Seal Cove Auto Museum, Antique Autos and Motorcycles from the Brass Era, Mount Desert Island, Maine
1901 De Dion-Bouton Motorette
  • Manufacturer: De Dion Bouton Motorette Company, Brooklyn, NY, under contract to DeDion-Bouton et Cie, Puteaux Seine 1883-1932
  • Model: Motorette Vis-A-Vis
  • Engine: One-cylinder, water-cooled, 3.5 horsepower good for speeds of 20 -25 mph.
  • Innovation: 'Universal' type joints with cardan shafts allowing constant drive to the rear wheels, while the engine and gearbox sat rigidly in the chassis frame.

DeDion-Bouton made the first of the high-speed, high-power engines producing a high horsepower for their weight and using coil ignition with a mechanically operated contact breaker.

Introduced in 1899, this little car had all the essential DeDion-Bouton features that served the firm for many years to come. The only major change was the moving of the engine from a rear location to the front in 1902. Enduring features were the high-speed water-cooled engine with reliable electric ignition and a gearbox in which each gear had its own individual expanding clutch that gave smooth gear changes. This gearbox was bolted to the tubular chassis with the final drive via what was called a DeDion back axle, whereby the rear wheels were carried on a 'dead' axle beam and the drive was by universally-jointed half-shafts. The French firm went on to make the first production V8-engined car in 1910.

The American "Motorettes" were built on Church Street, Brooklyn and sold in Manhattan on West 66th. The venture did not prove successful and, the company failed within a year. Only a few hundred were built and today only a few survive in prominent collections such as the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, Harrah's Collection in Reno, Nevada and the Seal Cove Auto Museum, a testament to the De Dion name and its ubiquitous 'floating rear axle' device that conceptually has been fitted to millions of automobiles ever since.