Sunday, August 12, 2012

Clement-Bayard: The Chevalier's Roadster

Seen at the 2012 Motorfest in Sydney, Australia, was a 1911 Clement-Bayard roadster, painted in crimson with black mudguards. It was bright, quirky and small.

Named for a famous knight, the Chevalier de Bayard, a French hero from the age of chivalry, and also named after Gustav-Adolphe Clement (the manufacturer), the Clement-Bayard was a high-quality small car, built in Paris, France. Clement (the man) had left the Clement company in 1903, and formed the Clement-Bayard company, but since he lost the right to name the cars after himself, changed his own name to Clement-Bayard.

The Clement-Bayard was founded upon the one- and two-cylinder engines made by DeDion Bouton. Indeed, most of the European auto industry in the 1890s and early 1900s was based on engines supplied by DeDion Bouton, or made under licence to them, or frankly copied from them. Thus, it could be said, that these engines helped to give birth to the world automobile industry.

The car I admired is probably a two-cylinder 7hp or four-cylinder 8hp engine of around 1 litre, bolted to the gearbox. The coal scuttle bonnet hiding the engine was a trademark of more than one manufacturer of the time, though we generally associate it with Renault. The radiator is therefore mounted to the firewall, peeking out on either side of the engine cover.

Speaking of trademarks, the noble Chevalier himself was depicted in badges and as a mascot figure on Clement-Bayard cars. A statue of the chevalier sans pour et sans reproache, even stood outside the Clement-Bayard factory.

Where are the instruments? The dashboard on this car is noticeably bare, with little more than a fuel tank and a brake pedal. With the throttle taken care of by a steering wheel mounted control, the absence of a clutch pedal usually means a two-speed epicyclic gearbox, like the Ford Model T's. Some basic instruments, like an ammeter and a speedometer, would have been welcome, I'm sure.

A series of lithographic posters were issued before World War I to market the Clement-Bayard. The reproduction I saw (mounted proudly on the windscreen of the little roadster) showed a Clement-Bayard tourer in an action pose, pacing a zeppelin airship and carrying a carload of French military officers. Would the French army have used the little cars on vigorous military manoeuvres? With a mere two cylinders and about only 12 real horsepower, I doubt it.

This little Clement-Bayard is undoubtedly a fine example of a light car, with the smaller twin-cylinder 7hp cars having a single transverse leaf spring at the rear, while the larger (or less small) 8hp four-cylinder car used half elliptics all round.

As a simple and light-weight car, the Clement-Bayard can be thought of as the Austin Seven of its day in pre-First World War France. A utility vehicle, it never had fancy leather upholstery or even lining inside the bodywork, nor detailed brass trim in the cab.

The main factory was in Levallois Perret, a suburb of Paris near the banks of the Seine, west of the centre of the city. While the cars were assembled in the Paris factory, a secondary factory in Mezieres in the Ardennes region, (known still as 'La Macerienne'), was a heavy manufacturing plant with foundry and forge facilities where major components were made.

The Paris factory was sold in the mid 1920s to André Citroen, allegedly because the factory bore a huge monogram 'AC'. Adolphe Clement rang his friend and suggested he buy the factory because they shared the same initials, and could move right in without modification! This ultimately became famous as the home of the long lasting Citroen 2CV, and was used until the late 1970s, when it was sold for redevelopment. A block of flats now occupies the site. The factory in Mezieres is still largely intact, except for the foundry building, which was demolished some years ago.

Gustav-Adolphe Clement and his extraordinary career in bicycles, cars, commercial vehicles and aviation, particularly airships, is still largely unwritten and unrecorded. His family still lives in the house near Pierrefonds bought by Adolphe after he sold the Clediaber business (an amalgamation of Clement, Gladiator and Humber companies) to a group of French industrialists in 1903. The Clement house still looks largely as it did at the turn of the 20th century. It is now run as a 'Hotel de Charme' these days

Gustav-Adolphe Clement (later Clement-Bayard) led a remarkable life, and his achievements are almost too many to list, but history has been less kind to him than he deserves. As yet, there is no definitive history of him or his marque. It's still a story that deserves to be told.

Igor Spajic writes on antique, vintage and classic cars and other subjects. He contributes to a website ( ) which is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of antique and vintage cars.

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