When L’Art Automobile Met A Stunning Chrysler Imperial

Images: Gautam Sen

Old faithfuls of this magazine may remember an article from almost a year ago, when yours truly wrote about an event where art and the automobile came together in the very pretty settings of a chateau near Paris, the Chateau de Groussay, in the town of Montfort-l’Amaury.

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The magnificent Chateau de Neuville

Jean-Marc Thévenet, who has been organising this fascinating event that discusses and recognises how art and the automobile are so well connected, decided to continue with the idea despite the chateau from last year going into a period of renovation, by shifting the venue to another no less beautiful castle, the one of Chateau de Neuville, in the commune of Gambais, some 65kms west of Paris.

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The car that won the trophée d’elégance: the Chrysler Imperial from 1931

Aiding and abetting this wonderful initiative have been the two Patricks, Rollet and Lesueur, one the former president of FIVA and the other a highly reputed automotive historian and author.

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For a change, real Bugatti, a Type 37, instead of all those replicas everywhere

Not only have they been using their contacts to bring in the cars and the participants, as well as the members of the jury for the trophée d’elégance, which is the highlight of the meet, but also act as the event presenters for the ‘drive past the grandstand’—the most important part of the day’s proceedings.

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One of the entrants for the concours: the Lancia Fulvia drives in as Patrick Rollet guides them to their parking spot

For the jury they assembled a varied and significant line-up of judges with different kinds of experiences, such as renowned restorer Thierry Garcia Guilloral de Madrid who believes in preserving whatever is possible of an automobile, young DS designer Clement Porée, British motoring writer, translator and event presenter Julian Parrish, and French federation FFVE’s regional representative Esther Grangeon.

Plus, there was the well-known fashion designer Julien Scavini, and a young and feisty Laura de Labriffe, who is from the family that owns the chateau…and, of course, yours truly.

Although as many as 140 cars made it to L’Art Automobile on the grounds of the Chateau de Neuville on Sunday, the 18th of September, two dozen of them were there for the main trophy, the lightweight concours d’elegance that Patrick Rollet had devised, and which we had to judge.

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The medieval 16th century chateau provided the perfect backdrop to the five Art Deco Voisins

The criterion was very simple: ‘Which would be the car that you would like to go home with?’

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The Matra 530 that French artist Sonia Delaunay painted in 1968 at the special request of Matra's CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère

The decision though was… very difficult, as there were several that I would have loved to have gone home with… notwithstanding the fact that the garage space available in Paris wouldn’t have accommodated most of them.

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The three Italians that I fell in love with: the Lancia Gamma Coupe, the Ferrari 250 GTE and the Lamborghini Espada

Of the ones that may have been realistic possibilities to have gone home with and lived happily ever after, were three cars that were delightful for their sporty practicality: a relatively rare Fiat 1500 Coupe from 1966, a ‘65 Lancia Fulvia Coupe and a very pretty Simca Plein Ciel.

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The Delage D6 (behind the Bugatti) with Letourneur et Marchand coachwork, owned by Letourneur's grandson

These three cars did delight the spectators and the other judges, but the real oohs and aahs were reserved for a bunch of mighty Americans, which included three Cadillacs—a tailfin toting ‘60 convertible, an impressive Series 62 convertible from 1950, and an astounding Series 370 V12 Roadster from 1931—as well as an elegant Auburn 851 tourer and a Packard Speedster from 1929.

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One of the Voisins which was present at the recent F1 at Monza to celebrate the circuit's centenary, the car that was used to parade Daniel Ricciardo before the race

There were also two Fords (a hot rod included) and an unusual Studebaker pick-up from 1947.

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This beautiful Sunbeam Alpine belongs to a lady collector of historic vehicles

Five Voisins, which were brought across by marque expert Philipp Moch, also wowed the spectators as the specificity of each model were explained, but these wonders were not part of the competition for the trophée d’elegance.

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Amongst the English brigade was a Rover P6, an Alvis that belongs to Patrick Rollet, and a Morgan

Instead, an extremely rare ‘53 Mercedes-Benz 300S Coupe did impress the jury, as much as a most unusual Salmson 2300S Coupe with a very special Chapron body designed to accommodate its tall first owner with his top hat!

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The rare and elegant Mercedes-Benz 300S Coupe presented by Patrick Rollet

But the car that finally won the trophée d’elegance was an extremely elegant Chrysler Imperial CG Series Eight from 1931, owned and beautifully presented by owners Dominique and Patrick Houdayer (and their dog!).

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One of two cars sent from the d'Ieteren musuem was this subtly elegant Auburn; the other was a very impressive Packard

In a lovely period leaf green, the Chrysler Imperial was a clear winner over the Mercedes 300S and the Chapron Salmson.

If the criterion of ‘which car I would like to have gone home with’ was to be applied, I am not too sure whether the Chrysler Imperial would have qualified for me, as much as some of the other cars that were there on the grounds of the Chateau on Sunday; such as the two Studebakers, a Champion and a GT Hawk, or the pair of Facel Vegas.

There was also a very rare Derby, a Lancia Gamma Coupe, and an astounding Lamborghini Espada, amongst several other very desirable automobiles.

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The strange and weird Salmson with a "top hat-packing" Chapron hardtop

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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