Absolute opposites

With the valuable support, depth of knowledge and illustrative talent of Prof. Massimo Grandi

Photo credit: Some images are taken from the book Asi Service "Quando le disegnava il vento" by Massimo Grandi

Those blessed with genius are always ahead of the field, often too much, but they tend to drag the rest in their wake. Take Paul Arzens, for example, who, in 1938, as a young Parisian artist, built a spectacular roadster on a Buick chassis.

Inspired by nature, the “mouth” of the Baleine is very similar to that of a real whale

The car was over seven meters long. Given its size, the shape of its nose, and its color, its name was absolutely perfect: La Baleine“ (the Whale). When people asked him why the car was so long, he would reply that he needed a roomy trunk to take all his art equipment whenever he wanted to paint outdoors. Perfectly rational!

The imposing silhouette of the Buick La Baleine, which shows just what a big trunk its designer Paul Arzens wanted

Arzens’ rational approach was also clear from two other prototypes he built, absolute opposites of each other, but both avant garde. One was his electric Baleine, very large like the roadster, but built on a Fiat chassis, which carried something like a ton of batteries that allowed it to cover up to 200 kilometers, and the other, entirely different, was his “Oeuf Electrique” (Electric Egg), a microcar that foreshadowed the best concepts we see today. This three-wheeled “Egg”, with its rear driving wheel, combined the lightness of a cradle-like aluminum chassis with the novelty (for the times) of Plexiglas for its large transparent surfaces. 

In 1942, when it was unveiled, no one could possibly have imagined that the “Oeuf Electrique” would still be relevant in 2020: in addition to being electric, it is also harmonious, with a light interior thanks to the extensive use of Plexiglas, and fun

Both the Buick La Baleine and the Oeuf Electrique (which, immediately after the war, Arzens transformed by giving it a 125cc two-stroke engine) are exhibited at the Cité de l’Automobile museum in Mulhouse. While Arzens really only used his Baleine as a provocative divertissement, he continued driving his “Egg” around Paris until 1990, the year of his death. A true genius!

Immediately after the war, Arzens transformed this car (originally designed with an electric motor), giving it a 125cc scooter engine. The car ran so well that the designer used it right up until his death in 1990

Aerodynamically and esthetically, both these concepts boast strong features: the “Egg” is basically a large drop, devoid of any element capable of impeding its motion. The Baleine, on the other hand, is a 1930s forerunner of the style shown by postwar luxury cars. Its long linear profile and the bow that characterizes its front are very beautiful and functional, the latter recalling a whale’s mouth, while its “depressed” fender area seem to lower the front end. The wraparound windshield, also in Plexiglas, is a great design feature that anticipates post-war American windshields.

The front of the Buick La Baleine has some distinctive features: the “depressed” fender area, the functionally shaped bow, and the headlights, set in the grille, combine to give the car an impressive appearance