Chenard & Walcker - The Car That Won The First Le Mans

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Chenard & Walcker - The Car That Won The First Le Mans

Chenard et Walcker

1896 - 1950
Chenard and Walcker Limousine Torpedo 19
IN THE MID 1890s, rich young motorists of a sporting inclination wanted to career along the roads at the helm of that fascinating and dangerous device, the motor tricycle. Though the De Dion-Bouton was the archetypal tricycle, others - Renaux, Ariel, Cudell - also followed this trend.

So, too, did a French mechanic named Chenard, who built his first tricycle in 1895 and sold it to an Englishman for so much money that he was encouraged to start production, One of his earliest customers, a mining engineer named Walcker, proposed a partnership which Chenard is claimed to have accepted because, while Walcker had no capital, he did have a distinct flair for business - and an attractive young wife.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Chenard & Walcker's products soon became famous for providing transport àdeux at a modest price, by the simple expedient of fitting a pair of wheels and a seat in place of the single front wheel.

By 1901, the partners were ready to break into the car market. While their first product, which appeared at that year's Paris Salon, was conventional enough in overall specification, with a twin-cylinder engine in a flitch-plated wooden chassis, its final-drive arrangements were unorthodox in the extreme.

At the outer ends of the half-shafts were bevel gears engaging with internally toothed drums on the hubs: the wheels were carried on a dead axle which took the weight of the chassis, This double-reduction axle was to be a characteristic of the marque until the mid 1920s: it was an idea which was very satisfactory for many years and which was modified later only because it was more expensive than the usual method.

Messrs Chenard & Walcker had obviously had doubts about the system in the early days, too, for the 14 hp Touring Carriage de Luxe, exhibited at the London Agricultural Hall Show in March 1903, had a highly conventional chain drive. The control methods were as unusual as the rear axle: throttling was achieved by varying the lift of the inlet valves, while the clutch had double cones, the rearmost coming into action when the pedal was fully down, pressing into a fixed conical brake ring to halt the car (interconnection of brake and clutch was common in the early days, as a panacea for skidding, but Chenard & Walcker's arrangement gave one-pedal control in conjunction with a hand throttle).

The 1902 Circuit du Nord de l'Alcool

The 1903 range consisted of a 10 hp, noted for its economy (one achieved 49,5 miles per gallon under test), and the 14 hp twin, The marque was prominent in reliability trials, having carried off the Gold Cup in the 1902 Circuit du Nord de l'Alcool, By 1906, the range had become an 88 x 130 mm 16/20 four, with British prices ranging from £395 for the touring phaeton to £595 for the Landaulette; there was, too, a 120X 130mm 30/40 four, the chassis price of which was £630.

This simple line-up was supplanted by a more complex range at the end of 1908, by which time Chenard & Walcker had moved from their old works at Asnieres, in the Paris suburbs, to a new factory in the picturesquely-named Rue du Moulin de la Tour, in Gennevilliers. The smallest of the new models was the single-cyclinder 8/9 hp; then came a 10 hp twin, a 10/12hp four, a 14/16hp and two larger models, the 20 and the old 30/40, both four-cylinder cars.

Polkey Jarrett electric lighting, Vinet detachable rims and Telesco shock-absorbers

For 1912, Chenard & Walcker modified the range: Polkey Jarrett electric lighting, Vinet detachable rims and Telesco shock-absorbers were featured on all the models shown in London in November 1911. The 10/12 hp four cost £300 with two-seater Torpedo bodywork (collapsible dickey seat at rear). For £440 you could buy the 12/16 Cabriolet Coupe or doctor's car, again with collapsible dickey; and at £500 there was a 16/20 Berline Coupe with revolving seats.

Power outputs of the two smaller models were raised the following year, making them 10/14 hp and 12/18hp. A Renold silent chain now drove the camshafts, and Bosch dual-spark magnetos were standard. The 16/20 was exhibited with the currently fashionable boat-shaped sporting coachwork. In 1913 came Chenard's only pre-war six, the 80 x 150 mm 20/30. This range of chassis types continued up to the outbreak of war, and it was the old 16 hp 80 x 150 mm model, thinly disguised as a 16/25, that served to reintroduce the marque after the Armistice, although chassis price was now £785 compared with the prewar £310.
1896 Chenard & Walker 4 Wheel Bike Car
Most web sites seem to list the start date for Chenard and Walcker as 1899, but the vehicle above dates to 1896, being a combination of bike and car.

pre 1914 Chenard & WalkerThis old photo shows a pre 1914 Chenard & Walker. At this time, the company was manufacturing cars that were fairly conventional by the standards of the time. Their model range included a single-cylinder 8/9hp, a 10hp twin, a 10/12hp, 14/16hp, 20hp and a 30/40hp four cylinder models.

1927 Chanard & Walcker la Torpille1927 Chanard & Walcker la Torpille, an attractive 2 seater sports tourer which used a four cylinder 1500cc engine. It was advertised as a 'Special Racing Type Two Seater Torpedo', but it could only achieve 75 mph.

It kept going until 1924, but in 1921 a fine new sporting 2-litre with a single overhead camshaft appeared. This car had the typically Gallic feature, shared by Bignan-Sport and Rolland-Pilain, of brake drums on the front wheels only (although a transmission brake took care of stopping the rear end). The front brakes, working on the Perrot system, had Hallot servo assistance, which apparently released once the wheels lost their momentum - another anti-skid measure like the 1902 clutch/ brake tie-up.

Winning At Le Mans

The new 2-litre, the work of a M Toute, had under-slung rear springs to keep the centre of gravity low. A 3-litre version was introduced in 1922 and a team was entered in the first 24 Heures du Mans in 1923. The 3-litre Chenard of Lagache and Leonard won, averaging 57.2 mph, with Bachmann and Dauvergne taking second place. That same year, a 4-litre straight-eight (two z-litre blocks nose to tail) appeared. One of these cars was entered in the 1924 Le Mans, where it proved itself the most rapid car in the event by holding off the Bentleys for 20 hours until it broke down.

A foretaste of things to come was given in that 1924 Le Mans by two Chenard 2-litres, fitted with aerodynamic, all enveloping bodywork: they came third and fourth overall, and heralded an era in which Chenard were to offer this advanced 'tank' bodywork on roadgoing cars. Alongside these sporting machines, nevertheless, Gennevilliers was still offering the solid touring models that had made the marque's reputation: the 2-litre could be had in more pedestrian form as the 12/25, though this version cost only £420 in chassis form against the faster version's £625.

Then there was the 1924 10/15 hp model, which had three speeds forward where most Chenard & Walckers since 1901 had been four-speeders. By now, the old rear-axle layout was almost extinct. When the 15/30 model-the final incarnation of the 80 x 150 mm theme that dated back to 191 I - was phased out in mid 1924, the famous transmission vanished with it. Henceforth, spiral-bevel rear axles were to be the order of the day, and conventional four- wheel-brakes arrived on the z-Iitre in 1924.

In the same year, cyclecar manufacturer Robert Senechal (famous for his forked beard) came into the Chenard fold, bringing with him a neat 970 cc sports model priced at just £210 complete. The Senechal engine was the basis for the power unit on the little 1100 cc 'tanks' that marked Chenard's most successful venture into aerodynamicism. The racing unit's twin main bearings were the only visible signs of its ancestry, however. Scavenging of the cylinders was aided by auxiliary rotary exhaust valves at the base of the bores, and a creditable 55 bhp was developed.

Aided by their all-enveloping bodywork, these cars were capable of a claimed 96 mph unblown or 107 mph with a Cosette supercharger. At Le Mans, in 1925, one of the 1100 cc tanks came both overall and won its class at an average of 48.9 mph over 1176.3 miles; other Chenard victories that year included the 24-hour race at Spa, in Belgium, and the Georges Boillot Cup. The 'tanks' took first three places in the Boillot Cup in 1926 - the marque's fourth successive victory in this event-averaging 65.45 mph over 371 miles, and came first and second in the San Sebastian Touring Grand Prix, even beating blown 7-litre Mercedes.

Joining Forces with Delahaye, Donnet and Unic

In 1927, Chenard & Walcker became part of a consortium, in company with Delahaye, Donnet and Unic, with the intention of rationalising some of their components. Conventionality set in and racing was abandoned, although production versions of the 'tanks' were available, with open or closed coachwork, until 1930, under such splendid titles as 'Special Racing Type Two-Seater Sporting Torpedo', though their 75 mph maximum speed showed that the engines were much tamer units. A short-lived 16/40 hp (later 16/60) model appeared for 1927, to be replaced, in 1928, by a dull 16/60 six that was twin to a Delahaye model in all but name and minor details of specification: coil ignition replaced the traditional magneto, and the specification bore evident signs of cost cutting.

In fact, the last front-wheel-brakes-only model, the 12/25, had been axed in 1927, and Chenard was slipping into that dull limbo that awaited so many once-great French marques at the end of the 1920s. The 18/50hp of 1930 was another dull quasi-Delahaye and, by 1931, the era of the 'tanks' had finished, leaving a two-model line-up-the 1496 cc side-valve 12, with servo brakes, and the 2450 cc 18, with an inlet-over-exhaust-valve head.

That Chenard still had a sporting trick or two up its sleeve was shown in 1930, when a 2200 cc side-valve model lapped Montlhery for 24 hours at an average of 82.5 mph, refuelled from a sister car while on the move. The Delahaye union (Donnet had died and Unic had dropped out) was severed in 1932. Chenard announced a 20 hp V8 with independent front suspension. Three years later came Cotal electrically-controlled transmissions and a front wheel drive 14 hp.

In 1937, the old racing 'tanks' were revived for one last moment of glory: they were unsuccessful at Le Mans, came fifth in the voiturette class of the French Grand Prix and won the Bol d'Or race. The triumph, however, proved as tawdry as the cheap gilt finish on that supposedly golden bowl. By 1938, the marque's individuality had gone forever: bodies were by Chausson out of Matford (the union of Mathis and Ford-France): power units were V8 out of Ford or 11 hp out of Citroen (but fitted 'wrong way round' to give rear-wheel drive).

Nominally, these Chenard-Fords lasted until the post-war period, but the car with the wonderful record, as it was known, had lost all its raison d'etre. A desultory attempt at commercial vehicle production followed. Then, in 1951, Peugeot took over, and' Chenard & Walcker became makers of components for agricultural and industrial machinery.
3 litre Chenard and Walcker - The Car That Won The First Le Mans
The very first Le Mans 24 hour race was won by a 3 litre Chenard and Walcker driven by Legache and Leonard
at an average speed of 57.2 mph. A similar car, driven by Bachamann and Dauvergne, took second place.

Also see: Chernard-Walcker Brochures
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