Art Deco and the Automobile – Ooh Lá Lá The French: Mild to Wild
The opulent ornamentation embodied in the taillight design of this 1937 Talbot Lago T-150-C(SS) illustrates the level of commitment to capturing the elegance of the art deco style, right down to the smallest details.
The French initiated the Art Deco movement in 1924 with the Paris exposition of the industrial and decorative arts, so it is no surprise that some of the automobiles subsequently produced by the French are the most sought after of the Deco cars. But not all French automobiles of the era were characterized by wild bodies; some were quite mild, especially those produced by the major French automakers. This month our story will focus on several of those major automakers—Renault, Delauney-Belleville, Citroën, and Panhard-Levasor—and one of the coachbuilders, Figoni et Falasch, possibly the most successful of the coachbuilders in France and certainly the designer of some of the wilder shapes of the era.
A Peugeot of the 1920s would be recognized as being from the same era as a Packard or a Pope. As the world reacted to the Depression, auto manufacturers saw the need to distinguish their products from those of their competitors, so Peugeot, Renault and others began to include streamlined style in their designs. Some of those companies survive today, while others failed to adapt to the economic changes that followed WWII. Two that have survived as automakers are Renault and Citroën. Panhard still exists, but it’s not made automobiles since 1968 and now produces only military vehicles. Delauney-Belleville never made a successful transition to mass production after WWII. Each of these companies built some cars whose design was influenced by the Art Deco style. All were somewhat limited in the application of streamlining and Deco details, except for the Panhard Dynamic, which is a wonderful example of how a designer can carry significant details throughout the entire car.
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