic American Journalist known for his promotion of races between cars, airplanes and balloons. Gordon Bennett chose a De Dion-Bouton as his first car.

The company had for some time been manufacturing commercial vehicles and had done so on the basis of utilising steam power. Greater emphasis began to be put on development of commercial vehicles based on more powerful petrol engines. In 1903 a new two-cylinder engine was available designed specifically to be used in lorries. Parallel development was also taking place in manufacture of related electrical items including batteries, dynamos and electric motors including experimental electric powered vehicles.

The Paris municipal transport company CGO had for some time been looking at the question of organised transport within the capital beyond that provided by horse drawn vehicles. In 1909 CGO decided to follow the example of Berlin and London to come up with a specification for a mass transport road vehicle. The requirements would be that the manufacturer would provide the chassis with engine, on which CGO would install a uniform bus body. Nine manufacturers applied for the tender and subsequently provided prototypes for evaluation under operating conditions in Paris.

1905 Brille-Schneider; Paris bus tender winner
Photo: ©

From the nine manufacturers, one, Serpollet, put forward a steam vehicle; two put forward petrol-electric vehicles where the engine drove a generator which provided power to electric drive motors, these being Krieger and De Dion-Bouton; and six other manufacturers used conventional petrol engines. The tender was eventually awarded to the petrol driven Brillé-Schneider for a total of 150 busses. These were gradually put into service in 1906. De Dion-Bouton lost out but went away determined to develop larger and more powerful petrol engines.

In 1910 the De Dion Bouton Company introduced the world's first V8 engine to enter series production. The initial V8 was available in a 6.1 litre form and was followed later by 3.5 litre, 4.6 litre and 7.8 litre, and subsequently by the 14.7 litre engine mainly aimed at the American market. De Dion-Bouton had had a presence in New York since the turn of the century in Brooklyn initially via the De Dion-Bouton Motorette Co. It was at one of the De Dion-Bouton establishments in Brooklyn that a young Swiss émigré Louis Chevrolet learned some of his mechanical skills before going on to become a well known racing driver and subsequently founding the American car manufacturing company which carried his name.

De Dion-Bouton were given a significant boost on the American market with the winning of an order for the provision of 100 municipality vehicles to New York City involving police vehicles, fire engines, taxis and busses. Part of the shipment from De Dion-Bouton was a parade car provided to the Mayor of New York. The car was fitted with the latest De Dion-Bouton V8 engine. This engine was eventually studied and copied by many American car manufacturers and was the beginning of the American love affair with the V8.

1908 De Dion-Bouton V8 engine
Photo: © Fer Cools

With the boost of the New York order, at home in France De Dion-Bouton renewed their interest in the Paris transport system and eventually received an order for 263 Type DA busses to be delivered between 1911 and 1913. These busses utilised the rounded Solex centrifugal radiator which had been in use by De Dion-Bouton commercials since 1909. The Solex radiator had the distinctive Mercedes type large three pointed star which became the trade mark of Paris busses for years to come because the Solex radiator was specified by the Paris CGO to be fitted to all busses regardless of make. The Solex company also manufactured the famous Solex carburettor and later the equally famous VeloSoleX front engined motorised bicycle which was so much a trademark of France, and which is still being manufactured by VeloSolex in France.

1913 De Dedion-Bouton DA Paris Bus
Photo: ©

At around 1910 De Dion-Bouton was one of the largest vehicle manufacturers in the world. Their products included cars, lorries, busses, trains and even aeroplanes. They were being used in many capital cities and on many trans mountain and alpine routes. It is therefore not surprising that any significant requirement for a fleet of this type of vehicles anywhere in the world would have included looking at what De Dion-Bouton could offer. The Philippines requirement was for sturdy well tried heavy vehicles with a known reputation. On the basis that the Philippines were under American influence, it would not have escaped the ordering authorities that De Dion-Bouton municipality vehicles were being very successfully used in New York. America had an established Chamber of Commerce in Manila. It is quite possible that the positive influence of New York was taken into account when the vehicles for the Benguet Road were being considered.

The photographs of the Philippines De Dion-Bouton found by Leslie Ann Murray were submitted via Bozi Mohacek of the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society to Amicale De Dion Bouton who are the foremost experts in France on all historical matters pertaining to the De-Dion-Bouton marque ( Their President Rene Ville and his colleagues studied the photographs and determined that indeed the specifications of these vehicles were specific to this order. The group photographs show lorries with solid rubber tyres and busses (actually more like charabancs) with pneumatic tyres. Amicale confirmed that they did not know a lorry engine which conformed to the engine bore dimensions mentioned on the photograph although there was later a 40HP engine in 1912/1913 with a similar bore size on CD vehicles, and which was used even later in 1914 on railway engines. They also advised that the bus engine dimensions conformed to a V8 engine but one of 35HP used on type CY vehicles in 1911 and on DN vehicles in 1912. They also confirmed that the radiators used on booth types of vehicles were of the Solex Type but of larger capacity to cope with the temperatures and the altitudes of where they were to be used.

It was their contention that the photographs related to vehicles delivered to the Philippines sometime during a period between 1911 and 1913. Slightly later than the handwritten date on the Photo suggesting circa 1908. It is known that the completion of Benguet Road ran into trouble because of the steep incline of the final section. It is therefore probable that the authorities would have waited to see how the road performed before committing themselves to what would have been a quite significant financial investment in a fleet of motor vehicles. This would suggest that the dates do tie in: Solex radiators were in use only after 1909 and V8 engines were in use in 1910. Delivery date of 1910/11 is therefore quite likely.

1909 De Dion-Bouton Lorry
Photo: © Fer Cools, Holland

In Europe war clouds started looming and very soon after many of the De Dion-Bouton busses and lorries in Paris and in France were commandeered for the war effort. Many were destroyed. A few of these vehicles have survived and two are shown here. The first photo is of a 1909 lorry taken at the Motor Museum in Rennes and the second is of a 1915 lorry which came to the UK to attend the 2002 London to Brighton Commercial vehicle run.

1915 De Dion-Bouton Lorry
Photo:  ©

Following the First World war De Dion-Bouton continued with production of large luxury cars and commercial vehicles for which there was now a much reduced market. De Dion-Bouton Company began to run out of money and in 1927 it was only the intervention of the French government which enabled the company to continue operating until 1932. Small scale production of commercial vehicles continued up to 1950. Last to bear the De Dion name was a range of motorcycles in the 1950s. Marquis De Dion Died in 1952 but his name will pass into history as one of the founders of the 'automobile' and one of the most influential of automobile manufacturers.

At this point the answer to Leslie Ann Murray of the American Chamber of Commerce had been given and this article on the general background to De Dion-Bouton relating to the supply of commercial  vehicles for the Kennon Road had forwarded,  - but for a chance 'click' of the internet, which opened a completely new chapter!

Part 2/.    1908 Stanley Steamers  and Yorkshire Steam Wagons 

Copyright © MMIII, Bozi Mohacek.  Reproduction only by permission from the Author.
All photos are strictly Copyright © by their owners.

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