The 1900s were a formative time for the automobile. Nobody really knew what worked best, what configuration was the most versatile, or what was the best engine of those available. As such, car makers were keen to try everything. It wasn’t the standardised formula we have today. All that was known back then was that four wheels were best for stability, and the ability to seat two people at least was key. That was about it. Speed, luggage space, handling – none of these things really came into it. Cars then were more of a novelty than a serious proposition for getting about. If you wanted to lug loads, that’s what wagons and horses were for.
Cars were fun explorations of possibilities. Some set about building them and made it their core business, others were more ‘blink and you miss it’ additions to the book of automotive history. But brief though some of them may have been, they deserve to be celebrated. Especially if, like the 1900 Mignonette Luap we’re looking at here, they have survived for well over a century.
Not only should the small car out of Bordeaux be celebrated for its age, it should also be celebrated for its rarity. Jiel-Laval et Cie, the company that built it, was only around for some four years. As the advert explains, the company’s entry in The Beaulieu Encyclopaedia of the Automobile is necessarily short: “This car has no known connection with the Mignonette from Neuilly, though it was also a light voiturette powered by a rear-mounted De Dion-Bouton engine, in this case of 2¼hp. In the event of engine failure, the car was provided with pedals, and it was said to be sufficiently light to be pedalled to the nearest garage. It had tiller steering.”
Now, imagine that in your modern car. Pedals in the event of a breakdown. Brilliant, frankly. The tiller steering leaves a little to be desired, but it was deemed as something that worked at the time. Plus, we’re only talking about two-and-a-bit horsepower here, so not a lot to control!
This incredibly rare machine was found in France in the 1980s by enthusiast, Stephen Langton. He passed the car on to John Wandless, who set about partially restoring the car before it was once again sold in 2011 to the current owner. Since then, the car has been fully restored and is resplendent as a result. The original de Dion Bouton rear-mounted engine has been rebuilt, Mignonette-Luap features a Boxier two-speed gearbox, water-cooled Brassard cylinder head, trembler coil ignition, and an Amal motorcycle carburettor, the latter being a later modification. It even comes with a little covered trailer so you can get it to shows and events.
And shows and events are very much where this little car belongs. It’s not something you’d want to pop to the shops in, given it’s no bigger than a beer mat. It’s the kind of car that should be paraded at events with other contemporaries. One to be shown off to the crowds, as a reminder of what cars were like when they were still a thing being developed and discovered. It’s a charming, perfectly restored time capsule representative of a truly important, and somewhat ungoverned time in motoring. Plus, it’s almost certainly one of a kind at this point.