Material Handler

The Goddess makes a triumphant return.

All Images (c)

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.

The material handler himself, Gérard Godfroy

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.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

44 thoughts on “Material Handler”

  1. Very interesting article Andrew! I’m still struggling with those rear wheels so far back, but that roof and rear glass are just perfect and that interior is gorgeous.

  2. It´s very convincing – the new work blends very well with the inherited parts. Even the interior seems plausible. You seldom see such revisits to old work succeeding. And I like the street in the last photo – Alsace?

  3. Absolutely wonderful, thank you Andrew! The car is so ‘other-worldly’ that the position of the rear wheels doesn’t bother me in in the slightest. It’s made me realise how short the rear overhang was on the standard DS:

    1. Hi Daniel. That picture of the DS is sublime, I love the perfect stance of that particular car, which is slightly tails up, like a proper, old school French car, but not so much, in keeping with the dignified nature of the DS. The setting is beautiful too. Here I have absolutely no problem with the position of the rear wheels and the overhang (or lack thereof). I guess what makes it difficult for me on the coupé is the long, empty distance from the rear door shutline to the wheels and how they are clearly behind the roof and rear window. But I also agree with you on the “other-worldly” factor of it, which I guess allows it to dispense with normal car design rules.

      The DS is near the top of my list of classic car I would like to drive or even just ride in.

    2. Daniel, any chance you could use your magic paint-brush on the heading photo to move the back axle maybe 18 inches closer to the B-pillar ? Just to make cesargrauf and myself happy ?

    3. Hi Mervyn. Very happy to oblige, but I won’t get to it until Saturday as I have a busy day tomorrow. Watch this space!

    4. Hi Mervyn. I decided to do it straight away instead, as it didn’t take long. Two versions to choose from:

      What do you think?

    5. #1 is better, but makes it look more ordinaire than the original I’m afraid Daniel.

    6. Hi Andy. I don’t disagree with your conclusion. The short-wheelbase version looks like a 1950’s American Coupé to me in its stance.

      I wonder of we are judging these images against an objective sense of aesthetic ‘rightness’ or simply what we are familiar with? The original is highly unfamiliar, but is it ‘wrong’?

      Those are questions for Mr Herriott, I think!

    7. Many thanks – the top one looks perfect, and less steering input required in city driving is a bonus.

    8. I think that as art, Godfroy’s car is quite successful. It provokes me, and makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, like a voyeur, an interloper in someone else’s private fantasy. In my opinion, to evaluate it in terms of industrial design is to ask the wrong questions.

      The DS is as rational a design as it is beautiful and emotional, I would say the same about a Jaguar E-Type, but this Godfroy DS is not rational. In that I note a tradition being faithfully continued here, but forwarded, striking a perfect tone, a plunge into a purely fantastical “what if?” alternate history, which is on an entirely different plane, in another dimension, set apart from my affinity for the classic Citroëns. Some part of French culture that became lost, is again found in this reimagining, and we all know what that is. Like a coachbuilt Delahaye, this incredibly sensual contrivance of an automobile could only come from France:

      The contrast I am proposing that we consider, the dichotomy between pure art and industrial design, means for me that viewing the Godfroy DS furthers my appreciaton of the DS. Of course one cannot see Godfroy’s car without considering la déesse, the cognitive dissonance you feel, the desire to move the rear wheel forward, for example, and then the realization that doing so would spoil this artwork is what I think makes this creation such a fine example of art.

      Below is an art project that is more whimsical, but I consider it also in the same category. It is disturbing, and familiar, and for me, probably unforgettable. It recalls my “awakening” upon first entering the museum at Beauborg, where quite intentionally the first thing one would see (other than the building itself) was [the famous grey] 2CV prototype, sitting alone, which I had not previously seen. I shall never forget that transformative experience. The escalator ride up the outside of the building, then the car, and much more that was so stimulating and provocative within. But this 2CV below is quite more like Godfroy’s DS, in that it is removed from the consideration of practicality, having been altered for no useful purpose other than to capture the eye and provoke the mind.

      The contrast and simultaneous capacity of the two Bertoni designs to provide such a rich canvas for others to paint with also suggests me that Bertoni was perhaps unparalleled as an industrial designer. Maybe there are such purely artistic remixes of Giugiaro, or Dieter Rams, or Mies van der Rohe, but I can’t recall any at the moment.

    9. Tricky – I will have to sleep on that one.
      In 1955 the wheel location would not have seemed so unusual. The entire car was a bolt from the sky so assessing it must have been hard both in the studio and for consumers. As to the revisions, I prefer the version with the wheels further back. If we were talking of any other shape, the third photo would be predictably the better one. The DS aspect might be leading us to expect wheels as far back as possible.

    10. Daniel, regarding your comment about having inadvertently conjured a 1950’s American Coupé, I am almost certain that you refer to the Loewy Studebaker, and that his country of origin is not a coincidence.

    11. Something worth bearing in mind gentlemen when discussing wheel placement, the design of the D-series, and Citroen styling of this era in general is that within the Bureau d’Etudes there was a determined mindset that insisted the styling of the cars must not just reflect, but accentuate the fact that the cars were front-wheel drive and that the rear wheels were in effect an afterthought, merely keeping the rear of the car from making contact with the road surface. Hence the fact they were semi-enclosed – which by happy coincidence also aided the aerodynamics. The placement of the DS’ rear wheels puts me in mind of older aircraft, where instead of a nose-wheel, they simply had a small jockey wheel beneath the tailfin.

    12. Off-topic, but I’ve always been curious about those press studs on the sides of the sumptuous headrests you can see on that DS. They also later featured on the SM. Is the headrest held in place by the press studs so you can adjust its height by un-popping them?

    13. Hi Gooddog. Sorry, I’m late replying to your question. Actually, it wasn’t a specific car I had in my mind’s eye, but something like this 1950 Chevrolet, with its heavily rounded forms:

      The Studebaker really is rather nice though. What a shame the company failed.

    14. @John Topley
      The headrests’ press studs are meant to do exactly what you thought. They provide a kind of height adjustment for the headrests.

  4. Fantastic article Andrew, thank you. I love all things DS, probably my all time favourite car. I think this pillar-less coupe looks sublime. Better check my premium bonds to see if I’ve won, then I can order one 👍🏻

  5. Thank you Andrew for placing this car in the spotlight for us.
    This is very well done, it looks as if it could have flowed from the pen of Mr. Bertoni himself- many “restomods” and their like often lack that certain “Je ne sais quoi” but perhaps that is precisely because their creators are not frenchmen.
    And that interior is just lovely!

  6. From the wonderful book “Bertoni – 30 Ans de style Citroën” by Fabian Sabatès and Leonardo Bertoni, here is a rendering by Flaminio Bertoni done in 1954 which is in the same style as Mr Godfroy’s coupé- headroom would have been virtually absent in the back of course, but it would have made for a racy silhouette!

  7. Dare I say that the only two door DS that looks really attractive to me is the standard ‘cabriolet usine’?
    The coupés don’t work and many Chapron creations look cheesy with their overdose of chrome, fake wire wheels and tailfins.

    1. The Cabriolet d’Usine mentioned by Dave above:

      (Any excuse to post a photo of a DS!)

    2. And here’s one of the awfully kitsch Chapron creations that for me simply don’t work

      Those wheel covers alone would be enough to put me off and that’s before I look at the overdose of chrome and the tailfins.

    3. Dave, I remember driving through the French countryside a few years ago seeing a beautiful metallic blue DS Décapotable just like that one. There are a few reasons why I wish my life had turned out differently, but that’s the only automobile-related one. Mon dieu.

  8. While its quite inspiring, and i appreciate the effort, i’m not really a fan of the result.
    Too much of the original identity has been lost, and the rear just doesn’t work at all with the stock wheelbase.

    This is how you make a DS coupe while retaining the personality of the car!

    1. Hi Dave, that one is much better. I even like the squared off rear wheel skirts that are just the right size, position and angle to speak with the C-pillar.

    2. These cut and shut D-series prototypes shown above were part of the S-vehicle programme and never intended for production. Jacques Né also oversaw a number of similarly truncated DS and SM rally cars, but these were purely intended for motorsport activities.

      The Chapron-bodied cars (as against the also Chapron-designed and built ‘factory Decapotable’) were abundantly illustrative of the nostrum of less being more.

    3. While i agree its not an improvement on the original (how could you?) i think it’s pretty cool looking, in a fiat multipla, so ugly it becomes lovable, kind of way.

      It’s also unmistakably a DS, unlike the car in the article, which is veering on the side of bland anonymity (except for the weird wheelbase)

      There was also a version with the rear wheel spats retained, and an interesting rear door solution.

  9. Andrew, nice article and lots of great information. ((Text deleted by Richard Herriott)). But what an elegant, beautiful car; thanks for sharing.

    1. Dear PC Mast: How nice to hear from you again and thank you so much for the literary advice. I’m sure the author will be most gratified for it.

    2. Dear PC:

      Thanks for your comment but no thank you to the literary advice. I have deleted the sentence in the original.



  10. 1000 mercis pour cet article, quel travail incroyable les concepteurs ont fait ! J’espère que vous ferez un de ces jours un article sur la Citroen SM2. Le projet est tout aussi fou, fiabiliser et perfectionner les SM.

    Google translate:
    1000 thanks for this article, what an amazing job the designers did! I hope you will do an article on the Citroen SM2 one of these days. The project is just as crazy, to make reliable and perfect the SM.

    1. Hello Alain. Thank you for your very kind words. I’m sure Andrew will appreciate them very much. I have taken the liberty of translating your comment into English.

      Google translate:

      Bonjour Alain. Merci pour vos paroles très aimables. Je suis sûr qu’Andrew les appréciera beaucoup. J’ai pris la liberté de traduire votre commentaire en anglais.

    2. Hi Alain: thanks for the image. I have to say I like the colour. It´s quite like the colour I chose for my XM. Where in France is that photo from?

      Google translate:

      Salut Alain: merci pour l’image. Je dois dire que j’aime la couleur. C’est tout à fait la couleur que j’ai choisie pour mon XM. D’où vient cette photo en France?

  11. Vous êtes tous formidable 🙂
    C’est bien ça, le site présente la SM2 avec beaucoup de photo.
    Tout est refait/amélioré/modernisé : moteur, intérieur, extérieur sans trahir l’original.
    Cherchez sur Youtube des videos, c’est impressionnant.

    You are all wonderful 🙂
    That’s right, the site presents the SM2 with a lot of photos.
    Everything is redone / improved / modernized: engine, interior, exterior without betraying the original.
    Look for videos on Youtube, it’s awesome.

  12. Good morning Daniel. Great job on the photoshop, as usual! I think photo #1 is the one that keeps the DS spirit the most, with its rear wheels still set behind the roof, but #2 is intriguing in that it looks more than slightly mid-century American. Both are lovely anyway!

  13. Thanks for showing us this car, Andrew!
    As many stated before, it’s one of the very few DS coupé modifications that really work, and I appreciate that it’s so very un-Chapron with its minimal ornamentation.

    For me, the rear wheel is exactly where it has to be. As much as I appreciate the quality of Daniel’s photoshops, these here look just plain ordinary for my eye. Like a normal car compared to a goddess. They remind me a bit of the new C5X, very un-Citroën with its too long rear overhang.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: