"Avions Voisin" C14 Chartre


At the last Retromobile in Paris, I was particularly struck by a French car "Avions Voisin". A blend of elegance (interior) and volume as well as details of finishes make it unique to my eyes. Although very old, the lowered roof gives an almost aggressive look, lenticular wheels are also modern details for the period. For me it was the car of the year...

The Voisin Chartre—the name coming from its factory code designation—was offered during 1931-1932. Its styling achieved the pinnacle of Art Deco design. The Chartre was created by the legendary car designer, Andre Lef√®bvre, who penned the bodywork for both six-cylinder and slightly larger 12-cylinder versions simultaneously. The purity of his highly original design, combined with Voisin technical concepts and construction, resulted in a vehicle justly proclaimed to be, "...a diamond of the car industry."

Car mascots were all the rage at the time, in order to prevent worse, Voisin saw no other way than to make his own mascot. His feelings for this piece of ornament are well reflected in the name he gave her: nothing nearly as poetic as the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy”. No it was “La Cocotte”. French for “chicken” or (more commonly in the period) “prostitute”. This Art Deco harlot stood about 23 cm high.

The C14 utilized a 2.4-litre 6-cylinder engine featuring the patented Knight-type sleeve valve design, which helped the engine operate in relative silence. The valving permitted great intake transfer, comparable to a modern multi-valve engine. Gabriel Voisin also discovered that it could take higher compression ratios than poppet-valve contemporaries of the period, so he continued to refine his sleeve-valve engines after numerous other luxury nameplates abandoned them for layouts that were less expensive to produce.

The C-14 drive-line utilized the famed Voisin-developed transfer box system in conjunction with a conventional transmission to effectively provide a low- and high-speed range for each forward gear. It was controlled by Cotal electric relays operated via switches on the steering column. Additional technical features included power assisted braking and Voisin worm-gear steering.

This Chartre is especially rich in the sort of details that characterize Gabriel Voisin's most magnificent automotive creations: the safety door handles, tail lights and luggage compartment fixtures on the sides are all expressive of the great designer's quest for artistic functionality.

Befitting its artistic significance, the interior was re-upholstered in fabrics identical (in structure and colors) to the original Paul Poiret fabrics found in the car—the very detailed work being carried out on a Jacquard loom.

The powerful 6-cylinder Voisin engine and well-balanced chassis make this C14 Chartre a very comfortable and enjoyable car for its era.

The C14 Chartre is a veritable summation of everything that makes a Voisin one of the world's most interesting and distinctive cars. The innovative systems of its chassis and powertrain equipment will certainly fascinate those of a technical bent. And the eccentricities of the car's accoutrements will delight those with an eye for the extraordinary (the safety door handles, for example). But it is the sheer, unmistakable audacity of its lines and the breath-taking modernism of its Art Deco interior that make one almost gasp with amazement—if certain cars are ever to achieve the status of great works of art, surely this Voisin will be among them.

This car is one of two C14 Chartre models known to exist, the second being kept in a Swiss foundation. (In addition, one 12-cylinder example survives.) This car received a Best In Class award for amateur restorations when shown in a special Voisin exhibit at Pebble Beach in 2006. The current owner entrusted the well known UK historic car restoration company of Blakeney Motorsport to re-commission the car as necessary, work to the following areas was carried out: the front and rear axles, brakes, road springs, shock absorbers, steering and the Cotal Gearbox.

Digging the web, I found this other irresistible model the C20 Mylord "demi berline"model with V12 engine, I'm completely struck now!