Rare DB Le Mans finds a new home at the Cerf Collection in Florida

Vintage racing enthusiast Dale Powers has had a long and varied automotive career, having owned many different sports and racing cars the like of; Jaguars, Porsches, half a dozen Ferraris including a Daytona and a 2-litre Testa Rossa, a Kurtis, an HRG, and a SS100.  It would be hard to find a marque that he did not at one time own and drive.  

Dale Powers and his wife Marcia in their 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

Now that he is over 80 his enthusiasm for the labour of restoration is waning.  He just sold a 1961 Deutsch Bonnet Le Mans that he recently purchased and put back on the road. 

     

The DB, had been originally purchased by a serviceman and used to tour Europe.  He shipped it back to the states where it sat garaged in Chicago until recently.  Dale sold the DB to Alain Cerf and it will now become part of his extensive collection of French cars at the Cerf Collection in Pinellas Park, Florida.

 Cerf Collection Building  Alain Cerf

DB (until 1947 known as Deutsch-Bonnet) was a French automobile maker between 1938 and 1961, based in Champigny-sur-Marne near Paris.  The firm was founded by Charles Deutsch and René Bonnet, an offshoot of the Deutsch family’s existing coachbuilding shop which had been taken over by Bonnet in 1932.  Immediately before the war the partners concentrated on making light-weight racing cars, but a few years after the war, starting with the presentation of a Panhard based cabriolet at the 1950 Paris Motor Show, the company also began to produce small road-going sports cars.

The steel-bodied, Frua-designed 1952 “Mille Miles” (celebrating class victories at the Mille Miglia) was a mini-GT with a 65 hp Panhard two-cylinder.  It was somewhat expensive.  By 1952 the company no longer had its own stand at the Paris motorshow, but one of their cars appeared as a star attraction on the large Panhard stand, reflecting the level of cooperation between the two businesses.

  1952 DB Mille Miles

At the 1953 Paris Salon a Chausson-designed DB Coach in fibreglass, although it did not enter production until 1954.  The HBR 4/5 model (1954–1959) was the partners’ most successful project to date, with several hundred of the little cars produced between 1954 and 1959.  This was followed by the Le Mans convertible and hardtop, which was shown in 1959 and built by DB until 1962, and continued until 1964 by René Bonnet.

  DB HBR 5

The Deutsch Bonnet company was defunct by 1961, as Deutsch and Bonnet’s differing design philosophies hamstrung further cooperation.   They disagreed whether they should build cars of front-wheel drive or mid-engined design.  There was also disagreement on which engines to use.  Charles Deutsch, wanting to stick to Panhard engines, left DB in 1961 to found his own firm (CD).  Bonnet founded Automobiles René Bonnet, producing cars powered by Renault engines.  This business was later to become part of Matra Automobiles.  Deutsch ended up an engineering consultant.

The number of DB’s built is not certain; estimates of up to 2,000 cars are mentioned but more conservative numbers are closer to one thousand.

About 660 of the Mille Miles/Coach/HBR were built, and 232 DB Le Mans (not including the Bonnet-built cars). Later versions could be equipped with engines of 1 and 1.3 litres, and superchargers were also available.  No two cars may have been alike, as they were built according to customer specifications from a wide range of options.

3 comments

  1. The Cerf collection (aka Tampa Bay Auto Museum) is composed almost entirely of French cars, with several Citroens, including a twin-engined 2CV) and is definitely worth a visit to the area. The Cerf family greeted us warmly!

  2. Hello Alain, I really enjoyed meeting you all in Carmen last August during the Concourse D’Elegance. Your Hotchkiss-Gregoire is a stunning car and I was amazed at the interesting design of the front structure and especially the suspension setup – very unique and fascinating – I saw a few parallels in the cast alloy front cradle for the engine and transmission to my ’53 Dyna X87 Break construction. It’s nice to know Dale’s car is now in your museum so that many more people can see and appreciate the innovations in that car. I hope to finish the restoration of my DB Lemans in the near future and possibly come down to see what I can learn from your car. I also enjoyed meeting your son and his wife at the Concourse D’Lemons that Saturday, where I had my PL17 cabriolet entered for smiles rather than snickers! Best Wishes, Ken Nelson

  3. Very surprised to see there is one in North America. In 1965 I started to work as a young engineer at Matra Sports in its earliest days. I was in charge of building and testing what would become the Matra 530. Since we could not test prototypes on open highway with their real bodies, we used old inventory of DB fiberglass body parts (which was taken over by Matra) to install on the future 530 chassis. Therefore the dB Le Mans. I may have one picture of it, but where ?

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