|So far my pieces on cars I would like to own have been kept largely within the realms of possibility; vehicles I could conceivably buy if I either worked harder in this life, or stuck in at school in another. But if you’ll forgive the brief flight of fancy, I’d like to talk about something a little bit more exotic; something that you probably won’t have ever seen, and may never even have heard of: Peugeot’s 402 Darl’Mat Roadster.
Despite writing about cars for a living, I was very much in the second camp until several years ago, blissfully bumbling through life in the comforting ignorance of what I was missing. That changed during a visit to Essen’s Techno-Classica when, strolling through Hall 5, I came across the famous central display pulled together by the show organiser, SIHA. I can’t quite remember what else was on the display, so taken was I by the impossibly pretty little roadster, on loan from the Louwman Museum and finished in dark paint that glittered with the reflection of the harsh show hall lights. Almost robust looking from the front, finer details emerged as I walked around the car, as the full shape of the teardrop mudguards and tapered tail came into view. I don’t think I have ever seen anything as stylish in my entire life as that little 402.
The man responsible for the object of my desire was Emile Darl’mat, a Peugeot distributor and coachbuilder with a small shop on the rue de l’Universite in Paris who carved a niche creating beautiful and competitive sports cars based on humble Peugeot underpinnings. By the late 1930s he had built up a reputation and customer base that allowed him unparalleled access to Peugeot’s Sochaux plant. But as with so many of the era’s promising enterprises, the outbreak of war brought things to a grinding halt. The aftermath of conflict left France shattered and the economy too damaged to support demand for such expensive cars, and just 105 of all body styles were built. The passage of time has since whittled their number down to around 30, most of which are squirrelled away in private collections or gathering dust in high-end museums.
I had all but given up hope of seeing one again until last year’s visit to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the myriad shows that lead up to the main event. I’d driven to Carmel for a walk along Ocean Avenue, the main street that bisects the seaside resort and plays host to the Concours on the Avenue, as well as serving as the finishing line of the Tour d’Elegance. I can’t tell you how surprised I was to see another 402 Darl’Mat Roadster, this time not finished in sombre black but an almost electric green, the sort of expensive colour seen only on the heirloom brooches of wealthy old ladies. The colour of money.
When I saw my first Darl’Mat Roadster all I could imagine was driving down the winding hill roads of Monaco towards Monte-Carlo, racing through a warm, dark night to a reserved parking space outside the Casino and a night of expensive champagne and excess. It’s a feeling I got again seeing US dealer Mark Hyman and his glamorous daughter, Brooke, as they turned off Ocean Avenue and burbled back towards the show fields. They certainly sold the Riviera dream.
A quick glance at recent auction results – and discovering a stunning yellow example sold by RM Sotheby’s for upwards of $500,000 at Amelia Island back in 2011 (pictured) – has confirmed it’s a car I will never own. And quite probably never even drive. But few cars have made such an instant and lasting impression on me. So you can keep your Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini dealerships: I know where I’ll be heading when my numbers come up.
Photos: Darin Schnabel courtesy of RM Sotheby’s