1900s / 1910s / 1920s / 1930s / 1940s / 1950s / 1960s / Amilcar / Arista / Citroen / Cottin & Desgouttes / Darl'mat / French / Giai / Morere / Panhard / Peugeot / Renault / Salmson / Wimille

Shedding light on a century’s worth of coachbuilt French cars

1924-guyot-speciale-3Régis Mathieu is known throughout the world for his work with chandeliers and light fixtures, but once a year he shifts his attention to cars and invites clients to display their vintage automobiles in his museum-like showroom.

Located in a small village in the picturesque Vaucluse department of France, the showroom is decorated – and lit – by over a hundred chandeliers that come from Mathieu’s personal collection, creating a very unusual decor. There are no harsh neons anywhere and each car is displayed below or next to a light fixture that was chosen specifically for it.

Fifteen rare, hand-built cars were on display at this year’s expo, which centered around the theme “shedding light on a century’s worth of coachbuilt French cars.” Our favorite of the lot was a 1952 Renault 4CV masterminded by successful pilot Louis Rosier. Intrigued by the rear-engined Renault’s racing potential, Rosier fitted a shapely, aerodynamic body built by Turin-based coachbuilder Motto to a stock 4CV chassis.

It is very interesting to look at the similarities between Rosier’s 4CV and the fiberglass-bodied 1955 Alpine A106 (displayed at last year’s edition of Mathieu’s expo, pictured left), the very first regular-production Alpine. The Rosier 4CV also bears more than a passing resemblance to certain Allemano-bodied 4CVs built in the early 1950s.

Another fascinating car on display is a Peugeot 203 converted into a tear-shaped coupe by Emile Darl’mat in 1954. Once one of the world’s largest Peugeot dealers, Darl’mat joined forces with several big names in the auto industry over the course of the 1920s and worked on making Peugeots more aerodynamic and considerably faster. His rise to international fame accelerated when a Peugeot 402-based Darl’mat 402 DS took fifth place in the 1938 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The 203 pictured below was inspired by a 202-based coupe built in the late-1940s. It was initially equipped with butterfly doors similar to the ones found on the Mercedes-Benz 300SL but normal doors were fitted following a test session on the Montlhéry track. The 203 was never raced for reasons that remain unknown.

As expected, the emphasis on coachbuilding – a once-lucrative industry that embarked on a steep decline after the 1960s – meant that most of the cars displayed in the 2014 expo were considerably older than the ones showcased last year. We thought the room was not as well lit as last year to the point where one car, a Panhard-powered 1960 Arista Coupe, was nearly impossible to photograph.

Nevertheless, the exhibit provided a chance to see extremely rare models built in a simpler time period when it was still possible for artisans to hand-craft a car in their spare time. In addition to the cars mentioned above, the exhibit included a 1908 Sizaire & Naudin voiturette, a 1913 Vermorel Type LC, a fascinating, plane-like 1921 Leyat Type Helica powered by an air-cooled three-cylinder that spins a pair of wooden propellers, a 1924 Cottin & Desgouttes, a 1926 Salmson Type GSC equipped with a San Sebastian engine, a 1928 Robur 8-Cylinder, a 1934 Guyot Speciale, a 1936 Amilcar Type G36 Pegase, a 1939 Georges Irat Type C3 powered by a Citroën 11CV-derived engine, a 1948 Wimille Type JPW (the brain child of none other than famed Bugatti pilot Jean-Pierre Wimille), a 1949 Giai Speciale and a 1949 Morere Type GML.

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