- A Chapron DS

Coachbuilt: The Story of Chapron

From DS convertibles, to stretched SM's, Chapron did it all with Citroen

1y ago

Henri Chapron was one of the most prestigious French coachbuilders on the planet, creating some magnificent vehicles for Citroen.

Chapron was born on December 30, 1886, in Nouan-le-Fuzelier, and he founded Chapron Coachbuilding, his atelier, in 1919.

Chapron started his coachbuilding career building sedans and tourer vehicles on the chassis of Ford Model T's left behind after WWI, which he found much success in. Soon, he was able to move his design studio to Levallois-Peret from Neuilly-sur-Seine. There he partnered with his nephew Dubois, who would be his loyal partner for 54 years to come.

In the early years of his company, Chapron put his influence on a wide range of cars such as Ballot, Delage, Hispano-Suiza, Chenard-Walcker, Panhard-Levassor, and even Bugatti!

A Chapron Bugatti

A Chapron Bugatti

Chapron's company reached it's peak size in the 1930's, with 350 employees and pumping out almost 500 bodies a year. Up until the beginning of WWII, Chapron had been working mainly on Delahaye chassis. This all changed after WWII when Delahaye went out of business due to French taxes on big cars. During WWII, Chapron was able to stay afloat by doing repair work.

After the end of WWII, European coachbuilders had a hard time. European automakers were following in the footsteps of their European counterparts and building complete cars altogether.

But, he found that when Citroen unveiled the DS at the Paris Motor show in 1955, he knew he had to get his hands on one. Unfortunately for him, Citroen couldn't supply him with any due to the massive demand from the public, so he had to buy one new from the dealer.

Once he had acquired his new DS, he went to work, putting it under the surgeon's knife. All was said and done soon enough, and he was able to debut his new DS Convertible at the 1958 Paris Auto Show. Over the next 2 and 1/2 years, Chapron produced 300 models of the Decapotable Usine, all built the same as the prototype.

A Chapron Cbriolet Via BringATrailer

A Chapron Cbriolet Via BringATrailer

Citroen soon realized that Chapron built amazing convertibles, and offered him a contract to build them on the DS19 chassis, or the chassis for the DS. Citroen paid for renovations to Chapron's design studio, and soon Chapron was building 1800 models over the next years. Not all were convertibles; they built 2+2s coupes, saloons and more.

Not only did Chapron make civilian models, they moved on to make presidential variants of the SM, and DS. Charles de Gaulle drove the presidential DS, and Georges Pompidou drove the SM presidential. King Hassan II of Morocco drove some Chapron cars as well!

The SM Presidential

The SM Presidential

Later on, Chapron produced 1500 Autobleu Renault 4CV's and they created some 1500 403 Cabriolets. Chapron came out with a small amount of Renault Frégrate and Dauphine Cabriolets.

Henri Chapron eventually passed away on May 14, 1978. A relative, Francois Chapron continued to run the company until 1985 until the company ran out of business. During those 7 years, some interesting projects happened such as a stretched Peugeot 604.

With his birthday coming up in a couple of days (he would have been 133), I figured it would be good to honor his legacy and spread the word of his awesome creations.

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Comments (7)

  • Henri Chapron was a major theme of this year's Rétromobile (see last segment here: egzostive.com/retromobile-100th-citroen/ ). There was a stage where they managed to bring together some two dozen Chapron models, from swb to extended presidential versions. I could even talk to the daughter of Henri Chapron, who runs the non profit organisation that keeps the memory of her Father and his company alive.

      1 year ago
  • I see that the official website is down right now. One more good reason for this article to exist. Thanks for making our day more interesting!

      1 year ago
  • The Chapron Citroens were stunning cars - I had the opportunity recently to have a look at one up close. And it was every bit a beautifully done as I expected. You can see a photo of it in the "Spotting" section.

      1 year ago
  • Great article!

    A little curiosity, the factory convertibles were delivered as fully specced saloon to Chapron's workshop and then the extra parts were wasted until 1964 when Citroën finally started to deliver rolling base units with just the front panels attached and with estate specced sills. The doors were a combination of 2 regular doors that were then cut.

      1 year ago