The Dieppe Circuit was laid out on public roads, re-bituminised for the Grand Prix meeting and took the basic form of an equilateral triangle with near-hairpin bends at Dieppe, Londinières and Eu. 76.8km (47.7 miles) in length the circuit incorporated a lot of flat-out straights and an elevation difference of around 200 metres as the illustration below of the original circuit superimposed on a modern contour map shows. Pleasingly it also shows that almost all the original circuit still exists.
As it turned out Louis need not have worried for the dreaded La Poisse was still stalking Louis Naudin in the flying Sizaire. On lap 5 the clutch disengagement, and hence gear changing, became progressively more difficult. The Sizaires were equipped with wet single-plate clutches running in oil. These were placed directly under the scuttle-mounted fuel tanks and in Naudin’s case the tank had developed a significant leak causing petrol to flow directly into the clutch housing thus washing out most of the oil and diluting the rest. The intrepid mechanic Winter climbed head first into the foot well with an oil can but this hoped-for finger in the dyke technique was doomed to failure due to the flow of petrol diluting the oil faster than the mechanic could squirt it in. With a conventional gearbox the car could probably have carried on happily with clutchless gear changes but with the triple-pinion axle that was not possible. The pinion system was sequential so Louis couldn’t miss a gear out in the changes and had to reduce speed to a crawl to get second at the hairpins with much grinding and gnashing from the back axle. Then he couldn’t get out of second into top so he had to come to a virtual stop, select top gear and finish the race with no further changes. One is tempted to wonder why they didn’t try and staunch or deflect the flow of the essence but with La Poisse hanging about they would probably have set the car on fire! Nonetheless, throwing caution to the winds and staying in top gear, the flying Naudin with his flexible little engine was able to lap in 54.4min and take 4min out of Guyot’s lead but he now had no realistic chance of catching the Delage unless it struck trouble because it had gone past the pits to start the last lap and so was not going to stop for fuel as Guyot’s team mates had; the Sizaire was getting marginal on fuel itself due to the leak. He had, though, got within 8 seconds of Goux who had inherited second place in the Lion-Peugeot after Naudin’s shenanigans on lap 4. Goux’s second place didn’t last long but Naudin could make no inroads on Guyot’s lead, in fact his final lap was slower than the Delage, and he finally finished 6.5 minutes behind in second place “at the speed of a wheelbarrow” to quote Louis Naudin after the race. He then learned that the other two Sizaires had experienced exactly the same trouble resulting in Lebouc finishing 9th and Georges Sizaire 18th. As Naudin wryly commented in the following week’s La Voiturette magazine “We should have been awarded a special medal for regularity in the breakdown 'contest’!”
Thus the metronomic Guyot crossed the line in first place and there was much rejoicing in the Delage camp for, in addition to the overall victory, Delage had won the ‘Petit Parisian’ team prize for a 3 car team but not the l’Auto Regularity prize which was won by the Lion-Peugeot team. These were no ordinary prizes but magnificent sculptures commissioned by the ACF and Louis Delâge made the most of the awards ceremony. Louis, Guyot and his diminutive teenage mechanic Camille Reyrol gracefully accepted the plaudits of the crowd and even Gabrielle, Louis’ wife who, unusually, was present for the event, put in a brief appearance and even had her photo taken with Louis by the Marquis de Dion with his latest gadget camera. It appeared to be a perfect end to a most successful event and was rounded off by Louis Delâge pocketing 6400 francs as the winnings on a 400 franc bet he’d placed on Guyot at 16:1! Unfortunately things were going to take a dramatic turn and set in chain a series of events that, it must be said, brought sideways glances if not actual discredit upon some of those involved.
Of course there is the other version of events where it is alleged that Louis Delâge could not afford to pay his and his team’s hotel expenses and that the Comte offered to foot the bill in return for Louis allowing his company to claim credit for the victory. This is almost as preposterous as the advertising since there is no contemporaneous evidence whatsoever of such an event and, at any rate, Louis was more than capable of paying his expenses even without his winnings at the bookmakers. This is most likely an invention by some Delagiste 80-odd years later to put their hero in a better light by quoting force majeure as Louis’ excuse!
Louis Delâge was now in a highly invidious position. If he owned up to de Dion it would have made the latter look a fool with untold consequences for Louis and his company. On the other hand Causan had been working for Delage under contract so could not expect personal recognition however unjust that might appear; nonetheless what he most certainly could not expect was that his work would be accredited to someone else! In the event Louis Delâge chose to keep quiet about the matter and placate Causan with, no doubt, a reminder who was the boss in this situation. Némorin was a quiet, self-effacing fellow, slightly deaf and not in the best of health; this affair was a very rude awakening for him. It had been his first job in the cut-throat world of the Paris motor industry. After graduating in 1901 he’d worked in a soap factory (!) and as a draughtsman for, at first, the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranée railway company and then the French offices of the British company Babcock and Wilcox. He then had to fulfil his deferred military service before joining the embryo Delage Company on an ad hoc basis in 1906 (he was the draughtsman Louis and Legros took on when Louis was laid low with rheumatic fever). He ought, perhaps, to have been aware of Louis Delâge’s modus operandi. This was the world of big business and important men, a position Louis Delâge aspired to with ruthless zeal; if anybody was going to suffer from this mess it was not going to be Louis Delâge!
Sadly the fall guy was Némorin Causan who was persuaded, or strongly advised, to keep quiet. To his eternal credit he never mentioned the matter in public again. He attended the celebrations at the Factory and allowed himself to be part of the team photograph before stalking out of the Delage works shortly after the photographs were taken never to return. As can be seen in the illustration below he stood apart from Louis Delâge while the latter attempts to put his arm round Causan’s shoulder…an awkward moment.
Louis Delâge, of course, continued his meteoric career and would soon be living in a chateau and operating his business out of a huge state-of-the-art factory making racing cars that would win La Coupe des Voitures Légères, the French Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and ultimately the World Championship of Makes. I hope he never forgot the little car that gave him his first victory…and the man who designed it.
Acknowledgements: la Bibliothèque nationale de France for documents, papers, periodicals and photographs; ‘Les Amis de Némorin Causan’ for details of specifications, papers, patents and reminiscences; Franck Rive for his colossal info base at Forgotten Circuits and Autodiva and all the anonymous workers who maintain the État civil archives…merci à toutes et à tous!
All text © Colin Musgrove 2019