‘Silken Six’ mastered silent running

Lorraine-Dietrich sounds a more appropriate name for a German actress and singer, but it was the moniker of a French company that adopted the name in 1908 and built magnificent automobiles.

‘Lorraine’ comes from the imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine, a region created by the German Empire in 1871 after the annexation of most of the Alsace and Moselle region of Lorraine during the Franco-Prussian War.
 ‘Dietrich’ stems from the company founder’s name, Jean de Dietrich, who operated forges throughout France dating back to 1684.

The company began building automobiles in 1896 under licence for Bollée, Vivinua and Turcat-Méry.

Ettore Bugatti was hired in 1902 as the designer/engineer, and joining him in the sales department was Emile Mathis.

Despite being the first automobile manufacturer to score multiple victories at the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Lorraine-Dietrich never achieved the fame and prestige enjoyed by British rival Bentley. The green Bentleys driven by the Bentley boys won the Le Mans race in 1924 and an incredible four consecutive years between 1927 and 1930.

Lorraine-Dietrich viewed their racing attempts as a means of testing new ideas for their successful aircraft engine business.

The automobile manufacturing side of the company closed in 1935, having produced cars for 39 years.

The pictured B3-6 was the most successful model and was nicknamed “the Silken Six” famous for its almost silent engine. Like many French racing engines, such as Bugatti, it was not fitted with a cooling fan that would disturb the peace and quiet.

The Lorraine-Dietrich B3-6 De Covaia Sports Roadster is one of many French automobiles in the incredible Mullin Collection in Oxnard, Calif.

The collection of cars exemplifies the curves of French automobiles and includes some of the most beautiful styles and amazingly engineered French built cars, such as Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye, Hispano Suiza, Talbot-Lago and Voisin. I will have the great honour of judging a Mullin entry in the class I’m judging at Pebble Beach on Aug. 17. Visit mullinautomotivemuseum.com to view some of the cars.

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