It was in 1897 that Georges Richard began building cars at Ivry-Port (Seine). His first offering was a blatant copy of the contemporary Benz, with a single-cylinder engine with exposed crankshaft and two-speed belt drive. Those that drove them were quickly made aware of the possibilities for disaster built into the low-speed vehicle, with its ineffectual spoon brakes, chain-and-sprocket steering and high-geared top speed, which could cause the car to run out of control on down-grades.
Add to this a bottom gear so low that it could cause the lightly-laden front wheels to rear up, and an engine so feeble that driver and passenger had to bale out to allow the car to climb even a modest main-road gradient, and you can see that the Georges Richard voiturette was a vehicle capable of much improvement.
Initial ventures in this direction consisted of increasing the power output by adding a second cylinder, and it was with one of these machines that Georges Richard himself carried off the light car class in the 1898 Marseilles-Nice event at the modest speed of 12.7 mph. In 1900, he offered the Belgian Vivinus with a Georges Richard nameplate, while his 1901 7½
hp model was a more robust machine, with shaft-drive. In 1902, Richard was joined by the engineer Henri Brasier, who had designed the more successful Mors models of recent years. From then on, the firm's products were known as Richard-Brasier.
Brasier designed a series of cars along Panhard lines: more importantly, he was responsible for the cars which marked the entry of Richard-Brasier into serious competition. These were four-cylinder 16hp voiturettes with tubular chassis and shaft drive; their 2½
-Iitre engines had mechanically-operated valves. Their performance was awaited with some interest, and the cars lived up to expectations, finishing second (Barillier) and fourth (Cornbier) in their class. Later that year a voiture legere of 50 hp was built for hill-climbs.
The Gordon Bennett Trials
For the 1904 Gordon Bennett Eliminating Trials, Brasier produced a team of three 9.9-liter chain-driven cars, one being driven by Leon ('Chronometre') Thery, which would lead the trial from the end of the third lap; in the race proper, Thery's car led all the way, lapping with amazing regularity. There was only three minutes between Thery's fastest lap and his slowest, while his average speed of 54.5 mph was little slower than his fastest lap of the race (55.3 mph). One factor in Thery's victory was undoubtedly the use of shock-absorbers on his car, a concept which Brasier had brought from Mors, where it had been standard practice since 1902.
The tiller-steered Georges-Richard of 1899.
The air-cooled twin-cylinder engine of the 1899 Georges-Richard.
1902 Richard-Brasier chassis for the 10hp model. The steering handle was connected by chainn to the engine.
Thery picuted in his Richard-Brasier before the 1904 Gordon-Bennett.
A 2-seater racing Richard-Brasier awaiting the start of the Circuit of Ardenne in 1906.
From the pages of La Vie au Grand Air
The engine size was increased to 11,259cc for the 1905 Gordon Bennett, and once again, Thery dominated the French Eliminating Trials: 'A cannon-shot, a trumpet-call: in a deafening hub-bub like a volley of musket-fire, a car passes like a tornado, dancing over the irregularities of the road-surface, between the two rows of grandstands. It's Thery, who has taken 1 hour 42 minutes 52 seconds to cover the 137 kilometres of the first lap of the circuit.
For the fourth time, in the formidable thunder of his four cylinders, simultaneously leaping and skidding over the road, Thery's grey car crosses the finishing line. Arms and hats are waved, cheers ring out .... Between two hedges of gendarmes and soldiers, Thery enters the paddock .... He leaps from his car to fall into the arms of Brasier. They embrace: Thery's chubby face, all black with dust, grease and Pulveranto road dressing, presses on the pale cheek of Brasier. And Thery demands something to drink .... '
Georges Richard leaves to start Unic
Georges Richard was not mentioned in that account from La Vie au Grand Air, and with good reason, as a couple of months earlier he had left the company to start Unic, with the confusing result that there was now a Societe des Anciens Etablissements Georges Richard at Ivry-Port, producing Richard-Brasiers, and a totally independent Georges Richard et Cie at Puteaux.
In the Gordon Bennett itself, held over the same Auvergnat course as the Eliminating Trials, which obviously gave the French team a considerable advantage. Thery repeated his performance of the previous year, defeating all the crack drivers and cars of Germany, Britain and Italy, 'running with the regularity of a clock'. Even in those days, the component suppliers for a world-beating car had to receive their little bit of publicity:
"Thery averaged 78 kph on a Richard-Brasier car, fitted with Michelin tires. Thery's goggles were supplied by Doctor Mirovitch, and his car was built on an Arbel chassis, with Simms-Bosch magneto, DWF ball-bearings, Lemoine axles, Peugeot chains and springs, Hamelle lubricator, hickory-wood wheels by Neveu et Cie, Groubelle & Arquembourg radiator and Motricine petrol.'
The Four-leaved Clover
The company did not fail to profit from the lessons they had learned in front-line racing, as was demonstrated by the new models on the Richard-Brasier stand at the December 1905 Paris Motor Show. The stand itself was topped with a huge metal sign proclaiming the Gordon Bennett successes and liberally decorated with the four-leaved clovers that were the Richard-Brasier trademark, while Thery's car was displayed in one corner.
But it was the touring cars which drew the attention of the experts: 'The new types for 1906 consist of chain-driven cars of 40 hp and 25-35 hp respectively, and a live-axle car of 15-25 hp. The motor is similar in design for all three powers, except that in the 40 hpa pump is fitted to assist the natural circulation of the water. The transmission mechanism remains practically unaltered, except that the clutch in the 40 hp car follows the lines of that employed with great success in the Gordon Bennett racer.
The ordinary leather-covered cone is supplemented with four sliding bolts which lock the two members of the clutch together when the foot pedal is fully released. The advantage of this system is obvious, as it combines the simplicity and smoothness of action of the leather clutch with the non-slipping qualities of the fiercest metallic clutch.
All the new Richard-Brasiers are fitted with half-leaf springs in place of the usual rear dumb-irons, a method of suspension which is distinctly increasing in popularity, and is said to give a steadier motion to the body than a transverse spring at the back. The recoil of the springs is steadied by fitting devices of the Truffault type both in front and behind.
In a corner of the stand was shown an auxiliary change-speed gear which can be fitted, if desired, to the live rear axle between the main gearbox and the differential. It provides a direct drive without any alteration in the gear ratio, and a single reduction which diminishes the speed of the propeller shaft by 65 percent, and can be brought into action by a small hand lever on the top of the casing.
The object of this somewhat original device is to provide a means whereby the gearing of the car can be easily lowered to suit the requirements of a hilly district. In effect, it gives the car eight speeds instead of four, and is therefore similar in principle to the change-speed gear fitted to the Tourist Trophy Vauxhall. For a long-distance tour, covering a great variety of country, it might prove extremely useful, especially on a gear-driven car, in which it is practically impossible to alter the ratio between the engine and the road wheels.'
The marque, now known simply as Brasier, took part in the 1906 French Grand Prix, but Thery had gone off to try his hand at car manufacture, and the cars were no longer invincible. Callois managed a fourth place in both the French Grand Prix and the Circuit des Ardennes, but the great racing days were over. At the 1908 Paris Salon, a comprehensive line-up of cars was shown; there were two voitures legeres, both shaft-driven, a 10 hp twin (price Fr 5900) and an 11 hp four (Fr 6900), a shaft-driven 15 hp four (Fr 8500), a 22 hp four available with either shaft drive (Fr 12,000) or chain (Fr 12,500) and a chain-driven 35 hp four (Fr 14,500), plus two chain-driven sixes, of 34hp (Fr 18000) and 50hp (Fr 22,500).
Thery Succumbs to Tuberculosis
The 1908 Grand Prix saw the return of Thery to the Brasier fold, but both he and the marque were past their racing prime; unfortunately Thery had only a year to live, as he was suffering from tuberculosis. However, the cars that were unsuccessful in the Grand Prix did manage to break records, notably a 102 mph dash at Brooklands. The touring models changed little over the next couple of years (though an 11-15 hp four shown at Olympia could boast a 'special awning for tropical use'), apart from detail refinements.' But in 1912 the cars were redesigned along more modern lines.
The Brasier company listed the changes: 'Monobloc cylinder castings; enclosed valves; chain valve gear; thermo-syphon cooling; Brasier carburetor; Bosch magneto; leather cone Brasier clutch; base chamber one piece; improved gear box; improved back axle; undershield detached instantly; sloping bonnet; ball-jointed torsion rods arranged inside chassis frame; torque tube encloses propellor shaft. All models are fitted with Warland dual rims and Michelin tires, without additional changes on specified prices.'
By now the company could boast branches in London, Moscow, Algiers and Madrid, as well as branch factories at Reims and Ivry-sur-Seine ; and for 1913 the larger cars were available with an air compressor which supplied the power for an automatic self-starter. The Brasiers of the immediate pre-war period were some of the most handsome Edwardian cars: but the marque rested on its laurels after the Armistice, producing models that were virtually identical with their 1914 counterparts. Like so many once-illustrious French marques, they drifted into gentle oblivion, acquiring a redesigned radiator shell of undistinguished appearance in place of the famous shouldered cooler of the great days of the company.
The 12hp Brasier introduced at the October 1922 Paris Salon was equipped with front-wheel brakes and an ohv engine. Reorganisation was inevitable, and it came in 1926, when the company's name was changed to Chaigneau-Brasier, and a new light car of 9CV was introduced: it was the orthodox harbinger of unconventional things to come, as in 1928 Chaigneau-Brasier announced an ohc 3-liter straight-eight with front-wheel drive, followed two years later with the even bigger Type DG8 of similar design. Hardly surprisingly, the customers were wary of such extravagant departures, and that year saw the last of Chaigneau-Brasier. A partnership with Delahaye
was unsuccessful. Production ceased in 1930 and finally, Delahaye took over in 1933.