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Lorraine-Dietrich was a French automobile and aircraft engine manufacturer from 1896 until 1935, created when railway locomotive manufacturer Société Lorraine des Anciens Etablissments de Dietrich and Cie (known as De Dietrich et Cie, founded in 1884 by Jean de Dietrich) branched into the manufacture of automobiles. The Franco-Prussian War divided the company's manufacturing capacity, one plant in Niederbronn-les-Bains, Alsace, the other in Lunéville, Lorraine.
In 1896, managing director of the Lunéville plant, Adrien, Baron de Turckheim, bought the rights to a design by Amédée Bollée. This used a front-mounted horizontal twin engine with sliding clutches and belt drive. It had a folding top, three acetylene headlights, and, very unusual for the period, plate glass windshield. While the company started out using engines from Bollée, de Dietrich eventually produced the entire vehicle themselves.
In 1898, de Dietrich debuted the Torpilleur (Torpedo) racer, which featured a four-cylinder engine and independent suspension in front, for the Paris-Amsterdam Trial; Gaudry wrecked en route, but still placed third. The response was substantial, exceeding one million gold francs. The 1899 torpilleur was less successful, despite underslung chassis, a rear-mounted monobloc four, and twin carburettors; poor preparation left none of the works teams able to complete the Tour de France.
The Bollée-inspired design was supplanted by a licence-built Belgian Vivinus voiturette at Niederbronn and a Marseilles-designed Turcat-Méry at Lunéville, following a 1901 deal with that cash-strapped company.
In 1902, de Dietrich hired 21-year-old Ettore Bugatti, who produced prize-winning cars in 1899 and 1901, and he designed an overhead valve 24 hp (18 kW) four-cylinder with four-speed transmission to replace the Vivinus. He also created their 30/35 of 1903, before quitting to join Mathis in 1904.
The same year, management at Niederbronn quit car production, leaving it entirely to Lunéville, with the Alsace market being sold a Turcat-Méry badge-engineered as a de Dietrich. Even at the time, this was seen with some disdain, and Lunéville put the cross of Lorraine on the grille to distinguish them. Nevertheless, under the skin they were little different, nor would they be until 1911.
For all that, the Lorraine-Dietrich was a prestige marque, ranking with Crossley and Itala, while attempting to break into the "super-luxury" market between 1905 and 1908 with a handful of ₤4,000 (US$20,000) six-wheeler limousines de voyage.
Like Napiers and Mercedes, Lorraine-Dietrich's reputation was built in part on racing, which was "consistent if not distinguished", including Charles Jarrott's third in the 1903 Paris-Madrid Rally and a 1-2-3 in the 1906 Circuit des Ardennes, led by ace works driver Arthur Duray.
De Dietrich bought out Isotta-Fraschini in 1907, producing two OHC cars to Isotta-Fraschini designs, including a 10 hp (7.5 kW) allegedly created by Bugatti. Also that year, Lorraine-Dietrich took over Ariel Mors Limited of Birmingham, for the sole British model, a 20 hp (15 kW) four, shown at the Olympia Motor Show in 1908, offered as bare chassis, Salmons & Sons convertible, and Mulliner cabriolet. (The British branch was not a success, lasting only about a year.)
For 1908, de Dietrich offered a line of chain-driven touring fours, the 18/28 hp, 28/38 hp, 40/45 hp, and 60/80 hp, priced between ₤550 and ₤960, and a 70/80 hp six at ₤1,040. The British version differed, having shaft drive. That year, the names of the automotive and aero-engine divisions were changed to Lorraine-Dietrich.
By 1914, all de Dietrichs were shaft-driven, and numbered a 12/16, an 18/20, a new 20/30 tourers, and a sporting four-cylinder 40/75 (in the mold of Mercer or Stutz), all built at Argenteuil, Seine-et-Oise (which became company headquarters postwar).