For its June 1898 edition the large format French magazine Les Sports Modernes that was printed on superior quality ‘art’ paper produced an issue that was solely devoted to motoring. This ‘sport’ had already started to be covered by some of the other generalised journals of the time, but what placed Les Sports in a class of its own was its use of coloured photographs – full page at that – and reproduced to a very high standard, as were the numerous black & white images.
This 1898 issue featured on its front cover a Decauville voiturelle with an elegantly dressed lady at the controls, as well as there being three other colour photos in it. A similar issue appeared in June 1899 and then we had to wait until January 1901 until the third magazine of this type became available and its eye-catching front cover was the image seen here.
The car is a Gardner-Serpollet 5cv Model D, this making its first appearance in mid-1900, having received the required ‘Type Approval’ from the French authorities, the Service des Mines, on the 11th of May. This particular example was bodied by the coachbuilders Kellner et ses Fils, and as six of these Model Ds are known to survive, all looking very similar, they must have been made in reasonable numbers. The car’s compact size, being the smallest Gardner-Serpollet type made, and its neat overall appearance, do not really visually proclaim that it is of course steam powered.
From the very beginning of his activities in this field from 1888 onwards, Serpollet never used anything other than steam as the power source for his vehicles and his invention of the ingenious ‘flash’ boiler, which is about as close as one can get to an instant steam generator, placed him in a highly respected position among his contemporaries. Once Frank Gardner had joined Léon in 1898 to provide the finance to support his inventiveness and mechanical skills, there were always those who could choose between a car with an internal combustion engine and a steamer who opted for a Gardner-Serpollet. Some of course had both. It was only the untimely death of Serpollet in 1907 that brought matters to a halt.
However, what in my opinion takes this picture to a level beyond it just being a splendid colour image of a car of the period is that at the controls is Léon Serpollet, and his passenger is Madame. They must have been proud of what had already been achieved even by this date.