1887 De Dion-Bouton & Trepardoux Steam Quadricycle
This is one of the oldest surviving motorcars in the world. With its steam boiler located at the front and
connecting rods to the rear wheels, it resembles a tank locomotive but is nevertheless one of the first
usable, and therefore successful, applications of a steam engine in a small motorcar. The two-cylinder
compound engine (combining high and low pressure cylinders) installed under the floor could be
operated by one man, eliminating the need for an additional stoker. The water tank was located
underneath the seats and the coal bunker surrounded the boiler. The vehicle could get up steam within
50 minutes and could reach a top speed of approximately 60 km/h.
The company De Dion, Bouton et Trépardoux was one of the first and most important car
manufacturers. It was established in 1880 outside Paris by the brothers-in-law Georges Bouton and
Charles Trépardoux, initially to make toy steam engines. Their sophisticated craftsmanship caught the
attention of the wealthy count Albert de Dion, who proceeded to finance the production of steam-
driven vehicles for passenger and freight transport.
In the early days of motoring, steam propulsion was one of the emerging technologies alongside the
electric motor and petrol engine. In 1889, when De Dion attended the Paris Exhibition (which gave the
city its Eiffel Tower) and saw a petrol engine for the first time, he immediately recognised its potential.
The ingenious Bouton went on to develop a petrol engine that surpassed its competitors in many
respects. Trépardoux however, wanted to carry on with steam and eventually left the company in 1893.