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Dear Prewar Editor:
Quiz #384 was both a Quiz & a Mystery. What it is, is quite clear. At least to some of you. With the help of jury member Alan Spencer we decided that Barrie Down came up with the best answer: "The French manufacturer Hotchkiss showed this unique prototype at the 1935 London Motor Show. The London coachbuilder Lancefield demonstrated the most recent of their Art Deco developments after a 1934 Siddeley Special and the 1935 Hudson 8 Transcontinental featuring slab-sided streamlining and built-in headlights. This example, designed by Jock Betteridge, illustrated more three-dimensional streamlining and is credited with being the first car to incorporate doors being carried over into the roof without rain gutters or glass panels for rain protection. In 1935 Hotchkiss produced a variety of 4 and 6 cylinder cars but the identity of this chassis is unknown." Congratulations Barrie!
Having said that, the mystery of the car that was last seen in the senties remains. One of our visitors has assured us that the owner of that era is still with us, so we can only hope he will pop up and tell a bit more.
There have probably been more 'unknown' cars through the years than successful ones. There are many reasons why some cars fall into the cracks of history, but, if we are being honest, most of the forgotten designs have been lost to time because they simply weren't very good. That can't be said of this glamorous Hotchkiss 686 Super Sports, bodied by English coachbuilder Lancefield in 1935. A rakish sporting saloon, the car featured doors dramatically cut into the low roofline to afford more access, low-set concealed Marchal headlamps and a sumptuous interior with built-in cigarette cases. The coachwork was finished in stylish grey with red coach lines.
So why has this exotic concoction been all but forgotten? Well, the car's debut, at the 1935 Olympia motor show, was also the first public airing of the Bugatti Aerolithe. One of the most beautiful and desirable cars of all time, it easily upstaged everything else in sight, and the poor Hotchkiss was left in the shadows, failing to find a buyer. It wasn't registered until 1938, by which time fashion had moved on and it was simply another old car, albeit a particularly dramatic one. The only known photograph of the car was published at the time by Automobile Engineer magazine, and is shown here. So who can show us an image of the front-end, so we can discover the secret of those concealed headlamps? Were they mounted behind the grille à la Peugeot 302? Last seen in the 1970s, the car would surely make a huge splash on the concours circuit today if it were discovered and restored – though it would still, no doubt, be upstaged by the newly recreated Aerolithe.
Remi Weber writes that he is quite happy about you - PWC visitors - identifying for him the Gregoire his grandmother was seated in. However he comes up with a new question. My grandmother is now seated in a...? At this point she is a married lady. The photo was shot in Damery, Champagne, France.
Editor: sometimes the surroundings may delure you. Especially a romantic place like the Champagne gives you the wrong mindset to ID a car like this which seems almost trivial in these surroundings. We agree it is not a Gregoire; more than that it looks like a 1922 Dodge Brothers... The only thing which seems wrong is the rather small headlights. Yet as the car has a well used appearance these lights may be a later addition.
When old car specialist Pierre Novikoff took a telephone call one day, little did he know what a discovery he was about to make. He took Matthieu Lamoure, Managing Director at Artcurial Motorcars, with him to a small village in western France . "It was a fairly indescribable feeling. On entering the gates of this property, we had no idea what we would find.” Their eyes fell upon different makeshift structures behind the gardens at the rear of the property. Corrugated iron roof panels were slowly collapsing on to dozens of exotic cars which had been stored here for fifty years.
'Probably much like Lord Carrington and Howard Carter, on being the first person for centuries to enter Tutankhamun's tomb, it really was a case of waking up sleeping beauty.'
Entrepreneur Roger Baillon ran a prosperous transport and truck-manufacturing business in the 1950s and amassed a large collection of cars which he dreamed of restoring for display in a museum. Part of the collection was sold in the 1970s and everyone thought all the cars had gone, but these 60 cars were hidden away on another part of the estate and have lain dormant ever since.
The list of cars includes mouth-watering rarities. A Talbot-Lago T 26 Cabrilolet once owned by ex- King Farouk of Egypt who led an extravagant lifestyle and owned a large collection of prestigious cars. Eight other Talbot-Lagos languish in these sheds, three with Saoutchik coachwork. The 1930 Hispano Suiza H6B Cabriolet with coachwork by Million-Guilet looks sound and will no doubt be good as new in years to come. There’s a Ballot Eight cylinder limousine tucked in there somewhere, an all-original Bugatti 57 Ventoux, a C 1925 Barré torpedo, a 1920s Citroën Trèflewith a little surface rust and a couple of Mathis cars.
A Delage D6 and a D8 are buried amongst these gems, three Lorraine Dietrich B3/6 models are lurking in the undergrowth, an early Renault AX torpedo and a cyclecar that sits on just 3 wheels – a 1920s Sanford looking complete and eager to run with a little oil and petrol. I hope we see it at Montlhéry next year. Indeed, it is fascinating to imagine all these cars finding new enthusiastic owners who will once again breathe life into them and raise a glass to Roger Baillon for doing his best to preserve them for us.
Text Robin Batchelor, pictures courtesy Artcurial.com
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