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SNAPSHOT 7: 1900 Audibert et Lavirotte

While there are a number of imponderables regarding this charming photograph, such as precisely where it was taken other than probably somewhere in the Rhône valley, one thing that we can be quite sure about is the nature of the weather when the scene was captured by the camera. The manner in which the people are dressed and the fact that the smallest child was evidently unable to stop shivering strongly suggests that it was bitterly cold. This and the absence of leaves on the trees indicates that it was taken during the winter months, most likely those of late 1900 or early 1901.

There are reasons why it is unlikely to be earlier or later. This pattern of Audibert et Lavirotte with a front-mounted engine was introduced in mid-1900 and is well-described in the first Guide Michelin that appeared at almost the same time. Had the shot been taken in the winter of 1901 into 1902, then by that date the car would have had a registration number plate on it, as these became a requirement in France under the Décret of September 1901, enforceable by the 12th of December.

The petrol-engined cars produced by Maurice Audibert and Émile Lavirotte in 1896 are often referred to as the first to be made in the city of Lyon that were sold to customers, although Rochet-Schneider enthusiasts might have a different opinion.

Perhaps the most interesting visual feature of this Audibert et Lavirotte model is what appears to be a double steering wheel, the lower one actually being for gear-changing. Apparently this was a fairly sophisticated operating mechanism as changes from one gear to another could be made without passing through any intermediaries.

The firm exhibited at the 1900 Paris automobile show and the following year at the inaugural Salon at the Grand Palais, but it was out of business by the end of 1901, having made between 200 and 250 cars during the course of its activities. Audibert embarked on a career with Rochet-Schneider whilst Lavirotte joined Marius Berliet, who found the former’s factory a very useful environment in which to expand his own activities.

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