Off radar

Avions Voisin
The Rarest Brands in the Top 100 Collections

Photo credit: Mullin Automotive Museum, RM Sotheby’s, Wheelsage

If the University of the Automobile existed, one of the most important exams would be the one on the French automobile. In particular on a brand that very few remember but one that nevertheless managed to bring a series of technical and stylistic innovations to the market that no other manufacturer had the courage to propose. These are the cars of Avions Voisin, a French luxury automobile brand established after the end of the First World War by the company owned by the Voisin brothers who produced and sold combat aircraft during the conflict. 

Seen today, the first Avions Voisin, the C1 (C stands for the name Charles, the brother of Gabriel Voisin who died in an accident) looks like an old-fashioned car, but at the time it was much more compact and sophisticated than most of the cars in production

The Voisin brand was built on three main ingredients: rationality, through the pursuit of perfect weight distribution and a lower centre of gravity, lightness derived from the experience gained in the use of aluminium in aviation and the uncompromising design flair of André Lefèbvre who years later, would go on to design the Traction Avant, the 2CV and the magnificent DS at Citroën. To support the brand’s entrance onto the car market in 1920 with the C1 – Limousine, Gabriel Voisin decided to look to racing to compete against the other star of innovation, the Italian who emigrated to France, Ettore Bugatti. 

The first racing car that brought prestige to Voisin was the C3 S from 1922, which is now part of the Mullin Automotive Museum collection

To understand how determined both men were to win the innovation war, just look at the cars they fielded at the 1923 French Grand Prix: Bugatti brought the famous Tipo 32 Tank while Voisin, driven by none other than the designer Lefèbvre himself, entered the C6 Laboratoire model. 

The C6 Laboratoire model that raced the 1923 French Grand Prix is an example of the pursuit of extreme efficiency that also included a much narrower rear track to avoid the use of a differential. Lefèbvre took it to 5th place in the Grand Prix

The two cars were as innovative as they were inexperienced in their understanding the impacts of such advanced aerodynamics. In fact, they tended to lose grip at speed due to the tendency to take off. Neither of the two cars won, but from the point of view of how far the automobile could have developed in the future, they marked a very significant turning point. 

The Voisin C6 Laboratoire was easily compared to the Bugatti Type 32 Tank: boldly advanced both in style and in aerodynamics. These too suffered in the race and the only one to finish came third

Voisin cars, despite the difficulties in Europe caused by the American depression in 1929, were aimed at a high-end audience who were drawn towards innovation. It is no coincidence that Josephine Baker, Rudolph Valentino and the great architect Le Corbusier were clients of Voisin. Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the Citroen 2CV, designed by Lefèbvre, was inspired by Le Corbusier’s Voiture Minimum that he proposed as a concept. 

After abandoning racing, in 1926 Voisin presented the C11, with its aluminium body and, just like the previous cars from the brand, sold complete and not as a running chassis in need of a coachbuilder as was usual in those years

It’s a shame that this magnificent story full of spectacular models as you can see from the images, had to end, just as it reached its most glorious phase, with the outbreak of the Second World War. A cruel destiny that also struck Bugatti. 

The Voisin C27 Aerosport from 1934 anticipated the most famous Bugatti of all, the Atlantic, for elegance and style
To understand what a Voisin could be, it is necessary to observe the refinement of the interiors and the inspiration of the fabrics which were perfectly in line with the “crazy years” when it was produced
Presented in 1934 at the Paris Motor Show, the Voisin C25 Aerodyne revived the brand’s aeronautical experience. Among the many peculiarities was the sliding roof that allowed passengers to travel en plein air
In 1935 the C28 Aerosport anticipated many of the solutions used in today’s Formula 1 with the hollow cut-out between the fender and the car body. It was the first car to abandon separated fenders from the bonnet and introduced the pontoon