Tag Archives: Bonhams

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Return to the Grand Palais

Our Special Correspondent visited the recent Bonhams Sale at the majestic Grand Palais, as ever he cast a keen eye over the cars assembled, here he shares some thoughts with us.

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A welcome back for cars in the Grand Palais, home of the prestigious Paris “Salon de l’Automobile” from 1901 to 1961. This impressive building with its extensive glass vaulting and iron and light steel frame was constructed for the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900 and was duly opened on 1 May that year. The Motor Show outgrew it and was re-located to the capacious exhibition halls at the Porte de Versailles but it did not take the atmosphere with it!

Well done, Bonhams, for choosing such a nostalgic setting for your auction! Here are a few of the more interesting cars put up for sale:

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1916 Packard Twin Six

In May 1915 Packard made history by introducing the world’s first quantity produced V-12 engine. It was a 60 degree L-head unit of 6,950 c.c. and over 30,000 were made before production ceased in 1923. The smooth running of this engine is said to have inspired Enzo Ferrari to adopt the V-12 configuration for his own cars. And it was in a Packard Twin Six that the American President, Warren Harding , was driven to his Inauguration in 1920, the first time a president travelled by car to this important ceremony.

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Here is a Packard V-12 engine.

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Marion Bobcat Speedster

Speedsters and Roadsters like this were all the rage in America in the five years or so before the Great War, with the Mercer Raceabout and the Stutz Bearcat the most well-known. The Marion was one of those numerous makes that hailed from Indianapolis and, interestingly, their Chief Engineer from 1906-10 was Harry C. Stutz who would certainly have had some input in this car which is thought to date from 1911.

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1921 Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost Alpine Eagle

The 40/50 Rolls-Royce was introduced in the autumn of 1906 and soon became known as the “Silver Ghost”. It was the car that established the company’s reputation and was the only model produced from 1907 until the introduction of the “Twenty” in October 1922. This variation arises from the sporting activities of one James Radley who privately entered his Silver Ghost for the 1912 Austrian Alpine Rally and found that the car would not climb the Katschberg Pass owing to the inadequacy of its 3-speed gearbox. As can be imagined, this did not go down well back at the factory in Derby and their answer was to develop a car with more power, to fit a new 4-speed gearbox and build four special cars and enter a “works” team of three plus one for James Radley in the 1913 Austrian Alpine event. These cars did very well, winning six awards. With honour restored, the company decided to build a series of customer cars to the same specification and these were called officially the “Continental” model. However, the Chief Tester Ernest Hives, later Lord Hives, nicknamed them “Alpine Eagles” and the name has stuck ever since!

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1928 Detroit Electric Model 95

Electric cars were popular in America until the late Thirties. Detroit Electric was one of the main manufacturers and it is estimated that this company produced over 35,000 such cars in the three decades of its existence, all with similar looking bodywork. Even in the earlier days of production these cars had a range of 70 miles and could reach 45 m.p.h. – oh dear, we have not come very far since!

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1977 Stutz Black Hawk VI Coupé

The Stutz rose to become one of America’s most prestigious makes by the time of its demise in the mid-Thirties. Harry Stutz made his first car in time to take part in the first Indianapolis 500 race in 1911 where it finished 11th. This enabled Stutz to proclaim his slogan “The Car that made Good in a Day”, and there was a demand for replicas. Stutz cars were very involved in competitions in those early days and the company was turning out such racy production cars as the Bearcat roadster, initially with Wisconsin engines before Stutz started making their own in 1917. The Stutz name was revived in 1970 in New York and the ex-Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner penned this extravagant design. The bodies were made in Italy and the cars used GM mechanicals, this one using a Pontiac V8. Although various body styles were available, the cars were very expensive and only about 60 were produced. The above car takes its name from a famous Stutz sporting car which in 1928 very nearly beat the Bentleys at Le Mans!

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1948 Tatra T.87

Hans Ledwinka was the genius behind the remarkable Tatra cars. His trademark was all independent suspension with a backbone chassis, and he presented in 1934 the stunning T.77 which had a futuristic aerodynamic body on typical Ledwinka mechanicals but with a rear-mounted air-cooled V8 engine. Initially this car had a centrally placed steering wheel, an idea copied by the Panhard Dynamic and the McLaren F1 road car, but more importantly the body gave a co-efficient of drag of only 0.21, exceptional for that time. Despite the engine giving out a mere 59 b.h.p., the T.77 could reach 87 m.p.h. Its weakness was in the handling department with all that mechanical weight concentrated at the back and Ledwinka answered this by drawing up the T.87 in 1936. This was shorter and lighter and had a 3-litre V8 which gave the car a 100 m.p.h. performance with a still impressive drag of just 0.36. The T.87 remained in production until 1950 and among its clients were Ernst Heinkel, Erwin Rommel, Felix Wankel and King Farouk of Egypt.

TAILPIECE

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This is an example of the Fiat 238 van that claims a place in the company’s history because it is the first production Fiat to have front-wheel drive. The mechanics are based on those of the Autobianchi Primula car.

David Blumlein, February 2013    

Un Siècle de Génie Automobile Français au Grand Palais

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Bonhams recent sale in Paris was also the scene of a tribute to ‘A Century of French Automobile Genius’. Held in the majestic location of the Grand Palais, just off the Champs Elysees, the auction house, with support from Peugeot and Citroën, assembled a collection of around 30 cars that illustrated the major contribution that the French have made to the development of the automobile.

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The setting of the Grand Palais for such an exhibition is of course extremely apposite, given that this was the site of the Paris Salon which was held there for many years until the show outgrew the hall.

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As with any collection of fine automobiles they are all equal, but inevitably some are more equal than others and while I recognise the quality of the very early cars, some dating back to the 19th Century, my own preferences are more modern. Star of the show as far I could see was the two tone Bugatti Type 57 C Coupé Special dating back to 1938.

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About as original as is possible, right down to the wiring loom and electrical components, the car was used by Ettore Bugatti and Jean-Pierre Wimille prior to World War Two. After the Fall of France, Grand Prix ace and Le Mans winner for Bugatti, Robert Benoist, prudently hid the vehicle to ensure its safety. Benoist, recruited into the SOE to organise and support the Resistance, did not survive himself, being captured twice by the Gestapo, eventually he was murdered at Buchenwald in 1944.

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The Type 57 was returned to Bugatti at the end of hostilities and it was subsequently used as a test bed for new ideas and components which explains the Lockheed Hydraulic brakes. It was, and is, utterly beautiful and desirable, well we can all dream.

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From the lofty expression of automotive art that is the Bugatti, I was drawn to the familiar functional shape of the Peugeot 905, this example being the actual car that Geoff Brabham, Eric Hélary and Christophe Bouchut drove to victory in the 1993 Le Mans 24 Hours. The Peugeots swept all before them in that last gasp of the Group C era.

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With power in abundance from a 3.5 litre V10 engine and staggering amounts of downforce these were some of the fastest race cars ever built, at Silverstone in 1992 the Peugeot would have qualified on the second row of the British Grand Prix, and this from a car designed to race for 24 hours.

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It was interesting to compare this thinly disguised Grand Prix car with the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, a diesel powered endurance racer that, in 2009, routed the much vaunted Audi Sport team. This example was the second placed car at Le Mans that year, narrowly beaten by their sister car.

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Much more in touch with the real world was the Citroën 2CV, introduced to an expectant public in 1948 who were clamouring for simple, inexpensive solutions to their motoring needs. With nearly four million examples made in the following decade, this quirky looking car came to symbolise the French automobile industry.

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Another Citroën with a record of success is the World Rally Championship Xsara WRC which racked up win after win in the hands of Sebastian Loeb, cementing the French manufacturer’s domination of top flight rallying in this century.

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Back to the time when the French car industry seemed to be an offshoot of the Louvre, so elegant were the designs, is the Delage D8 Torpédo, built in 1931. The Delage factory at Courbevoie was the most modern of its time and its produce was snapped up by celebrities and Royalty alike, the looks have weathered the test of time.

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From the early days of motoring, the De Dion Tricycle and the Peugeot Type 17 illustrate the birth of the French motor industry. Other absolute classics on hand were a Bugatti Type 54 Grand Prix car, a Talbot Lago T26 Cabriolet and two more icons from Citroën, a 1953 Traction Avant and a DS19 Décapotable. The latter was originally an adaptation by Henri Chapron that the factory eventually adopted for their own.

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Only on for two days during the Bonhams Sale, the exhibition flowered brightly and briefly, certainly worth an hour or two in Paris.

John Brooks, February 2013