Unlike the Earls Court Motor Show, which is terribly tied up with the British Motor Industry and their trade union, the S.M.M.T., who only allow approved people who make the right sort of cars to exhibit, the Paris Salon is essentially a Motor Exhibition at which anything purporting to be a motor vehicle may be put on show, not necessarily to be purchased but for the public to see. Because of this the Paris Motor Exhibition always has a large collection of one-off machines, rare cars, small-production cars and oddities, as well, of course, as all the regular manufacturers. Also, being very free and open to the exhibitors, it is truly international, cars from Japan to America, by way of Europe, being on show.
It is this unusual atmosphere which makes the Paris Show worth a visit every year, especially for those who are interested in automobile developments and ideas, not necesaarily controlled by industrial and economic limitations. Whether one is interested in vehicles built regardless of cost or conventions, or in home-made-like economy cars, they are all there in the Grand Palais. Among the rare and interesting one can list the Eisenacher, yet another name for the products of the firm that used to be known as E.M.W. and which later changed to A.W.E. The new Eisenacher, built in the old B.M.W. works a few kilometres inside the Eastern zone of Germany, is a new approach for the firm, for it is a three-cylinder, water-cooled two-stroke car with front-wheel drive, and its affinity, mechanically, to the well-known 3 = 6 D.K.W. can hardly be a coincidence. On the stand was a large but shapely two-seater hardtop coupe, the neat top being held on by four strong over-centre clamps, and this model had a sports engine with twin carburetters and a water pump, some 50 b.h.p. being claimed from its 900 c.c. The other model, with normal 37-b.h.p. engine, was an enormous saloon, painted a most vulgar orange and black, and anyone who wonders about the work a two-stroke engine will do should see an Eisenacher.
Just across the aisle from East Germany was the Czechoslovakian motor industry as displayed by Skoda and Tatra. The Skoda was a rather dull little four-cylinder conventional vehicle, if one accepts backbone chassis, and all-round independent suspension as conventional. The Tatra 603, on the other hand, was one of those cars that other manufacturers should copy but do not, for it was a large smooth six-seater limousine powered by a 2½-litre V8 air-cooled engine mounted at the rear. Each bank of cylinders has its own cooling fan sucking air across the ducted fins and the outlet under the tail has a thermostatically-operated flap. With twin carburetters and obvious light weight, the performance of this limousine should stand comparison with any of its rivals, while a tidier installation of rear engine and air cooling could not be found. With no openings being needed in the nose to take in air, what would normally be a horizontal radiator grille is actually a glass window, behind which are mounted three headlights in a row across the front of the car. The only drawback would appear to be the cost of a new glass after someone has backed into you. The colour of the car was most unfortunate, being two shades of mauve, rather like the Dunham Rovers.
From Japan was exhibited a fairly mundane family saloon, called a Skyline Prince, and Mr. Austin and Mr. Roote must be fuming over the origin of the Japanese car as regards its general looks, though the Japanese are probably smiling blandly, for their idea of how Birmingham and Coventry should build cars has a de Dion rear-axle layout. From Sweden were shown two examples of Saab, the front-wheel-drive three-cylinder two-stroke of only 750 c.c., one being the normal 93B saloon and the other an open sports two-seater of very spartan and sporting character. The saloon has an interesting feature in that the rear seats will fold flat, giving access to the luggage boot, and as the lid hinges upwards it is possible to carry long objects such as trees, telegraph poles or ladders. This sort of usefulness can never be overrated for there are many people who find the need to do practical things like carrying unwieldy objects in their cars. The Editor will recall using a 2 c.v. Citroen to bring home a vintage aeroplane propeller, the rear of the 2 c.v. being convertible like the Saab, though the Swedish firm has made a much better job of the arrangement. The sports Saab, called the Sonett, has an all-plastic bodywork, the whole front hinging forwards like an Aston Martin, while the gear-lever for the front-mounted gearbox is in an open gate on the right-hand door sill, right-hand drive being employed because the Swedes, like the British, drive on the wrong side of the road.
France will undoubtedly always have its experimental engineers in the automobile world, who build a few cars but never get into production, and one of these is J. A. Gregoire. He was exhibiting a Gregoire Sport, which was actually a drophead coupe of very sleek appearance, having a platform chassis frame of Alpax, an aluminium alloy, and a body by Henri Chapron. This was a 2.2-litre flat-four engined car, with front-wheel drive and all-round independent suspension, and naturally using Tracta homo-kinetic joints in the transmission. Front brakes are disc, while those at the rear are by normal drum. Monsieur Gregoire still carries on his automobile activities in the old factory at Asnieres under the heading of Automobiles Tracta. Another old and dusty factory in Paris that still keeps struggling along is Talbot, under the direction of Anthony Lago, and his latest effort is to fit a 2½-litre V8 B.M.W. engine and gearbox into his rugged and vintage-like Lago-Talbot chassis, equipping it with the two-seater coupe body he has had for many years. On the Talbot stand were four examples of this Franco-German construction, the B.M.W. engine being equipped with two carburetters and filling the bonnet space in an impressive manner. This sort of small manufacturer is rather like our Frazer-Nash or H.R.G. concerns, trying to manufacture cars with very little equipment though having a basic idea of conventional manufacturing. In a rather despairing manner the latest Talbot is called the Lago-America.
Another activity prevalent in France is the building of strange devices around components from production strange devices, namely the 2 c.v. Citroen, 4 c.v. Renault and the VW. The Usine Moderne d’Application Plastiques, who operate at Bernon (Aube), were showing two quite sleek two-seater coupes made entirely of plastic, using 2 c.v. Citroen mechanical components, while the firm of de Pontiac displayed a true fantasy, also built on 2 c.v. parts. This had a wide flat body with a coupe top in Perspex, except for a small part behind the screen, which was metal; the interior was lined in mauve cloth but the object of the exercise was the exterior, which was covered in red-flowered dress material. It was exhibited together with a fashion model wearing a dress of the same material! Christian Kiener had a small stand containing a vast six-seater saloon and a bare chassis. This was a simple and not very rigid-looking box-section chassis frame with 11 c.v. Citroen wishbone and torsion-bar suspension at all four corners, and mounted out at the front, driving the front wheels was a Volkswagen engine and gearbox. Almost certainly a one-off.
On more serious notes were the Alpine and the Brissoneau, both built around 4 c.v. Renault components. The Alpine is in effect a Porsche-like Gran Turismo Renault, suitably modified and tuned, and is used effectively by French Rally exponents. The Brissoneau is an open two-seater special-bodied Renault 4 c.v. with the engine modified in a big way. It has a special 2-o.h.c. cylinder head, with a train of gears driving the camshafts, the main block casting being original Renault.
Tucked away in a corner at the last moment was the English Gran Turismo Peerless, about to go into production on the Slough Trading Estate, and using Triumph TR3 engine, gearbox and front suspension, but having a de Dion rear end hung and located on half-elliptic springs. Not yet being bone-fide manufacturers, the S.M.M.T. refused them admission to Earls Court, but the French, delighting in anything mechanical or automobile-like, gave them showing space.
The Italian Gran Turismo scene is truly impressive and was headed by Enzo Ferrari’s trio of 12-cylinder cars, a 4.9-litre America model with conventional G.T. coupe body, an open two-seater touring type body by Farina on a Europa chassis, and a Scaglietti-bodied Europa coupe, of the type which swept the board in the Tour de France. The Europa has a V12 engine, of 3 litres, with single camshaft to each bank, a gearbox mounted in unit with the engine, and open prop.-shaft to a rigid rear axle hung on half-elliptic springs and located by radius-rods. The front suspension is by wishbones and coil-springs and the chassis frame is built from elliptical tubing and is very rigid. In its true Gran Turismo form, with aluminium body by Scaglietti, it is certainly the most potent production car of this type and one of the prettiest. ln more sober form, with Farina body, weighing far too much, but being very luxurious, it is a luscious motor car for the promenades but not to be used for competition.
Trying to get in on the Ferrari market is Maserati with their six-cylinder 3½-litre Gran Turismo model, and they had two coupes on show, both with body by Carrozzeria-Touring. Pretty cars with a good potential, but they have yet to prove themselves, either in competition or users’ hands. Still one of the nicest little motor cars is the Abarth-Fiat with engine enlarged to 750 c.c. and fitted with the very sporting Zagato Coupe body. This was shown alongside an open two-seater version, also bodied by Zagato, but rather spoilt by an ugly air scoop on the tail to gather air for the radiator of the rear engine. Siata were also exhibiting, their two cars being built around Fiat 600 components, but being rather “boulevard-like” models, one an open 2/4-seater and the other a saloon. On the Pinin-Farina stand was the Abarth record breaker, with 750-c.c. Abarth-Fiat engine and special chassis. As an example of the art of tin-bashing and Perspex moulding it is truly remarkable, and, unlike lots of Pinin-Farina show models, this one really goes, as witnessed by the long-distance class records it took at Monza back in the summer. Another record breaker, but crude by comparison, is the single-seater Velam, or French-built lsetta. This tear-drop-shaped device has an open cockpit and large headrest, but ran well at Montlhery in setting up records in the ” fizzer-category.”
Two real Paris Salon “specials” were the Raymond Loewy-designed tiny two-seater coupe on a B.M.W. 507 chassis and the Oldsmobile Golden Rocket 88. The Loewy creation, in cream colour, is smooth in the extreme, though shaped more to blend with household components such as sewing machines, smoothing irons, radio sets or cocktail cabinets, rather than other motor cars. As Loewy runs an industrial design centre this is not surprising, but nevertheless the French firm of Pichon-Parat have made an excellent job of the body-building from the aesthetic viewpoint. Like the Loewy Jaguar of last year, the B.M.W. has the body fitted so tightly round the chassis components that the only place left for the spare wheel is inside the body, behind the seats. Getting this out through the doors and putting the punctured and muddy one back in again would he great fun. The Oldsmobile Golden Rocket should really be classed among the American Dream Cars, but this one is so good that it could almost stand amongst usable fast coupes like Ferrari Europa, 300SL, B.M.W. 507 and XK150. The all-golden finish was obviously motor-show stuff, but the size and general shape and conception were very good. There were no external frills or gimmicks, not too many impractical plastic areas, and a sleek simplicity of modern line, rather than a different shape simply for the hell of it. The steering-column continued in two diverging stalks to meet the wheel rim, and in the end of the column was mounted the speedometer, but some two feet forward of the actual steering wheel rim. Powered by an Oldsmobile Rocket 88 engine this tiny two-seater coupe would really go, but no doubt it will remain a Dream Car, for the body was not one that could be stamped out on a press very easily.
The galleries, like Earls Court, are full of mechanical interest and reveal the naked components that help the French industry to build cars, though, unlike Earls Court, these specialist manufacturers seem to be confined more to trimmings and details, rather than making everything for the industry, so that a manufacturer becomes merely an assembler. Hidden behind some books on a stand in the gallery was a complete power unit from a C.T.A.-Arsenal Grand Prix car, that ill-fated French racing car of the 1½-litre supercharged period of racing. Even on its motor-show stand it looked rather crude in its construction, though the general design by Monsieur Lory was intriguing. On the other side of the stand was the 1,500-c.c. four-cylinder Gordini engine, shown last year by Gordini and destined for his Formula II car which has never materialised. Coachbuilders in the Salon are muddled in with manufacturers and one of the funniest was Henri Chapron, who exhibited an enormous Rolls-Royce limousine which took up so much space that the rest of his cars were packed tightly together, making the stand look like a secondhand dealer’s bomb-site used-car lot.
There seems little point in going to the Paris Salon to look at the everyday products of the regular manufacturer, like going to Paris to eat roast beef and two veg. and drink beer, but all the regular car builders were on show, some, like Vauxhall and Bristol, with new designs, others with the same old stuff; they were all there, Jaguar, Aston Martin, B.M.C., Rootes, Alfa-Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, Renault, Simca, Citroen, Peugeot, Borgward, Mercedes-Benz, D.K.W., VW, and all the Americans, but these everyday cars are not of the true character of the Paris Salon and can be seen at Earls Court. However, I did find pleasing the XK150, the Mark III Aston Martin, the Coupe Borgward Isabella TS, the new D.K.W. Gran Turismo coupe, rather like a Ford Thunderbird, the Lancia Spyder and the new Alfa-Romeo Giulietta T.I. saloon, an obvious replacement for the 1,900 saloon for the high-speed Italian family.
While the Grand Palais remains old and venerable, with a musty appearance and an atmosphere of “horseless carriages,” the exhibitors still try and put on a gay show. Compared with the rest of France, which has subsided into a lethargic decay, the Salon was a bright spot, and, as always, worth a visit. — D. S. J.