The one designer in the era of Citroën’s avant garde automobile offerings from the 1950’s into the 1990’s who never worked for directly the company but who’s creations bore an equally eclectic distinction was Philippe Charbonneaux.
Few French designers have left their mark on as many cars, trucks and other products. Born on February 18, 1917 in Reims the self-taught Charbonneaux was best known for automobive design, but he also designed refrigerators, television sets, motorboats, toys, lamps, alarm-clocks and toothbrushes. He was an accomplished painter and illustrator, producing cover art for the automotive press and for automakers’ brochures. He also did dozens of design studies during a short stint at General Motors.
Some of his famous designs include the Téléavia Panoramic III TV set; the Renault 8 in 1962; the Renault 16 in 1965 (voted Europe’s Car of the Year, which he co-designed with Gaston Juchet), and the 1986 Renault 21.
Many of his works are now exhibited in places such as Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He designed for Renault, Ford, Delahaye, Berliet, Bugatti, and others and he specialized in car design studies like the Ellipsis concept car, released just two years prior to his death on June 4, 1998.
Charbonneaux indirectly had a hand in some Citroën based designs; notably the Franay Presidential limousine built in 1955, when President Coty of France commissioned Franay to design it using the mechanical elements of the recently launched Traction Avant 15-6H. The body was built by Franay and exhibited at the 1955 Paris Auto Show. To minimize costs, Charbonneaux used parts from production cars: The windshield came from a Ford Comète, and tail lights from a Chevrolet.
Also in 1955 Charbonneaux designed 2CV Coupé that was built by Pacaud. Just 2 of these charming little cars were made, one dark blue over yellow the other yellow over dark blue. Apparently the weight of the coachbuilt body was such that the 2CV’s 425cc 12.5hp 2 cylinder engine moved the car at a snails pace.
His private collection of approximately 160 vintage cars, including racing cars, and 40 motorcycles, was donated to S.C.A.R. (Salon of Vintage Car Club Collectors in Reims) and is the basis for the Musée Automobile Reims Champagne, established in 1985.