Top 10 Most Outrageous Art Deco Cars

Rolling Sculptures

3y ago

1930s were the years of Art Deco. Form over function, upmost extravagance, everything was designed, everything was detailed. If you've seen The Great Gatsby movie you know what I'm on about.

And because the auto industry of the time was at its infancy and mostly unregulated, it meant that there was nothing to stop those same principles to be applied to car designs. This free reign brought in a special kind of artists, the coachbuilders, who hand-crafted unbelievable rolling sculptures of metal for their wealthy customers.

What follows now is a list of top 10 most beautiful cars from that Art Deco era!

But, before we begin here some ground rules: One car per manufacturer and only cars for the actual Art Deco era. Not newer, inspired by it.

OK? Let’s begin!

10 - Peugeot 402 Darl'mat

This extravagant looking little car had much more humble beginnings starting off as a regular Peugeot 302, a car for the masses. But a gentleman called Emile Darl’mat wanted something more eye-catching to be sold in his Peugeot showroom, so he found himself a coachbuilder to rebody some of his 302s.

Suits at Peugeot were so impressed by the decorated swooping cars, they supported the project wholeheartedly and soon offered a more performance oriented 402 chassis for the job.

By the end of production, about 100 of these lightweight zippy cars were built: in coupe, roadster, and cabriolet forms, and some were even raced at LeMans. Quite successfully.

War put a stop on the project, but not on the Peugeot as well, which soldiers on to this day, making them the longest continuously-running car manufacturer in the world. Still, it will be hard to ever top that Darl’mat 402 — a car with studs and leather straps, which if painted black would make for a perfect punk-mobile.

9 - Voisin C27 Aerolithe Coupe

After the WW1, aeronautical expert Gabriel Voisin noticed that the demand for his fighter planes has dropped off dramatically. So naturally, he turned to the auto industry instead. The cars that he was making were never conventional, very advanced, always expensive to buy and certainly not cheap to run.

In his case, that recipe didn’t work, because the sales were really struggling. But he was a stubborn one and just wouldn’t let go of his vision of what a perfect car should be. And to hell with his accountant!

Some time later Voisin must have had no customers left, so he decided to build a car just for himself, a one-off C27 Aerosport coupe. His best creation ever!

Contrary to other French coachbuilders that turned to female form and imitated its soft curves, Voisin was more inspired by aviation and architecture which made his car look uniquely sharp and geometrical. As expected, this selfish act didn’t save the company, but it did preserve Voisin’s stubborn vision for decades to come in the form of this beautiful car.

8 - Mercedes-Benz SSK

Designed by none other than THE Ferdinand Porsche himself, this Merc was not just a fine example of art deco style but a successful racing car as well. The monstrous 7.1-litre supercharged engine produced up to 300 horsepower and propelled the SSK to 120 mph, making it the world’s fastest car in 1930.

Out of 40 examples ever built, only 4 or 5 of them are left in their original condition, whereas the rest of them were quickly cannibalised for their parts after ending up in a ditch. Remember, these cars were used for racing.

In 2004, at a Bonhams auction, one of them was sold for 7.4 Million USD making it the second most expensive car ever auctioned at the time. Another rare, restored SSK, called the Count Trossi, was the Best of Show winner at two Concours D’Elegance shows and is now owned by Ralph Lauren. Must be some stylish bloke, whoever he is.

7 - Talbot-Lago T150-C SS Coupé

After a great success with their racing Type 150C model, Talbot-Labo struck a deal with an Italian born designer Figoni to build some road going versions for their newfound wealthy clients. You know… the sort that never asks for price.

Figoni sculpted 14 of cars which are considered an apex of Goutte D’eau design; or simply French for the teardrop, which has a perfect shape for an object in motion.

T150-C epitomized speed, aerodynamic efficiency, and elegance with a body that virtually had no straight lines at all. And even with such low production volume, no two cars were identical, partly because they were all handmade by some Italian high on coffee, but mostly because they were done in many body styles and with different features.

Being sold to celebrities all over the world meant that they were mostly unscathed by the war and today 13 of them are still alive and taken good care of. One model, owned by Maharani princess of Kapurthala, had a particularly colourful life, as she often enjoyed changing the car’s colour scheme to match her outfits. Because, you know… women.

6 - Bugatti Type 57 Aerolithe

In 1934 Bugatti wanted to show who’s the boss by making yet another piece of art… on wheels. The result was a Type 57 Aerolithe concept car.

It shocked the World with its impossibly curved body that looked like it was morphed by speed itself. As if the bodywork was swooped back by the air resistance, while these thin spines running down its body acted as some sort of aero stabilizers.

But actually, those fins were there because the body was made from this new lightweight metal called magnesium which was almost impossible to weld properly, so they just riveted it together.

Figoni sculpted 14 of cars which are considered an apex of Goutte D’eau design; or simply French for the teardrop, which has a perfect shape for an object in motion.

The four production models were later made of aluminium but still kept the rivets since they made it look so unique. Last time one of these changed owners it was paid between 30 & 40M dollars, which makes this the most expensive car in the world! Maybe.

Ralph Lauren has one. Whoever he is…

5 - Phantom Corsair

This evil looking deep sea monstrosity, I mean, car, was a transportation of tomorrow, thought up by Rust Heinz — an heir to Heinz 57 Ketchup empire.

It was one of the first cars to be shaped by a wind tunnel and it featured many other gizmos for the time, like an air conditioning, a crash padded dash and an electric gearshift. But most surprising of all it was a six-seater — a people carrier! You could have seated up to 6 menacingly looking gang members into what is actually a very low car — only 140 cm tall. That is an average height of a 10-year-old boy.

What it didn’t have in height, it had in length. Between those bladed bumpers there was over 6 meters of radically shaped fastback body.

Sadly, it never went into production. Rust Heinz died prematurely in 1939 and with him any desire to move on with the project.

But it makes up for an interesting dilemma… Would the World be a better place without the Heinz Ketchup, with but sexy looking MPVs rolling around? Comment down below.

4 - Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet “Xenia” Coupe

No, the car is not from Portugal. Yes it has many names... So, who is who?

Well, it started off as a beautiful Hispano-Suiza H6B, but only as a test-bed for an innovative suspension system designed by Andre Dubonnet -an aviator, athlete, innovator, race car driver, rich playboy... basically, Tony Stark of the 1930s.

To showcase his clever bit of kit, he hired a famous French coachbuilder Saoutchik to do his magic and design this new show-stopping, eye-catching body.

Never was there another car like it, and mostly because it looked more like a plane than a car. If you inspect closely, you can see that it was heavily inspired by them, from the cockpit style interior, to sliding doors, curved windshield, and the aero-shape of the thing… that car was something else!

So much so that it caught the eye of a GM representative who bought the suspension system idea and made our Andre even wealthier.

Lastly, the name Xenia comes as a tribute to his first wife who died soon after they got married. His second wife allegedly hated the damned car.

3 - Ford Model 40 Special Speedster

When Edsel, Henry Ford's son, went on a tip around Europe, he was so impressed by these deco cars, he had to have one as well! Luckily for him, there was an entire father's company to make his wish come true.

Two years and a few sketches later, the most stylish hot rod ever was made. It was low, wide, open, sporty, and contrary to the European cars, mostly devoid of artsy details. The beauty came for this clean and unusual stacked up shape. It was like a freight train.

But the focus on raciness wasn't just skin deep - which, by the way, was all aluminium, because underneath, there was an equally impressive tubular aluminum chassis. Nothing like you would find on the base Model 40. The Special was wade to be as light and sturdy as possible.

In many ways, it was one of the earliest and most thorough attempt at turning a common car into a 'superleggera', and it turned out to be the most stylish one as well.

2 - Delahaye Type 165

Only two of these amazing beauties were ever built. Well, barely.

After the first one was finished in 1939, the French government was so impressed by it that they quickly ordered another one to represent French auto industry at the “World of Tomorrow” Fair in New York. This Figoni bodied, aerodynamic cabriolet was a sensation, and everyone agreed, the car was red, curvy and extravagantly beautiful.

But no one suspected that under that teardrop shape it was hiding one big secret. Instead of the original 4.5-liter V12 engine, it was displayed with… well… nothing. It was just an empty shell.

Anyway, by the end of the fair, France surrendered again, this time to Hitler, and the ownership of 165 in New York was unclear. As a result, U.S. Customs impounded the car and auctioned it off. Over the years it changed a few owners before it was finally bought by Peter Mullin in 1985 and soon, after almost 50 years, reunited with the original engine. At last, the car was completed. Talk about a long project.

1 - Rolls-Royce Phantom 1 Jonckheere Coupe

No other car on this list was ever mistreated as this extraordinary Rolls, which is when you look at it, just un-be-lievable.

It was built as a regular Phantom 1 model, but for the first 10 years no one wanted to keep it for long, so it was changing owners like Taylor Swift is changing boyfriends. Even its first intended owner canceled the order right before it was supposed to be delivered from the factory.

That was all to change in 1935, when it was turned into this dramatic looking Jonckheere Coupe. Its new imposing length, menacing curves, round doors, fin-tail and an oversized grill made most other cars including other Rolls-Royces look dull. A fact soon proved at Concours on the French Riviera where it won the ‘Prix de Cannes’ award.

Sadly, the glory days didn’t last, and since then it changed many more owners, was left forgotten and turned into a derelict, painted white, covered with 6 pounds of gold, turned into a freak show, lied about it being previously owned by King Edward VIII and left forgotten again.

At last, it was acquired by the Peterson Museum and given its well-deserved love, where, to this day, it sits restored in a restored, glorious state.

But the fate is still playing a cruel trick on it. It can't win a top prize at any Concourse show because the documents of its origins were forever lost in the war. Who ordered it, and who actually designed it, we will never know. But looking at those round doors it might as well be Bilbo Baggins.

Agree? Which is your favorite? Which one did I miss?

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Comments (38)

  • Beautiful. It's definitely my favourite era of cars.

    Great article, though you did miss one - the 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo...

      3 years ago
  • This was a joy, thank you!

      3 years ago
  • The Ford Model 40 is my pick!

      3 years ago
    • It does look most unique among all these unique cars that look alike

        3 years ago
  • This post has inspired me to compile a coffee book on the era’s cars imprinted on the birth of Modern Sci-Fi.

    I’m hoping “true sports” cars survive the mass buyers/Manufacturers of today, and new private companies are patroned enough to develop uncompromised ideas like this golden era. Sad- Seeing a “Superchassis” or a “6x6” randomly drive by just doesn’t have that “we are being invaded by aliens” effect these Art Deco beauty-beasties had in their day. Even the closest thing, a Chiron, is too small and pluralized to really do more than “oh look! Its that car.”

      3 years ago
    • Problem is the regulations. Keeping people inside and outside of the car alive makes the design very constraining.

      The Audi R8 was the only spacey car in recent memory that I can think of, but then again, it was sold in too many numbers to...

      Read more
        3 years ago
    • Not the McLaren P1? The R8 just looks like a suped up TT.

        3 years ago
  • This is an impressive piece of research! Thank you! Liked the article very much!

      3 years ago
    • Thx! About the research... There is a comment down below about the Simone coupe which was at No3. Guy pointed out to me that the whole car and the backstory were completely made up, and I, like many others fell for it. 😂

      That Ford was...

      Read more
        3 years ago
    • Looking forward to reading your new article!

        3 years ago