History of the Lyons-based firm Cottin & Desgouttes (1904-1933)

The Beginning

In 1904, Pierre Desgoutte started manufacturing automobiles under the name “Desgouttes & Cie”, in Lyons, France. The first model was the type A, powered by a 9.5-liter, 45 hp, six-cylinder engine. Only two cars of this type were built.

In December 1905, a chassis with a four-cylinder, 24/40 hp engine was presented at the Salon de Paris. It exhibited many innovative features: a single control for the pump and the ignition coil, a clever advance mechanism, a metallic clutch with a central control, a four-gear transmission (the 3rd and 4th gear by direct drive), four brakes (two on the differential and two on the wheels) and an automatic carburetor.

The car enjoyed a huge success, and at the beginning of 1906, Pierre Desgoutte was joined by a wealthy industrial partner, Cyrille Cottin. They decided to call the new company “Automobiles Cottin & Desgouttes”, Pierre Desgoutte acting as Technical Director, whereas would Cyrille Cottin manage Sales.

The pre-World War One period

The company progressively specialized in luxury and sports models.

Between 1906 and 1914, most of the production was devoted to four-cylinder models. Especially noteworthy are two 3 770 cc models and two other models with engines between 4 398 and 5 097 cc. Between 1907 and 1909, they also built 50 hp (8 620 cc) et 45/70 hp (10 619 cc) four-cylinder models.

En 1907, the company also produced a 9.5-liter, 30 hp, six-cylinder model, as well as a 2.5 liter, 12 hp model that was so well accepted by the public that is was produced without any major changes for more than four years. Between 1908 and 1910, they also offered a 3 619 cc, six-cylinder model.

Over the next years, growth was regular and the factories thrived. In 1913, Cottin & Desgouttes could be proud of producing close to 450 cars with a total staff of 300, which was very high at the time, since the usual rule was one car per year per employee.

Well known for the very high quality of their production, Cottin & Desgouttes was also famous for the interest they demonstrated in “high-tech” solutions: they were among the first to use a single-block engine, direct drive transmission and universal joint-based transmission.


The fame of Cottin & Desgouttes was also due to their participation in a number of car races.

As soon as May 1906, a Cottin & Desgouttes car driven by Fraignac won the Limones race in its category.

Encouraged by this excellent result, the company decided to participate in more and more important races, from the Press Cup in 1907 (where their car achieved the best gas mileage) to the Grand Prix de France in 1911, in Le Mans, where the specially built model set the lap record before having to abandon due to steering problems.

Cyrille Cottin, a great sportsman himself, drove at a number of races, rallies or other sports events.

World War One

At the beginning of World War One, the company produced a series of fast Utility Vehicles and delivered several large 36 hp “Torpedoes” to the French Army General Staff. The reliability of the trucks used by the Army was legendary.

During the war, Cottin & Desgouttes also built special engines for tractors. In 1915 the Cottin & Desgouttes factory manufactured aircraft motors for Gnome and Rhône.

After the War

At the end of the War, Cottin & Desgoutte had well equipped production facilities, and their financial situation was good enough to start again producing luxury cars. Their staff, accustomed to high quality standards, easily moved from the war-time production back to tourist cars. The manufacturing of trucks was continued.

In 1921, the “type K”, evolving from the 1915 “type DF” was presented. By increasing the stroke of the “type K” engine (14/16 hp and 3 216 cc), they also produced more powerful engines, the 18/20 hp, 4 072 cc engine and the 23/25 hp, 5 026 cc engine.

In addition to these powerful models built immediately after the war, the company launched a smaller, all new and lower priced car in 1922. This car, called type M, had a four-cylinder 2 600 cc (80 x 130 mm) engine with head-mounted valves controlled by rods and lifters, and had power brakes on all wheels. The crankshaft lay on five bearings and was balanced using weights. The electrical circuit included a double ignition circuit with a mixed system (ignition coil and igniter).

Shortly after this car was presented, Pierre Desgoutte quit the company. Paul Joseph, selected by Cottin to replace him, was charged with building a more powerful and faster car, based on the type M, and aimed at racing.

Using an almost identical structure, this 3-liter model was given a new engine body with two horizontally positioned spark plugs per cylinder, and redesigned fuel & exhaust systems including 3 valves per cylinder (2 for intake and 1 for exhaust). A car powered by this engine won the Grand Prix du Tourisme de l’Automobile Club de France, which resulted in the launch of the “Grand Prix” model.

Around this time, Cottin & Desgouttes started his first research on aerodynamic profiling; the results of this work were used in the 1925 models, most notably for the 4-seat “boat-torpedo” with its streamlined rear.

In 1925, the company launched the “Sans-Secousse”, with a 2 614 cc engine, a totally redesigned chassis, Houdaille-type paddle-based shock absorbers and separate springs for the 4 wheels. At the front, the suspension was handled by leaf springs with 2 vertical guide bars supporting the hydraulic shock absorbers; in the rear, it was handled by oscillating semi-trees with double universal joints and 2 overlapping leaf springs.

When the car was presented at the Paris Salon, Gaston Doumergue, President of the French Republic congratulated the Lyons car manufacturer for his historic invention, that would promote the French Automobile Industry. Cottin reportedly replied that the government had contributed to this invention – by the very bad quality of the roads. The Sans-Secousse was indeed very successful outside of France, as can be seen in this Dutch advert:

In 1930, the first Saharan Tourist Car Rally was won by four “Sans-Secousse” cars that demonstrated a high level of resistance. These cars were 14 hp sport roadsters, with no wings or other useless accessories, yielding a high weight to power ratio, separate springs in front and four leaf springs at the rear, with a Dion-type bridge; they could drive very fast even on low quality dirt roads.

The Twilight

In spite of all these achievements, the company was yet another victim of the 1930’s crisis. A “Sans-Secousse” cost twice the price of a six-cylinder Citroën.

The last car built by Cottin & Desgouttes was much more conventional, powered by a lateral 3.8-liter, six-cylinder engine.

Production stopped in 1931. In 1933, the last Cottin & Desgouttes, assembled with stock parts, were sold.

Lyon (Rhône) – 1904-1933