De Dion-Bouton Motorcycles: A Brief History

Marquis Albert de Dion was a pioneer of the automobile industry.

Marquis (later Count) Jules Félix Philippe Albert de Dion de Wandonne (1856-1946) was a very wealthy member of the French nobility, and quite a character. He was a prominent member of the anti-Dreyfusard group who was jailed for bonking the French president over the head with a walking stick. He created the publication L'Auto which in 1903 established Le Tour de France. The yellow jersey was so named as this was the colour of the pages of L'Auto.

De Dion won the world's first motor race, in 1894, run over a distance of 122 kilometres from Paris to Rouen. He was the only entrant.

Although his reputation is deeply tarnished by the part he played in the Dreyfus Affair1, it must be said that like so many others he was mislead. One can only imagine his feelings when the truth eventually emerged - like a climate science denialist as the water rose to knee height or a Trump diehard on realising that Nixon was an amateur.

  • The company was founded by Comte Albert de Dion, George Bouton (1847-1938) and his brother-in-law Charles Trepardoux.

    1883 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.

    1884 An improved vehicle was made 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.

    1885 Two more cars were made and 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.

    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 3,000 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

    De Dion Bouton 1899 Tricycle
    Photo by Hans Denzel

    1900 They produced the vis-a-vis with the 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.

    In 1900, de Dion-Bouton was the largest automobile manufacturer in the world producing 400 cars and 3,200 engines that year. The company soon began producing engines and licenses for other automobile companies with an estimate of 150 makes using them.

    1900 A factory was opened in Brooklyn, New York making De Dion cars.

    1901 A small number of electric cars were made.

    c.1901 Motorcycles were built in small numbers, one of which was in the Guélon Collection

    1903 Introduced the two-cylinder 1,728 cc Type S

    1904 Introduced the four-cylinder 2,545 cc Type AD. The cars were becoming conventional with the radiator moving in front of the engine and the clutch changing from hand lever to pedal.

    1906 They produced 6 hp., 8 hp., 9 hp., (these three were single cylinder) 12 hp. (two-cylinders), 15 hp. and 24 hp. (both four-cylinders) shaft-drive cars.

    1907 The company was incorporated in the UK as De Dion-Bouton (1907) Ltd . Directors were Selwyn Edge (Chairman), John William Stocks (MD), Herbert Osbaldson Duncan (MD in France), S. Van Der Bergh, W. Scott-Leafe and Arthur I. Phillips.

    1910 The company became the first to make a mass-produced V8 engine, a 35 hp 6,107 cc CJ unit in 1910 and 3,534 cc Type CN a year later.

    1914 Listed as motor car manufacturers. Specialities: motor cars, omnibuses, delivery vans, lorries, motor launches and dynamo and other motor combinations.

    During World War I the company made armanents, armoured vehicles and aero engines as well as cars and trucks.

    Omnibus manufacture began in 1884 and ceased after WWII

Peter Lynn (NZ) writes that the company was apparently reformed in 1926 and failed in 1930.

De Dion-Bouton 1920s

See Dilecta

The affaire Dreyfus is mentioned in the article on Ader

Sources: Graces Guide,, wikipedia.en

majordingdong at
1920's De Dion Bouton bicycle, with a Motobecane MB3 engine fitted - and propeller !!!
Hi there, could you please try and give me some information about my interesting bike, I was told it's early 1920's, I hope the picture my help ?
Nick Major
Penzance, UK

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