FOR sale in The Netherlands is a tiny car I’d never heard of before — a Darmont Special.
It’s a 1927 model, seemingly in pristine condition, and the asking price is 79,000 euros (about $132K Australian).
The three-wheeled cars were made by brothers Roger and André Darmont of Courbevoie, a north-western suburb of Paris, who initially imported British Morgan three-wheelers during WWI, then in 1921 did a deal to build the cars under licence on their home turf.
The strange-looking vehicles were seen as the midway point between a motorbike and a car, there were several brands on the market and they were very popular in post-WWI cash-strapped Europe at the time.
As well, the French Government in 1920 passed a law setting a low 100 francs tax for all vehicles capable of carrying up to two people, but weighing less than 350kg and powered by an engine of less than 1100cc.
It was a deliberate move to promote motoring among the less affluent and was well received.
As one period advertisement described such vehicles: “The price of a motorbike, with the security and comfort of a car.”
At the time, the price of a new Morgan Sport varied from 6950 francs for the basic version, to 7500 francs for one with a windscreen, lights and klaxon.
The Darmont-Morgan, though built by French craftsmen, was still very much a Morgan.
It used the same air-cooled 1084cc, V2 cylinder 4-stroke engine, chain transmission with no reverse gear, and was capable of puttering along happily at up to 70km/h.
In 1926 Darmont spiced up its sales when it produced the Sport Special, a water-cooled firecracker with twin magnetos and a Solex carburetter which gave the minicar astounding acceleration and could propel it to 160km/h via its double chain drive.
They did very well in competition, among their successes a win in the Mont Ventoux Rally and in 1921, Darmonts took the first three places in a road race from Paris to Nice.
Meanwhile, the Darmont factory was going gangbusters.
In a 1933 catalogue it claimed that ‘during the last 20 years 100,000 cars had been put on the road’ – although that figure more likely referred to the combined sales of all three-wheeled brands.
Darmont continued to produce three-wheelers until 1936 when production was stopped as the trend swung to more conventional cars.
So the brothers Darmont in 1937 built a four-wheeled sedan called the V-Junior, which retained the V-twin motor and had a four-speed transmission and reverse.
It looked a decent product, but WWII was looming and in September, 1939, the enterprising company was obliged to close its doors.
The Sport Special for sale comes with a detailed amount of history in the form of partly handwritten accounts of the life and times of a beloved cyclecar, adorned with many photos and documents.
It was acquired by a Dutch enthusiast in June, 1961, from a garage owner in the Vosges area (300 francs receipt in the history file) and stayed in the same family for many years.
The Darmont was restored and regularly used in runs of the Dutch Pioneer Automobile Club, among them the 1100km Amsterdam-Paris Amsterdam Rallye of 1968.
Twelve years ago it had a second restoration ‘to keep the machine technically and optically in good shape; one of the improvements made was the fitting of electronic ignition.’
If a brand new three-wheeler has any appeal, the Morgan Motor Company has just unveiled its new Super 3, one of the most intriguing and distinctive vehicles it has ever built.
The Super 3 has been designed from the ground up ‘to offer new levels of character, thrill and adventure, principles that have defined Morgan’s three-wheeled product since the company was founded 113 years ago.
It’s is powered by a 2.0-litre V-twin engine producing 60kW, weighs just 550kg and sends its power to the rear wheel through a five-speed Mazda gearbox.
I’ve been in an an earlier Morgan three-wheeler at speed and, even now, some 50 years later, it’s a drive I can’t forget.
So you can get an historic Darmont Sport Special for $132,000 or a brand new Morgan Super 3 for about $100,000.
Similar thrills, I’m sure, and either will be knock-out at any Cars and Coffee meeting in Australia.