La Française 1897 1¼ HP 211cc De Dion Bouton AIV frame # 1015 engine # 184.97
The “La Française” company was started in 1890 in the Paris region by two associates. One of them sold his shares in 1895 to a Mr. John-Varnum Hammond who heavily invested in the company; a new factory was opened in 1896 and some well-known bicycle racers were contracted. The firm produced various parts for bicycles and also complete cycles under the “Diamant” trademark and would become one of the major suppliers to the infant French motorcycle industry. The Werner Brothers were one of their best known customers, most parts from the Werner machines came from La Française. With the growing interest in motorized transport the company started to offer kits to build tricycles and quadricycles. Essentially most of the cycle parts were already put together and these should be combined with De Dion Bouton items such as engine, surface carburettor and ignition system. The DDB tricycle was the most successful motor vehicle in Europe from the late 1800s until the early 1900s and with about 15,000 sold, it scored the first breakthrough for the distribution of motor vehicles. In particular the fast-running De Dion Bouton engine set new standards for vehicular motors and is regarded as the precursor of all motorcycle engines. Year after year the design was improved and soon many manufacturers, big and small, introduced three wheelers, often with DDB engines.
Bouton had concluded that the glow plug ignition was the obstacle to higher speeds, so from the beginning of DDB production a high voltage ignition system with circuit breaker was employed. The dry battery for the ignition is located in a rectangular box under the upper frame tube; ignition timing can be adjusted with a small lever.
Various details of this iconic vehicle indicate that she was one of the earliest models produced. The rear wheel hubs are of massive sheet steel and haven’t been turned on a lathe; the battery holder is of the small type, only used in 1896 and early 1897. The surface carburettor is higher and thinner than the later types and the exhaust diameter is smaller than usual. The flame trap in the inlet tract is situated near the cylinder head instead of in the surface carburettor. The brass De Dion Bouton badge on the carburettor consists of two pieces, later models were one-piece. The tyres are not the conventional type but are cushion tyres that have an air chamber in them. They are glued to the rims.
The engine has bore x stroke dimensions of 62x70mm and is still of the type that has the valves next to one another, from 1898 on the inlet valve was placed above the exhaust valve.
There are only two known DDB tricycles with a lower engine number than 184; one is in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, the other is in a private collection. A unique chance indeed to acquire one of the oldest known tricycles!