1938 Peugeot 402
Year of manufacture1938
1938 Peugeot 402 Légère 'Darl'Mat' Roadster
Chassis no. 367340
Engine no. 367340
"Paulin became the leading French stylist of the time... Everything he touched was designed with aerodynamics in mind. He was very conscious of fuel efficiencies and the aerodynamic efficiencies that could be created by the lines of the car. You could go faster, which meant you could put a smaller engine in the car..." Adatto, Richard, From Passion to Perfection: The Story of French Streamlined Styling, 1930-1939.
The 1930s was a period when automobile engineers and stylists first began to apply the principles of aerodynamics to passenger car design, a movement that would result in some of the most breathtaking works of automotive art that the world had ever seen. One stunning example of this trend was the exclusive series of streamlined roadsters, coupés and cabriolets styled by Georges Paulin and built by the French coachbuilder Marcel Pourtout for Émile Darl'Mat, whose Paris-based company was one of the world's largest Peugeot agencies. The Peugeot 302 chassis was used at first, fitted with the larger (2.0-litre, later 2.1-litre) four-cylinder overhead-valve engine of the 402. Introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 1936, the 302 lasted for only 18 months, though its short wheelbase chassis would live on in the 402 Légère.
Darl'Mat was a passionate champion of the Peugeot marque and longed for it to return to racing, particularly at prestigious home events like the 24 Heures du Mans. Using his considerable influence, he obtained the factory's blessing for a limited run of sports cars worthy of Peugeot's sporting legacy. He was one of a select few dealers able to offer custom coachwork to his customers, and Peugeot was more than happy to supply him with whatever he needed, so long as the orders kept rolling in.
Darl'Mat enjoyed a close relationship with Marcel Pourtout's successful carrosserie on the outskirts of Paris, and together the two men would create some of Peugeot's most memorable and beautiful automobiles. Marcel Pourtout had founded his coachbuilding business in 1925 and produced unremarkable designs at first, though that all changed when he was joined by Georges Paulin. A dentist by profession, Paulin understood aerodynamics and had impeccable taste. He worked for Panhard, Unic and Peugeot, for whom he designed the 1934 'Eclipse' featuring a retractable steel cabriolet roof, a construction he patented. In 1940 Paulin joined the French Resistance to fight the Nazi regime but was arrested and executed. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government.
Pourtout built around 105 of these streamlined cars for Darl'Mat between 1936 and 1939, and examples of the roadster ran competitively at Le Mans in 1937 and 1938. Demonstrating Paulin's conviction that a car did not necessarily need a large engine if it was effectively streamlined, three Darl'Mat Peugeots finished in the top ten in 1937, with the best placed example of Pujol/Contet coming home 7th overall, while the following year the Darl'Mat of de Cortanze/Contet finished 5th overall, winning the 2-Litre Class.
Many years later, while restoring the ex-Dorothy Patten and Baron Rainer von Dorndorf's Darl'Mat roadster, the vendor found this very sound Peugeot 402 Légère and realised that its chassis was identical to the roadster's. A tool-room copy of the roadster body was made and the result is the car offered here: a fitting homage to its designer, Georges Paulin.
Meticulously restored to the highest standard between 2017 and 2019, this superb car benefits from extra horsepower courtesy of a high-compression cylinder head and twin Solex carburetors mounted on a special Memini intake manifold. Power is transmitted via a Cotal electromagnetic gearbox to the Pilot wheels. Offered with restoration bills, French Carte Grise and Contrôle Technique, this pre-war icon is a pleasure to drive, a feast for the eyes, and ready for racing or any Concours d'Élégance.