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De Dion-Bouton 3.5-HP Vis-à-Vis

Although in 1900 phrases such as ‘family car’ and ‘mass production’ were not commonplace, they were certainly applicable to this ‘Petite Voiture’ by De Dion-Bouton.

This four-seater car was introduced in 1899 as being ‘light, simple and easy to steer, with a certain degree of comfort’.

The passengers would sit two-by-two, facing each other (in French: vis-à-vis), a design derived from the world of carriages and which was frequently used at the turn of the 19th century. Some 3,000 of these very popular cars were produced over a four-year period.

The engine was located in the rear and the two-speed gearbox was easy to handle; as you can see here, the earliest examples of this model had a handle for steering and a wheel for changing gears – in other words, the exact opposite of what we have today.

The famous De Dion rear axle design, which was developed for the company’s heavier steam cars, was also used in this model. In this construction, drive is split by a differential between two independent axles, which drive the rear wheels. In the past the De Dion axle was used in sports and racing cars.

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