The only thing more special than the shape of this Peugeot is its history – Car-Motor

Photo: RM Sotheby’s

On August 19 of this year, a unique opportunity presented itself to achieve a milestone in automobile history: on this day, one of the gems of French automobile construction, a 1938 Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Special Coupe, went under the hammer in Monterey, California. The car deserves the attention of the world for several reasons, but they can all be traced back to the same thing: a handful of dedicated French car enthusiasts, who, guided by their own ambitions and the spirit of the age, and helped by the whims of fate, found each other to raise the Peugeot to such heights for a short time t, where no other mass-market car manufacturer has ever been…

Pourtout, Paulin and Darl’mat – at the mention of these three names, every full-blooded car enthusiast’s voice becomes silent and their eyes become veiled. They were the art deco apostles of the French automotive industry, who in the 1930s dreamed up and realized dreamlikely elegant, at the same time terrifyingly efficient and fast sports cars based on the Peugeot 301, 302 and 402.

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If we want to simplify their role to the extreme, it was Marcel Pourtout: an extremely precise, reliable coachbuilder who started his business in the mid-twenties and ten years later was listed among the largest manufactories in the industry. Carrosserie Pourtout contracted designer Georges Paulin in the early thirties. He was the heart, who filled the streamlined forms, which were mandatory at the time, with a never-before-seen passion. His main work was clearly the world’s first openable hard top, the structure named Eclipse, but as the topic of our article shows, he was also a master of classic, closed bodies. Finally, the brain: engineer Émile Darl’mat, who earned the money by selling and repairing Peugeot and Panhard automobiles, which enabled him to live his passion: building engines with the highest possible performance.

Darl’mat and Pourtout already worked together at the end of the twenties, and the design of their car presented at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair (a special Peugeot 301) was already noted by the newly signed Paulin. That’s not why Peugeot paid attention to the trio: Darl’mat’s striking constructions developed for competition purposes piqued the company’s interest, in which they saw the possibility of a cost-effective and effective return to the world of motorsport. Their first joint work was based on a Peugeot 302 sedan. It was practically a version of the 402 with a shorter wheelbase and a smaller engine, but in other technical terms it was the same as the flagship of the brand. Darl’mat therefore took the larger, two-liter engine of the Peugeot 402 at the beginning of 1936 and increased its output from the already respectable 55 horsepower to a “terrifying” 70. Finally, he asked Georges Paulin to design the most beautiful, most streamlined body in existence in consultation with Jean Andreau (the eponymous designer of the legendary Peugeot 402 Andreau presented in the same year), considered an aerodynamic wizard. Paulin did not disappoint, the sports car with a wrapped rear wheel and a huge aluminum radiator grille connected with stylized, oversized aluminum rivet motifs to the aircraft considered to be the technological pinnacle of the era.

The car proved to be extremely popular, but instead of the planned comfort versions, almost all customers ordered the minimalist racing version. This was enough for Peugeot to embrace Émile Darl’mat’s plans for Le Mans, and a year later, in 1937, all three Peugeot Darl’mat Specials that entered the race finished in the top ten at the 24 Hours. All support was given to Darl’mat for the following year: the engineer was able to work with the latest version of the Peugeot 402, the lightened 402 Légère. It was shorter and wider than its predecessor, making it optimal for racing purposes. The resulting Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Special triumphantly won the 2.0-liter engine class at the 1938 Le Mans 24-hour race, and finished fifth overall. At that time, it was not yet possible to guess that with this achievement the motorsport program of Peugeot and Darl’mat had come to an end: in 1939 the team stayed away from the iconic Sarthe race, which then became the II. Due to the outbreak of World War II, he went on forced leave.

Although the collaboration was not long-lived, the Peugeot Darl’mat Special models were produced in relatively large numbers. 53 roadsters, 32 canvas convertibles and only 20 coupes were built. Six of the latter were built on the 402 Légère platform. Three of these six were lost or destroyed, so apart from the example now being auctioned, only two such coupes exist in the world.
According to research, this closed-body model with chassis number 705536 originally rolled out of the workshop gates in black and beige paint sometime towards the end of 1938, to be personally delivered by Émile Darl’mat as a Christmas present to Alfred Giauque, director of Peugeot’s factory motorsport program. , as a thank you for the effective support. The gesture was not only generous, but also symbolic, as while Darl’mat believed that the lighter roadster was a better choice for racing purposes, Giauque saw the future of motorsport in the more streamlined profile and stiffer structure of coupes.

Alfred Giauque’s new car miraculously survived the conflagration. In the decade and a half following the peace treaty, it changed hands twice, but it remained in the French capital all the time. At the end of the sixties, it was bought by a well-known North American collector, but on his estate in Nevada, the Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Special Coupe began a slow decline. In 2002, the miracle lying in half pieces was bought by a body shop specializing in vintage vehicles, and then sold for an unknown amount to its current owner, who immediately ordered a meticulous restoration of the car. The work lasted for two years, and after participating in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2004 for the whole world to admire in its shining splendor, the careful owner continued to perfect the project. The past two decades have been spent with the coupe’s incessant, competent care and refinement, and the restoration of period-correct elements – the photos published in the auction catalog and also visible in our article attest to what quality.

After its owner felt that he could do no more for the former racing car, he now let someone else do the honor of giving the car the respect and attention it deserves. Of course, this came at a price: this gem of Peugeot history changed hands for 885 thousand dollars, i.e. 365 million forints, which can be considered quite a bargain considering the coupe’s history and importance.


Source: Autó-Motor by www.automotor.hu.

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