If, in the world of French gastronomy, snails and frog legs are an acquired taste, then in the world of French automobiles, Avions Voisin must be regarded as the marque for connoisseurs with a taste for the unusual. Or the utterly fantastic, as those with a penchant for the automaker’s inimitable design would insist. In association with the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, the RM Sotheby’s auction at London’s Marlborough House, on November 4, promises an assortment of prewar finery, including a rare 1931 Avions Voisin C14 “Chartre.”
To appreciate Avions Voisin is to appreciate everything that French cars do so well, which is to be contrarian. And artistic. Like so many automotive manufacturers from the early years, Avions Voisin, founded by Gabriel Voisin in 1905, had its roots in aviation. An aircraft engineer and also an alumnus of the National School of Fine Arts in Lyon, Voisin was destined to create automobiles informed by both engineering and art.
Voisin began producing vehicles in 1919, and true to his cars’ aeronautical origin, much aluminum was employed in the manufacture of bodies and components. A close look at any of Voisin’s creations reveals that an artist’s eye was behind the masterful castings, whose beauty complements the practical application of the lightweight metal. The C14 model was produced from 1926 to 1932, and was powered by a 2.3-liter, inline-six engine. Featuring power-assisted braking and a gearbox with overdrive, the C14 was very modern for its era. The car was well received, and throughout its lifespan, as many as 4,000 chassis were clothed in a variety of coachwork.
The Art Deco movement, which first appeared in France in the 1910s, was in full flower by the 1920s, influencing everything from fashion and furniture to art and architecture. Voisin’s “Chartre” body style of the early 1930s was created at the peak of the Art Deco period, and characterized by a low-slung, rectilinear form with sharp, distinctive angles that reflected, in many ways, the more brutally Modernist architecture of Le Corbusier than the decorative Deco vernacular. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the architect owned a Voisin C-7, bought in 1925, and always instructed photographers to feature it in front of his new buildings.
Yet as austere as they appear on the exterior, cars from Avions Voisin present interiors that are often the most vibrant and delightfully cacophonous cabins of any automobile, of any era. Chassis No. 28599 is believed to be one of just two C14 “Chartre” examples built. Little of this car’s early history is known before 1965, when it was discovered in an elderly lady’s barn by Voisin expert and restorer Yves Dalmier. Subsequently, another Voisin expert, Pascal Courteault, determined that the aluminum body was original to the chassis—rare for a car of its vintage.
From 2004 through 2006, a full nut-and-bolt restoration was undertaken by noted Voisin collector and restorer Philipp Moch, who returned the vehicle to its original black color. Remarkable is the interior, in which small fragments of the original Paul Poiret–patterned fabric survived. Working from these samples, a skilled weaver used a Jacquard loom to replicate the brilliant red-and-white design.
Thus restored, the car went on to be awarded first place in the “Voisin 1927-1933 Class” at the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Acquired by the consignor in 2011, it also received a “Jury Special Prize” at the 2015 Chantilly Arts & Elegance, and was exhibited at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed in the “Cartier Style & Luxe” concours. Estimated to fetch between $305,000 and $430,000, this Art Deco jewel proves once again that fine art and automobiles are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Click here for more photos of this 1931 Avions Voisin C14 “Chartre” automobile.