As one of France’s oldest and most storied marques, Peugeot is a cornerstone of the modern automobile industry. With its manufacturing history predating the motorcar, they were one of the earliest major car companies to realize the publicity that came with the thrilling new sport of motor racing. Peugeot’s first significant victory came in 1895 when a Type 7 won the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris rally. Multiple victories followed in the ensuing years, with notable wins at the French Grand Prix and at the highly-publicized Indianapolis 500 mile race, where they were three times a winner – in 1913, 1916, and 1919. Peugeot eventually quit motorsport to concentrate on their core business of production road cars. They did not return to competition on a large scale until the 1980s, yet the Peugeot name made an indelible mark during the formative years of the automobile.
In the 1930s, Emile Darl’mat owned one of the world’s largest Peugeot agencies, located in Paris. He was a passionate champion of the marque who longed for the company to return to racing, particularly at prestigious home events like the 24 Hueres du Mans. Emile used his considerable influence to get the factory’s blessing for a limited run of sports cars worthy of Peugeot’s sporting legacy. He was one of a select few dealers with the ability to offer custom coachwork options to his customers, and Peugeot was more than happy to supply him with whatever resources he needed, so long as the orders kept rolling in. Darl’mat had a close relationship with Marcel Pourtout’s successful carrosserie on the outskirts of Paris, and together the men created some of Peugeot’s most memorable – and beautiful – automobiles.
For the fabulous new Special Sport model, Darl’mat utilized the Peugeot 302 chassis, modified with a twin-carb 402 engine. Later in production, Peugeot supplied the wider, shorter, and lighter 402 chassis, providing a boost to handling and straight-line performance. Both the 302 and 402 versions shared the same Pourtout coachwork, available in coupe, cabriolet, or roadster variations. Designed by Pourtout’s immensely talented lead stylist Georges Paulin, the Peugeot Darl’mat was a dramatic embodiment of the French Art-Deco movement, with graceful compound curves intersected by creased surfaces and bold geometric details. Particularly in roadster form, the light, aerodynamic body, and powerful 2-liter engine combined to make a formidable sports car. Darl’mat took his team to Le Mans on multiple occasions, finishing on the podium in class at the 1937 race. He returned in 1938 with “semi-works” support to secure victory in the 2-liter class and an impressive 5th place overall. Between 1936 and 1938, Darl’mat produced 105 examples of his sports car – 53 roadsters, 20 coupes, and 32 cabriolets, and survivors are coveted by collectors around the world.
This outstanding Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Légère Special Sport is one of 53 roadsters originally constructed, and one of approximately 30 known survivors of all body styles. It is the subject of a recent concours-quality restoration finished in stunning light metallic silver over blue leather. It is a beautifully prepared example, suitable for premier motoring events around the world. This particular chassis has a well-known history back to the 1960s when it was in the care of noted collector Henri Mallatre of Lyon, France. Mallatre operated a salvage yard in the late 1920s, and his car collection started in the early 1930s when he received an 1898 Rochet-Schneider and didn’t have the heart to dismantle it. He saved many historically significant automobiles from the scrap heap, as well as the Nazi occupation. He managed to survive internment at a concentration camp to return home and grow his collection for many years after the war. Mallatre’s legacy lives on in a museum that is still in operation today. It isn’t entirely clear when Mallatre acquired this Darl’mat, but he sold it in the late 1960s to a collector in Switzerland who commissioned the first restoration in the early 1970s. It quietly changed hands a few times, winding up in the USA by the late 1990s. In the early 2000s, it had some further restoration work done, and remained in fine condition in the care of collectors.
In 2019, this Darl’mat underwent a meticulous, concours-quality, ground-up restoration. It debuted at the Ocean Reef Vintage Weekend in Florida, earning a well-deserved Best in Show. Shortly after, it scored a class win at the 2020 Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance. The light metallic silver livery highlights Georges Paulin’s design beautifully, accentuating the graceful curves and sharp creases of the lightweight coachwork. Details of the restoration include gorgeous Marchal lighting, unique original road wheels with period-correct Michelin rubber, and that unmistakable retractable windscreen – a patented design by Paulin.
Gorgeous dark blue ostrich leather accents the exterior color beautifully, pulling the subtle blue hues of the metallic when viewed in the sunlight. The two-seat cockpit is elegant and minimalistic with little to distract the driver from the road ahead. A pair of instrument clusters flank switchgear and the centrally-mounted selector for the Cotal gearbox. The sculpted seats provide plenty of support for enthusiastic driving, and the cut-down doors allow room for the occasional elbows-out moment. The spare wheel consumes much of the boot space, but a fitted and leather-upholstered Louis Vuitton suitcase occupies the dedicated compartment behind the seatback.
Using a standard 2-liter Peugeot 402 engine as the base, Darl’mat updates include twin Zenith-Stromberg carburetors and mild tuning to boost output to over 70 horsepower. With its light and inherently streamlined body, the car’s performance is impressive, offering a driving experience that belies this car’s 82 years. The 4-speed Cotal pre-select gearbox operates beautifully, and the running gear benefits from recent attention by a Darl’mat specialist to ensure it is dialed-in for enjoyable running on rallies and concours road tours.
With robust underpinnings and magnificent styling courtesy of the brilliant Georges Paulin, the Peugeot 402 Darl’mat Special Sport is one of the most extraordinary and desirable pre-war French sporting cars. This gorgeous example is in the ultimate légère specification, featuring the desirable lightweight 402 chassis. It is already a proven performer on the road and the show field and will make a marvelous centerpiece to virtually any collection of European sports cars.
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