Founded in 1854, Paris-based Decauville was a general engineering company specialising in the manufacture of narrow-gauge railway locomotives and tracks. Its first automobile entered production in 1898. In WWI their narrow-gauge temporary railways serviced the trenches, carrying ammunition in and the wounded out. However, by this time the firm had abandoned automobile manufacturing to concentrate on its other business interests, and surviving Decauville cars are rare.
In the late 1890s, Deauville produced its famous 'voiturelles' of 3 to 5 horsepower, as well as its first conventional car, an 8hp, which was the first front-engined Decauville. The car offered here, a rare 8½hp model, followed in early 1901, after which the firm introduced larger types with power outputs of 10hp and upwards. One of these 10hp Decauvilles was bought by engineer Henry Royce, its design influencing that of the first Royce car of 1904. It is worthwhile noting that a 1904 10hp Decauville recently crossed Australia.
The registration 'E 868' is of 1905 issue and may date from when this Decauville was imported from France. The car is dated as of 1901 manufacture (certificate number '505', issued on 3rd May 1954), although the actual certificate has been missing for some time. This dating is confirmed by a letter from the Veteran Car Club, which may be found in the accompanying history file.
The earliest known history of this particular Decauville is that it formed part of the Richard Nash collection at Brooklands before the Second World War and up to at least 1948. Subsequently it was owned by Arthur Prince of Loughborough followed by Norman Manby, who carried out a thorough restoration in the 1950s. 'E 868' retains considerable patina from this time.
While in Norman Manby's ownership, the Decauville won many concours d'élégances and attended various other events, commencing with Luton Hoo in 1958 (see programme on file). Norman rallied the car extensively, including driving it to events in Italy. There are many rally plates from this time still on the dashboard; the earliest, dated 1946, is from the Jubilee Rally.
The car then passed to another well-known motoring enthusiast, Henry Wilkins, who used it extensively. Cliff Long maintained it at this time. 'E 868' had several more owners before its acquisition by the current vendor in 1998, since when it has been entered and successfully completed all the Veteran Car Club's 'Creepy Crawly' rallies, including this year's, as well as many other major events including some in Scotland.
This four-seater rear entrance tonneau is also able to run as a two-seater with the alternative boot rear section. The Decauville is known as number '163', but is almost certainly car number '30', as the '163' is most likely the part number of the engine mounts. Both axles and the gearbox, which is incorporated in the rear axle, have been rebuilt.
'E 868' has completed many London to Brighton runs (28 in total from 1957 to 1984) while with its previous owners, and being a 1901 model gets an early start. The car is said to perform well, benefiting from its 1.4-litre twin-cylinder engine and four-speeds-and-reverse gearbox. As well as the aforementioned history file, the car also comes with a current V5C Registration Certificate and a copy of the book 'Sixty Miles of Pencil' by P R Reynolds and K R Clark, in which it is illustrated.