The Dufaux brothers, Charles and Frédéric set out to build a Gordon Bennett Cup-winning racing car in the Swiss town of Geneva. Circumstances beyond their control prevented them fulfilling their dreams.
Beyond the „usual suspects”, such as France, Great Britain, America and Belgium new countries signalled their intention to participate in the 1904 Gordon Bennett Cup, including Switzerland. “The entry of Switzerland has come somewhat as a surprise, and it has been taken for granted that the car to represent this little country would be a Martini. This, however, does not appear primarily to have been the reason for the entry, as an 8-cylinder 80-h.p. Dufaux racing car is being completed for the express purpose of taking part in this race. The driver will be Frederic Dufaux, and the vehicle is being constructed by MM. Piccard, Pictet and Co., of Geneva” (The Automotor Journal, 9 January, 1904)
While the Dufaux brothers had drawn up plans for their forthcoming racer car, but they didn’t have the expertise or equipment to build anything. That is why So they farmed out the construction to Piccard-Pictet & Cie, a local industrial equipment manufacturer. This galvanized Lucien Pictet, who became interested in the automobile industry, and soon the company was producing the “Pic-Pic” cars – but that’s another story.
As for Dufaux, Charles Dufaux opted for a straight-eight engine, one of the first to be built as such, rather than as two four-cylinder engines joined together. The huge powerplant had 4 cast cylinder blocks with 2 cylinders each, a displacement of 12,756 cc and a maximum power of 90-hp @ 1200 rpm (originally 80 hp). Otherwise it was “normal” racing car stuff: a sturdy chassis, two small bucket seats, and a large round fuel tank. The drive was via a three-speed gearbox using two powerful chains on the rear wheels. Tires were a problem – as those had to be made in Switzerland. Luckily the local subsidiary of Michelin was able to help. Top speed was noted as 115 km/h.
On 16 June, during the weighing-in for the Gordon Bennett Cup the car mysteriously was damaged. As foul play was suspected, an investigation committee was set-up. Ultimately the Dufaux failed to show up for the start.
Dufaux was more succesful at others races in 1904, including the Dourdain Kilometer-run where he finished second.
In 1905 Charles Dufaux came up with a fantastic 4-cylinder engine with a capacity of 26.4-liters (!) and a max power of 150-hp. Dufaux signalled its intention to participated at the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup again with three cars: the the 1904 racer, a 8-cylinder, 100-hp model and the 26.4-liter beast. This time, their entry was vetoed by the Swiss Automobile Club.
The Dufaux brothers got acquainted with Charles S Rolls. Their last car was built in 1907. The brothers went their separate ways afterwards. Charles died in Geneva in 1950. His brother died 12 years later.
Today there are two surviving Dufaux racing car: the 1904 Gordon Bennett racer was later bought by Zürich-based collector, Arthur Tognazzo, who sold it to the Schlumpf brothers. Today the car is at the Cite de l’Automobile Museum. The 100-hp racer from 1905 was donated to the Verkehrshaus (Traffic House) by Frederic in 1942, where it has been on display for decades.
Frederic’s cousin, Henry and Armand Dufaux are much better known in the motoring world as their company supplied engines to early motorcycle and later aeroplane manufacturers and then went on to produce the Motosacoche motorcycles.