The Goddess makes a triumphant return.
Designers, akin to writers are seldom idle. Whereas us impoverished keyboard jockeys are tied to our workstations, the designer usually prefers to get stuck in, hands dirty and not simply bear witness to his (or her) thoughts, more help them bear fruition.
One such hands-on designer being Gérard Godfroy. Now aged 73, and living in Normandy, Godfroy views design as an emotional transmitter – why not share those feelings? He should know, having inputs of varying degrees in such projects as the Peugeot 205, the Alpine V6 with coach builder Heuliez, and helped to save face (literally) with the revised Citroën Visa (II).
Perhaps more noteworthy is Godfroy’s contribution to the agricultural and industrial world. Whilst Marcel Braud’s original idea for a tractor based fork-lift truck took off, the Manitou – soon to become the bona fide telehandler – was delivered via the magic marker of Godfroy. This indispensable machine can now be seen the world over, shovelling, lifting, and hauling all manner of products, including the retrieval of beached racing cars, stranded in the boonies while the safety car pirouettes the tarmac.
Cars have remained a strong interest for Godfroy. In addition to the bolides mentioned above, an eleven year stint with Venturi (including the side project Hobbycar amphibious car) and his Gallic roots have come home to roost. In collaboration with long-time friend and fellow Venturi coach builder, Christophe Bihr, they struck on the idea to improve the Deity herself – a factory Chapron in the guise of La Grand Palais.
Not wanting to detract from Chapron’s highly sought after variations with both hard and soft roofs, and astutely observing that “everyone was doing convertibles,” the pair chose to try their well practiced hands at a coupé whilst remaining in keeping with the original Bertoni/ Chapron theme.
Their (long) labours proved justified, eliciting a more personal look which responds to the original, adding graceful curves where they should be. Another stipulation Godfroy called for was the pillarless glasshouse, “finding driving with windows fully away being preferable to a more open car.” Bravo, sir!
Their project was initiated in 2012 with good old fashioned drawing, subsequently transferred to the computer to aid the process. Organically formed using a tubular framework, blocks of polyurethane foam were sculptured in what both protagonists cite as a “most rewarding,” echo to Flaminio’s methodology. Seeking more rear end curvature and for a more elegant light reflection, their plan was to heighten the DS flow with creases that emanate below that waistline.
The start line was a carburettor-model, pre-Opron facelift DS. Bihr taking on the building duties, employing glass-fibre aft of the scuttle, to define the coupé’s newfound grace. Steel is prodigiously in use here; the A-frame which helps form the central pillar and C post, the panel the boot closes onto along with, quite naturally a strengthened chassis and sills. One pleasing aspect of this excess weight bringing pleasure to the pair’s ears was the quality sounding thunk upon closing those ten centimetre longer than normal doors.
Focusing now on the light department, one can see how much lower the glasshouse is on this variant, conforming to modern ethics of crash protection; whereas an original DS would happily disintegrate come an accident, Godfroy’s could withstand a rollover without crushing the occupants. The car’s overall weight is still remarkably similar to the production DS, too. The balance of that extra steel mitigated by those glass fibre panels keeping the scales in check, “no more than 20Kg’s over.”
Another nod to modernity being tried and tested, given the DS’ propensity to succumb to the dreaded tin-worm, was cataphoric rust treatment. The design process dissolved some five thousand hours, alone. A more traditional, hands-on approach being a far cry from the days of DS production – the build itself taking six thousand over a five-year period, the pair giving themselves time off for good behaviour every now and again.
Corners simply were not cut on this build. Those polished aluminium boot hinges are hand made, the Pilkington Glass company being employed, needing several attempts at curving that rear glass, just so. Adapting the drop down windows to Godfroy’s and Bihr’s satisfaction took days of brain power, and then came the interior.
Enhanced by the tobacco leather, subtle improvements include a more driver-centric radio, central window controls along with sleeker chrome striped door bins. Ever the perfectionist, Godfroy chose in the build not to alter the instruments but has second thoughts now; “A nice, round, triple cluster like those introduced in 1970 would finish things off.
Which brings this tale not quite to a close. Originally seen purely as a project to fill their time and put those not insubstantial talents to use, enquiries were made to buy this, currently, one-off Grand Palais coupé. As with most car building, economies of scale began to rear their heads. “With the hours we put in and the enthusiastic response to the car, a small production timeline makes sense. Maybe four or five a year and to make ends meet, you’re looking at around €150,000.”
Bihr’s Le Mans based workshop with assistances from Guillaume Dirard and Tony Boisard look to be kept busier than first anticipated with an order of at least one more in the pipeline.
Yes this car will forever be a limited, luxurious and expensive indulgence, but the Grand Palais’s creator has once more found great emotion in handling materials, transmitting that to the many interested parties.