My 1001 Cars


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  • ISBN: 9780956981127
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  • Binding: HardBack
  • Pages: 296
  • Imprint: UNKNOWN
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  • ID - 74663


Back in the early 1960s I bought the English translation of the first volume of Gabriel VoisinÆs autobiography, Men, Women and 10,000 Kites, which dealt with the aviation phase of the life of this extraordinary man, æa prey to the demon of creationÆ, and ended in 1918. It left me wanting more, but though the second volume, Mes Mille et une Voitures, which recalled his subsequent adventures as a motormanufacturer, had been published in France in 1962, a year after the first, it failed to appear in English. I had eventually to make do with the unsatisfactory French edition, a cheaply-produced paperback devoid of illustrations or index.

Now Reg Winstone has rectified the omission with a splendid, copiously-illustrated translation of VoisinÆs second volume, which not only captures the idiosyncratic nature of Gabriel VoisinÆs highly opinionated prose but includes a host of explanatory footnotes which add greatly to the original text. The cover artwork û taken from a poster by JoÙ Bridge and showing a pyjama-clad Gabriel Voisin descending from a Voisin car outside a young ladyÆs door û reveals much about the man; its original headline was æJe viens vous visiter en VoisinÆ (literally, æI come to visit you as a neighbourÆ), which underlines GabrielÆs somewhat unconventional interpretation of neighbourlinessà

Voisin was the last survivor of that amazing generation of eponymous French motor manufacturers whose highly distinctive products were the expression of their individuality. Ettore Bugatti was another, of course, and so were Louis DelÔge and AndrÚ CitroÙn. He was also a bon vivant who regularly dined at MaximÆs and haunted the dressing rooms of the Paris OpÚra where the young ladies of the corps de ballet provided æagreeable subjects for diversion for men of his worldÆ.

Romantic interludes were often enjoyed in his fashionably luxurious hideaway at 72 Boulevard Exelmans, which boasted such amenities as æa blue bathroom that effectively consisted of an enormous swimming poolÆ beside which was æa vast wardrobe containing every imaginable type of fancy dress; feather boas lay next to chasublesÆ.

These were donned by his guests at a notorious housewarming party. But in stark contrast to this decadent lifestyle, Voisin was a man who worked as hard as he played. He wore his blue mechanicÆs overalls with pride and had great respect for his colleagues û æthose who have accompanied me so bravely throughout my crazy lifeÆ û and admired their æspirit, courage, rectitude and loyaltyÆ. Written when he was 81 and published without the attentions of an editor, My 1001 Cars inevitably has gaps in the narrative. But it reveals much about the man and the world in which he moved, the trials and tribulations of motor manufacturing in the wake of the Great War, the deviousness and duplicity of many of those with whom he did business and the uncompromising nature of his approach to design.

He was perhaps the most successful of the manufacturers who resolutely swam against the tide of convention. After all, Voisins formed part of the French Presidential fleet in the early 1920s and the marque was highly successful in record-breaking. Gabriel extracted the most from the sleeve-valve engine, understanding the performance potential of the typeÆs large port openings and fortuitously discovering the advantages of high compression in increasing power output. He pioneered monocoque construction of racing car bodies and was a tireless experimenter in terms of vehicle dynamics. As Reg, a lifelong admirer, remarks in his foreword, ælike a pebble skimming a lake, he radiated ripples of unconventional thinkingÆ. And though he was not a great businessman, Voisin left a lasting impression on the French motor industry. For instance, his protegÚ AndrÚ Lefebvre created CitroÙnÆs immortal Traction Avant after leaving the Voisin company. And his quirky, unorthodox cars remain as amonument to one of motoringÆs most original personalities. Highly recommended. Unmissable, really.

David Burgess-Wise



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