As we continue with the Parisian coachbuilders, today is the turn for Vanvooren who was located with his workshop in the north-western Parisian suburb of Courbevoie. This coachbuilder was one who built on high class chassis like Hispano-Suiza, Bugatti, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Delahaye and Delage. A great example of one of his creations is the 1939 Bugatti 57C Atalante that won an award at Chantilly. Vanvooren is best known for his work from the 1930s on those grandiose chassis of the era, but the company had already been active from 1910 and persisted until 1950. Vanvoorens style could be described as advanced with a conservative elegance, combined with very high standards.Achille Vanvooren did good business with those expensive marques… He had a separate showroom at 33 Rue Marbeuf which is in the exclusive 8th Arrondissement of Paris. How he achieved this? Achille Vanvooren started in 1910 producing bodies for carriages and cars in which he was very successful and he gained a great reputation in a short period of time. For sure his work is to be called exclusive as the production remained small. In 1919 things changed as the companies’ technical director and Achilles’ son-in-law Marius Joseph Dasté took over the leading position, together with his partner Guillemet. The name of the company changed into Dasté & Vanvooren. They acquired a license for Weymann body construction in 1924 and some years later in 1929 M.J. Dasté applied for patents on a flexible metal-reinforced car-body structure using ‘Silentbloc’ rubber anti-vibration mountings and joints manufactured by a neighbouring firm called Repusseau & Company (Repusseau et Cie). These were used to connect the massive steel ladder frame chassis of the luxury cars of the time to the Vanvooren timber frames of the bodies. The construction successfully eliminated the unavoidable squeaks and rattles that had hitherto been a feature of large coachbuilt cars. They also removed the risk of timber bodies becoming torn in response to excessive flexing from the steel chassis to which they were attached. This evolved out of a collaboration with his new business partner Robert de Prandière. Vanvooren bodies of Dasté construction were exhibited at the 1930 Paris Motor Show and licenses were sold to Hotchkiss, Hooper and Windovers. Soon more than 40 European carriage builders acquired licenses to apply the Vanvooren/Dasté patent.Vanvooren had worked closely with the luxury car maker Hispano-Suiza who was located just a few hundred meters from the Vanvooren factory. From 1932 Vanvooren built bodies for more than a third of Hispano-Suiza’s output of their HS26, K6 und J12 models! In 1932 M.J. Dasté left Vanvooren to become head of the automobile branch of Hispano-Suiza, making Vanvooren the de-facto house supplier of Hispano-Suiza bodies, mostly cabriolets.Vanvooren also produced a number of bodies on the Bugatti T57 chassis and devoted a lot of effort to Rolls-Royce and Bentley, even to the extent of building the body for the Paulin- designed Bentley ‘Corniche’ prototype of 1939. Like with Hispano-Suiza, a good relationship was built up with Bugatti, which resolved from a friendship between Robert de Prandières (previously Dasté’s partner at Vanvooren) and Bugatti’s Paris agent Dominique Lamberjack. During the 30s different Bugatti chassis were clothed with Vanvooren bodies, such as the types 43, 44, 46, 49, 50, 55 and 57. Vanvooren built approximately 20 bodies for the Bugatti Type 57, including four cabriolet bodied Type 57S models. Also the T46 ‘Petit Royale’ received a Vanvooren creation, shown at the 1929 Paris Motor Show. Other special Vanvooren creations for Bugatti were the T50 which featured in the 24 Hours Le Mans race of 1931!In 1939, a very unique Type 57 was commissioned by the French government as a wedding present for the future Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It was based on a design by Figoni & Falaschi intended originally for a Delahaye 165 chassis, and has a flamboyant style quite out of keeping with the restraint characteristic of Vanvooren’s other work of this time. The car survives in the USA where it is often shown at concourses and shows. Another project was started to reach the mass market sector by collaborating with Citroën. This collapsed after just a handful of prototypes had been built out of a planned minimum quota of 100 cars.
Some other great 1930s Vanvooren creations are the one-off sporting bodied 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, a 1934 Mercedes-Benz 500K sedan, a 1935 Cadillac V8 cabriolet and an Alvis Speed 20 which the Coventry firm presented at the Paris Motor Show as the introduction of the Alvis brand to the French auto market.Another marque that was closely linked with Vanvooren was Rolls-Royce, resulting in a significant number of their sold during the 1930s in France.
It resulted from a personal relationship that had great backwash! Walter Sleator, who was in charge of “Franco-Britannic Autos”, Rolls-Royce’s French importers, had been Vanvooren’s sales director in their prestigious Rue Marbeuf Showroom back in the 1920s…
A 1927 Vanvooren bodied Rolls-Royce “New Phantom” (chassis number 27EF) would be the first of many Vanvooren bodied Rolls-Royces.
Vanvooren built many sedan bodies of the pillarless type for which they held a special patent! The pillarless body had no B-pillar, and the front doors were hinged at the front whereas the rear door hinges were at the rear edge of the rear doors. This gave a free open space when both front and rear doors were opened and the entire passenger area could be accessed without the encumbrance of a central pillar. Many pillarless bodies were built by them on Hispano (K6 and J12) and Bugatti (T49, T57, …) chassis. Like for most car manufacturers and coachbuilders, operations were ceased during WW2 and were not resumed until 1947. Due to heavy Allied bombing during the war the production facilities at Courbevoie were badly damaged. Once production was resumed again it was at a reduced rate.After WW2 coachbuilders had a difficult time to survive due to the grim economic conditions. Vanvooren only built a handful of bodies to special order including, notably, a specially bodied Bentley Mk VI Coupé, chassis B332LEY. But their main area of activity had changed, necessarily, to rebuilding existing bodies from before the war. It was apparent that the business in which Vanvooren had specialized had virtually ceased to exist, and in 1950 operations came to a permanent end at the Courbevoie factory.Next up, the last in this series of Paris-based coachbuilders.
Written by Rosemarijn Atalante Veenenbos