Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport

| 7 Jan 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport

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Even if you were blindfolded when led to the cockpit of this distinctive two-tone Art Deco-style coupé, and your first sight was only of the spectacular interior trim and packed dashboard, you would know straight away you were sitting in a Voisin.

The automotive creations of the innovative but highly individual French inventor Gabriel Voisin have an instantly recognisable style.

From the chrome-bar horn contact mounted on the steering column to the twin round fuse-holders positioned in front of the passenger for easy access, the 1934 C27 Aérosport features many of its creator’s innovative patents.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The distinctive wing stays are a Voisin signature

The windscreen has no frame but the glass has been drilled for its bolted location and, when the retractable roof slides slowly back, the uncluttered view above to the sky feels just like being in a motor launch.

Below, the gloss-black dashboard is packed with knobs, switchgear and seven Jaeger gauges. There are no identifying badges inside until you glance into the footwell and see the ‘GV’ monogram cast into the brake and clutch pedals.

But look down the tapering white bonnet and you’ll see the abstract raptor-style Voisin mascot with its distinctive vertical wings.

Story goes that it was hastily assembled from aluminium scraps in the factory workshop back in 1921 when a client demanded one.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The Voisin mascot links to the marque founder’s aviation past

Bamboozled by such a busy dash and bold decorative interior fabrics, your expectations of performance and driver appeal are baffled.

Was this a sports car to rival Bugatti, or just a motor show special to dazzle the public?

Once the starter button is depressed and the 3-litre straight-six catches with a muted burble, it doesn’t sound particularly exotic.

The smokescreen behind gives a clue to its sleeve-valve design, to which Voisin remained resolutely loyal.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
Muted progress was a key feature of the Voisin

Ultimate power and torque were compromised in this complex ‘six’ in favour of near-silent running and efficient combustion, but Voisins were always built as light as possible, a legacy of their designer’s aviation experience.

To drive, the C27 is as novel as it looks with the lower gears selected via a long, hooked, floor-mounted lever.

Once through the short first-to-second gate, your attention turns to a column-mounted switch, which operates a pair of electromagnetic overdrives that provide third and fourth gears

The clutch is light and you quickly adjust to the paired gear selectors, flicking between ratios on the upper switch.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The complex sleeve-valve ‘six’ compromised pace for more refinement; power was c110bhp at 4000rpm, with a top speed of 95mph

Once on the move, the smoky white trail from the exhaust soon clears and the engine’s delivery is hushed and super-smooth.

The screw-and-nut steering lightens with speed and provides (by pre-war standards) a notably tight turning circle, while the all-drum brakes are assisted by a Voisin-Dewandre servo.

Most impressive is the rigidity of the body, even when the retractable top is slid back.

There’s no scuttle shake, and the novel door location by eight sturdy studs keeps everything superbly taut.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
It is not hard to see why this one-off Voisin C27 Aérosport turned heads at 2021’s Concours of Elegance

Only the vintage chassis dates the ride, with forged front axle and live rear all suspended by cart springs, but for added refinement the hydraulic shock absorbers can be adjusted from the cockpit via two knobs.

With the low seats and a flat floor, the driving position feels more modern than 1934, while the lozenge-shaped side window provides perfect support for the driver’s elbow.

Fabulously flamboyant and highly individual, any Voisin is a special experience but there’s nothing quite like driving this one-off C27.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The vacuum-operated top slides back to reveal Voisin’s famed Deco-style trim, which may have been designed by couturier Paul Poiret

Just imagine purring down Boulevard Haussmann at night in the ’30s, with the Voisin’s reflection shimmering in the windows of the Galeries Lafayette.

All it needs is a Josephine Baker lookalike in the passenger seat to complete the Parisian fantasy.

Voisin produced very few two-seater road cars, but the 1934 sales brochure surprisingly illustrated a new two-door sports model based on a short, 3.10m chassis.

The price was a highly exclusive FFr90,000, which was FFr10,000 more than the Bugatti Type 57 Grand Raid but half the cost of a Hispano-Suiza chassis.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The initials of Gabriel Voisin are cast into this car’s brake and clutch pedals

Just two of these C27s were built, the first being a cabriolet with special Figoni bodywork.

Ordered by an unknown Persian customer, chassis 52001 was finished in a bold two-tone green-and-yellow paint scheme.

The two-seater survived the war and was the first Voisin acquired by Californian collector Peter Mullin, who had it restored for the Pebble Beach concours with a dramatic yellow-and-black livery, chrome wire wheels and ostrich-hide upholstery.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
Seven Jaeger gauges sit within the Voisin’s gloss-black dashboard

The second C27, this time a coupé, was entirely designed and built at the Voisin works.

Known as the Aérosport, chassis 52002 was an Art Deco-style showstopper that was the talk of the 1935 Geneva and Barcelona motor shows when it was unveiled.

Although the new closed C27 featured on factory brochure artwork, Gabriel Voisin wasn’t really committed to the idea of a two-seater model and never liked the car.

“Gabriel always felt that the two-seater, with its firmer ride and cramped cockpit, was uncomfortable,” says ardent Voisin enthusiast Philipp Moch. “He much preferred the four-seater Aérodyne cars, which better fulfilled his motoring philosophy.”

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
‘Bamboozled by the busy dash and bold interior fabrics, your expectations of the performance and driver appeal are baffled’

This C27’s first owner was André ‘Noël-Noël’ Telmont, a trained architect and long-term friend of Voisin.

Story has it that the chic coupé was a gift to Telmont in lieu of his styling contributions. Voisin and Telmont collaborated on many innovative ideas for both aircraft and cars.

They first met while studying architecture together at the atelier préparatoire of Parisian firm Godefroy-Freynet in 1900.

For many years Telmont even lived in Voisin’s Boulevard Exelmans home and was nicknamed ‘le pigeon’ by his friend.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
A suitably Art Deco-style script for the Aérosport badge

“He was trained in the school of Jean-Louis Pascal, whose mantra was, tellingly, ‘Logic, not intuition. Simplify: only rational plans and decorous elevations’,” relates enthusiast Reg Winstone, who translated Voisin’s autobiography My 1001 Cars.

During the First World War, Voisin arranged for his friend to enter the Voisin Squadron and by 1918 Telmont, having trained 1500 pilots, had been promoted to chief instructor at the Avord Écolede L’Aviation.

With the return of peace, Telmont worked closely with Voisin as the key designer of his coachwork.

The distinctive style of the majority of Voisins is as much a credit to Telmont as Le Patron himself.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
With the top back, the rooflight doubles as a ’screen

Throughout his life, Voisin was well acquainted with many respected architects including Pierre Patout and Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, who owned several Voisins and featured them in his architectural drawings including his Paris redevelopment plan.

The C27 was originally finished in two-tone colours with leather upholstery, but at some point in Telmont’s 10-year ownership the Aérosport was repainted, probably during Occupation, to a less conspicuous single hue.

The architect used the Voisin as his regular transport until 1945, and it was no doubt a talking point among his artistic friends.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
Even the engine cover is elegantly styled

These included the Paris-based painter Moïse Kisling, a Polish-born Jew who had served bravely with the French Foreign Legion during WW1 but suffered serious injuries during the Battle of the Somme.

Even in 1940, at the age of 49, Kisling volunteered for service once again but was discharged after the French surrender to the Nazis.

The Voisin’s second owner was Kisling’s 23-year-old son, who had trained to fly during WW2 and saw action with the Free French Air Forces in Republic P-47 Thunderbolts.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The unique body of the C27 Aérosport was recreated by restorer Dominique Tessier

At some point the C27’s roof was damaged in an accident and the sliding retractable top was crudely repaired as a fixed coupé roof with a conventional windscreen.

The dapper Kisling eventually sold the Aérosport to the Paris-based Voisin specialist Robert Saliot, who allowed his student, Jean Terramorsi, to borrow the car.

The future RenaultSport director and instigator of the 5 Turbo recalled test driving the C27 around Paris during the 1950s, but by the 1960s the Aérosport had vanished amid stories that it had been sold to a scrap dealer.

Enter Moch, an innovative French design engineer who specialised in carbonfibre

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The glass is drilled for mounting

As well as a high-speed passion for sidecar racing, Moch was fascinated by the designs of Voisin.

When building his fantastic Grand Prix Laboratoire recreation (C&SC, October ’96), Moch acquired a large collection of spares from the garage of Saliot.

Among the hoard was a special chassis featuring an underslung rear end, a distinctive feature of the missing C27 Aérosport.

From this discovery, Moch conceived the idea in 2004 of rebuilding the lost coupé but details about its design remained scarce.

Voisin enthusiasts searched for photographs and just three were found, yet Moch remained determined.

Teamed with foremost French restoration specialist Dominique Tessier, who has an enviable record of rebuilding some of the most spectacular pre-war Gallic streamliners including many flamboyant Figoni designs, Moch began drawing up plans to remake the body.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
‘The drivetrain was rebuilt while measurements for the one-off body were scaled up from photos to match the original frame’

As well as everything from veterans to Facel Vegas, Tessier’s talented artisan team has vast experience with the Voisin marque.

Over the decades, the Tours-based workshop has worked on all eras from a vintage C1 reconstruction to the final C30 model, which was powered by a conventional Graham straight-six that Gabriel Voisin denounced as ‘a sorry piece of machinery’.

Moch regards Tessier as France’s finest coachbuilder and has enlisted the team for all of his Voisin projects, from the reborn Laboratoire to his latest plan to rerun the 1922 Rallye Paris-Milan route with a pair of 1243cc lightweight C4s that beat the Orient Express.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
This classic lives in California, in the only permanent public Voisin display in the world

First, the underslung chassis was straightened after old crash damage was discovered and the drivetrain was rebuilt while the measurements for the one-off Aérosport coachwork were scaled up from the photographs to match the original frame.

The first body stage was to complete the distinctive pontoon-style wings, which were hammered out in the traditional way.

Once Tessier was satisfied with the shape and proportions, the cabin and sliding roof were built up around the scuttle and wood frame.

Only when he was happy with the roofline were the door frames constructed with signature lozenge windows and flat aluminium panels.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
It claimed the top prize on its UK debut at the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace in September 2021

Tessier’s extensive experience of restoring ’30s Voisins gave him the perfect insight to recreate all the distinctive Aérosport details, such as the fluted edging to the lower body, doorhandles, novel bonnet mechanism and vacuum-operated roof, which was one of Voisin’s many patents.

For the finish, Moch allowed himself a little artistic licence with the interior.

While the bold two-tone blue-and-white paint scheme matched the original design, as revealed at the Geneva and Barcelona motor shows, Moch decided to go for a jazzier cabin.

Although the Art Deco fabric, reputedly designed by renowned French couturier Paul Poiret, is a signature decorative Voisin feature, it was only used on the earlier Lumineuse models.

But Moch loved its style and decided to remake the material.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
“Gabriel Voisin felt the two-seater was cramped and uncomfortable, and much preferred the four-seater Aérodyne cars”

Once an original textile loom had been found, a roll of fabric was authentically woven.

Voisin purists were dismissive, but most who viewed the dramatic design applauded this characterful feature.

When collector Mullin had his C25 Aérodyne restored for entry at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, he also decided to trim the streamlined four-seater in the Poiret material remade by Moch.

Voisin would have possibly frowned at the bold interior finish, but it didn’t stop the Aérodyne taking Best of Show at the world’s most famous concours.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
Simple yet simply beautiful wheels on this classic Voisin

The Aérosport took two years to complete, and to celebrate Moch had originally planned to unveil the project inside the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Le Bourget Airport, where it could be displayed with the only surviving WW1 Voisin III pusher biplane.

Frustratingly, museum officials thwarted this inspired launch.

Moch maintains he is not a concours man, but certain events have provided a fascinating chance to meet current stylists.

“A highlight of showing the C27 was the La Baule concours,” enthuses Moch. “Judges included Chris Bangle, then head of design at BMW. We had a great talk about the styling and details. Chris was so enthusiastic and thought the car was very modern.”

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
Note the intricate fluted body edges

Moch kept the C27 until 2010 and only decided to sell to fund a new project to create the spectacular streamlined C28 Aérosport, which he regards as Voisin’s greatest road car.

The C27 was then acquired by Mullin, and joined his sensational collection of Voisins, which also includes several of Moch’s projects such as the Laboratoire and C3 GP Strasbourg.

In September 2021, the C27 returned to Europe for the first time in a decade for its UK debut at the Concours of Elegance.

On the Saturday night before the gala dinner, Peter Reeve, the Voisin’s caretaker while it was in London, was tipped off that the Aérosport was the winning choice as selected by other entrants at the Hampton Court Palace event.

Sworn to secrecy, he discreetly removed the car from display and readied it for a grand entrance before dinner.

Classic & Sports Car – Exclusive: driving the unique Voisin C27 Aérosport
The centrally mounted Dynastart beneath the tall radiator is another Voisin signature

Merle Mullin, wife of owner Peter who couldn’t make the trip, had no idea of the nomination and was moved to tears when the gates opened and the Deco dazzler purred into the historic royal courtyard.

The inspired project is now heading back to California to rejoin the only permanent public Voisin display in the world, with 11 grouped together in the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, ranging from an early C1 Limousine to the post-war Biscúter microcar.

For decades, Voisins were rarely seen outside private collections but Moch and the Mullins have done much to teach us about Gabriel Voisin’s remarkable machines.

“My husband enjoys showing these great cars to give others pleasure,” said Merle after driving the Voisin to the public presentation at Hampton Court.

That generous ethos was particularly appreciated by one English enthusiast, who drove all the way from Nottingham just to see the C27.

Images: Max Edleston

Thanks to Peter Reeve; Merle and Peter Mullin


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