The cyclecar / “vélomobile” / “vélocar” / bicycle car / “automouche” with pedals and / or auxiliary engine Le Dauphin: An (extreme?) solution to the fuel shortage in Paris during the German occupation in the Second World War

The cyclecar / “vélomobile” / “vélocar” / bicycle car / “automouche” with pedals and / or auxiliary engine Le Dauphin. Edmond Massip, “Un cyclecar à pédales et moteur auxiliaire.” La Vie automobile, 25 May 1941, 153.

Hello there, my reading friend. Yours truly would like to converse with you on this day about a vehicle which looked somewhat unusual, strange and bizarre. As you might expect from reading some of the many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee, I have a slight penchant for the unusual, the strange, and the bizarre. I am not denying it.

If you do not mind, I will be brief, and…

What is it, my reading friend? Is it skepticism that I see on your face? If I may quote, in translation of course, Captain Bonhomme, born Jean Yannick William Nicolas Bonhomme, a very colourful fictitious character who was featured in children’s programs of Télé Métropole Incorporée, a private television broadcaster in Montréal, Québec, mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since October 2017, skeptics will be confounded, ded, ded, ded.

In June 1940, France collapsed under the battering blows of National Socialist Germany. A descent into hell began which would continue, for many French women and men, until 1945. While the bastards, sorry, the occupier monopolised more and more resources of all kinds, the populations had to survive as best it could.

Gasoline quickly became scarce, which considerably limited the number of private vehicles placed at the disposal of urban populations, very much in the minority at the time, who could afford an automobile. If I may be permitted to quote, obviously out of context, and in translation, the Quebec philosopher hobo clown Sol, masterfully played by his creator, Marc Favreau, what to do, what to do?

Some people were quick to suggest the use of towed or automobile-carried devices to turn wood or charcoal into fuel gas, types of device known as gasifiers.

Other people went even further. They suggested the use of light vehicles, called cyclecar / “vélomobile” / “vélocar” / bicycle car / “automouche,” equipped with pedals and / or an auxiliary engine.

An ex-seller of automobiles produced by a major French automobile manufacturer, the Société anonyme des anciens établissements Panhard & Levassor, in the small town of Noyon, André L. Dauphin, was one of these people. This newly minted Parisian completed the prototype of a charming, economical and maneuverable 2-seat tandem pedal cyclecar before the end of the winter of 1940-41.

The wooden body of said vehicle was similar to an aircraft fuselage made from the same material. Aware of the vicissitudes of the Parisian climate, Dauphin had the good idea to equip his cyclecar with a hood which could be put up in a few minutes. He considered the possibility of selling his vehicle to individuals or taxi companies. He also considered producing a single-seater van version.

Aware that pedaling was not to everyone’s liking, Dauphin pointed out that his cyclecar could be fitted at any time with an auxiliary engine which could burn gasoline or alcohol. Said engine was very economical. It consumed just 3 litres of gasoline per 100 kilometers (94 miles/Imperial gallon / 78 miles/American gallon) and could reach a speed of 30 kilometres/hour (19 miles/hour).

Said engine might, I repeat might, have been produced by the Société anonyme des automobiles Donnet – and you are probably asking why I am busting your chops with that detail. The fact was / is that this firm derived its distant origin from a firm, the Société des établissements Donnet-Denhaut, founded in June 1915 by a former Swiss automobile salesman, Jérôme Donnet, and a former French reinforced concrete contractor, François Denhaut, who had participated in the founding, in July 1912, of the Société des hydros-aéroplanes Donnet-Lévêque, a seaplane manufacturer.

Would you believe that Denhaut had designed an amphibian flying boat which left the water in March 1912, barely 2 months after the first flying boat in the world, the Curtiss Flying Fish non-amphibian flying boat of Glenn Hammond Curtiss, an American gentleman mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since November 2018?

During the First World War, the Société des établissements Donnet-Denhaut delivered more than 1 000 flying boats used by the Aéronautique navale of the French Marine nationale to patrol the coasts of France in search of German submarines, but back to our cyclecar.

As early as March 1941, the Le Dauphin pedal cyclecar could be delivered with an engine running on compressed town gas / lighting gas. The vehicle then had a range of approximately 150 kilometres (nearly 95 miles).

Around April or May 1941, Dauphin began working on an electric version of his pedal cyclecar. Said version was apparently available from January 1942 onward. The range of the vehicle varied between 50 and 70 kilometres (about 30 to 45 miles) depending on the power of the batteries. This version could also reach a speed of 30 kilometres/hour (19 miles/hour).

Yours truly has no idea how many Le Dauphin cyclecars were produced during the Second World War by Dauphin, probably by hand, and / or by Avions Kellner-Béchereau Société anonyme. One has to wonder if more than a few examples were produced.

In fact, there is very little information on line on the pedal cyclecars produced in France during the Second World War.

By the way, Louis Béchereau was / is the aeronautical engineer who designed the magnificent SPAD S.VII C1 and S.XIII C1 fighter airplanes used during and after the First World War by the air corps of the armies of France and some Allied countries, among them the Aéronautique militaire of the Armée de Terre, the Royal Flying Corps of the British Army and the United States Army Signal Corps / United States Army Air Service of the United States Army, as well as by the Royal Air Force.

And that is it for this week. I told you I would be brief.

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Rénald Fortier