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SNAPSHOT 440: 1904 Dufaux

This monstrous Dufaux with eight cylinders in line had a capacity of 12,760cc and a claimed output of 80bhp at 1,300rpm. It was built by the Swiss car manufacturer Dufaux in Geneva, founded in 1904 by the brothers Charles and Frédéric, to compete in the 1904 Gordon Bennett race. The race was held that year in the Taunus region near Frankfurt am Main. The car, designed by Charles and built for them by Piccard-Pictet, had several innovative features.

Firstly, it had one of the first straight-eights to be built as such, rather than as two four-cylinder engines joined together. It was also fitted with ball bearings for at least some of its engine. Sadly, a broken steering arm put the car out of the running before it even started – but it did soon after set a new Swiss record of 71mph for the flying-start kilometre. The car still exists and is in the Musée Nationale de l’Automobile (Collection Schlumpf) in Mulhouse.

The brothers built another enormous car with a T-head four-cylinder engine of 26,400cc and a claimed output of 150bhp. Charles Rolls had it shipped to England for the Brighton Speed Trials, but it was not ready and was ignominiously transported back home. However, on 15 November 1905, driven by Frédéric Dufaux, the car broke the world land speed record at 97.2mph. This record was officially timed by the ACF but was dropped from the official lists before 1914.

Dufaux did not just build racers and record breakers. Late in 1904 the brothers launched 15hp and 35/40hp passenger cars, both with four-cylinder engines, and exhibited them early in 1905 at the first Geneva show. At the second Geneva show in 1906 they displayed a range of cars, from another 8-cylinder racer, this time 100/120hp, to a new 15hp car. The economic situation, and competition from bigger companies, led to the closure of the company in 1907.

Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive:

One response to “SNAPSHOT 440: 1904 Dufaux”

  1. David Grimstead says:

    There was a suggestion of overnight skulduggery before the Dufaux 8-cylinder racer’s “axletree” failed during its undemanding drive to the 1904 Gordon Bennett weighing-in. Its previously never broken nickel-steel steering-arm pin of its right front wheel was, upon examination, claimed to have been sawn or filed through from underneath and foul play was suspected, resulting in the setting up of an investigation by a French, German and English committee. Whatever it found, the believed to be repairable-in-time car did not run.

    Despite this setback, three Dufaux cars were selected to make up the Swiss entry for the 1905 Gordon Bennett Race in Auvergne, France on 5th July 1905, to be driven by C. Dufaux, J. Dufaux and M. Melas. The brothers’ cars were to have 90-h.p. eight-cylinder engines and Melas to have their radiator-less 150-h.p. four-cylinder. Due to the race rules, their preparations were disadvantaged by having to source many components not made in Switzerland: Michelin tyres, Longuemare carburettors, Eisemann magnetos and Mars sparking plugs.

    If that was not enough, the run-up to that year’s race was plagued by international disputes about competing countries contributing to the high cost to France of running three major races. During the Swiss Motor Show in Geneva, in May 1905, it was rumoured that neither the Swiss Automobile Club nor Dufaux was prepared to make a fair contribution, which must have left their participation in doubt. All three cars were still listed as entrant numbers 7,14 and 21 in reports up to late June 1905 but they were not in July’s starters’ list.

    The Hon. C. S. Rolls attended that Swiss Motor Show and had also visited the Dufaux factory during May, which suggests that he proposed entering 4-cylinder, 150 h.p. or 8-cylinder, 100-h.p. Dufaux cars in British trials; opportunities for pre-Gordon Bennett testing. Rolls was listed to run an 8-cylinder 100-h.p. Dufaux car at the Whit Monday Filey beach speed trials in May, intent on setting a Yorkshire record but the car and so he, failed to arrive in time.

    The next chance, in some 19th-22nd July Brighton Speed trial events, did prove ignominious but there the 150-h.p. car did run in its second heat of the measured mile scratch race for racing cars under 1000kg (19cwt. 2qrs. 20lbs.), after a bye in the first. It was said to have “provided the comic element […] produced flame, smoke and explosions but not speed; even in Rolls’ hands it did little more than crawl down the course.” It was said to have reached 35mph, clocking a time of 1min 35secs and was well beaten by Moore-Brabazon’s Mors’ 56.35secs. There is a photo of ten men attempting to start it – it took two tows by a Panhard and two downhill bump starts to get it going.

    Somewhat over-awed, on-the-spot hack “Crypto” wrote a “special” report for the London Echo: “For weirdness of design and construction it cannot be approached. Its pace is so great that it is a matter of great difficulty to slow it sufficiently to drive it on the road with safety, and consequently it had to be towed to the starting line by another car. In design, it is a long, rakish, low-built demon, with a tremendous gear. At the starting point, when the engine was set going, tremendous detonations were emitted that could be heard several miles away, while from beneath the car belched out long tongues of flame. The Dufaux was opposed by the 90-h.p. Mors driven by J. T. Moore-Brabazon, and the uproar of the two cars was like unto the thunder of several batteries of artillery. The Mors was away first, and before the Dufaux, with its big gear, got properly going, the Mors gained a substantial lead, which it retained to the end. The Dufaux, I fancy, would require to run at least half a mile before reaching top speed”.

    That latter comment should have presaged better prospects in the third day’s Daily Mail 100gns Challenge Cup for those same racing cars: a timed race over a flying kilometre. However, Rolls’ Dufaux managed just one of the required three runs and achieved a time of 45.25secs after a faltering start, which had mechanics rushing after it, a massive backfire and restart. It had the slowest time of all. Clifford Earp on S. F. Edge’s record-holding 90-h.p. Napier won with an aggregate time of 24.4secs (97.02mph); even Dorothy Levitt on her old 80-h.p. Napier averaged 30.8secs. Mockingly, the Dufaux was even likened to a Brighton donkey: “it did everything but go forward.” It could be said that technically its performance was not the worst: at least a Darracq, a Mercedes, a Rochet-Schneider and a De Dietrich broke down during the event but among its unresolved problems were a slipping clutch, smoky over-lubrication and water in the carburettor.

    Expecting better, Rolls had already entered it, although some wrote an 80-h.p. Dufaux, for the flying start scratch mile race at Blackpool on 28th July but he, his car and six others of its ten entrants failed to show. His plan, then stated, was that once tuned the Dufaux would be taken to Ostend for speed record attempts but it appears it wasn’t and was clearly not properly fettled until November 1905 when it did carry Frédéric Dufaux to his disputed ACF record.

    If 1906 was quiet in competition terms for the brothers, busy with mundane car manufacture, then perhaps their nineteen-year-old sister Mlle. E. Dufaux brightened it in October by winning “the Swiss Mountain Contest”. She covered five miles in 9min 34secs “on her brother’s 80-h.p. car, with great judgement and fearlessness.”

    Frédéric Dufaux was entered for the July 1907 Grand Prix at Dieppe on a Dufaux-Marchand; he was unplaced and the resulting demise of the Dufaux-Marchand partnership ended the company. By then, the only newsworthy Dufaux Freres of Geneva were Henri and Armand, inventors of the well-established Motosacoche engine and innovative, soon to be prize-winning, aeroplane engineers…

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