Voisin's Vision

El Mullin Automotive Museum It is located in the town of Oxnard, California, and inside it houses a collection of the great masterpieces of French bodywork from the 20s and 30s. You know, probably the most beautiful pre-war, which were used to dress the Bugatti , Delahaye, Delage, Talbot-Lago or Hispano-Suiza of the time, among others. They also covered the Voisin, vehicles gran turismo technical and artistic avant-garde created by Gabriel Voisin, one of the fathers of aviation.

Precisely, from November to June 25, it celebrates a special exhibition dedicated to the French pioneer. It is very difficult to see its original cars on the street, so if you live on the west coast of the United States or are planning to travel to California, I highly recommend it. Next, I leave you some photos of the sample provided by the museum itself so that you can finish deciding; and for those like me who cannot indulge in visiting it, a small article that tries to explain what Voisin was. (Do not forget that there is a large gallery of images at the end!).

Gabriel voisin
Gabriel voisin

The man

"He's a pretty happy guy." This is how Gabriel Voisin used to be defined euphemistically in Paris in the first half of the XNUMXth century. He was a troublemaker, an eccentric, a bohemian, a raider, who dedicated his entire life to his two great passions: functionality and women. He was also a genius, an artist, a sculptor, musician, poet, philosopher… and also a mechanic, engineer, aerodynamicist, inventor and captain of industry. And, it seems, you can be many things in this life, and lead an existence that both embarrasses and admires your fellow men in their different facets.

Perhaps the next thing to say about Gabriel Voisin is that he is one of the fathers of aviation. Only the Wright brothers are named in this area before him, and with some qualms, since their projects never went that far. However, to Voisin are due the French planes that were raised gloriously in World War I with Salmson and Hispano-Suiza engines and that represented a definitive step forward for that mode of transport and for motor racing, which included many of its advances in construction and mechanics.

He was also responsible for mounting machine guns, cannons, and bombs, something that would haunt him from his conscience to the end.

Assembly of the spectacular plane of Clément Ader
Montage of the spectacular plane by Clément Ader (By Roby)

It all started when a then young architecture student visited the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900; in it he could contemplate the magnificent Plane by Clément Ader, by whom I am fascinated; so much so that he dropped out of architecture, traveled to his provincial home, liquidated all his belongings, and went to Paris with just a few tools and a handful of francs in his pocket.

There he would build, together with his brother Charles, one of the world's first aircraft factories, largely with his own hands. And, there, with the legendary airplane and automobile pilot Henri Farman at the controls of his machine, he would achieve what is possibly the first circular powered flight over a kilometer away.

Voisin, like almost everyone, had an Achilles heel, and this was his pride. He was convinced that he had invented the airplane, and so when the Wright brothers traveled to France to claim paternity for the invention, he did not admit that credit will be withdrawn. I never would. In any case, there are people who defend that the first to solve all the basic problems of aviation was the French inventor; And it is true that in those times there used to be parallel lines of research on the same topics on both sides of the Atlantic, and that each of them had its own particular merit, beyond the time factor.

Voisin brothers celebrating Farman on the first 1 km circular flight.
Voisin brothers celebrating Farman on the first 1 km circular flight.

In 1911 and faced with the general mockery of their competitors, who made wooden and cloth airplanes following the kite principle, the Voisin brothers began to build metal airplanes. Three years later, after the outbreak of the war, those satirical detractors had to swallow bile when the President of the Republic chose the Voisin as the ideal aircraft to win the contest.

Charles died in 1912, but Gabriel became a billionaire after building some 11.000 aircraft for the Gallic republic. In addition, he became a licensee of Hispano-Suiza and Salmson, so he was able to thoroughly examine the two early works of art on aeronautical propulsion.

As we said at the beginning, Voisin loved functionality and simplicity. For him, these two qualities were what gave engineering works beauty, which should be both works of art and, if possible, of Science fiction; And it is that often the simplicity, not necessarily at odds with the refinement, was frankly good: you just have to look at examples like those of Bugatti or the Duesenberg brothers. He did not think the same of women, his other form of veneration of beauty, of whom he admired not only their bodies, but also their intelligence, their strength or their subtlety.


Voisin C27, 1934. Over time Voisin became an incredible bodybuilder (By Marty B)


In 1918, after trying to revolutionize the housing market with prefabricated steel houses, he decided to dedicate himself to the manufacture of GT cars. He built about 30.000, but to this day only a little more than a hundred have survived. His problem was the construction of the body in aluminum, a highly valued metal in scrap yards for which his managers did not hesitate to scrap them.

From the beginning, what attracted Voisin was the steam engine, because of its softness, its fluidity, its flexibility, its simplicity ... In fact, this was the technology that he used in the first automobile that he built, together with his brother, in 1898. Let us remember that at the dawn the same gave gasoline, as electricity that steam. But by the 20s this was no longer the case, and the only thing the French poet could hope for was to transfer the qualities of water and coal engines to those of internal combustion.

To do this, he sought the advice of two engineers from the legendary Panhard et Levassor, Artaud and Dufresne, who did not hesitate to abandon the pioneering brand when it rejected a project that they considered viable. They then went to see Voisin, who hired them firmly, along with two other technicians: André Lefèbvre and Marius Bernard. The Great Team: The latter would become his spirit children, while the former would fly in 1921 to Peugeot, Voisin's biggest competition rival at the time.

La cocotte (By Thesupermat) "
La cocotte, brand insignia (By Thesupermat)

As far as the mechanical section is concerned, they started with the Knight valveless engine. Why? Well, because, to begin with, it was silent. Later, with a larger number of pistons and stroke, the desired fluidity and smoothness could be achieved. Although somewhat expensive and delicate, it was a good starting point, relatively straightforward; in addition, many of the big brands rode it, but only Voisin would think of giving it a sporty character. Because as we will see later, he successfully descended into the hells of competition.

The Voisin debuted in 1919 with a 4-cylinder, 4-liter engine, known as the 18CV. The C1, C3 and C5 models were derived from him, always made by hand. They were the main sustenance of the brand, until the arrival of the 6-cylinder engines that from 1927 would constitute one of its hallmarks (with the C16 and C22 models, mainly).


Don't be fooled by the flowers, this is a V12 (By Rex Gray)

In 1920, perhaps too early, the V12 C2, derived from the 4C, arrived. Seven liters in V at an unusual 30º. The development costs were astronomical and the production costs had to be even more so, since this car was left in a prototype state. Of course, in many respects it was light years ahead of its time: Without a clutch, it had a double hydraulic turbine, and the gearbox was only two-speed: one for cruising and the other for city and mountain (in the future it would switch to the Cotal electromagnetic gearbox). On the other hand, to tackle the brutality of conventional starting systems, Voisin designed its Dynastart. The car had brakes on all four wheels, with 85% of the stopping power to the front; and the engine was cleverly attached to the chassis by three anchors, the Dynastart frame itself being the front pivot.

Although the C2 was unfeasible, many of its advances passed to later models that did enter production, and its engine would serve as the basis for the L6s mentioned and for the V12s that would enhance the brand in the early 30s.

Finally, the catalog of the Parisian brand was completed with the little guy C4, of only 1.3 liters, from which the C7 model would be derived. Always with Knight mechanics, without valves. Fusion of aeronautical heritage and technical poetry, what Gabriel Voisin sought with his cars was to make works of art, devoted to minimalism and functionality.


A Voisin C25. It is awesome. (By Thesupermat)


The new brand needed to make a name for itself, and so it was decided to start competing in touring car tests. An 18 CV was taken and the power was increased to 100 CV, in such a way that mounted on a chassis covered by a body reminiscent of aviation, in wooden rings, slats and fabric, the weight of the set was very contained. Enough to win on his first appearance and over the next two years. Faced with the demand arising from the sporting successes, Voisin had to light a new model, the C5, whose ultralight phaeton body was finally designed by the skipper. And it is possibly because of this facet of bodybuilder, more than any other, that he is known in the world of motorsport.

Precisely also for the C5 he designs the insignia of the House of Issy, the cocotte, as not in aluminum. It seems that he hated it, because it was just a useless adornment.

On the other hand, in the spring of 1920 it occurred to him to hire a veteran pilot at that time in the doldrums to take a little trip in a C5. It was about making the Paris-Nice journey (currently about 900 kilometers) in the shortest possible time: According to Automobile Quarterly, the asphalt devil Lamberjack did it in 11 XNUMX/XNUMX hours, six faster than the fastest and most luxurious train of that time, the Train Bleu. The media reported the feat, I think so, but more as an unacceptable savagery than as an automobile challenge in itself. The publicity was, however, fantastic.


Laboratoire, the «F1» monocoque (and its replica)

Returning to racing, Voisin continued in the gap with his special cars, participating even after a controversy with the then FIA, the Automobile Club de France, in the pre-war F1, the Grand Prix of Speed. After a frenzied development, in 1923 he registered a string of monohulls (!) ultralight. Almost all retire, but one finishes, in fifth position. Ultimately, pure speed was not his thing, and it also did not matter since, supposedly, the possessors of sportscars they would not buy GT's Neighbor.

And yet the brand's glory days were passing, at the same speed at which the aviation pioneer squandered his fortune on actresses, dancers, and unsuccessful automotive projects. He was a wasteful. To refloat the company and after the embarrassment that participating in the "F1" meant for him, he preferred to promote himself through the records. And so the Voisin conquered a good number of these at the Autódromo de Monthléry, perhaps the most outstanding being the 50.000 kilometers. But, unfortunately, they did not serve to raise sales either.


C25 Aérodyne, towards the modern body (By Thesupermat)

The bodybuilder

Gabriel Voisin did a little of everything wonderfully, although, as we have said, one of the aspects that stood out the most in the automotive scene was in aesthetic design, mainly bodywork. He was an artist who moved in the atmosphere of the Parisian avant-garde of the early twentieth century, and in 1925 he executed what for him was the aesthetic revolution of the bodywork of the moment. Possibly influenced by characters like the famous architect Le Corbusier, who was for a time his protégé, and on the basis of the light structures of his friend Charles Weymann, created the Lumineuse (Luminous). The dress was minimalist, full of cubist and art deco details, very light and with a large glass surface.

Over the years the pioneer would evolve towards increasingly modular proposals, in which the three volumes of the car's body are clearly distinguished: one for the engine, one for the cabin and, finally, another for the trunk, which gave a lot of importance. Little by little, influenced by aerodynamics, it was also integrating the wheel arches, through the Aerodyne model, until 1936 when the Aérosport, one of the first automobiles with a modern appearance, was born. With him Gabriel Voisin became the forerunner of the aesthetic revolution carried out by Italian and American design in the 40s, and which resulted in cars as we know them today.

C28 Aérosport and its ultra-modern body (Mullin Automotive Museum)
C28 Aérosport and its ultra-modern body (Mullin Automotive Museum)

However, the Great Depression slowly killed (or finished off) the Voisin, whose leadership escaped the control of its patron in the years immediately preceding World War II. Faced with the new scenario, in which he was forced to mount three and a half liter Graham propellants in his creations, he gave his apprentice André Lefèbvre permission to go to Citröen, where he would actively participate in the development of the Traction Avant, 2CV and DS. The artist's legacy would thus be perpetuated. And the inventor would only have one more genius to perform: the Biscooter, which for a few years moved Spanish society under license.


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Full-size images (1.280 px. Approx.)


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Javier Romagosa

Written by Javier Romagosa

My name is Javier Romagosa. My father has always been passionate about historic vehicles and I have inherited his hobby, while growing up among classic cars and motorcycles. I have studied journalism and continue to do so as I want to become a university professor and change the world ... View all


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