Sir J. Milne Barbour, Bart., proprietor of a thread factory in County Antrim, Ireland and original owner of the display car, was both very rich and very conservative. “No owner ever drives his Delaunay,” a rival French automaker commented. “It just isn’t done.” Like the Locomobile in America, the Delaunay-Belleville was a symbol of dignified wealth.
The hyphenated name – emerged when naval engineer Louis Delaunay married his boss’s daughter and adopted her name. The company had been a producer of dreadnought boilers for the British Admiralty. The Belleville factory in St. Denis boasted a thousand employees in 1900 and was well-equipped to enter the automotive arena. In 1903 Marius Barbarou, veteran of Benz and Clément, was hired to set up a Delaunay-Belleville automobile division. Fitted with a round honeycomb radiator referring to the company’s boiler-making tradition, the car itself made its debut at the following year’s Paris Salon.
This new car offered both functional and aesthetic advantages over the competition. The Delaunay adopted the full-pressure lubrication system, which Belleville had patented in 1897 for marine engines.
The display car was the first example the company produced using a six-cylinder engine. A Delaunay-Belleville could approach 60 mph and stay there indefinitely. Some of the big sixes were documented to have traveled 200,000 miles between overhauls.
This marque was a favorite with Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia; the company used his image in its publicity and named one of its models “SMT” (Sa Majesté le Tsar) in his honor.
Although Delaunay-Belleville manufacturing continued for decades, the glory days of “The Car Magnificent” ended in 1912 with Marius Barbarou’s departure and Louis Delaunay-Belleville’s death. When the factory finally closed in 1948, it was used to manufacture the Rovin minicar.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
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