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French Tri-Car In Vietnam: 100 Years Ago

Annam 1905 Gabrielle Vasscal Driving Tri-Car. Click to Enlarge

In her book On and Off Duty in Annam (1910) Gabrielle Vassal tells of her and her husband’s rather eventful journey from Nha Trang to Daban in their new Tri-Car.

Not being familiar with the term Tri-Car I was wondering if it would have been the earlier versions of the Cyclo’s we would ride around Saigon in during the 1950/60s.

After doing some research on the Internet and comparing my finds to a photo of their Tri-Car in her book, I’ve concluded their Tri-Car was in all probability a Leon Bollee Tri-Car.

Leon Bollee was the first in France to build small gasoline powered vehicles, beginning to do so in 1895.

Leon Bollee French Tri-Car (1898). Click to Enlarge

The Voiturette as he called it, was introduced in the 1896 Paris-Marseille-Paris race. With three speeds of 6-12-18 mph, it was one of the fastest of its type. In 1897 modified versions won the Paris-Dieppe race at 24 mph and the Paris-Trouville race at 28 mph.

Leon Bollees Tri-Car 1896, Schlumpf Collection, Mulhouse, France. Click to Enlarge

Sepcifications: tandem two-seat tri-car, engine four-cycle, single-cylinder, air-cooled, with hot tube ignition; bore 76 mm, stroke 145 mm, displacement 650 cc, 2.5 hp.

Leon Bollee (1870-1913) was a French automobile manufacturer and inventor.

Bollee’s family were well known bell founders and his father, Amedee Bollee (1844-1917), was a major pioneer in the automobile industry who produced several steam cars. Both Leon Bollee and his older brother Amedee-Ernest-Marie (1867-1926) became automobile manufacturers.

Today over 100 years later you can still hear *The Bells of Bollee* ringing from the towers of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Saigon. Leon Bollee’s grandfather is the bell founder who made the Notre-Dame Cathedral bells.

Here is a video of a fully operational 1897 Leon Bollee Tri-Car.

As best as I’ve been able to determine, there are only 3 operational Leon Bollee tri-cars in the world today.

So, it does appear the tri-car Gabrielle Vasscal and her husband used on their trip from Nha Trang to Daban was in fact one of the earliest versions of the Cyclo’s we used to ride around Saigon. They really had not changed much since the early 1900’s, except the ones we rode in were, for the most part, 1945 to 1948 WWII surplus Harley’s.

What are your fondest memories of riding Cyclo in Saigon?

As always, you are welcome to leave your comments below.

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