Amelia Island | Lot 173
1901 De Dion-Bouton New York Type Motorette
$115,500 USD | Sold
| Amelia Island, Florida
8 March 2014
- Rare Brooklyn-built New York Type Motorette
- Amazing near-original condition
- London-to-Brighton Veteran
3.5 hp, 402 cc single-cylinder engine, two-speed manual transmission, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and a De Dion tube rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, a mechanical gearbox brake, and a sprag brake. Wheelbase: 61 in.
In 1900, De Dion, Bouton et Cie. was in the forefront of the world’s motor industries. Having built steam cars, gasoline tricycles, and four-wheeled voiturettes, the company had the distinction of being the largest engine manufacturer in the world, supplying powerplants to 140 manufacturers around the globe. The four-wheel, four-seat vis à vis (face to face) voiturette was increasingly popular. America had taken notice when a De Dion was demonstrated in Boston in 1898, and subsequently, Kenneth Skinner, of Boston, took up licensing De Dion patents in the United States.
There were a number of importers, but, in 1900, a consortium of Americans, headed by Cornelius Field, took a license from Skinner and set up the De Dion-Bouton Motorette Company in Brooklyn, New York, with a salesroom on 66th Street in Manhattan. Three models were offered, a Brooklyn Motorette with a single two-passenger seat, a New York Motorette with facing vis à vis seating, and a telephone-booth-like Brougham. De Dion Motorettes took prizes in hill climbs on Long Island, they raced with the Auto Club of New England at the Pan-American Exhibition at Buffalo, and one took 1st place in a September 1901 New York-to-Buffalo endurance test. The life of the Brooklyn-built De Dion, however, was short. By mid-1902, Skinner had canceled the company’s contract, citing violations of its conditions.
This remarkable example of the New York Type Motorette was discovered in the 1960s by the late California collector Ben Moser. It was owned by a single family for at least half a century, and then it was purchased by Moser from the grandson of the long-time owner. When purchased, it was removed from a barn intact, accompanied by a parasol, an early photograph with the owner, and a well-preserved chauffeur’s hat, and it was virtually original, with only a few cosmetic touches made by the grandson. Moser went on to collect additional period-appropriate tools and memorabilia to go with the car.
Prior to Ben Moser’s death in 1992, his friend and attorney Jeremy Hass reportedly acquired the De Dion-Bouton. The car was in very good condition and quite complete, except for the fact that its leather seating was loose, but it was salvaged by carefully underlaying the original material with a flexible backing. The paint was judged to be largely original, and the engine ran well after a brief tune-up. Hass entered it for the 1992 London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run in England, where it started at Hyde Park in London and motored happily southward toward the finish line. On the final hill, however, it stalled with engine trouble, failing to make “Punctual Arrival in Brighton” for the commemorative medal. Nonetheless, it was a valiant effort!
Mr. Hass had the engine and gearbox rebuilt after returning to the United States, and the differential gear was also changed to a more favorable ratio. In 1993, he sold the car, and it has had two owners in recent years. As presented here, it has recently been detailed, but it still retains the original features described, such as the parasol, the photograph, and the chauffeur’s hat, as well as a white rubber floor mat with a red De Dion emblem in the middle.
This car, one of very few surviving Brooklyn-built De Dions, is in remarkable condition and comes with an exceptional provenance. It is eligible for all manner of horseless carriage and one- and two-cylinder tours and events, and it is eager to make another try for punctual arrival at Brighton.