Henri Chapron is a perfect example of how creativity, custom and nationality can become closely intertwined. Admittedly, he had fertile soil in which to develop. We are talking about the France of the “Années Folles”, where, in 1919, he first emerged as a coachbuilder, and where Parisians sought to drive away the memories of the war through a nightlife animated by the artistic avant-garde, the increasing prominence of refined Deco taste, and the birth of fashion as we know it today.
A pre-war Chapron body that combines sartorial sophistication with tradition: it is a 1936 Delahaye 135 Coupe des Alpes Cabriolet Mylord.
What is more, Chapron was a Frenchman, and we all know how proudly patriotic the French are. In fact, it is no coincidence that his logo incorporates a cockerel, or Coq, as a reference and tribute to his Gallic origins. Chapron left behind some excellent work in the two decades leading up to the Second World War, but it was in its aftermath that his brilliance really became apparent. The crazy years were over. As the pioneering approach to car making made way for industrial production, this was no longer the time for spectacularly ostentatious cars (even Bugatti was forced out of business).
In 1955, Chapron seized the opportunity to dress the Citroën DS, producing an exclusive convertible named “Croisette” as a tribute to Cannes.
Everyone had their sights set on owning a car, although it has to be said that this did not substantially change the tastes of Chapron and his most faithful customers. In 1955, he was given a wonderful opportunity: he was invited to dress the technically and conceptually avant-garde, and 100% French, Citroën DS. Chapron had already worked on Citroën mechanics, having bodied the car of French president René Coty. Modernized by him, it was one of the most famous examples of the Traction Avant.
The DS is not Chapron’s only experience with a Citroën. He bodied the famous Traction 15/6 H for the French president René Coty, completely altering its lines.
But the DS gave him very different inputs, as did the SM, the Citroën with a Maserati engine that has followed in its footsteps. The DS convertibles he built in those years were magnificent (and even made the mother company drool!), while the Citroëns built for the Elysée, intended for use by Presidents of the Republic such as de Gaulle and Pompidou and their distinguished guests, were proudly French.
President Pompidou, after Charles de Gaulle had opted for a DS, requested that Chapron prepare a presidential Citroën SM. The resulting car was truly fascinating.
This fantastic story started to draw to a close in 1978, with Chapron’s death at the remarkable age of 92. With Citroën’s creative activity dramatically curtailed, the final curtain fell in 1985, when his business closed.
Another of Chapron’s many interpretations of the DS is the 1959 Citroën DS 21 Cabriolet ''Le Caddy''.
CLASSIC CAR MATCHER