STAR CARS AT BONHAMS BELGIAN AUCTION
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1937 CITROEN ‘TRACTION AVANT’
"The car that André Citroën envisaged – the immortal Traction Avant (Front Wheel Drive) – was to be quite unlike anything that he had produced before, a truly 'clean sheet' design so dramatically new in every respect that its appearance would send shock waves reverberating around the motoring world. Intended to give a five-year lead over his rivals, it remained in production for almost twenty-five." – so wrote John Reynolds in his book, ‘André Citroën – The Man and the Motor Cars’.
A curious mixture of romantic visionary and practical businessman, André Citroën was determined that economic depression and a contracting car market would not prevent him introducing a revolutionary new model, which he was convinced would ensure the future of his company. It did just that, but not until after Citroën had lost control of his empire when a minor creditor commenced legal proceedings against him. Within two years, new owner Michelin had paid off all of Citroën's debts.
Citroën's brainchild, the 7C 'Traction Avant' (seen above in 1937 convertible form) broke new ground in almost every aspect of production car engineering on its launch in 1934. Unitary construction of the body/chassis, front wheel drive, all-independent suspension sprung by torsion bars, hydraulic brakes, synchromesh transmission and a four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine were all incorporated in the new car at a time when the majority of its rivals employed a separate chassis, cart springs, side-valve engines and mechanical brakes. This ground-breaking specification would have counted for little had the result not worked in practice, but the Traction soon gained a well-deserved reputation for exceptional stability and exemplary handling that endures to this day. The 1.3-litre original was soon superseded by larger-engine versions and from 1935 there were two four-cylinder models available - the 1,628cc 7C and 1,911cc 11CV - to which was added a 2.9-litre 'six' - the 15 - in 1938. Production resumed after WW2 and lasted until 1957 when the Traction Avant was replaced by the equally revolutionary 'DS'.
"No single automotive design better characterises the motor industry's late 1950s flamboyance than the 1959 Cadillac, which incorporated totally new styling" – that was the opinion of James T. Lentzke, the editor of the Standard Catalogue of Cadillac.
Founded by Henry Leland and Robert Faulconer, the Cadillac Automobile Company of Detroit, Michigan completed its first car in October 1902, the firm's superior precision manufacturing technology soon establishing it as the foremost builder of quality cars in the USA. Cadillac was among the pioneers of the V8 engine and introduced the first synchromesh gearbox on its 1929 range. Always innovators in automobile technology, the company continues to produce cars recognised everywhere as symbols of wealth and prestige.
During the 1930s it seemed that almost every year brought with it a landmark advance in the development of Cadillac's long-running V8 engine, which by the decade's end had been rationalised to a single 346ci (5.7-litre, 150bhp) variant, the expensive V12 and V16-engined coachbuilt models having been dropped.
The Series 62's beautiful Fisher-built 'Projectile' or 'Torpedo' bodies had first appeared on the 1940 range and featured a revised front-end treatment for '41, establishing a pattern that would last for several years. Only detail changes were made in the immediately post-war years before the range was comprehensively restyled for 1948, emerging with Harley Earl's Lockheed P38-inspired tail fins for the first time. With 150 horsepower on tap, the Series 61s and 62s had a decent turn of speed while the chassis was considered remarkable for its manoeuvrability.
Although Earl's tail fins had made their debut the preceding year, 1949 was nonetheless a landmark year for Cadillac, this season's models being the first to benefit from the company's new 5.4-litre, overhead-valve V8. Replacement for Cadillac's long-running 5.7-litre sidevalve, the new engine was untypical in having over-square bore/stroke dimensions and, despite the overhead valve gear, managed to be both more compact and lighter than its predecessor. A maximum output of 160bhp meant that 100mph was within the reach of most models, with comfortable cruising between 80 and 90.
Revisions for the succeeding few seasons were chiefly limited to styling changes. Hydraulically operated 'power' windows was a feature of the Convertible and Coupe DeVille by this time, while Hydra-Matic automatic transmission was standardised from 1950 on all Series 62 models. The Series 62 was the larger of the two mainstream Cadillac model lines, being positioned between the 'small' Series 61 and the long-wheelbase Series 75 reserved for the Fleetwood-bodied limousines.
A new X-braced chassis frame enabled the 1957 Cadillacs to feature longer, lower bodies - 13 styles in total - all of which sported dual rear lights and tail fins larger than before. Automatic transmission, power steering and power-assisted brakes would continue to be standard on all models.
After the big mechanical changes for '57, Cadillac confined itself to facelifts the following year before stunning the world with its '59 range, which represented the zenith of the 'tail fin' era. Quite apart from its outlandish styling, as controversial today as it was back then, the '59 line-up marked the introduction of a new 390ci (6.4-litre) 325bhp V8 engine. Now widely recognised as one of Cadillac's best, the new power plant was almost completely overshadowed by the coachwork it propelled; with their pillar-less profile, huge tail fins, glitzy chrome, colour-matched interiors and 'jukebox' dashboards, the 1959 Cadillacs are peerless icons of a bygone age and among the most highly prized of all post-war American automobiles.
1938 PEUGEOT 402
“Paulin became the leading French stylist of the time... Everything he touched was designed with aerodynamics in mind. He was very conscious of fuel efficiencies and the aerodynamic efficiencies that could be created by the lines of the car. You could go faster, which meant you could put a smaller engine in the car..." – that quote comes from the book ‘From Passion to Perfection: The Story of French Streamlined Styling, 1930-1939’ by Richard Adatto..
The 1930s was a period when automobile engineers and stylists first began to apply the principles of aerodynamics to passenger car design, a movement that would result in some of the most breathtaking works of automotive art that the world had ever seen. One stunning example of this trend was the exclusive series of streamlined roadsters, coupés and cabriolets styled by Georges Paulin and built by the French coachbuilder Marcel Pourtout for Émile Darl'Mat, whose Paris-based company was one of the world's largest Peugeot agencies.
The Peugeot 302 chassis was used at first, fitted with the larger (2.0-litre, later 2.1-litre) four-cylinder overhead-valve engine of the 402. Introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 1936, the 302 lasted for only 18 months, though its short wheelbase chassis would live on in the 402 Légère.
Darl'Mat was a passionate champion of the Peugeot marque and longed for it to return to racing, particularly at prestigious home events like the 24 Heures du Mans. Using his considerable influence, he obtained the factory's blessing for a limited run of sports cars worthy of Peugeot's sporting legacy. He was one of a select few dealers able to offer custom coachwork to his customers, and Peugeot was more than happy to supply him with whatever he needed, so long as the orders kept rolling in.
Darl'Mat enjoyed a close relationship with Marcel Pourtout's successful carrosserie on the outskirts of Paris, and together the two men would create some of Peugeot's most memorable – and beautiful – automobiles. Marcel Pourtout had founded his coachbuilding business in 1925 and produced unremarkable designs at first, though that all changed when he was joined by Georges Paulin.
A dentist by profession, Paulin understood aerodynamics and had impeccable taste. He worked for Panhard, Unic and Peugeot, for whom he designed the 1934 'Eclipse' featuring a retractable steel cabriolet roof, a construction he patented. In 1940 Paulin joined the French Resistance to fight the Nazi regime but was arrested and executed. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government.
Pourtout built around 105 of these streamlined cars for Darl'Mat between 1936 and 1939, and examples of the roadster ran competitively at Le Mans in 1937 and 1938. Demonstrating Paulin's conviction that a car did not necessarily need a large engine if it was effectively streamlined, three Darl'Mat Peugeots finished in the top ten in 1937, with the best placed example of Pujol/Contet coming home 7th overall, while the following year the Darl'Mat of de Cortanze/Contet finished 5th overall, winning the 2-Litre Class.
Many years later, while restoring the ex-Dorothy Patten and Baron Rainer von Dorndorf's Darl'Mat roadster, the owner found this very sound Peugeot 402 Légère and realised that its chassis was identical to the roadster's. A tool-room copy of the roadster body was made and the result is the car seen here: a fitting homage to its designer, Georges Paulin.
Meticulously restored to the highest standard between 2017 and 2019, this superb car benefits from extra horsepower courtesy of a high-compression cylinder head and twin Solex carburetors mounted on a special Memini intake manifold. Power is transmitted via a Cotal electromagnetic gearbox to the Pilot wheels. Offered with restoration bills, French Carte Grise and Contrôle Technique, this pre-war icon is a pleasure to drive, a feast for the eyes, and ready for racing or any Concours d'Élégance.
1957 FACEL VEGA
In its relatively short life, the French firm of Facel produced approximately 2,900 cars, all of which were stylish, luxurious and fast. Hand built, they were, of course, necessarily very expensive – the Facel II was priced in Rolls-Royce territory – and were bought by the rich and famous seeking something exclusive and distinctive. The roll call of owners includes royalty, politicians, diplomats and entertainers: Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, Ringo Starr, Joan Fontaine and Ava Gardner being counted among the latter. Confirming that there was high-performance substance behind Facel's unquestionable style, they were owned and driven by great motor racing figures such as Sir Stirling Moss, Maurice Trintignant and Rob Walker.
Founded by Jean Daninos in 1939, Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure-et-Loir (FACEL) specialised in the construction of aircraft components and metal furniture. After the war the company engaged in the supply of car bodies to Panhard, Simca and Ford France, before branching out into automobile manufacture in its own right with the launch of the Vega at the 1954 Paris Salon. Government legislation had effectively killed off France's few surviving luxury car manufacturers after WW2, but that did not deter Jean Daninos in his bold attempt to revive what had once been a great French motoring tradition.
A luxurious Grand Routier, the Vega took its name from the brightest star in the Lyra constellation and featured supremely elegant coupé bodywork welded to a tubular-steel chassis. There being no suitable French-built power unit, Daninos turned to the USA for the Vega's, that chosen initially being Chrysler's 4.5-litre, 180bhp V8, while there was a choice of push-button automatic or manual transmission.
Improvements to the first FV model were not long in coming, the FV1, introduced in March 1955, featuring a lengthened wheelbase for increased rear seat room and a 4.8-litre, 200bhp Chrysler V8. A few FV1 cabriolets were built, but Daninos was not keen on soft-tops and production concentrated on fixed-head coupés, although there was also the Excellence, a limited-edition four-door saloon on an extended wheelbase.
An improved model, the HK500, appeared in 1957. Maximum power was now around 360bhp courtesy of the latest, 5.9-litre (later 6.3-litre) version of Chrysler's 'Hemi' V8 and top speed rose to around 140mph, making the HK500 one of the fastest cars of its era. Power steering became an option and Dunlop disc brakes were adopted as standard equipment in 1960. Capable of effortless and virtually silent 120mph cruising, the HK500 possessed, according to The Motor magazine, 'a brilliant combination of good comfort and quite exceptional roadholding.' HK 500 production amounted to just 500-or-so units between 1958 and 1961 and today this rare Franco-American Grande Routière is highly sought after.
An automatic transmission model, chassis number 'HK1 BG5' was manufactured in February 1960 but was not delivered (via Facel's USA agent) to its first owner until 1962, which is when it was first registered. These details are recorded in the accompanying letter from Amicale Facel Vega, Holland, signed by Dr Hans G Ruhé of the Facel Vega Register and dated 24th November 2001, which also states that the car was then 'in need of full restoration'. The car was delivered with 6.3-litre engine and three-speed automatic transmission and was equipped with disc brakes all round.
1966 MASERATI MISTRAL
Maserati's survival strategy for the 1960s centred on establishing the company - which hitherto had mainly concentrated on its Grand Prix and sports car racing activities - as a producer of road cars. The Modena marque's new era began in 1957 with the launch at the Geneva Salon of the Touring-bodied 3500 GT. A luxury aluminium-bodied '2+2', the 3500 GT drew heavily on Maserati's competition experience, employing a tubular chassis frame and an engine derived from the 350S sports car unit of 1956.
Suspension was independent at the front by wishbones and coil springs, while at the back there was a conventional live axle/semi-elliptic arrangement. The 3500 GT's designer was none other than Giulio Alfieri, creator of the immortal Tipo 60/61 'Birdcage' sports-racer and the man responsible for developing the 250F into a World Championship winner.
The twin-overhead-camshaft, six-cylinder engine was a close relative of that used in the 250F and developed around 220bhp initially, later examples producing 235bhp on Lucas mechanical fuel injection. Built initially with drum brakes and four-speed transmission, the 3500 GT was progressively updated, gaining five speeds, front disc brakes and, finally, all-disc braking.
Last of the classic six-cylinder Maseratis, the Pietro Frua-styled Mistral commenced production in 1963. The 3.7-litre version of the famous long-stroke engine was fitted to most cars, other options being the 3.5-litre or, from 1966, the 4.0-litre unit, all of which came with Lucas fuel injection.
A handsome two-seater on a shortened, square-tube chassis, the aluminium-bodied Mistral was built in coupé and spyder versions, the former's opening rear window hatch making it unusually practical for a sports car. A five-speed gearbox, disc brakes and fuel injection were standard equipment; automatic transmission, air conditioning, and a limited-slip differential the options. Production ceased in 1970, by which time a total of 828 coupés and 123 spyders had been built.
1928 MERCEDES 630K
At the end of The Great War, both Daimler and Benz went back to producing cars. Trading conditions in the early 1920s though, were extremely difficult: the war had left Germany's economy in ruins and there was rampant inflation. Of the 86 German car factories operating in 1924, only 19 were in existence three years later. If the two great rivals were to survive, it would have to be in partnership. On 1st July 1926, Daimler and Benz completed their merger, the two companies having paved the way with a technical co-operation agreement in 1924. By this time, Paul Daimler, founder Gottlieb's son and the company's Chief Engineer, had moved to Horch, his place being taken by Professor Ferdinand Porsche. Like his predecessor, Porsche was an advocate of forced induction and although he would leave Daimler-Benz in 1928, his legacy was a range of supercharged Mercedes motor cars that are the stuff of legend.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft had introduced the world's first supercharged production cars, the 6/25/40hp and 10/40/65hp four-cylinder models, at the 1921 Berlin Automobile Show. (The three figures refer to nominal rated horsepower, horsepower un-blown and horsepower with blower engaged respectively). On his arrival early in 1923, Porsche busied himself further developing the blown four and eight-cylinder racers designed by Paul Daimler, and the 15/70/100hp and 24/100/140hp supercharged, six-cylinder production models that would debut at the Berlin Automobile Show in 1924.
After the 1926 merger these were reclassified as types 400 and 630. That same year a 'K' (Kurz = Short) version became available for the first time, on a wheelbase reduced from 12' 4" to 11' 2" (3,750 to 3,400mm). Displacing 6.3 litres, the 630K's single-overhead-camshaft six-cylinder engine produced a mighty 140PS (138bhp) with the Roots supercharger engaged (by pressing the throttle pedal to the floor) and in this specification the 630K could justifiably claim to be the world's fastest production touring car, with a top speed of over 90mph (145km/h).Affordable by only the wealthiest of connoisseurs, the 630K was produced in strictly limited numbers, only 150 being completed between 1926 and May 1929.
In Germany these would have been bodied by the likes of Erdmann & Rossi, Reuter, Papler, Zschau, and Balzer while others were fitted with 'factory' coachwork by Sindelfingen, that seen here being one of the latter. Chassis number '35419' was built to commission number '39213' and delivered to the Sindelfingen coachworks on 12th April 1928 to be fitted with a four-seater sports-tourer body (number '917272'). This body is noteworthy for the additional cooling louvres let into the top of the bonnet, a feature at that time only employed by the factory for competition cars and which later became standard on the S, SS, SSK models. The bonnet is still stamped with the chassis number and the body number's last four digits.
The 630K had been ordered by Daimler-Benz for use by the factory in concours events and competitions, and in June 1928 the car and the man who would become its first private owner - Dr Robert Krailsheimer of Stuttgart - participated as a factory entry (number '76') in the ADAC Reichsund Alpenfahrt, finishing penalty free and winning a Gold Medal. Following its appearance at an exhibition in Düsseldorf on 16th July 1928, '35419' was reunited with Dr Krailsheimer for the first Internationale Alpenfahrt (International Alpine Rally) held between 12th and 18th August 1928 (number '47'). An accomplished gentleman driver and respected Mercedes-Benz client, Dr Krailsheimer finished this demanding event with no penalty points, coming home in 2nd place behind W R Wittich's 630K to earn a coveted Gold Medal.
Dr Krailsheimer regularly competed with success against celebrated Mercedes-Benz works drivers such as Rudolf Caracciola, Fritz Nallinger, Otto Merz, and Adolf Rosenberger, an achievement all the more remarkable given that his role as Director of Stuttgart's St Katarina Hospital restricted him to racing during his summer holidays only!
According to the factory Order Book, '35419' then took part in a concours event in Bad Neuenahr in September 1928. The following year, on 4th July 1929, the 630K was released to Dr Krailsheimer and collected on the 29th of that same month. Looking to repeat his success of the previous year, Dr Krailsheimer entered his Mercedes in the second Internationale Alpenfahrt, held between 7th and 11th August 1929. He again finished the event penalty free to secure a second Gold Medal, finishing behind the two works-entered SSKs of Wilhelm Merck and Georg Kimpel.
The Internationale Alpenfahrt was among the most challenging motor sports events of the pre-war era, taking in some of the highest mountain passes in Europe, which in those days meant driving on gravel roads. Run through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, the 1928 event covered a distance of 1,763 kilometres, while in 1929 the long-suffering competitors faced covering a tormenting 2,500 kilometres in only five days.
Founded by Henry Leland and Robert Faulconer, the Cadillac Automobile Company of Detroit, Michigan completed its first car in October 1902, the firm's superior precision manufacturing technology soon establishing it as the foremost builder of quality cars in the USA. Improved throughout the 1920s, Cadillac's V8 engine underwent wholesale revision for 1927 and was enlarged to 341ci (5.6 litres) the following year. The chassis too had seen considerable change, four-wheel brakes being standardised in 1924 and hydraulic shock-absorbers in 1928 when the adoption of under-slung rear springs and an increased wheelbase enabled longer and lower body lines, these new models marking the arrival of master stylist Harley Earl at General Motors.
During the 1930s it seemed that almost every year brought with it a landmark advance in the development of Cadillac's long-running V8 engine, which by the decade's end had been rationalised to a single 346ci (5.7-litre, 150bhp) variant, the expensive V12 and V16-engined coachbuilt models having been dropped. The Series 62's beautiful Fisher-built 'Projectile' or 'Torpedo' bodies had first appeared on the 1940 range and featured a revised front-end treatment for '41, establishing a pattern that would last for several years. Only detail changes were made in the immediately post-war years before the range was comprehensively restyled for 1948, emerging with Harley Earl's Lockheed P38-inspired tail fins for the first time. Progressively enlarged, this signature styling device would reach its zenith in 1959 before fading away. With 150 horsepower on tap, the '48 Series 61s and 62s had a decent turn of speed, while the chassis was considered remarkable for its manoeuvrability.
Introduced at the Berlin Motor Show in February 1933, the Typ 380 (W22) was powered by a straight-eight overhead-valve engine of 3.8 litres capacity, while the chassis was an all-new state-of-the art design featuring independent suspension all round: by wishbones and coil springs at the front and swing axles at the rear. As such it represented a significant advance in roadholding and handling compared with the offerings of rival manufacturers, most of which still relied on beam axles and cart springs.
In basic form the Typ 380 came with 89bhp on tap, while if specified with the optional Kompressor (supercharger), two types of which were available, maximum power was raised to either 118 or 138 horsepower. There was also a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh on the upper two ratios, plus hydraulic drum brakes on all four wheels. Despite being widely admired for its refined chassis and powerful engine, the Typ 380 ceased production in 1934 and is one of the rarer Mercedes-Benz models of the between-the-wars period.
According to the Daimler-Benz factory archives, only 154 examples of the Mercedes-Benz 380 K were manufactured in 1933 and 1934. This small number included all body types, so this Cabriolet B is indeed a rare specimen. Although details of the first decades of the car's life are obscure, it is known that chassis number '95309' was delivered on 9th January 1934 to its first owner in Barcelona, Spain with the beautiful Cabriolet B coachwork it still wears today, as confirmed by Mercedes-Benz Classic (details on file). Equipped with Kompressor, heater, an additional headlamp, and side-mounted twin spare wheels, the car has an impressive appearance from all angles.
1961 CADILLAC BIARRITZ
With their jet fighter styling, glitzy chrome trim, colour-matched interiors and jukebox instrumentation, Cadillacs of the late 1950s/early '60s epitomise an era when nothing succeeded like excess. Their over-the-top tail fins remain controversial even today.
Founded by Henry Leland and Robert Faulconer, the Cadillac Automobile Company of Detroit, Michigan completed its first car in October 1902, the firm's superior precision manufacturing technology soon establishing it as the foremost builder of quality cars in the USA.
Cadillac was among the pioneers of the V8 engine and introduced the first synchromesh gearbox on its 1929 range. Always innovators in automobile technology, the company continues to produce cars recognised everywhere as symbols of wealth and prestige.
By the late 1950s Cadillacs incorporated new X-braced tubular chassis frames that increased structural rigidity while making possible lower body lines without loss of interior space; although hardly any larger than before, these restyled and low-slung Caddies looked bigger, which was all that mattered. They also sported fashionable tail fins. General Motors' chief stylist Harley Earl had introduced fins on the 1948 Cadillacs and the device would reach its zenith in 1959 before fading away.
For 1960 the fins were toned down just a little and the overall look was slightly more restrained. A more extensive cosmetic makeover distinguished the 1961 models, while beneath the skin the troublesome air suspension was replaced with rubberised springs. All models came with a 390ci (6.4-litre) 325bhp V8 engine under the hood. Base-model Series 6200 cars featured power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmission as standard, while the DeVille 6300 Sub-Series offered power windows and seats in addition.
Now part of the DeVille range, the Eldorado Biarritz Convertible added power vent windows, whitewall tyres, and a remote control trunk lock to the mix. Priced at $6,477, the Biarritz Convertible was one of the most expensive cars of its day and sold in commensurately low numbers, only 1,450 being made out of a total Cadillac production of 138,379 units in the 1961 model year.
1935 JAGUAR SS1
"Yet there was no doubt about the thrust of the style; it was a long bonnet and a low roofline, a small well-furnished interior, and a distinctive recognisable "face". It had character, it had style, it set fashion more than it followed it, and captured with astonishing precision the idiom of the sports racer, the rally car, the vogue-ish look for which Lyons had a supreme aptitude." – that was the opinion of Eric Dymock in his book ‘The Jaguar File’.
Forerunner of the marque 'Jaguar' from SS Cars Ltd of Coventry, the SS1 predated yet epitomised the later advertising slogan, 'Grace, Space, Pace.' 'SS' originally stood for the Swallow Sidecar & Coachbuilding Company, which had been founded in Blackpool, England by William Walmsley in 1922. The company branched out into motor manufacture in 1926, its first major success being an attractive sports saloon on the Austin Seven chassis.
The design was the work of Walmsley's business partner, William Lyons, whose future Jaguar creations would confirm his reputation as one of the British motor industry's most gifted stylists. Relocation to Coventry followed and the Swallow range expanded to include models on Morris Cowley, Wolseley Hornet and Standard Sixteen chassis.
Marque status arrived in October 1931 with the launch of the SS1, a close-coupled coupé. Based on that of the Standard Ensign 16hp, the SS1's low, under-slung chassis was designed by Lyons and supplied exclusively to Swallow by John Black's Standard Motor Company, which also provided the 2.1/2.6-litre six-cylinder side-valve engines and four-speed gearbox.
Lyons' design for the body was startling: the SS1's excessively long bonnet, tiny passenger compartment and helmet-type front wings suggesting that it represented the ultimate in high performance. In so doing, the SS1 went some way towards establishing the pattern for future Jaguars, combining sporting good looks with a better-than-average specification and all at a bargain price. Indeed, so successful was Lyons' new venture that production of Swallow-bodied cars ceased altogether in 1933 and SS Cars Limited was formed, initially as a subsidiary of the Swallow sidecar-building business.
The SS1 body style was revised for 1933 and the engines up-rated with alloy cylinder heads and improved manifolding, advances that raised the top speed to 75mph (120km/h). For 1934 the SS1 gained a new wide-track chassis and slightly enlarged Standard engines of 2,143cc and 2,663cc, while the body - now available in four different configurations - underwent yet another restyle. In this, its final form, the SS1 remained in production until 1936, by which time 2,503 examples of this ultimate version had been made.