Jacques Saoutchik: Humble Beginnings
Seeking a better life, 19-year-old Iakov Savtchuk fled his homeland of Belarus in Eastern Europe for Paris, France, in 1899, where he’d get his start in furniture design. After a few years of working at a Parisian furniture company, the Belarusian-born Iakov Savtchuk mastered the craft of cabinet making. Motivated by his aspirations of becoming a coachbuilder, the young cabinet maker changed his name to Jacques Saoutchik and founded the French coachbuilding company Carrosserie de Luxe J. Saoutchik in 1906, in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Jacques Saoutchik: Marketing Strategy and Innovation
A pivotal moment in coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik’s career arrived at the Concours d’Élegance de La Grande Cascade, a premier event in Paris where high-society gathered to see the latest in automotive design, beauty products, fashion, and art. It would be the birth of the automobile concours that would provide the perfect stage upon which Saoutchik could showcase his coachbuilding skills. Being fiercely competitive and working hours on end, Saoutchik presented his work and dominated the show. The horse carriage was quickly losing its appeal, and Saoutchik seized the opportunity to promote his creations at the Paris Salon.
The first Saoutchik-bodied models appeared on framework by car manufacturers Berliet, Panhard, and Hotchkiss, two of which were on display at the Paris Salon in 1910. These early examples would set the standard of Saoutchik’s future coachwork, and this marketing strategy proved successful as orders from customers around the globe came in, including a commission to design a Popemobile in 1911.
Saoutchik had not only become an expert in automotive design and a master coachbuilder, but he was also the inventor of several advanced vehicle mechanisms for which he filed patents, beginning in 1907 when he created an adjustable windshield. Additional patents consisted of a convertible top, a removable windshield, an apparatus to lower and raise a car window, and the cantilever door system.
Jacques Saoutchik: Transformable Town Cars of the Pre-war Era
Throughout the pre-war era, the focus of Saoutchik’s elaborate coachwork was on long, transformable town cars in the form of cabriolets, coupes, and saloons. European luxury-car manufacturers supplied the chassis that then received a Saoutchik body. With customers making growing requests for bespoke models, clientele ranged from aristocrats to famous film stars such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. During their honeymoon in Europe in 1920, the couple purchased a six-cylinder Delage D6, a car that would later receive an advertisement in Vogue magazine featuring Pickford.
Establishing himself as the coveted coachbuilder of French opulence early on, orders for Jacques Saoutchik’s meticulous and elegant designs began to pile up. Saoutchik masterpieces born leading into the pre-war era of cars were the 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Torpedo Roadster, 1930 Cadillac V-16 Convertible Berline, and 1931 HC6 Hispano Suiza. Soon after, Saoutchik expanded his business by collaborating with other prestigious car manufacturers, among them Bugatti, Delahaye, Talbot, and Pegaso.
Jacques Saoutchik: Defining a Signature Style
Influenced by the Art Deco period in France, Saoutchik’s design work in the post-war era transitioned from more rectangular, transformable bodies to an avant-garde style that emphasized flowing lines. The new design phase incorporated the V-split windshield, chrome embellishments, ornate interiors, vibrant colors, and most notably swoopy-curve fenders. Novelties that defined Saoutchik’s signature style were the teardrop fenders, folding windshield, reward-opening doors, stretched tails, and low windscreens that could sink into the body.
Jacques Saoutchik: Later Years
In the late 1940s, Jacques’s son Pierre Saoutchik played up the teardrop-shaped fenders when spearheading the 1949 Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster project, a car commissioned by Sir John Paul of England. Although Pierre assumed the role of the proprietor of the coachbuilding business in 1952 before his father’s death in 1957, the coachbuilder’s prospects were grim. As demand for extravagant French automobiles faded into obscurity due to sinking sales, Saoutchik ceased operating in 1955.
Jacques Saoutchik’s award-winning creations are today worth millions of dollars, and Saoutchik-bodied examples attract huge attention when they appear on concourse lawns. Here is a look at five of the most striking car designs by the iconic French coachbuilder.
1932 Bucciali TAV 8-32 Saoutchik “Fleche d’Or”
Inspired by a career in aviation and featuring the groundbreaking concept of front-wheel drive, then known as Traction Avant (TAV), brothers Angelo and Paul-Albert Bucciali built the TAV 8-32. Bodied by Saoutchik, the TAV 8-32 employed a Voison 12-cylinder engine mated to a transverse four-speed manual transmission. The 1932 Bucciali TAV 8-32 Saoutchik “Fleche d’Or” was the eighth iteration of the Bucciali TAV, and it was the most successful version. This four-door saloon flaunted a stunning sculpted body and low ride height. Exterior highlights included Grebel headlights, sleek fenders, a glitzy spare-wheel cover, and the SPAD S.XIII fighter-plane stork on the inner fenders.
1938 Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia
Conceived with design work by Saoutchik and built on the Hispano Suiza H6C chassis by WWI fighter pilot and race car driver Andre Dubonnet, the Dubonnet Xenia came equipped with an independent suspension that Andre engineered. A nod to the cars of tomorrow, the aeronautical Dubonnet Xenia featured teardrop-shaped wings, parallel opening doors, and curved windows that resembled an airplane. The 1938 Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia, owned by French-car collector Peter Mullin, is now on display at the Mullin Automotive Museum.
1938 Graham 97 Supercharged Cabriolet
Combining American flair and French Art Deco, the 1938 Graham 97 Supercharged Cabriolet by Saoutchik had reverse-opening doors, a folding windshield, and chrome ornamentation. Dubbed the Spirit of Motion and covered in aerodynamic lines, the shark-nose grille atop the pontoon fenders was the Graham 97’s focal point. Other notable details included a rear tailfin on the trunk lid, and headlights that blended smoothly into the fenders.
1948 Cadillac Series 62 Cabriolet
Designed during the post-war period, the Saoutchik 1948 Cadillac Series 62 Cabriolet was a precursor to the end of an era in French coachbuilding. Only two examples were produced, one of which belonged to crossover film actress Dolores del Rio; the other was purchased by New York socialite Louis Ritter. Wild, extravagant, and stylish, the two-tone Series 62 Cabriolet exhibited decorative scallops, moving lines, and a front bumper that split in the middle.
1949 Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster
Once owned by English film and television actress Diana Dors, the one-off 1949 Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster was undoubtedly the most exuberant design under the Saoutchik name. The unorthodox Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster utilized a four-speed pre-selector gearbox, featured a lavish interior, and voluptuous free-flowing fenders that covered the wheels. Painted in bright blue with chrome embellishments all around, this showstopper guaranteed to captivate onlookers.