Voisin – New Wood For A Classic French Beauty

1934 Voisin C27 Grand Sport Cabriolet with special coachwork by Joseph Figoni.
Joseph Figoni arrived in Paris as Giuseppe, a three year old with his family from Piacenza Italy in 1897. He developed from his teen years as an apprentice in a wagon building shop to the status of an artist in metalwork by his twenties. As an iconic coachbuilder of the years between the two wars, he helped lead the design revolution, which cut across all the decorative arts from furniture and jewelry to automobiles.
A year after this C27 was built, Figoni partnered with Ovidio Falaschi to form the eponymous firm, Figoni et Falaschi, which led automotive design from 1935 to the early 1950s. Falaschi handled the business side while Figoni perfected his aerodynamic styling.
The chance to work on a classic of which only two vehicles were made can be almost intoxicating, and such was the case with this Voisin C27. (The intoxication part some learned because of working on this project.)
The woodwork in this Figoni designed Voisin proved to be an interesting challenge due in part to the fact that no original wood survived. Actually, there was no wood at all. Rather than large panels of wood surfaces, the wood was to be accent trim that would emphasis the perimeter of the Voisin's cockpit.
We initially had the Voisin in our shop for a few weeks so that we could "replicate" the wood that wasn't there, and generate the templates and patterns, which would be needed for creating the final trim, once the correct wood was decided upon and acquired. Poplar was the wood we worked to shape and installed so that the restoration team could review our work and decide whether to go on with the final trim.
Once we got the OK, a side trip to the Automotive Museum in San Diego's Balboa Park was planned to inspect a Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye on display, for details of its woodwork, with special interest in the carvings on the dash and tonneau. The carvings were signature details of this master designer and we wanted them to be as authentically accurate as possible.
Apple, Walnut or Oak?
The restoration team conferred with Fagoni's son (or grandson) in Paris and narrowed the wood selection to any one of three possible species. Of the three woods, we selected a magnificent plank of marble-cake Carpathian walnut grown in northern California. The slab started out as a rough plank 36x60x3 inches.
We hand planed one face of the slab to reveal the stunning grain and enable us to proportion the layout for the trim, using the patterns we refined when making the poplar pieces. Since there were to be carvings (a la Figoni) at the center of the dash and the tonneau, we wanted the wood to have a symmetric grain pattern from left to right emanating from that centerline. This "book-match" would help to reinforce the symmetry of the carving. Additionally, following this layout scheme, the wood trim for each door would have a mirror image of the grain from left to right.
After the layout we re-sawed the pieces to achieve this effect. Taking this approach we had no return option to replace a damaged piece since the grain wouldn't have matched.
Lastly, the door trim and rear quarter pieces were steam-bent over molds fashioned during the initial mock-up phase. Once the wood dried, these rough curves were machined to templates that accurately represented the "idiosyncratic uniqueness" of the hand built right door and left door. This produced a "perfect" fit between two hard surfaces.
With spoke shaves and chisels we contoured the final shapes and carvings.
The finish was a clear high gloss.
The Voisin made a few trips between our shop and the restorer's in the San Fernando Valley. During the woodwork phase the car was in primer, sans engine and traveled via flatbed. On one occasion the car arrived suspiciously without its tonneau cover, which we needed, as it was to have wood trim across the length of it. (Perhaps it required more work before it would be ready for us.) A phone call to the restorer created near panic when they learned of the missing tonneau. It didn't take long to determine that it must have "blown off" on the last trip down the 405. Drivers and spotters made numerous trips up and down the freeway looking for the missing tonneau. The silver lining here was, that on one of the nation's busiest freeways, no one received a bit of Voisin memorabilia through the windshield.
onsequently, we made the structural wood for a new tonneau. This was done in ash. The tonneau was then skinned and finished by the restoration shop.

The beautifully restored Voisin arrived at the Pebble Beach Concours only to face a very competitive field in the European class. Other notable entrants in that class included a Bugatti owned by Ralph Lauren and a 1937 Talbot-Lago. Mr. Lauren, a very serious collector, had won Best of Show twice in the 90s, once with another Bugatti. We were very fortunate to have participated not only in the wood restoration of the Voisin, but also the Talbot-Lago.
The morning judging put order to the competitive field, leaving behind the Bugatti (2nd) and the Voisin (3rd) and placing the Talbot-Lago in the winner's circle with the 1st place finishers from the other classes; all hoping for further awards later in the day.
And by days end, the Talbot was awarded Best of Show. With champagne in hand, we toasted the Best of the Best!

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