This week I didn’t succeed in presenting as many coachbuilders as I had planned to, but after Chantilly next weekend I will make it up and continue with some grandiose coachbuilding legends from Paris!
The master coachbuilder of today’s article is Jacques Saoutchik (1880-1957), who was based in Paris, but his history goes back to the Russian Empire near Minsk. There he was born in a Ukranian-Jewish family as Iakoc Saoutchick.
Saoutchik left his fatherland in 1899 and moved to Paris, where he started a career in the furniture business. As a cabinet-maker he went into partnership with a small-time Parisian furniture builder in the Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine.
But his real ambition was to become a coachbuilder, so this was just a step in the direction to start his great French adventure. He worked hard to fulfill his ambitions and as it happened the coachbuilding craft suited him very well!
Already within a few years, in 1906, Saoutchik was able to found his own top-class coachbuilding company in Neuilly-sur-Seine, an up-and-coming industrial suburb of Paris. The first body built by the new company was on an Isotta-Fraschini chassis, which was a real high quality and meticulous job. After this many extremely stylish torpedo and transformable bodies were built on a variety of chassis. The company gained an excellent reputation and within 15 years his work yielded 40.000 USD, a piece! Saoutchik’s clientele counted Kings and Emperors, like Haakon VII (Norway), Haile Selassie (Ethiopia), Reza Pahlavi (Persia) en Rama VII (Siam).
Designwise Saoutchik was not afraid to set a new trend or add some extravagant looks to his designs with extra chrome or even glitz, which yielded him the nickname… Viollet-le-Duc. There was even a period when Saoutchik fell into the trap of excessve use of chromed ornamentation… His vision was that his work had to be like visual magic, with outstanding streamlined contours, expressed in the brightwork appliqué that adorned so many of Saoutchik’s bodies, highlighting the dominant lines of the coachwork. He had an outstanding sense for proportions and put a lot of thought in the body hardware, which often led to new patents. In 1922 he obtained a patent for a new type of cabriolet-construction and in 1924 he also patented a split V-front-windscreen with individually adjustable halves.
Saoutchik’s style can’t be described in one word, because he had multiple styles with changing emphasis, in keeping with the type of car it was to be. His coaches only appeared on prestige-car chassis such as Isotta-Fraschini, Delahaye, Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Voisin, Bucciali, Mercedes-Benz as well as the most powerful Panhard-Levassor models, to name some! One thing all the Saoutchik coachwork has in common is an identity that is STRIKING and immediately getting everyone’s attention!Some of his sports car designs were characterized by extremely low windscreens and rounded, stretched-out tails. Even the way he styled the spare-wheel covers, the bumpers, headlamps and even boots (trunks), all determined the styling which gave a car that special Saoutchik effect… a visual magic! Saoutchik took everything just a step further and so he also came up with some mechanical inventions. In 1938 he applied for a patent on parallel-opening doors, which were to be seen on a 1939 Renault Suprastella cabriolet.After WW2, as of 1947, many of his designs followed of the tapered teardrop, which often dominated the car’s silhouette and invariably dictated the shape of the wings. Saoutchik was also a bad boy because he copied some ideas from Giuseppe Figoni, Figoni in turn copying some ideas from Saoutchik! Sounds quite funny… : ), but generally Saoutchik’s work was highly appreciated by his fellow coachbuilders.Howard ‘Dutch’ Darrin of Hibbard & Darrin once said: “He was also one of the few coachbuilders in France then who wasn’t copying us in some way. I particularly remember his beautifully finished interiors. Yes, he was definitely a man with his own ideas”. Those ‘own ideas’ included many daring novelties like complex transformable bodies, sports cars with windshields which could be sunk in the body , parallel opening doors on pantograph linkages, etc. But it was that love for ornamentation for which he is particularly remembered.All those fine and elegant transformables, cabriolets, coupés and town-cars built by Jacques Saoutchik helped to set the luxurious atmosphere which was so much the essence of the Parisian chic. Not to forget all those honors awarded for his designs on the prestigious concours d’élégance from Paris to the Rivièra! Jacques Saoutchik died in 1955 after his son, Pierre Saoutchik, had become the head of the company in 1952 and had also taken over design responsibilities. All of Saoutchik’s coachbuilding methods had always been based on a separate chassis construction. Attempts to adapt to a monocoque construction did not succeed very well, like was the case with most traditional coachbuilders. Debts mounted and despite a contract with Pegaso in 1953 to make 25 Z-102 coupés and 12 Z-102 cabriolets, bankruptcy could not be staved off. In 1955 the factory closed permanently. A very sad moment in coachbuilding history : (Thank you Jacques Saoutchik for all your courage and great work, CHB loves it! Fortunately Saoutchik’s work lives on in many great collections and today his avant-garde designs are true ICONS and highly collectible.The theme of coachbuilders will be continued at a later stage. Next up is a prep week for Chantilly with some great articles about something that many readers will not be familiar with, unless you are Catholic…Written by Rosemarijn Atalante Veenenbos