In 1902, Martini acquired a license to build Rochet-Schneider designs and began production, rapidly establishing its reputation as Switzerland's most exclusive manufacturer. In 1903, a Martini stole the headlines by ascending the Rochers de Naye cog wheel railway, an astonishing 11-km ascent with an average gradient of 22%. The car was driven by English entrepreneur and gentleman, Captain H. H. P. Deasy of London. Deasy's stand at the February 1904 Crystal Palace Show in London displayed the famous car and there is conjecture as to whether the car pictured here may be just that car. Certainly, it would star in any centenary celebration of that event. The present owner acquired the car in 1995 from a Dr. Crofton in England whose family had owned it for many years, prior to which it was understood to be in Ireland. At that stage the car comprised a complete, unrestored rolling chassis including engine, clutch, gearbox, front and rear axles, steering and some bodywork. Careful research turned up period photographs of similar cars and a racing two-seater body was constructed in period style. A meticulous restoration was carried out on all mechanical features including a full engine rebuild with new pistons, valves and all new bronze bearings. The gearbox was rebuilt, timing gears remade, the clutch relined and fitted and the magnetos restored. New drive chains and tires were fitted as a matter of course. The current condition and presentation of the car is of a very high order. Since restoration, the car has successfully completed significant motoring events in Belgium and Switzerland and is capable of touring at over 80 kph. The coachwork is superbly hand finished in crème livery with dark red lining matching the chassis detail and wheels. The minimal upholstery is in tan Connolly leather. Driving equipment includes Dubrulle six-drip racing lubricator, dash-mounted auxiliary fuel tank for mountain climbing, Decker of Neuchatel oil side lamps and spectacular acetylene headlamps by Adenich of Paris, with side-mounted Ducellier acetylene generator. This most impressive, Swiss-built, sporting gentleman's motor car features double chain drive and enjoys the benefit of mechanical valves, a four-speed gearbox with reverse and a later electric starter has been added for convenience. The car is UK registered and comes with a Science Museum Certificate of Date and a UK certificate of roadworthiness.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1903 Martini 41/18hp 4.1-Liter Type Rochers de Naye
Years Produced:1903
Number Produced:100 (unconfirmed and very doubtful)
Original List Price:1,000SFR per horsepower. This would make the car in question 18,000SFR.
Club Info:Veteran Motor Car Club of America, 2030 Calvary Rd., BelAir, MD 21015-6413
Alternatives:1903 Rochet-Schneider 16 or 20/22HP HP tourer; 1903 Daimler tourer, with an in-line four displacing more than 6 liters; or anything older than I am.
Investment Grade:B

This Martini Type Rochers de Naye sold for $298,294, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Geneva auction, March 10, 2003.

This car’s story really starts in the 1860s in northern Switzerland, where a small manufacturer named Friedrich von Martini patented a bolt-action rifle. Among its many admirers was the British Army, who paid for the rights to make it standard issue for Her Majesty’s Infantry.

Martini’s oldest son Adolph was fascinated by Gottlieb Daimler’s motorized carriage, and in 1888 Adolph tried to build one of his own. The experiment was a failure, and the elder von Martini was not pleased. But Friedrich passed away shortly thereafter and Adolph took over the firm. In 1898 and 1899 two prototypes were built using twin boxer engines mounted in the rear, but this attempt also proved unsatisfactory. Instead, the firm began building a model under license from Panhard at the turn of the century. By 1902 Martini was producing a V4-powered car with 8, 10, 12 and 16 horsepower engines.

Martini switched to a design from Rochet-Schneider, a well-established French automaker from Lyon. This new car was very advanced, with a steel-reinforced wooden beam chassis and an inline four-cylinder that displaced a shade over four liters and developed 18 hp. Other models with lesser power were also offered. About 100 cars were built in 1903.

The Swiss firm had built a new factory, with Adolph serving as works driver and instructor (at that time, as part of selling a car, you had to teach a customer how to drive it). Deasy was signed to become the exclusive exporter of Martini automobiles. The Captain had a flair for promotion and, in fact, as mentioned above, did drive a four-door phaeton up the railroad bed at Rochers de Naye, a peak near Montreux, Switzerland.

Despite frequent financial reorganizations, the Martini firm continued production until 1931 when, like many other deluxe marques, it closed the doors.

This Martini was a lovely old car, and somebody who wanted it paid a pretty penny for it. If the new owner is planning on starring in his own “centenary” celebration of the fabled hillclimb (actually a fairly common public relations stunt for its time), he should be aware that Captain Deasy drove a four-door phaeton, not a two-door model, the 14/18hp version (14 for fiscal, 18 for actual power), up the hill. Though there was a two-seat 14/18hp model built, the “Rochers de Naye” Racing Two Seater coachwork pictured here is really the result of an imaginative, and attractive, rebody in the last decade.

No matter. The buyer got a 100-year-old vehicle that’s very usable, being capable of 50 miles per hour. His 4.1-Liter has eyeball appeal to match its performance, even if recently commissioned. The market for old cars like this continues to increase, and I would think that this car will prove to be a very good investment. To the new owner, I wish “Happy Trails,” and may you never have to exercise the feeble brakes by trying to stop in a hurry.-Raymond Milo

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