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 1899 - 1929

Olivier Turcat - Chief Test Pilot of the Concorde

A strange way to start an article about Turcat-Mery, but there is a very strange link between the Concorde and Turcat-Mery. The man who was destined to become the chief test pilot of the Concorde supersonic airliner drove from Paris to Moscow, a journey which has always held a flavour of romance. But what was truly remarkable about the journey of Olivier Turcat was that it was made behind the wheel of a then 58-year-old 18 cv Turcat-Mery limousine, built by his grandfather, Leon Turcat, in 1908.

Leon Turcat and Simon Mery

Turcat and his brother-in-law, Simon Mery, had begun experimenting with Daimler-engined Panhard and Peugeot cars in the early 1890s in their home city of Marseille, before building a car of their own design in 1896. Their first experimental vehicle had a four-cylinder horizontal engine mounted at the front of the chassis, driving the rear wheels by chain; it also had pneumatic tyres, an advanced feature for the period.

Turcat and Mery first offered a car for sale in 1898, though their vertical four-cylinder Model A, with five forward speeds and two reverse gears, promised a rich crop of mechanical breakdowns for the unwary motorist. By 1901, they were building on more conventional lines, following closely the design of the contemporary Panhard; they were also running short of cash.

Adrien de Turckheim

At this point, a fairy godfather in the portly guise of Adrien de Turckheim, arrived in Marseille on the advice of the motoring journalist, Paul Meyan: he was looking for a suitable design to be built by de Dietrich of Luneville to replace the outdated Bollee models which they were currently producing. A usefully flexible licence agreement was concluded by 1902, under which Turcat and Mery agreed to design for de Dietrich, while retaining their own motor factory in Marseille.

The designs produced by the two firms were almost identical, though the Marseillaise vehicles seemed to have a slight edge on performance. This duplication of design proved especially useful, in the 1904 Gordon Bennett Eliminating Trials in which manufacturers were only permitted teams of three cars. De Dietrich and Turcat-Mery kept to the absolute letter of the rules by entering a team of three cars each - but the cars were of almost identical design, save that the rated horsepower of the Turcat-Mery cars was 100 while the de Dietrich entries were of 80 hp.

Henri Rougier

In the eliminating trials, the motor agent and racing driver Henri Rougier took third place on his Turcat Mery, which had already appeared in the 1903 Paris-Madrid Race finishing eleventh overall. Commented the Paris-based International Motor Review: 'The placing of the Turcat-Mery was undoubtedly a great surprise for the public, but it was not unexpected by those who know how much this clever Marseille firm have been perfecting their cars. Their presence in the team is not the result of a fluke, but is the reward for sound and conscientious work. Their success is further justified by the fact that Gabriel on his de Dietrich, which is constructed under Turcat-Mery licence, was only three minutes behind Rougier, and is therefore the first reserve. There has been a good deal of curiosity about the painting on the forepart of Rougier's car to represent some strange animal. The explanation is that Rougier comes from Tarascon which has been given a world wide celebrity by Alphonse Daudet, and he was tempted by the form of his motor bonnet to have painted on it the huge mouth and glaring eyes of the legendary beast of Tarascon, which is the principal figure in the annual carnivals. Rougier thinks that it will bring him good luck. We hope it will. But it will be interesting to know what the phlegmatic Teutons will think of this combination of medieval pictorial art with the modern automobile.'

1902 DeDietrich, based on a Turcat Mery design
1902 DeDietrich, based on a Turcat Mery design. Turcat Mery were short of capital, and so signed an agreement with De Dietrich to design cars for them in 1901.

1925 Turcat-Mery 16/60 Pulman saloon
1925 Turcat-Mery 16/60 Pulman saloon. By 1925 the Turcat-Mery company was in trouble as it lacked sufficient capital to operate successfully. By 1928 Turcat-Mery had ceased trading.
In the race itself, Rougier was thought to have finished fourth, behind Thery (Richard-Brasier), Jenatzy (Mercedes) and De Caters (Mercedes), but following a protest Rougier was awarded an allowance of one minute which brought him into third place by just over twenty seconds on elapsed time. It was the last major race in which Turcat-Mery took part, though de Dietrich were still active in competitions. On the touring car front, the Turcat-Mery-de Dietrich cars followed conventional lines, with chain final drive until 1908, shaft thereafter. There was, however, one splendid aberration in the shape of a six-wheeled touring car in which the front and rear wheels steered, while the centre wheels drove.

The Baron von Eckhardstein vs. Count Boni de Castellane

Among the customers for this weird vehicle was the Khedive of Egypt; but perhaps the most flamboyant coachwork on this extraordinary chassis was that commissioned in 1908 by the Baron von Eckhardstein. Determined to outdo the luxurious Panhard Pullman Limousine de Voyage of his rival Count Boni de Castellane, von Eckhardstein spent around US$6000 (a small fortune at the time) on a Turcat-Mery-de Dietrich with stagecoach-like coachwork with a passenger compartment furnished by Maple & Company and the rear of the body occupied by a fully equipped kitchen in which a chef could prepare gourmet meals while the car was in motion.

The dual personality of the Turcat-Mery lasted, it seems, until 1911, though the marque retained a similar design of radiator shell on what was then known as the Lorraine-Dietrich thereafter. In 1911 the range was extended and consisted of a 14 hp of 2614cc, an 18 hp of 3308cc and a 25 hp of 4084cc. That same year Turcat-Mery made its reappearance in competition, with a victory in the very first Monte Carlo Rally. The driver was once again Henri Rougier, who since 1909 had been mixing his career in motoring with a pioneering role in aviation. He was subsequently to win the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d'Honneur for his conduct in the First World War.

In 1912 two new models were added to the range, in the shape of a 28 hp of 4712cc and a 35 hp of 6082cc; an unusual feature of the largest model was a warning bell which rang if the oil pressure dropped to danger level. All the Turcat-Mery's were four-cylinders, a configuration from which the company only seems to have departed once in its history. Production had always been small; and after the war it was apparent that the company lacked sufficient capital to operate successfully. Initially, the company produced a 3-liter 15/25 hp of conservative design, which failed to prevent a financial reorganisation of the company in 1921.

The 1921 Circuit de Corse

Rougier was still racing for Turcat-Mery (though he was soon to join Voisin); in the 1921 Circuit de Corse, he came second, with other Turcat-Mery cars occupying third, fourth, fifth and sixth places. It was the last significant achievement of the marque in competition. In 1923 a new model with a 2.8-liter ohc engine and four-wheel-braking was introduced, to be replaced twelve months later by a 2.4-Iitre ohc model, the UG Type. It was not entirely a coincidence that in 1924 Turcat-Mery underwent its second post-war financial reorganisation. Thereafter it was downhill all the way.

From 1926 proprietory power units by CIME and SCAP were offered alongside the UG Type, and in 1927 there was even a straight-eight 2.3-liter SCAP-engined car. At that period, a small straight-eight was quite often the last desperate gambit of a dying company, and in 1928 Turcat-Mery ceased trading. Cars and spare parts were available from a company operating under the name Monnerot-Dumaine until 1933, but this operation was merely an organisation existing on the sale of surplus cars and components remaining after a bankrupt motor manufacturer had shut up shop.
Leon Turcat posing in a pre-World War 1 Turcat-Mery tourer
Leon Turcat posing in a pre-World War 1 Turcat-Mery tourer.
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