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Delaunay-Belleville tourer

At a glance

  • 3.75-litre four-cylinder touring car
  • Manufactured in France and England in 1913
  • Used by a wealthy pastoralist at Gundaroo, NSW
  • Later owned by Green's Motorcade Museum at Leppington, NSW
  • Car collections and restoration
  • On show in the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition until 13 October 2013

The last word in 1913 fashion

Manufactured in 1913, the Delaunay-Belleville tourer is the oldest motor vehicle in the National Museum’s collection. The engine block and chassis were engineered in the Parisian workshops of Delaunay-Belleville, a former boiler manufacturer first established at St Denis in northern Paris during the 1860s. By the turn of the century, the company had joined the ranks of Parisian industrial manufacturers who responded to the increasing popularity of the motor car by turning their trade to producing automotive parts. By 1913, Delaunay-Belleville was well-known as the brand of choice for wealthy clients.

The restored Delaunay-Belleville tourer, 2013
The Delaunay-Belleville tourer, 2013. Photo: Jason McCarthy.

From Paris to rural New South Wales

After the engine block and chassis were shipped to England, the car’s body was constructed by coachbuilders Cann & Co of London's Camden Town. The car was then shipped to Australia by pastoral agents Dalgety & Co, and was ultimately delivered to its new owner, James Bunbury Nott Osborne, at Gundaroo in the New South Wales southern tablelands in May 1914. Osborne was a wealthy grazier and stockbreeder based at Bowylie, an 1890s homestead on the outskirts of Gundaroo. Osborne's purchase of this expensive car reflects a broader Australian desire for imported European automotive technologies during this period.

Osborne family picnicking alongside the Delaunay-Belleville
The Osborne family picknicking with the Delaunay-Belleville, about 1918. Photograph courtesy of Bedford Jeffries Osborne.

A gradual decline

Abandoned wreck of the Delaunay-Belleville tourer
The Delaunay-Belleville as it was when Robert Beer found it, 1955. Photo: Robert Beer.

By about 1920, the Delaunay-Belleville had been transferred to its second owner, Bowylie's estate manager William Sibley. Little is known about this period of use, although some years later the Sibleys reportedly used the Delaunay-Belleville to attend the opening of the provisional Parliament House in Canberra on 9 May 1927. The car remained on the road until at least 1941, when it was abandoned in a creek bed at Gundaroo. In 1955, a young car enthusiast, Robert Beer of Queanbeyan, New South Wales, purchased the derelict remains from the Sibleys. The following year, he sold the car to another car collector, Murdoch MacDonald of Canberra. Renowned Sydney-based collector George Green then purchased it for his private collection.

Restoration and revival

Rear view of restored Delaunay-Belleville tourer, 2013
The Delaunay-Belleville tourer, 2013. Photo:Jason McCarthy.

In 1968, Green and a team of associates embarked on a full-scale restoration project. They replaced the Delaunay-Belleville's damaged body with a replica, painted it yellow and incorporated other new parts. This period of ownership coincided with a boom in the popularity of exploring the driving experience and performance of historic cars.

The Delaunay Belleville's first outing following its restoration was the 1970 Sydney to Melbourne International Rally. At the time, this was one of the most important events in the car collectors' calendar. During the 1970s, visitors to Green's Motorcade Museum at Leppington, New South Wales, were given rides in the car.

After Green's death in 1982, the car was purchased for the National Historical Collection by staff at the newly-formed National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Today, the history and physicality of the car allows for the interpretation of both the role of the motor car in Australian social and cultural history over the twentieth century, and the preoccupations of the owners and collectors who ensured its survival.