Sudden Fascination : 1 – Avions Voisin

Some cars you always liked – maybe those you recall your parents owning , or the one your rich neighbour had in the garage when you were small, or if you were lucky that your Dad raced. But sometimes you have a moment when you become aware of a car, or a marque that you never really noticed before. It hits you like a teenage crush.  The Sudden Fascination.

I  was sat in a deckchair outside my bookstand at Beaulieu Autojumble a few years back , looking a bit bored I assume, because the lady handing out complimantary back issues of THE AUTOMOBILE took pity on me and offered one. “To keep you awake!” she said with a smile. The headline cover story was “Chula’s Voisin”. Chula being B Bira’s cousin and racing team manager. It sounded promising so I casually started reading and within five minutes I thought these exotic French vintage cars were completely captivating. But I don’t think I had ever seen one, despite spending much of the previous 40 years at classic and vintage car events. Which of course made them all the more interesting. Bugattis I have seen by the hundred, but Voisins? No. Not one.

Almost a year later I was at Prescott for the VSCC hillclimb and along with another stall holder got invited for wine-and-cheese with some freinds who were competing and had a motorhome over in the camp field. While trying to locate them among the throng of other campers, tents, caravans and casually parked vintage cars we found ourselves face to face with “Chula’s Voisin” ,

a C7 model from 1926,  sitting unoccupied in the gathering dusk ; curious cheese-cutting radiator mascot, passenger-side spotlight  Wow! What a damned shame my camera battery had just died! “Voisin In The Dusk” with the sunset reflecting in the mid-blue paintwork would have made a nice shot. I drooled over the car untill the lure of previously un-tried cheeses from the North East and suitable accompanying alcoholic beverages enticed my companion to drag me away, figuratively kicking and screaming

And then, in 2016 at the LA VIE EN BLEU event which Prescott holds each year in celebration of all things French,  like the proverbial buses you wait for … two turned up together!

The black saloon is one of only two C14’s built and features bizarre art deco upholstery (below) while the much more lived-in “Drophead Saloon” looks to be, by far, the most conventionally styled car the company ever built. Both, I think, are owned by locally based collector of exotic cars Julia de Baldanza.

Last year at Presctt topped even that! Three cars appeared at the VSCC hillclimb and two of them competed… and one was the Chula C7 (below with owner Charles Pither) ! It even sported a Voison mascot-style timing strut on the front.

The other was a boat tailed giant with the most bizarre hood that I have seen in a long while!

Annoyingly I was tied to my bookstall for the duration and never saw either of them in action but I did manage to snap them in the paddock on the Saturday evening after the action had ceased. The remaining car was the C14 seen previously – this time you can see the famous art deco mascot had been left in place  – unlike in 2016.

 

At this year’s La Vie En Bleu(2019) the C174 reappeared once more along with one I hadn’t seen before in mid-green with a cream hood and chunky wheels that gave it a kind of American appearance. I have no idea what model this one is but it’s a very imposing piece of machinery! One could imagine a sharp suited man carrying a violin case climbing down from those running boards in prohibition-era Chicago!

The exact appeal of a Voisin is  hard to explain because Voisin didn’t, in all honesty, tend to produce the most attractive looking cars, per se. The cars above are really examples of his more conservative work. Believe me they got a lot stranger as time went on. Google “Avions Voisin C25” for a good example … very odd, I think you will agree?

OK, he didn’t have Bugatti’s eye for style – but then who else did?  The designs and the engineering principles that underpin them, distinctly individual and idiosyncratic, were influenced by Gabriel Voisin’s previous career in aircraft design. He produced a stressed-skin monocoque chassis  with entirely original aerodynamics for his Grand Prix car i he early 1920s and was obsessed with light weight and centre-of-gravity, which all sounds very like a description of Colin Chapman a generation later. He liked sleeve valve engines and built them in numerous formats up to a large V12 that was fitted to the even more exotic Bucciali. He included oddly simple solutions to matters like the operation of an electric horn, or window winders or door locking that generally went their own way and, while effective, didn’t seem to encourage immitators, or  the way the windscreen that could open along the top when similar screens of the era open at the base.  The man, and his cars were throughly original. he car were just not always very pretty…

For anyone looking to read up on the subject “The Book” has always been  AUTOMOBILES VOISIN 1918-1958 by Pascal Courteault , issued in French  with an English translation booklet by Peter Hull. This now fetches very serious money indeed with fine examples cimbing towards the four figure level in recent years– that is, if you can actually locate one for sale. This rarity is rather curious given that it’s one and only Limited Edition was not really very ‘limited’ in the accepted sense at a quoted 3500… The upshot is that by the time I became fixated on Voisin ,as a marque, I no longer had a copy in stock to satisfy my curiosity.

There are others: “MY 1001 CARS” is Gabriel Voisin’s autobiography written in 1962 and re published in English in 2012, and in a French text paperback in 2010,  ” GABRIEL VOISIN : JOURNAL D’UN ICONOCLASTE” by Serge Bellu, only available in French,  and  “VOISIN LE DIFFERENCE“by Philippe Ladure which in French & English . All three are somewhat cheaper but still in the £50-£100 bracket.

Think I might treat myself as this fascination for Avions Voisin isn’t going away at the moment.

More editions of the SUDDEN FASCINATION series to follow on this blog.

Thanks for reading.

 

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