[Updated with answers] Starting tomorrow, a whole nother French Deadly Sins series will also look at this great era (and others), so let’s see revisit our classiques a bit. This photo, probably taken in the summer of 1954, purports to display the “New French Automobiles for 1955.” It’s a fairly good spread. How many can you name?
I blanked out the box, obviously. But there are a few interesting omissions in the photo, as well…
Which of these would you fancy taking home?
I’ll post the image’s missing text box as soon as — but let me tell you right now: even back in the ’50s, copy editing was not an exact science. There are some interesting issues with that text and with this selection of cars.
So here’s the photo with the text:
NEW FRENCH AUTOMOBILES for 1955 include (front row, from left to right): the Salmson 13CV limousine, the 7CV Peugeot 203, the 3CV Rovin, the 5CV Panhard “Junior,” and the 7CV Simca “Grand Large.” Back row, from left to right: the 11CV Renault “Frégate,” the 15CV Citroën (with hydropneumatic suspension), the 11CV Citroën, the 22CV Ford “Monte-Carlo,” the 7CV Ford 203 (behind the “Monte-Carlo”), the 12CV Hotchkiss-Grégoire, the 4CV Renault “Sport,” the Simca town coupé (behind the “Sport”), the 2CV Citroën, the 5CV Dyna Panhard and the 22CV Ford “Vendôme.”
Lots to unpack there already. First off, that there Salmson isn’t a “limousine” — neither the English nor the French usage of the term could fit the 2300 S. Same with “Simca town coupé” — its correct name is Simca Sport Coupé de Ville; that last bit, being part of the name (the convertible was “Simca Sport Week-End”), should not have been (mis)translated. And the “15CV Citroën” is really a 16CV Citroën 15-Six, a common enough mistake.
But I really must object to the “7CV Ford 203.” That’s a Peugeot 203 saloon, not some newfangled French Ford. Those are present with two heavyweights: the gorgeous Monte-Carlo, derived from the Ford Comète, and the glitzy Vedette Vendôme. Both were launched in 1953 with the big 3.9 litre Mistral flathead used on Ford SAF’s trucks and aimed at the Hotchkiss / Delahaye clientele. Not many took the bait, but then aside from draining its gas tank with unparalleled gusto, the Vendôme wasn’t much better than the plain old 13CV Vedette. The all-new 13 CV Vedette, absent from this picture but seen in October 1954, became a Simca in January 1955.
It seems most of you were stumped by the Rovin, that partially obscured little red car in the middle. These were some of the remnants of the Second Great Microcar Epoch, which began under the German occupation. The times were tough, but a huge variety of designs were attempted: EVs, pedal-cars, two-strokers, gazogenes, three-wheelers, FWD or rear-engined… They came in all shapes, but only in a size S. This continued after the war, albeit usually with petrol engines. This pretty Galy above, made in 1954-55 and powered by a single-cylinder two-stroke 250cc, could also have appeared somewhere in our ’55 French cartastrophe, next to that Rovin D4.
Launched in 1946, Robert de Rovin’s rear-engined “Motocar” was apparently one of the best of its kind. It was built at the old Delaunay-Belleville factory in Saint-Denis, which was almost akin to seeing Reliants coming out of R-R’s Crewe works. In the end, they really couldn’t compete with the Citroën 2CV and Renault 4CV, which had two extra doors and seats, at pretty much the same price. The D4 was Rovin’s final model; production stopped in 1954, but sales continued for about three additional years.
I’m not sure why this Hotchkiss-Grégoire is in this picture. my reaction was “Hotchkiss for 1955? Nope. Does not exist.” Looking into it, production stopped before June 1954 and sales were extremely poor: only seven FWD Grégoires and about 50 RWD Hotchkiss were sold during the first eight months of 1954. Hotchkiss had announced its merger with Delahaye in March of that year — and stated their intention to launch a new model. They did produce a couple of their Monceau saloons (and one coupé) to feature something at the Grand Palais in the fall of 1954, but this hasty reskin of the Hotchkiss 3.5 litre chassis was dead on arrival. So no, that one is definitely not a new French car for 1955.
There are a few missing pieces, too. For one, if Hotchkiss is allowed in, then why not the Delahaye 235? Production stopped in early 1954, but some were only sold a long while later. Chapron had some in stock until 1957.
Beyond such ghostly figures as the Delahaye, one could also picture a small horde of tiny sports cars, nipping at the 235’s well-fed heels. Alpine (who, to be fair, only got started in the spring of 1955), Arista, Autobleu (which bears its name well, in this case) and DB were representatives of this new generation of small sports cars, represented in the picture only by the Panhard Junior. These were not made in very big quantities, but at least equivalent to Hotchkiss or Salmson.
And where, may one ask, is Talbot in this picture? Already erased from all living memory? In the summer of 1954, Talbot-Lago could sell you a 4.5 litre 6-cyl. T26 GSL like the one below, or one of the handful of ugly Record saloons still in stock like the one above.
At FF 2.8m a pop in late 1954, the GSL was the most expensive French production car. Times were tough, but Talbot were busy working on a completely new car that, strangely enough, would be made to look exactly like the present model being made (in frighteningly small numbers) at the Suresnes factory. The new car would not be shown before April 1955.
Until this one came along, of course. Another missing car (the last one, I promise) is the Facel-Vega. The prototype was shown to the press in late July 1954 and they raved about it for weeks. The FV was a tad too short, so the production cars, from early 1955, are the slightly longer FV1. Okay, I’ll give that one a pass. A bit short-notice and brand new, the Facel-Vega ended up being the quintessential new French car of 1955.
So, yes. Just found a nice period picture that sparked something in me, and thought I’d share with the group…