1903 De Dion - Paris to Madrid Racer

1903 De Dion Bouton Paris-Madrid Racer when owned by Geo. Wingard

The De Dion Racer after being imported (photo credit: The Automobile, Oct 26, 1903)

The De Dion Racer as found in 1968 (photo credit: George Albright)

A few years ago, when showing a car at Hershey, we happened to share transport with George Wingard who was showing a 1903 De Dion Bouton factory racer. I took the photo seen here while talking with Mr. Wingard. George Wingard is a historian, restorer, and collector of early racecars.

The De Dion Bouton company (Marquis Albert De Dion and Georges Bouton) was a pioneer in the development and manufacturing of automobiles. They produced a self-propelled steam vehicle in 1882 and went on to patent a single-cylinder gasoline engine in 1890. By 1895 they were manufacturing vehicles and licensing the production of their engines. In 1897, the company would be issued a US patent for their engines and establish a factory in Brooklyn (NY) to manufacture their engines and Motorette cars here in the US.

The De Dion Bouton company is said to have built 4 cars specifically for the 1903 Paris to Madrid race – two single-cylinder cars and two 2-cylider cars (of 16 hp). Both 2 cylinder cars are known to have survived, one of which is the car seen here – restored by Mr. Wingard. The car’s construction is interesting to note, with De Dion choosing to take the light and nimble approach (as opposed to the larger, heavier, high horsepower cars of Renault and Mercedes, etc.). Of course, the Olds Pirate and Packard Grey Wolf, also of 1903, are examples of this lighter approach as well. Much has been written about the tragic results of the 1903 Paris to Madrid race in which five drivers and three spectators lost their lives (including Marcel Renault). The race (May 25th, 1903) was stopped at Bordeaux with Pellisson (finishing 5th in the “Light Automobile” class with a time of 7:42:43) and Bardin (finishing 10th in the “Light Automobile” class with a time of 8:30:13) as the top placeholders for De Dion Bouton. Soon after, The Automobile of October 26, 1903 reported that Mr. Kenneth A. Skinner had imported one of the Paris to Madrid racers into the US (the Wingard car seen here).

By 1899, Kenneth A. Skinner of Boston would be the company’s sole United States agent (for gasoline engines, tricycles, quadricycles, and light carriages). Skinner appears to have been an avid automobilist, actively promoting the De Dion Bouton products in competitive events. Additionally, Mr. Skinner was the president of the Boston Automobile Dealers' Association and it is said he was influential in the growth of the industry with his De Dion Tricycles being about the first foreign machines seen on the streets of Boston. I’ve found the following records of his exploits:

New York Times – July 26, 1900
New Haven, Conn – “The first automobile race meet ever held on a race track in this country began today at the Branford Park Track. . .”
Five-mile Motor Tricycle Race – second heat: won by Kenneth A. Skinner (time of 8:31)
Five-mile Four-wheeler Motor Vehicle – third heat: won by Kenneth A. Skinner (time of 15:31)

The Horseless Age  - September 5, 1900
Skinner states in an ad: “having disposed of my interest in the De Dion Bouton company and retired from the Automobile Business, and being about ready to sail for abroad, my stock of genuine De Dion Bouton Tricycles are for sale from $200 upwards. All in good running condition.”

This appears not to have been the full truth as the following illustrate his continuing activities…

June 15, 1901 - Brookline Country Club Track, Brookline, MA (one mile)
Skinner finishes first in 5-mile Gasoline quadricycles (time of 0:09:34)

August 30, 1901 - Aquidneck Trotter Park, Newport RI (half mile)
Skinner finishes second to WK Vanderbilt (Mercedes) in the 10-mile gasoline final

October 17 & 18, 1901 - Narragansett Park, Providence RI (one mile track)
Winners all classes: Kenneth A Skinner – 4.5hp De Dion Tricycle
Gasoline carriages under 6hp: Kenneth A Skinner
Five miles for gasoline tricycles: Kenneth A Skinner

New York Times – October 12, 1902
Boston, Oct 11 – “The first half of the 500-mile reliability contest of the Automobile Club of America from New York to Boston ended at 5:15 tonight in a drenching rain, when Kenneth A. Skinner, in a De Dion-Bouton car, arrived at the finishing point…” The list of finishers is fascinating, including H.A. Know, Percy B. Pierce, and J.W. Duryea. Skinners car is simply described as No 39, gasoline – 8hp.

New York Times – May 17, 1903
“A ten-mile match race has been definitely arranged between Harry Fosdick and Kenneth A. Skinner . . . to be decided at the race meet of the Massachusetts Automobile Club at Readville on May 30.”

The Horseless Age – Sept 30, 1903
Skinner is first to arrive (De Dion) in the A.C.A.’s fall run from Hartford to Boston.

The Boston Evening Transcript – March 17, 1904
“It had been intended that some attempt should be made yesterday afternoon to lower the record for climbing the Commonwealth-avenue hill . . . This makes Mr. Ourish the present record holder of the hill with two persons up. In making the climb he used the De Dion racing car that was used in the Paris-Madrid road race last summer, and which is at the present time owned by Kenneth Skinner.”

Automobile Topics - July 4, 1903
“Kenneth A. Skinner, 179 Clarendon street, Boston, sole United States agent for De Dion Bouton et Cie, Paris, France, sends out to inquirers a large-sized 4-page leaflet showing the 9, 10, and 15-hp. De Dion tonneau models for 1903; also the line of phaetons, coupes and voiturettes, made by the same well-known house. Prices range from $900 to $3500 f.o.b. Boston, Mass, with further particulars to be had on request.”

It’s not known what became of Mr. Skinner, but the 1903 Paris to Madrid racer was found in a garage in Boston in 1968. The car was later acquired by Mr. Wingard and restored – I believe the car has since been sold.

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