French Launches and Launch Engines of 1905
by W. P. Stephens

The development of the automobile in France in a period of little more than ten years from a crude and experimental horseless carriage with a motor of 5 or 6 horse-power to the great locomotives of to-day with motors of 100 horse-power and speeds of 80 and 90 miles is one of the wonders of modern times, but from present indications it will be parallel or even exceeded by the similar development of the motor-boat. The launch industry in France is hardly more than five years old, prior to 1900 launches were few in number as compared with America, and with no special characteristics in hull or motor. To-day France is building power yachts of all types, racing launches of unprecedented power, and launch motors which hold a place of their own for power, light weight and refined engineering in both design and construction. One would hardly believe that any other form of sport could displace automobile racing in France, and yet the events scheduled in the nautical calendar exceed in number and importance those planned for the road, and they are attracting quite as much public attention. The first event of the season, the Monaco meeting, from April 2 to 16, on a more extensive scale than the initial affair last year, is without precedent in yachting history; beginning with an exhibition of all types of motor-boats, lasting four days, after which three days afloat were allowed for preparations, the races began on April 9 and continued for the following week. The official entry list included 6 launches in the 18-meter racing class, 16 in the 12-meter class and 17 in the 8-meter class; the 25-meter class of sea-going launches had 3 entries. The cruisers were divided into four classes with 4 entries in the 18-meter class, 17 in the 12-meter class, 18 in the 8-meter class and 13 in the 6.50-meter class. In addition, there were entered 6 davit launches (canots de bossoir) and 4 fishing launches. The cash prizes, apart from many special trophies, amounted to $22,000. The launches of last year were entered, but all the prominent firms were represented by new craft of much greater power. No one item will give a better idea of modern French auto-marine engineering than the special marine motor built by Messrs. Desmarais & Morane, makers of the Delahaye automobile, for the 15-meter launches Trident and Le Dubonnet. The cylinders, with 300 millimeters diameter by 220 stroke (12 by 8 3/4 inches) are of a special grade of nickel gun steel, bored from the solid with very thin walls, the raw material alone costing $560, while the cost of working them is figured at about the same sum. The jackets are of drawn copper spun with corrugations to admit of expansion and contraction; a flange is turned inward on the upper end of each to form a gasket between the top of the cylinder and the head, the latter being bolted on by studs. At the lower end a groove is turned in the circumference of each cylinder and the copper jacket is forced into this groove by a steel band drawn together by a bolt. The jackets cover about twice the length of the piston travel. The base of the motor is built up of steel angles, two fore-and-aft lengths which rest on the engine keelsons, connected by cross-braces of the same at each end; the after one, carrying the oil pump. The housings are five in number, of cast steel, and approximately in A shape, bolted together to form a unit and with lower lugs bolted to the steel angles. The engine heads are of cast steel, each with two large oval openings, over which are bolted spiral elbow castings forming the valve chambers and pipe connections for both inlet and exhaust.

The combustion chambers are very carefully designed, in globular form with no breaks nor obstructions to the easy flow of gases. Each casting contains a nest of three valves, with external springs. There are two half-time shafts, lying along the heads of the cylinders in bearings machined in each elbow casting; from the upper part of each bearing project two lugs which are bored for the pins of the rockshafts which operate the valves. The vertical shaft on the left, a steel tube carries a gear drive to the pair of half-time shafts whose cams operate the rockshafts and valves. There are three separate inlet and three valves to each cylinder.

The crankshaft is of the finest grade of steel obtainable and is hollow throughout; its cost is given at $300. The connecting rods are of nickel-steel, hollow and specially trussed; the lower end of each forms a very long bearing on the crank-pin, but the cap to this bearing is in the form of two small brasses, each held in place by a U-shaped bolt and nuts, thus leaving the crank-pin open for lubrication.

A double ignition system was planned with the idea that perfect ignition of so large a charge would not be possible by the usual method at extreme speeds, but on trial this has proved unnecessary. Both magneto and battery, with jump-spark, are installed, but each alone has proven sufficient. A small pump is used to force a spray of oil over the working parts, below it is the circulating pump. The only cast-iron in the motor is used in the fly wheel, which is of the automobile type with a spring clutch similar to the Mercedes. The revers gear is of the planetary type, with no internal gears, and gives a reduction of one-third the speed on the reverse, while it may be used, as well as the clutch, to disconnect the propeller. The motor weighs 2,500 pounds and is expected to develop 300 horse-power at 700 revolutions.

The popular type of speed launch hull in France is somewhat similar to the well-known Standard, all having a common origin in the Normand type of French torpedo boat. The characteristics are a long entrance with slightly convex water-line, a full deck line forward with good flare, liberal freeboard forward running down to a low deck aft, a strong crown to the deck, and flat elliptic sections to the under-water body aft. These boats, as a class, are obviously intended to lift quickly in rough water and ride over the seas, relieving themselves through the freeboard and turtleback, the head resistance of wind and wave being disregarded. The successful Trefle-a- Quatre of last year, designed by Mr. G. Seyler, the French naval architect, embodied the opposite principle, her topsides and deck were cut away until the surplus buoyance was reduced to a minimum, but at the same time the resistance was greatly reduced; the hull cutting through rather than riding the seas. The new Trident, which will carry the motor just described, is designed on the same principle, the topsides rounding into the deck like a submarine boat. Le Dubonnet, carrying the sister motor, was designed and built by Tellier fils & Gerard and is of the Tellier type, so that the comparison of the two will be most interesting.

Another example of the latest ideas of the younger Tellier is one of the two boats bearing the odd name of Palaisoto, built for Messrs Neubauer & Farman, dealers in Panhard and Renault motor cars. She is in the 12-meter class, built to the limit, and is fitted with a 6-cylinder Panhard motor of 150 horse-power; her breadth is 4 feet 11 inches. The motor has separate cylinders of steel with applied copper jackets, the cylinder diameters being 170 millimeters (6 11/16 inches) with the same stroke. The crank case id completely enclosed, a box in two halves, after the final construction. The valves are on opposite sides of the cylinders and one carburetor is fitted for each group of three cylinders. Both magneto and battery ignition are fitted. Palaisoto II is a smaller boat (7.98 meters), built by Tellier, fitted with a 4-cylinder Renault motor.

The firm of Renault Freres, the senior member of which, Marcel Renault, after winning the Paris-Vienna race in 1902, was killed in the Paris-Madrid race of the following year, have installed a similar motor in a new launch, the Billancourt, designed and built for them by G. Pitre & Cie, of Maisons-Lafitte on the Seine. The length is 8 meters (25 feet 3 inches), and the model is similar to that of Palaisoto I; a peculiarity is a batten along each side for a distance of about six feet and just above the water line as also seen in the Mercedes VI. The motor is an adaptation of the regular Renault car type, with special lugs on the aluminum crank case for attachment to the hull. The cylinders are cast in pairs, each pair having a common exhaust chamber on the port side with the inlet chambers separate on each side of the exhaust; thus only one half-time shaft is necessary. A very light crankshaft with a central bearing is used, of a special grade of nickel-steel. The motor requires the service of an extra man, as it cannot be operated by the helmsman. The starting is by means of a long fore-and-aft shaft with chain and sprocket on the fore end. The curved exhaust pipes, one from each pair of cylinders are on the port side of the cylinders.

Another firm of automobile builders, Gobron-Brillie, enters the same class with Le Gobron, a Pitre hull of the conventional model. The motor is of the peculiar type used for some years by this firm, the explosions taking place between two pistons in the opposite ends of the same cylinder. The cylinders are cast in pairs, the lower pistons in each pair being connected to a single long bearing in the center of the crankshaft. The two upper pistons carry a crosshead, from the ends of which run long connecting rods, outside the cylinders, to the end crankpins, set opposite to the central crankpin. The power is estimated at 100, the motor running at a high speed. There are four of these double-cylinders, the square cases over the heads of each pair. The exhaust pipes lead out through the starboard deck abreast the motor.

There was originally a very pretty bit of sentiment back of the name Mercedes when it was first given about four years since to the new car of the year from the great Daimler works, at Cannstadt, in Germany, Miss Mercedes Jellineck being the young daughter of the managing director of the Daimler Company. Under this name the Daimler car has stood at or very near the front ever since, and the first Mercedes launch, built in France three years ago for M. Charley, the French selling agent, but fitted with a Cannstadt motor, was equally successful. Since then the name has been tacked on to boats, bad and good, until it has lost all significance; apparently on the principle that one cannot have too much of a good thing, Mr. Jellineck, father of Miss Mercedes, is now officially known as Mr. Jellineck Hyphen Mercedes.

The Mercedes crop of 1905 includes three launches, all interesting, the Mercedes-Mercedes, the Mercedes C.P. (Charley-Pitre) and Mercedes VI. The latter is of 12 meters length, with 4-cylinder Mercedes 1905 motor of 90 horse-power, as used in the racing cars.

In the class of her type are the new Napier, known as Napier II, also the Napier II of last year, the Trefle-a-Quatre I and a new launch of the same name with Richard-Brasier motor, Le Suzon-Hotchkiss and Hotchkiss II, C.G.V., owned and engined by Charron, Giradot & Voight, and another Tellier hull with Panhard motor, La Turquois, owned by Mme du Gast, the French sportswoman and motorist.

The advertising bomb so adroitly exploded last winter by the astute M. Charley in the form of a trans-Atlantic race of auto-boats has disappeared completely, but there is still on the program a deep-water race of nearly 400 miles, across the Mediterranean, from Toulon to Algiers, with one stop at Minorca, starting on May 15. For this four launches are entered, Mercedes-Mercedes, Quand Meme, Camille and Malgre Tout. The former is a very able launch, specially designed for this race by Lieut. Quernel, of the French Navy, designer of several very good launches including Mercedes VI. She is 59 feet 3 inches over all; 47 feet 7 inches water line; 9 feet 10 inches breadth, and 3 feet 8 inches draught; a staunch motor-boat, with almost plumb stem, conventional cutter and good freeboard, strongly built of teak. The forecastle is under a strong turtleback, after this there is a flush deck with low bulwarks, and a cabin giving good accommodation. Camille is a steel launch, of about 45 feet length, designed and built by Pitre for Mme. du Gast, and carrying a C.G.V. motor of 90 horse-power. Quand Meme, designed by Mr. J. Guedon and built by Lemarchand at Cannes for Duke Decazes, is of the torpedo boat type, of wood, fitted with conning tower for steering and twin motors and screws.

(Transcribed from The Rudder, May 1905, p. 283-287. )

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page. --LF]


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