Engine Problems at Le Mans

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Wright Activities Before and After 1903

The news from Le Mans on September 1, 1908 was that “Wilbur Wright made an endurance test with his motor today. At the end of two hours he found it heated and consequently this afternoon devoted himself to making examinations of the Bollee motor.”

Comment: When Wilbur arrived in France in June of 1908, a complete airplane in crates was waiting for him in the customs shed at Le Havre. He had also hired a French company, Bariquand et Marre, to build at least one new engine as well as rebuild one old Wright engine and have them ready for him.

When Wilbur opened the crtes he found almost everything inside was broken. It was either caused by careless custom inspectors or maybe on purpose.

Wilbur’s first reaction was that improper packing by Orville caused the damage, but Orville quickly put that notion to rest.

As if the broken pieces of the plane weren’t enough, Wilbur found that the engines, including one old Wright engine were not ready.

Fortunately, Leon Bollee, a Le Mans car manufacturer, offered him space in his factory to rebuild the plane. Wilbur estimated the job would take three weeks to complete. It took almost seven.

The French-built engines still had not been completed but they did send him the old rebuilt Wright engine. They did had done a shoddy job on it, so Wilbur had to work on it himself. While doing so on July 4th, the radiator hose came off the engine and sprayed Wilbur’s left side with scalding water. Fortunately, Bollee was standing next to Wilbur watching him work and was able to give him immediate first aid.

The scalding water left a large blister on his left side and another one on his forearm. It was painful but Wilbur continued his work.

The newspaper account referred to the Bollee motor. There was no Bollee made motor. It was most likely the old Wright motor that Wilbur had worked on in the Bollee factory.

The French intend on celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wibur’s first flight at Le Mans that occurred on August 8, 1908. A group from France, including Gerard Bollee, the 80 year old grandnephew of Leon Bollee, recently visited the Outer Banks, NC to discuss plans for the commemoration with members of the Wright family and the First Flight Society.

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