By Marvin McFalls…..

2019 is a landmark year for the French constructor Citroën as they are celebrating their 100th Anniversary.  At the recent Rétromobile 2019, which took place at the Porte de Versailles, Paris, on February 6 – 10, there were two significant displays of Citroëns.  The first consisting of thirty cars, was presented by L’Aventure a division of PSA dedicated to the preservation of Peugeot, Citroen, and DS models.  The second exhibit was part of a private collection belonging to an unnamed owner, and consisted of no less than eighteen custom Henri Chapron built Citroën models. 

Possibly the largest collection of Chapron custom Citroëns ever displayed.

In trying to research the owner for this article, I had virtually no success, other than the fact that the collection may or may not be based in the Netherlands. With the mystery still firmly surrounding the anonymous owner, I figured to focus the spotlight on the amazing collection he or she has amassed, and try to cover each unique model of Citroëns constructed by the coach builder Henri Chapron.

Henri Chapron had established his coachworks company during the 1920s creating custom-car bodies for luxury French marques such as Delage, Delahaye and Talbot in his garage in Levallois Perret, a suburb northwest of Paris. Following the war, like most coach builders his business had significantly slowed by the 1950s.  With the introduction of the D, Chapron contacted Citroën in hopes of working out an agreement to buy unfinished bodies to create convertibles.  However, no arrangement could be made, so Chapron was forced to buy completed factory examples to convert.

From 1958-1961, Chapron disassembled sedans and constructed convertibles known as La Croisette of which fifty-two examples were constructed,  as well as nine special coupes known as Le Paris.  Due to the additional cost of buying a finished car, and having to remove the unwanted components the standard front doors were used on La Croisette and Le Paris and a piece of vertical chrome molding covered the original rear door gaps. 

La Croisette (later version – vertical chrome molding). This convertible is distinguished by its elongated door.

While the lines were not as clean as later versions, the most significant feature of these early models are the panoramic rear window of the Paris coupe.

In February 1959 the Chapron Paris was first shown.
The panoramic rear window is the most striking feature of the Chapron Paris body.

Also during this period, they offered a sedan known as the Berline, which was given a Chapron treatment. Consisted of upgraded leather interior, painted wood pattern trim on the lower dash section, spoked deluxe wheel covers, and brushed stainless steel exterior body panels below the beltline along with the Henri Chapron name placed behind the front wheels.

Le Caddy was shown in 1959 and was the first Chapron DS to be designed with the single piece rear panel.  Featuring a lower roofline than the earlier La Croisette, it only offered seating for two passengers. Early models used the standard front doors but these were lengthened beginning in 1960.  Other additions included even more ornate trim behind the headlights running along the front fenders.  In 1965 rear wings were added, and by the time it was discontinued in 1968, thirty-four examples had been made. 

Citroën DS 21 Le Caddy Chapron Convertible: this convertible has a door identical to that of the sedan.
Citroën DS 21 top up, a total of 34 le Caddy examples were produced.

The following year saw the launch of Le Dandy – effectively a hard-top version of Le Caddy.  The Le Dandy model was available with an optional hard top.  Like Le Caddy, Le Dandy with its low roofline was only a two-seater. Over its eight-year run, a total of fifty were made.

The designation Le Dandy was used by Chapron on their top-tier pre-war bodies, and was reused on these DS Coupe bodies
A total of 50 Le Dandy Citroën DS coupes were constructed.

Also introduced in 1960, was the Le Concorde coupe.  Le Concorde featured a larger cabin with significantly more headroom compared to Le Caddy or Le Dandy and had seating for four.  Like Le Caddy, in 1965 it received rear wings, but production was also ended that same year with a total of thirty-eight examples produced in five years. 

This Citroën DS 19 Chapron coupé known as Le Concorde was made in 1964.
It was destroyed by a former lover of the owner in a fit of rage and has never been repaired.

Finally, in 1961, an agreement was reached, in which Chapron could buy unfinished models ready for his conversions.  In exchange, Citroën received Chapron’s components needed to build their own version of the cabriolet.  From 1961-1971 Citroën built 1365 examples of the production convertible.  Along with the standard or Usine convertibles, Chapron also continued to offer his hand-built special bodied convertibles, coupes and sedans until the end of D production. 

DS Convertible Usine.
DS Convertible Usine with the top up.

The factory approved convertible or Decapotable Usine, were built with handmade doors that were four inches longer than the standard sedan.  The rear body section of the car was a one piece unit made of steel with a fibreglass trunk lid.  With unique marker lights on the front and rear, it also featured the Chapron signature fender and door moldings.  It was offered in fifteen different color combination, with thirteen separate upholsteries, and three unique carpet colors.  During the more than ten year run of the Usine, 118 convertibles, were produced by Chapron. 

For 1962, Chapron introduced the Le Palm Beach, which was the fourth convertible available on the D platform. It featured new squared rear quarter panels, cone-shaped rear lights, and several luxurious accents. In 1964 Chapron added rear wings to make the car look more modern.  During Le Palm Beach’s run, a total of thirty-two models were built, of which a significant majority featured the rear wings.

This convertible is distinguished from factory cabriolet by its squared rear shape and its distinctive side moldings.

In 1964, Chapron offered its first limousine based on the D, known as Le Majesty, it was much taller and even squarer than previous coupes. Most Le Majesty’s had both standard opening front and rear doors, but some versions were fitted with rear ‘suicide’ doors.  A total of twenty-seven were made before it was discontinued in 1969.

This is a first example Le Majesty built with special order suicide doors for a handicapped customer.

Chapron’s next creation would be named the Léman coupe. It was debuted at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show, and was named after a lake in the Swiss city. The Léman is in many ways the pinnacle of Chapron custom coachwork, and examples built after mid-1967, received the same facelift that the rest of the DS range received.   Only twenty-seven examples were produced, making it one of the rarest custom Citroëns.

In 1966 the Le Leman coupe was introduced.

In 1968, what has to be the rarest of the D based Chaprons known as the Presidentielle, was completed.  After surviving an attempt on his life six years earlier when his factory modified DS was blown up, Charles de Gaulle received his new limousine.  At the time it was the longest Presidential limousine in the world.  Completed to exacting specification by Citroën, Chapron and Misses De Gaulle, it featured the new front styling of designers Opron and Dargent.  With a modified Citroën logo that was plated in gold, the exterior was a gray two-tone while the cabin is stretched leather and rare woodwork. Also included were a bar, refrigerator, reading lights and foldable desk.  De Gaulle only rode in it twice, as he preferred the regular size DS sedan because he could more easily converse with his driver. Only the one was every constructed, and it was replaced in favor of the SM Presidentielle in 1972.

The following year, a third version of Citroën DS based limousine was introduced by Chapron.  While it was not as long as the Presidentielle, nor did it have as stunning of lines as Le Majesty, the Lorraine was in many ways a compromise.  Over its five year run, a total of twenty examples were ordered by French executives and dignitaries. 

Last of the D-based Limousines – the Lorraine.

With favorable relations with Citroën for nearly a decade, Chapron expressed interest in the new SM. He approached them about building a custom convertible of the new model.  At the Paris Motor Show in 1971 he introduced his creation, named the Mylord. After removing the roof, he strengthened the chassis, added a fiberglass trunk and created a boot in same color as the interior to cover the folded top. This luxurious convertible could carry four people comfortably. The biggest issue with the Mylord cabriolet was the price, costing more than twice the standard SM, put it in the same range as Ferrari Daytona.   Unlike Chapron’s DS Convertible which were produced in relatively large numbers, the Mylord were instead built to order and as many as seven examples were built during production.

Along with the Mylord, Chapron went on to build other SM based versions including the Opéra sedan, which was also presented at the same Paris Motor Show and up to eight were constructed. While In 1972, two four-door convertible known as the SM Presidentielle, were built for the French government. They were first used during a visit from Queen Elisabeth, and they remained in service until 1995. These cars were the last real creations to come out of Chapron’s garage. Going forward, Chapron did special one-off treatments primarily using the Citroën CX and 604 Peugeot.

Citroën CX Chapron: CX 2400 Prestige Landaulet from 1981 with panoramic folding fabric sunroof.

Henri Chapron died in 1978, but his widow was able to keep the shop open for several years, before finally closing in 1985. 

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Photos from Alastair Clements, Laurent Lacoste, Didier Ric

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