A Prototype of Early, Four-Cylinder Power and Performance
From his beginnings as a bicycle designer and mechanic, French engineer and entrepreneur Adolphe Clément was at the forefront of mechanical innovation moving human transport forward. His 1903 Clément 12/16 HP Rear-Entrance Tonneau was produced the year before the Clément-Bayard company moved into the manufacture of racing cars, and was the pinnacle of power and performance at the time of its release.
Five years later, Clément’s technical prowess took flight in 1908 as the company began building aircraft, eventually granted license to build Wright engines as part of their work.
The four-speed transmission on this 1903 Clément offered drivers three forward gears and reverse, while an inventive lubrication system shared oil from the engine’s cooling system to promote ease of movement for critical big-end bearings. The vehicle’s tubular steel chassis was also distinguished in its construction; most others of the era still incorporated frames of reinforced wood.
Following a painstaking restoration, the Clément made several appearances in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, a 54-mile demonstration of the beauty and performance of classic vehicles. This car successfully participated in the Run in 2006, 2017, and 2018.
A Diversion Down Under
This particular Clément served as a clown car in the rural Australian town of Kangaroo Ground, Victoria. During this chapter of its storied life, the car bore little resemblance to its original incarnation, refashioned in the intervening years so as to appear a considerably more contemporary, modern vehicle.
Reviving an Original
Returning the Clément to its turn-of-the-century glory required the kind of research, persistence, and meticulous attention to detail that craftsman Adolphe Clément himself would have appreciated.
Eventually acquired by a member of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, an association devoted to preserving and celebrating Edwardian-era vehicles, the Clément embarked upon an intensive, six-year restoration process finally completed in 2006.
The body — largely dismantled before purchase — was reimagined around original seats from the period discovered in the car’s home country of France. An intact Clément served as the model to create the fenders and hood, with reproduction pedals fabricated and installed. Mechanical work included rebuilding the rear axle and replacing the timing gears. New additions including a coil-and magneto ignition, an electric starter, and a windshield were incorporated to facilitate ease of use for present-day drivers.
1903 Clément Specs:
- Four-cylinder, 2,121 cubic centimeter engine
- Overhead intake valves
- 12/16 HP
- Four-speed transmission; hand brake and transmission brake
- Completed the landmark London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in 2006, 2017 and 2018