Émile Darl’mat died in 1970, but his name survives to this day in several Peugeot dealerships.
Enthusiasts had to wait until 1991 to see the lion marque’s return to Le Mans, this time with all the resources of the factory behind it.
The 302 and 402 DS therefore represent important milestones in French motorsport, testifying to a time when a privateeer could successfully represent the colours of a major manufacturer.
Words: Serge Cordey
Images: Serge Cordey/Christophe Pund Archive
Thanks to: Christophe Pund, La Galerie des Damiers
‘This car is particularly well preserved, even if it has changed colour: there are traces of green on edges of the bodywork’
From streamlining pioneer to war hero
In 1918, designer Georges Paulin was severely affected by the war when his mother was killed in a bombing raid. He was only 16 years old.
Paulin started work as a dental technician but remained passionate about aerodynamics and design, to which he devoted more and more time.
He made a name for himself in 1932 with a patent for a retractable roof, which was adopted by Peugeot on its 301 Éclipse, bodied in the workshops of Marcel Pourtout.
Paulin designed several models, each of which was characterised by the quest for optimum aerodynamic streamlining (typically in order to compensate for a sometimes modest power output).
In 1937, the preparation by Pourtout and Paulin of a sublime Delage D8 for the Paris Salon attracted the attention of Walter Sleator, a Rolls-Royce and Bentley agent in France.
Sleator had been commissioned to produce aerodynamic bodywork for Andre Maris Embiricos, a Greek shipping magnate and banker, based on a 4¼-litre Bentley.
Georges Paulin presented a very personal style that could also be found on the Embiricos Bentley
They decided to call on Paulin, who built what is now called the ‘Bentley Embiricos’ (above) after having carried out scale-model tests in the Meudon wind tunnel, and the elegant streamlined bodywork is reminiscent of the Peugeot Spécial Sport.
This achievement encouraged the Rolls-Royce group to secure the services of Paulin, who in 1939 produced the astonishing Corniche saloon for the brand.
When WW2 broke out, Paulin became heavily involved in the French Resistance alongside coachbuilder Georges Kellner and in liaison with Sleator.
He transmitted information to the RAF to direct its bombardments on various factories, using a hidden transmitting station.
But in November 1941 several members of the network were arrested, including Paulin, who was tortured and then shot in March 1942.
Émile Darl’mat’s Le Mans adventures
Émile Darl’mat received Peugeot’s approval to race at Le Mans, however the company stopped short from offering official support for the race
When he ran the 302 DS prototype at Montlhéry in 1936, Émile Darl’mat’s mind was on the most prestigious endurance race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Thanks to the car’s good initial results he received the factory’s blessing and assistance, although Peugeot chose not to offer its support officially in order to avoid the consequences of a failure – but it would, of course, be happy to benefit from any success.
Darl’mat prepared three cars for 1937 (with a more powerful engine, aluminium body without doors, 120-litre tank, Alpax rims, bucket seats and aeroscreen), entered for Charles de Cortanze/Maurice Serre (car 25), Jean Pujol/Marcel Contet (26) and Daniel Porthault/Luis Rigal (27).
Numbers 25, 26 and 27 line up at Le Mans in 1937; the trio would go on to cross the finish line together