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The Artistry Of The Automobile


The Artistry Of The Automobile

By: Brandon J. O'Brien
Images By: Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images unless otherwise stated

The Petersen Automotive Museum just recently showcased the Golden Era of coachbuilding of the 1920's and 1930's by presenting a number of automobiles perfected by some of the famous artisans of the era.

After the First World War the people of France, as well as the rest of the world, were ready for something new.  It was during this time that the carmakers and coachbuilders produced some of the most remarkable automobiles ever built.  They would start with simple sketches, reproducing the design by affixing narrow ion straps to the chassis and then create a wood frame, generally in ash, to which hand-formed sheet metal was attached.

Joseph Figoni set up his shop in 1923 initially restyling cars and then building complete bodies.  The shapes of airplanes fascinated Figoni.  Much of his work was centered on aerodynamics and creating the illusion of motion even when standing still.  This led to his use of tear-dropped shapes that can be seen in most of his creations.

Fignoni had a command of color and made great use of the recently developed Nitrolac metallic paints to present his cars in vibrant two and sometimes three-tone paint finishes.  The public loved this use of color when black was still the norm.

1934 Voisin C27 Roadster designed by Figoni et Falaschi for the Shah of Iran.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

It would be his creations for Delahaye, Delage, and Talbot-Lago that defined his reputation and established him as one of the finest coachbuilders.  He also loved working with the high fashion designers of the time having them design gowns, hats, gloves, and shoes that perfectly matched the lines and colors of his cars.  Nothing was left for granted.



1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C SS with coachwork by Figoni et Falaschi.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images




1939 Delahaye Type 165 with stunning coachwork by Figoni et Falaschi.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

Henri Chapron, another French coachbuilder started his enterprise in 1920.  He quickly developed a reputation for impeccably good taste.  Charon bodied a multitude of marques and models but it was his work for Delahaye and Delage that earned him some of his highest praise.




1953 Delahaye Type 178 with coachwork by Henri Chapron.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images




This 1938 Delahaye Type 145 was re-bodied in 1948 by Henri Chapron and used by him as his personal car.  Image Credit 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

He would be one of the few that re-emerged from The Second World War continuing his designs into the 1960's with his last being the Citron DS Chapron.

Although not an independent coachbuilder Jean Bugatti was an integral part of the family company and had already demonstrated his vehicle design abilities in the 1920's.  In 1932, at the age of twenty-three years, he did most of the design for the Bugatti Type 41 Royale.




This 1937 Bugatti Type 57C Aravis Cabriolet is one of eleven built and was designed by Jean Bugatti.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

Jean Bugatti designed three bodies for the Type 57, the Ventoux, Stelvio, and the Atalante.  Regarded as the finest of all touring Bugatti models the supercharged Type 57 was first displayed at the 1936 Paris Salon. His designs complemented his father's engineering skills making Bugatti one of the greatest names in automobile history.





1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic designed by Jean Bugatti.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images




This 1939 Bugatti Type 57C chassis has coachwork by Gangloff.  It is distinguished by its "long tail", roll back roof, and use of chrome trim.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

Pioneer French aeronautical expert Gabriel Voisin was an aircraft manufacturer who went in the other direction and started building automobiles.  Voision's chief designer, Andre' "Noel-Noel" Telmont was trained as an architect.  He was inspired by aviation and architecture and his designs presented wonderfully balanced Art Deco coachwork that featured new, modern, and aerodynamic themes.




The 1934 Voisin C27 Aerosport was designed by Andre' "Noel-Noel" Telmont and implies an aircraft cockpit and fuselage.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images




The 1935 Voisin Type C25 Aerodyne was actually penned by Gabriel Voisin.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon o'Brien / Motor Driven Images

Letourneur et Marchand was established in 1905 and by the 1920's had become the main supplier of bodies for Delage.  By the 1930's they were also building bodies for automakers such as Duesenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Rolls-Royce, and Minerva.




1937 Delage D8-120 Aerosport Coupe has coachwork by Letournuer et Marchand which were the primary suppliers for Delage.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images




The sculptured rear fascia of the Delage D8-120 Aerosport Coupe.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

Carrosserie Vanvooren was a French coach builder that concentrated on producing car bodies for luxury cars, being closely associated, during the 1930's, with the products of Hispano-Suiza, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Bentley.

Vanvooren's work with Hispano-Suiza evolved into a successful relationship that can be compared to the relationship Rolls-Royce had with Park Ward during that same period.  From 1932 Vanvooren provided bodies for more than a third of Hispano-Suiza's output of HS26, K6, and J12 models.




1935 Hispano-Suiza J12 with coachwork by Vanvooren.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

The Artistry Of The Automobile Jacques Saoutchik founded his company in 1906.  By the 1930's the company was famous for their high quality and often extravagant designs.  Saoutchik wanted to cater to the top-class. Design wise Saoutchik took every possible risk.  He never hesitated to embellish with chrome or even gilt to highlight the dominant lines of the coachwork to provide "visual magic".





1948 Talbot-Lago Type 26-GS with coachwork by Jacques Saotchik.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

Georges Paulin, between 1934 and 1938 was the designer for the French coach builder Marcel Pourtout.  He became the leading French stylist of the time.  All his designs were done with aerodynamics and fuel efficiency in mind. This design philosophy yielded small cars using small engines that were still fast.





1937 Peugeot 302 DS was designed by Georges Paulin and produced by Marcel Pourtout.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images




The body of this 1937 Delage D8-120 was also designed by Georges Paulin.  Image Credit: 2016  Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

Henry Brewster was the lone American represented at the Peterson.  In 1914 Brewster and Co. was chosen as sales agents for Rolls-Royce, Ltd. and would be the main body suppliers for Rolls-Royce in the U.S.  By 1925 Rolls-Royce would have chassis fitted with temporary seats and protection, to be driven from their Massachusetts plant to the Brewster building in Long Island City, New York to have bodies installed.




1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom I "Windblown" Coupe was crafted by Brewster & Co. of New York.  Image Credit: 2016 Brandon O'Brien / Motor Driven Images

The Rolls-Royce showrooms would soon offer 28 standardized body styles. This enabled them to be  able to deliver cars to their customers quicker, and for a lower price.  Customers would also be able to purchase models directly from the showrooms.  After Rolls-Royce of America folded, from 1931 to 1934 Rolls-Royce dealers and individuals shipped chassis directly from Britain to Brewster's large facility.

The Second World War was the beginning of the end for all the great coach builders and small manufacturers.  They never fully recovered and most were gone a few years after the war's end.  Mass production became the norm.  Automobile manufacturers were setting up to sell cars in the millions, not the hundreds that the great coachbuilders were able to turn out.  The Golden Era of coachbuilding had come to an end but we are blessed to still be able to appreciate this period of time.

TAGS: Art, Autoart, Auto Art, Brandon O'Brien, Brewster & Co, Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage, Figoni et Falaschi, Georges Paulin, Henri Chapron, Henry Brewster, Hispano-Suiza, Jacques Saoutchik, Jean Bugatti, Joseph Figoni, Letourneur et Marchand, Marcel Pourtout, Motor Driven Images, Petersen Automotive Museum, Peugeot, Rolls-Royce, Talbot-Lago, Vanvooren, Voisin


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