Interview. The Mancelle is one of the first automobiles: Michel Bollée tells its story


Maxime Davoust

Published on May 12, 2024 at 10:16 a.m.

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Already the author of a book about his ancestors (“The Bollées are in the race”), Michel Bollée is interested this time in one of the creations of this family of inventors“La Mancelle”, and recounts “the tribulations of Amédée Bollée senior and Léon Le Cordier, from Le Mans to Berlin (1878-1884)”.

News Le Mans: You had already written about the Obéissante. Is this a bit of a sequel?

Michel Bollée: “In 2023, on behalf of the Patrimoine Bollée association, I released a unique little booklet dedicated to the Obéissante. It was the 150th anniversary of this vehicle. I wanted to move on to the second vehicle in a much more fleshed-out way, focusing mainly on the industrial and economic difficulties of the time for the precursors, whether they were an engineer who wanted to develop a system of public transport and goods, than an industrialist who also sought to develop an invention. »

In this photograph from 1873, the Bollée family in L’Obéissante on a country road. ©Gustave Cosson / Sarthe departmental archives

ALM: What was the principle of Mancelle?

MB: “It was a car that was inspired by the Obéissante model. This was built from 1872 and was officially released in 1873, with a trip to Paris in 1875. When the Mancelle was released in 1878, there were no cars on the roads in France. . Amédée Bollée (father) wanted to build a lighter, more maneuverable vehicle than the Obéissante which was a fairly tall machine and weighed 4.2 tonnes. With the Mancelle, weighing 2.2 tonnes, he adopted the independent wheel system. »

ALM: What is the starting point of this adventure?

MB: “During the 1878 Universal Exhibition in Paris, that’s where Amédée Bollée presented La Mancelle with L’Obéissante. He met the engineer Léon Le Cordier who had the idea of ​​creating a road transport network of steam vehicles in France for goods and passengers. He had been very impressed by L’Obéissante’s trip to Paris in 1875. (…) Unfortunately in France, he only received very polite responses… Le Cordier struggled, he went to see the soldiers, they carried out tests at Le Mans with steam vehicles. Among the Army officials there were German engineers. »

“The Mancelle was not built in France”

MB: “Following somewhat acrobatic legal arrangements, totally foreign to Amédée Bollée who was, above all, an inventor… The Mancelle was not built in France, no one was interested in it. Based on the model and patents of Amédée Bollée, 14 cars in February 1881 were under construction. There was quite a delay before customers paid for the vehicles. At one point, Amédée Bollée almost found himself on the verge of bankruptcy. And there were observers who took a very dim view of a French industrialist selling to Germans. »

“First time automobiles were mass-produced”

One of the rare examples of the Mancelle, visible at the Compiègne castle museum. ©Pantoine/CC/Wikipedia

MB: “Even though the cars were finished and sold, they were not paid for. It was the end of a German dream and the end of an industrial dream of mass production of vehicles under the Bollée patent. The German company Wöhlert ceased its activity, it was liquidated in 1884. It is still a milestone in the history of mass production of vehicles. It was the first time that automobiles were mass-produced, based on Amédée Bollée systems. »

“Considerable time and too large sums”

MB: “It took him time to restore his financial situation… He was helped in this by the activity of his bell foundry in Le Mans. He made a few more steam cars but soon stopped. He spent a considerable amount of time and too much money on it. He understood that in any case the future of the automobile belonged to the “thundering” engine, that is to say the gasoline engine. His eldest son, whose name was Amédée, who was my great-grandfather, began building some gasoline engines. »

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ALM: The rest of the story is told in “Les Bollée dans la course”… Is there still anything to write about this saga?

MB: “The Bollée family is best known for its inventions relating to the automobile. Ernest Sylvain, who settled in Le Mans in 1842, was a bell founder. He was a pioneer in different fields. He began to manufacture hydraulic rams to equip areas where water had to be fetched. And he created wind turbines. And then Amédée Bollée (son) had a son, Léon. He had made a calculating machine to help his father…”

Traces still visible at Le Mans

At Mansthere still remain traces of their multiple creations, including one wind turbinevisible at Water Houseon the site of Nature’s Ark.

The famous Mancelle (equipped with an electric motor) was reproduced by an association and is regularly shown to the public.
Avenue Bollée, at the end of which the family factory was installed, is in the news for a completely different reason: it is one of the axes of future Chronolinesways for… hydrogen bus !

A Bollée wind turbine visible at the Maison de l'eau, in Le Mans.
A Bollée wind turbine visible at the Maison de l’eau, in Le Mans. ©Maxime DAVOUST/- Le Mans

“La Mancelle – The tribulations of Amédée Bollée père and Léon Le Cordier” by Michel Bollée, Editions du Borrego. Price: €22.

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