'The Etablissements Hurtu have seriously given their attention to the automobile industry and are now turning out a splendid "carriage-quadricycle", so designated because it is made up, where possible, on cycle lines for lightness.' The Autocar, 19th February 1898.
The Hurtu motor car took its name from one of the partners in a company founded at Albert, France in 1880 to manufacture sewing machines. Bicycles were soon added to the firm's portfolio of products, which continued to be marketed under the Hurtu name after one of the founders E Diligeon bought out his partners in 1895, forming Sté E Diligeon et Cie. Motor manufacture commenced in 1896 when licensed copies of the Leon Bollée tri-car began to leave the Albert factory. The following year Hurtu announced its first four-wheeled automobile, a close copy of the contemporary single-cylinder Benz, which was licensed to Marshall & Co of Manchester, who would go onto make the Belsize.
Reconstituted as Compagnie des Autos et Cycles Hurtu in 1899, the firm continued to build its Benz clone until 1900 when it was replaced by a more modern De Dion-engined design. Models with two and four cylinders followed, and in 1907 the Renault-style dashboard radiator was adopted. As well as bicycles, Hurtu also manufactured commercial vehicles, machine tools and a host of other metal products, latterly at Neuilly sur Seine. This broad manufacturing base meant that the company was able to survive the economic upheaval that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929, even though it produced no more motor cars after 1930.
Exceptionally rare, this particular example reportedly resided at a French chateau until around 1995 and had been converted to horse-drawn propulsion, presumably following an engine failure, which ensured its unlikely survival. The current vendor purchased the Hurtu at auction in the UK in 2005, the car having spent some time in Holland. Although missing its engine, the Hurtu had retained many original components including the brass water tanks, brake pedal, part of the final drive, steering gear (minus tiller) and - most importantly - the maker's plate bearing the chassis number '160'. In the late 19th Century, French automobiles were required to display a plate recording their owner's name, address and profession, and this too had remained intact. A contemporary press report described the body as complete, likewise the springs, axles, mudguards and seat. It was also reported that some refurbishment had been carried out, the vehicle being presented painted in grey primer.
A replacement Benz engine dating from circa 1900 was sourced by the enthusiast vendor and rebuilt, and by December 2007 this challenging restoration project had been completed. Issued on 11th December 2007, the VCC dating letter describes the Hurtu as follows: 'Replacement Benz engine of c1900; replica countershaft, differential gear, transmission, belt striking gear and battery. Replica steering column with Benz-type rack and pinion gearing, linkages and controls; fabricated fuel tank, replacement front suspension, engine lubricator. Zenith carburettor fitted temporarily.' The Dating Panel agreed to assign a manufacturing date of 1899, thus confirming the Hurtu's eligibility for the London-Brighton Veteran Car Run. It is the earliest Hurtu known to the VCC.
Following completion the car was entered in the London-Brighton Run but on the first occasion retired after Crawley. The following year, in torrential rain, the Hurtu never missed a beat and a successful run and a good time were achieved. The following year the driver somehow managed to get lost on the Brighton road and retired to a local hostelry!
This fascinating 19th Century French 'primitive' is offered for sale with a file containing assorted correspondence, numerous photographs, copies of motoring press articles and technical literature, some expired MoT certificates and old/current Swansea V5C registration documents.
Please note the registration number for the Hertu should read DUI 98.