This is the first time I’ve ever been to anything like this. I mean, I’ve been to the odd local car show or museum, but this one was more on a par with Pebble Beach or the Villa d’Este. There were some seriously rare and gorgeous automobiles at this event, which I will try to condense in a pair of photo-heavy posts of pure car porn.
I was back in Europe for a quick business trip recently and managed to meet up with the old family. We all live in different countries, so this happens pretty rarely. However, I turned 40 this year and my sister is hitting 50, so that was the occasion, for the first time in many years, spend a weekend together – just us four (ex-)kids with our parents. My younger brother, who lives in Geneva, spotted an advert for a classic car show and got us tickets. The birthday boy was pleased.
It turned out to be even swankier than I imagined. In its fourth edition, the event was taking place on the grounds of the Château de Coppet, situated along lake Geneva. Some marques were especially celebrated this year, including Bentley and Citroën, which were both turning 100 years old. There were more Bentleys on these lawns than any other marque. This gargantuan 8-litre coupé were just jaw-dropping.
There were also some very nice late ’30s Derby Bentleys, but the sheer magnetism of the 8-Litre was irresistible. So here’s another one, complete with superb interior, of course.
Citroëns were less prominent and more recent, but a couple of interesting Tractions were present, including this rare 1935 two-door faux-cabriolet, with right-hand drive. I don’t know its story, but it looks like a French-built car – they could be ordered with RHD in most countries before the war. Those door cards look rather fishy…
It’s post-war but I’ll park it here anyway: an extremely attractive 1949 convertible made in Switzerland by Worblaufen on a 15-Six platform – one of a handful. Finding an exotic custom-made Traction like this would have been the pinnacle of my day normally, but in this case I barely took the time to notice it. For there were so many great-looking neighbours to gawk at.
There were a number of Bugattis, as they were also celebrating the marque’s 110th anniversary. I’ll limit myself to just three. This adorable 1920 Type 22 Brescia was the oldest of the lot. Originally launched in 1913, the Brescia’s 1.6 litre straight-4 featured, for the first time on a production car, four valves per cylinder. Front brakes weren’t on the options list, though.
Flawlessly executed 1932 coupé, designed by Jean Bugatti and bodied in Molsheim on a Type 49 chassis. This car’s 3.3 litre straight-8 features a single overhead camshaft, but was now limited to three valves per cylinder.
Finally, the Type 57 – the zenith of the marque, but also its greatest hit. For 1938, the straight-8 chassis received hydraulic brakes. This particular 57 also packs a Roots supercharger, for a whopping 160 hp and features a one-off body by Alsatian coachbuilder Gangloff. Perhaps not the most graceful of all Bugatti 57s, but I still wouldn’t chuck it out of my garage.
There was a sizable contingent of Delahayes as well, the occasion was the marque’s 125th anniversary. With the exception of a large 1912 tourer, all were Type 135s from the marque’s heyday – the ‘30s and ‘40s.
This strangely coloured cabriolet was bodied (and probably painted) in Bern, capital of the Swiss Confederation. The other three 135s present were all made by Henri Chapron, one of Delahaye’s most favoured carrossiers, right until the marque disappeared in 1954.
This coupé, though drop-dead gorgeous, was not all there: the engine was missing! Makes for a very nice sculpture, all the same. And it saves fuel.
But the best-looking Delahaye 135 was this black and red four-light coupé. It looked ready to be driven down to the Riviera at a moment’s notice, its big 6-cyl. roaring through the Alps.
Two Mercedes-Benzes were especially noteworthy. The oldest was absolutely massive two-tone green 630K, powered by an equally substantial supercharged 6.2 litre OHC straight-6. The model was initially designed by Mercedes Technical Director Paul Daimler, but he left the firm abruptly in 1922, leaving the 630 to be finalized by none other than Ferdinand Porsche, who arrived from Austro-Daimler in early 1923 and stayed on with Mercedes for six years. This is also one of the first true M-Bs, Daimler and Benz having joined forced in 1926.
This 1938 Mercedes-Benz 320 (W142) Cabriolet B has either a 3.2 or a 3.4 litre 6-cyl. engine. These were produced from 1937 to 1942 in a bewildering array of body variants, all made in Sindelfingen. There were, for instance, four factory W142 drop-tops: the two-seater Cabriolet A on a short chassis; the two-door four-seater Cabriolet B and the four-door Cabriolet D used the saloon’s chassis. Finally, the Cabriolet F (or Pullman-cabriolet) was a massive LWB seven-seater.
There’s nothing like a Voisin. Every chassis and factory body was designed by aviation pioneer and all-round mad genius Gabriel Voisin, in his own inimitable style. Until the late ‘30s, Voisins always featured sleeve-valve Knight engines – in this case, a 3-litre straight-6. The C23, launched in 1931 while Voisin were briefly owned by Impéria, was usually sold with this factory saloon body. The C23 chassis was made in 335 units until 1934 – a pretty respectable score for this marque.
I love that Gabriel Voisin designed this outrageous mascotte almost out of spite. In the early ’20s, his clients kept pestering him for one – something distinctive, like Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Exctasy. Voisin thought the idea utterly preposterous and thus tried to design the most ridiculous shape he could think of. He also named it “La Cocotte.” It soon became a distinctive part of the cars’ character and stayed on the radiator until Voisin’s luxury car production ended in 1939.
There weren’t many American cars at this event, unfortunately. In the pre-war category, the only Detroit representative was this dignified V12 Packard. The Packards of 1934-36 are the best-looking of the decade by a mile – slightly streamlined, but still a pure classic.
The Packard V12 was a 7.3-litre giant with side-valves, which grew to 7.8 litres a year later. I couldn’t find a coachbuilder’s plate on this one – Le Baron, Rollston, or factory body? Here’s hoping somebody might know…
An ocean away from Packard, William Lyons was busy transforming his plucky Swallow Sidecars concern into the SS marque – now signifying Swallow Standard, as all of the car’s oily bits were sourced from Standard Cars of Coventry. Available as a four-door, convertible and this streamlined two-door saloon, the 1935 SS 2.5 litre can arguably be presented as the first Jaguar, though it was only officially called that a few years later.
And finally, the car we started off with – and one of the most impressive of this blue-blooded bunch: the glorious Hispano-Suiza. These were made in France by a Spanish company run by Geneva-born engineer Marc Birkigt. They were direct competitors with the likes of Duesenberg, Maybach and Rolls-Royce. The 5.2 litre K6 was launched in 1934, replacing the legendary H6 as the “small” 6-cyl. Hispano. The senior J12 chassis, by comparison, had a 9.5 litre V12.
The Hispano-Suiza marque’s convoluted history was cut short when the French branch quit making luxury cars in late 1937 to focus on aero engines. This particular car has been the subject of several articles and web pages (including Sotheby’s, where it was sold in 2013 for a mere US$2,255,000).
That’s it for the time being. I hope you enjoyed reviewing these ancient glories; the post-war stuff will be just as exclusive – and even more eclectic.
Car Show Classic: Surprise Airshow Unicorn…by Packard, by MarcKyle64