The words Grand Transformation barely suffice. Unknown to many, yet it came from the hand of a particularly talented designer and caused quite a stir in 1955. Citroën’s popular 2CV model could also present both sporty and stylish.

The year is 1955 and the 42nd Salon de L’Auto turns out to be a true landmark among car shows. Citroën steals the show by impressing the whole industry with their ID/DS model, emphasizing that World War II has been left behind and the world now has its sight set on a brighter and exciting future. Production and consumption is on a rise, the industry is experiencing lucrative conditions and the beginning of modern times.

In a corner of the exhibition there’s another Citroën which is causing quite the commotion, but here it’s the name Philipe Charbonneaux which steals the limelight. He has already made a name for himself in and around Paris as a skilled coachwork designer, and he also has a particular knowledge of Citroën’s primitive 2CV model. Another coachwork artesian, Dragonet, who practically specializes solely in building cars based on the 2CV chassis, has approached Charbonneaux to have him design an elegant and sporty body. The stunning result was to be built at the coachwork factory Saint Cloud in Paris. The whole objective was to attract attention to the smaller coachwork companies, and this International exhibition was the perfect stage for their combined project.

Charbonneaux achieved pure beauty, and even though it wasn’t a proper sports car, the little coupé was still nothing less than a sensation at the exhibition. The car retained the original 2CV engine with a mere 425cc. The key word being reliability, rather than trying to impress with performance. The windscreen was borrowed from a Simca 9 Sport, and there was a multitude of other parts too, which came from various local car producers. The front grill was a re-used Charbonneaux design from the presidential Citroën 15CV Limousine which was built by Franay.

In 1955 a new Citroën limousine was built for the French President by Franay (left) and in 1956 the job was executed by Chapron (right). The radiator grill from the Franay also adorned Charbonneaux’s 2CV.

At the Salon de L’Auto, Charbonneaux’s 2CV was exhibited in two-tone paint consisting of black over a vibrant yellow. These paintjobs were the hottest fashion of the fifties, to the point where they today almost epitomize the era. The price was set at 700,000 French Francs, which was precisely what the potential car buying public would pay for something like the much bigger Renault Frégate.

With a budget of 700,000 Francs you could choose either the small Charbonneau 2CV or the range-topping Renault Frégate.

Charbonneaux had several other attempts at building cars based on the 2CV. This one reveals its origins quite openly.

Charbonneaux 2CV

Why the Charbonneaux 2CV never materialized into more than the one exhibition car is lost in history. Presumably potential buyers just didn’t commit once the reality of the simple origins were thoroughly considered…? Phillipe Charbonneaux who died in 1998, was both a talented but also versatile designer. He did not limit himself to cars either, also gaving birth to several other industrial designs. Perhaps he is best described as a French version of Raymond Loewy. Among his many masterpieces, especially the Pathe-Marconi Super Car is worthy of notice – a mobile music studio and office built in 1955.

Panhard IE 45 HL – Pathe-Marconi Super Car. Design Philippe Charbonneaux 1955.

Téléviseur “Téléavia Panoramic”. Design Philippe Charbonneaux.

Delahaye 235 MS 2/4 Seat Coupé. Built by Chapron. Design Philippe Charbonneau 1952.

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About The Author

Søren Navntoft

All cars are lovable. Especially if they are Italian or French. I prefer them kept original, showing as few changes as possible. Sherry, a good cup of coffee and the sound of Miles Davis is the good life. Søren's keeper is a 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV - but he continually flirts with French connections such as DS, 2CV and R4.

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