Enjoying the throttle, young Count Albert de Dion races down the slopes as a racing pioneer. He later wants to share this joy of driving – and founds the world’s first car rental company. Author: Prisca Straub
Booth: 15.01.2018 | Archive
15 . January
Monday, 15. January 2018
Author(s): Prisca Straub
Speaker(s): Krista Posch
Illustration: Tobias Kubald
Editor: Susi Weichselbaumer
An alcohol burner, a glass cylinder and inside – clearly visible – the rhythmic movement of a piston. That is so much to the liking of the Count. The construction of small steam engines put Albert de Dion in rapture – from childhood. Too bad his family belongs to the French high nobility. The genteel background forbids any interest in mechanics – rigorously! The father finds: Albert’s heart was “childish” – and the question of how to convert thermal energy into mechanical work “hardly compatible with a man of reason”. Why the offspring could not simply engage in gambling in keeping with his station? Or with a little dueling now and then?! That would certainly bring other thoughts! But in vain! Albert, Count Good-for-Nothing, can’t be beaten out of his passion for steam-powered things.
Order already out!
When de Dion’s father finally threatens to cut him off, it turns out that his son has already invested: On Albert’s behalf, a specialist in boiler construction and a manufacturer of toy steam engines are working on a steam-powered automobile. And soon with great success. Founded in 1882, De Dion-Bouton even becomes one of the most successful vehicle manufacturers of its time.
And Albert, the visionary? He now wants one thing above all: to race! On his rolling steam engines, he dashes through the Bois de Boulogne in the west of Paris. Reckless. At a pace that leaves all horse-drawn carriages easily behind him. And when, during particularly risky overtaking maneuvers, the spooked nags throw their aristocratic riders into the mud, the count happily sneers into his mustache.
Giving the others a run for their money!
With a steam-powered De Dion tractor, Count Albert becomes fastest in the world’s first official car race in 1894 – ahead of a fellow competitor with a gasoline engine. On the 127-kilometer route from Paris to Rouen, illustrious guests sit in the trailer, even their father joins in: motorsport has become a prestigious luxury pleasure. Despite its success, the “Comte sportif”, the sporty count, already the following year definitively switches to gasoline-powered cars.
The world is on the move, preaches Albert de Dion. But for the masses, the rattling motorized carriages are not only completely unaffordable, they are also frightening: Why on earth sit down in a speeding tin can – in close proximity to a highly explosive mixture?
The count seeks a remedy. He creates the Automobile Club de France, the French automobile club – a private association of enthusiasts. And on January 15. January 1896, Albert opens the world’s first car rental company. Six vehicles including drivers are available in Paris – for three francs an hour, half a day’s wages for an average worker. At this price, however, the broad masses would have been more likely to act as chauffeurs than as customers.