La Marquise

July 22, 2013

La Marquise side view

La Marquise Steam Car

It’s slow, rough and belches smokes, but that wasn’t enough to keep an unidentified bidder from spending $4.6 million to acquire an 1884 De Dion Bouton et Trepardoux Dos-a-Dos Steam Runabout at the RM Auction in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

More commonly known as “La Marquise,” for Count De Dion’s mother, the coal-fired three-wheeler is the oldest surviving automobile in the world.

The $4.2 million winning bid was more than double the original, $2 million estimate.  The auction house added another $420,000 in commission.

La Marquise front view

La Marquise

The buyer will be only the fifth since La Marquise was built – one of 20 to be assembled by the Count, among the earliest proponents of the automobile.  In fact, the De Dion Runabouts were produced two years before Carl Benz rolled out his first vehicle, which the German maker Daimler AG bills as the first true automobile.  That is a matter of semantics, as the La Marquise De Dion design ran on steam power rather than using an internal combustion engine, as the Benz model did.

The 9-foot-long steamer (La Marquise) seats four, front and rear passengers sitting back-to-back, which is why it was known as a dos-a-dos.  The Runabout uses a tiller-like spade handle for steering.  The boiler for La Marquise is located under the seats.  Using coke or coal it takes 45 minutes to build up the necessary head of steam to get it moving.  Two independent engines are used, one for each of the front wheels.

La Marquise three quarters view

La Marquise

La Marquise delivered impressive performance for its day, achieving a claimed top speed of 38 miles per hour with a range of 20 miles on a 40-gallon tank of water. It won what is claimed to have been the world’s first automobile race; and though it was the only entrant it nonetheless reached a top speed of 37 mph, averaging 18 mph over the 20-mile course.

Notably, the De Dion still runs.  It has completed in the London to Brighton race for vintage cars and took honors at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1997.

La Marquise boiler

La Marquise

The bidding at the RM auction began at just $500,000 but almost immediately shot to $1 million and kept pushing higher, quickly exceeding earlier estimates.

The La Marquise De Dion was previously owned by the same family for 81 years and was only sold after the death of classic car enthusiast John O’Quinn, the family deciding to liquidate his collection.

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