World’s Oldest Running Car – Yours for $2.5 Million!

1884 "La Marquise" De Dion Bouton et Trepardoux Dos-a-Dos. Photo by RM.

The World’s oldest running car, a French 1884 De Dion Bouton et Trepardoux Dos-a-Dos (say THAT five time fast!) is set to cross the auction block at RM’s October 7 auction at Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA. The expected going price: $2 million to $2.5 million.

Dubbed “La Marquise” after the original owner’s mother, this historic ride has no gas pedal or foot brakes and you’ll swap spark plugs for steam power. But you’ll get bragging rights that no one else in your local vintage car club can claim. It all began when young Count de Dion, a celebrated dualist and ladies’ man, happened by a toy store looking for toys to give as prizes at an upcoming ball. He was so intrigued by the quality of workmanship of a model steam engine that he hired away the two toymakers who had built it and challenged them to build a full-sized engine that could power a carriage. Legend has it that the Count also was an animal advocate bent on freeing horses from the drudgery of pulling carriages.

Working for an enviable 10 francs a day, Georges Bouton and Charles-Armand Trepardoux first connected a steam engine to a tricycle, then built a Victoria quadricycle in 1883. Unfortunately, the rear-wheel steering proved quite the inconvenience, as did the liquid fuel’s propensity to catch fire. And its large, vertical, up-front boiler made the initial model look a bit like a giant coffee pot on wheels. So, the two went back the drawing board and designed what would become the La Marquise – a more compact, steam-powered quadricycle with front-wheel steering and rear-wheel drive via connecting rods much like a locomotive.

In his later years, De Dion boasted that the La Marquise “can be considered the embryo of the first touring automobile. It had four seats and it was already a family car.”

He kept the car until 1906, when he sold it to French army officer Henri Doriol, whose family kept it for 81 years, but never ran it. Brass and copper fittings had been sacrificed to the war effort in 1914 and post-war attempts to restore it failed. In 1987, the family auctioned the La Marquise off in Paris. The buyer was Tim Moore, a British Veteran Car Club member who painstakingly restored the vehicle to its original condition (including manufacturing those war-lost fittings) and got her running. The La Marquise returned the favor by racking up a list of prestigious honors including the 1991 UK National Steam Heritage Premier Award for Restoration and Preservation; a double award at Pebble Beach in 1997; the U1 steam class and the Automobile Quarterly Historian’s Trophy; the class win of Pre-Century Steam Cars at Goodwood in 1999, and an honor at the 1996 Louis Vuitton Concours at the Royal Hurlingham Club in London in 1996.

Alas, Moore now faces quite the conundrum: he’s got two kids and no idea how to leave the car in his will without causing a bit of sibling warfare – Thus, your chance to bid and become the La Marquise’s next owner.  Think you’ll place a bid for the lovely La Marquise? E3 Spark Plugs wants to hear from you. Leave a comment on our E3 Spark Plugs blog or our Facebook fan page.