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The trio, who propelled themselves into automotive history with the success of their De Dion axle, was the largest European mass producer of automobiles at the beginning of the century.
The De Dion-Bouton AL was the first model to use their famously patented axle—an innovation that would later become commonplace on across the industry.
Dating back to 1906, the elegant De Dion Bouton AL, with its Tonneau bodywork had a curious solution for accessing the rear seats. The front passenger seat swivels through 90-degrees, revealing access to the rear seats—another example of the inventiveness of De Dion.
The AL’s tubular chassis was separate from its bodywork. This allowed a huge variety of choices in the carriage designs, a feature that was highly desired in that period.
The front suspension employed the use of a set of leaf springs placed transversely across each other, and at the rear, the AL was fitted with leaf springs along with the De Dion axle.
This would have been the first truly practical car of its time and was instrumental in selling the concept of automobiles as the new workhorses of Europe.
Equipped with a single-cylinder rotary engine, the AL produced its peak power at 1500 revolutions per minute. This was a big deal, especially when compared to Karl Benz’s engines which ran at 500 revolutions per minute.
The small De Dion-Bouton AL quickly gained supporters who not only saw the merit of its powerful engine but also its very nimble chassis—unmatched at the time.
De Dion’s Portuguese agent, Auto-Palace Sociedade Portuguesa de Automóveis, climbed the Calçada da Glória in Lisbon carrying three passengers to demonstrate the AL’s performance.
At the time of the demonstration, this model cost $1500. And for that, the lucky owners got a gearbox with automatic clutches attached to each reel.
This particular De Dion-Bouton AL was discovered fully disassembled on a farm in Espariz, Beira Alta. It was purchased in April 1959 by João de Lacerda from the then owner, Captain Eduardo Serpa Ferreira, who revealed that the car had been offered to his grandfather (General Serpa Pimentel, Administrator of Casa Real) by Queen D. Amélia,
Its restoration was painful and very time-consuming, due mainly to lack of parts, which had to be sourced with the help of collectors from Great Britain. Once all the parts were found, the restoration was carried out in Lisbon, with Eng. José Jorge Canelas and his mechanic José Martins.
The gruelling coachwork was completed by Aurélio, a horse carriage specialist from Santarém, who applied all seven layers of paint by hand. They had to install themselves in Caramulo for fifteen days to complete the work, charging 120$00 per day, accommodation and many litres of red wine.
The De Dion-Bouton AL is one of the oldest cars in Museu do Caramulo, as evidenced by its registration under number AA-02-59. It is currently registered by the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, with number 919.