Darracq’s first experience with the motorised world, however, was in 1894, with a Millet model. His main aim from the very start was to build a quality car in sufficient enough numbers to lower his production costs.
After some experiments with electric vehicles and motorcycles equipped with radial engines, Darracq obtained a license to produce a variant of the Léon Bollée tricycle in 1898. Although his concept was a substantial improvement over the popular, but unsophisticated, “Voiturette” tricycle By Bollée, that type of vehicle was technically obsolete for the time.
Success for Alexandre Darracq would come two years later, with the adoption of a design licensed by Renault, which had a vertical engine at the front, a three-speed gearbox and a drive shaft to transmit power to the rear wheels.
Unlike the Renault brothers’ model, Darracq’s version used normal sliding pinion intake valves. It also had a variable stroke, which allowed for greater flexibility of use.
Production of the quadricycle started at the Suresnes plant near Paris in 1900, and within a year 1200 units of the car were sold, which drove well despite the noise and was relatively cheap.
Darracq was himself quite averse to driving, although he had lessons to do so. He saw the motor car as a mere object of leisure. But commercial success led to Darracq’s investment in racing, with 1905 and 1906 victories in the Vanderbilt Cup, held in the United States. He also held speed records in 1904 and 1905.
With ambitions to conquer the globe, Darracq opened a plant in the city of Portello, near Milan. Still, in Italy, he was soon to form a new company, named Anonima Lombardo Fabbrica Automobili (ALFA). That company was acquired in 1914 by Nicola Romeo and rebranded as the now-famous Alfa Romeo cars.
Dating from 1902, the Darracq sporting an Open Tourer bodywork on display at the Museu do Caramulo, is one of the most important units of the Darracq brand. It was with this exact model that the French manufacturer launched himself properly into the automobile manufacturing scene.
This extraordinary car is unique in the world. Its engine architecture has two separate cylinders which are connected in such a way that it appears as two single-cylinder engines.
The car came to Portugal in October 1902, through the Port of Figueira da Foz, where it was dispatched as an agricultural machine.
Its first owner was Francisco Augusto Pereira Gonçalves, father of the physician Armando Augusto Leal Gonçalves, who acquired it for 2,050$. It was the first vehicle to be registered in Coimbra, obtaining the registration codes No. 1 for the owner and No. 2 for his son.
Francisco Pereira Gonçalves inadvertently contributed to the design of the car, when he modified the radiator to improve cooling. His modifications were adopted by the factory in 1904, which in addition to improved cooling, also benefited the car’s aesthetics.
The car has seen many a long adventure. With Coimbra as a starting point, it has visited Serra da Estrela, Serra da Pampilhosa, Tancos, Castelo de Vide, and on many occasions, Caramulo.
In 1903 the car entered history as the protagonist in Coimbra’s first car accident, near Sansão. The collision caused damages to the tune of 15$80, in a case that ended up in court.
The Darracq was later abandoned on a farm near Tentúgal, and in 1952 two doctors from Caramulo, Trajano Pinheiro and Carlos Madeira Lopes bought it as a birthday present for João de Lacerda.
Restored in the workshops of Eng. José Jorge Canelas, it embarked on a new life with great successes in the classic London-Brighton race of 1974, 79 and 86.
In 1978, it completed the Rallye du Luxembourg, and most recently, on 2nd October 1994, it took part in the Rallye des Ancêtres dans les Hauts de Seine, reserved only for cars manufactured before 1904.