Celebrating the Spirit of Competition

1938 Peugeot 402 Darl’Mat Racer

Chassis Number : 705512             Horsepower : 70           Displacement : 4-cylinder, 1.99 L           Wheelbase : 113.4"

These Cars

Peugeot had a brilliant racing career during its first two decades of operation, then they gave it up. Emile Darl’mat was a successful representative for the marque in the 1930s who collaborated with coachbuilder Marcel Pourtout to produce some interesting designs. Peugeot hired Georges Paulin as a works designer, and shortly after the launch of the sporty 302 chassis, Pourtout and Paulin collaborated to effect Darl’mat’s dream of a racing car based on the 302 and later 402 chassis. A small run of steel- bodied specials with conventional transmissions were sold to the public with Darl’mat’s badge. Paulin’s wooden model was extensively aerodynamically tested, resulting in the streamlined low-body creation, with twee art deco circular vents increasing in size along the side of the engine bay. These kickshaws became recognizable on all of the 100 or so cars built, mostly in roadster but also in cabriolet and hard-top coupe form.

For 1937, three cars were made for Le Mans with very special features, including all-aluminum body construction, no doors, low-set driving lights below the headlights, and the protruding jack mounts for rapid elevation of the entire front end. All these three cars finished the race. For 1938 three more, now labeled 402, were entered and one won the coveted Le Mans Index of Performance prize. All of the sports racers used the driver-preferred electromagnetic Cotal gearbox.

Our Car

Although the exact racing history of this car is not known, its subsequent provenance is well documented. Clearly it is a racing model that is characterized by an all aluminum body, dual carburetors (though not original) and dual exhaust system, low set driving lights, cutouts for frontal jacking points, special Cotal gearbox, driver side tachometer, original bucket seats, etcetera. There are simply no external features which would indicate which of the three Le Mans cars we have. Referring to a 1985 article in LaVie Auto, we have quotations from one time owner Paul Wilson, an avid collector and admirer of great racing cars. He writes about his previous conversations with past owners. ” It seems that in 1955, American Solider Phil Mast saw the car in a garage in Bordeaux. It was painted light blue, with numbers on each side, and he was told that it was one of the Fameuses Voitures du Mans. After bringing the car home, Mast repainted it and, sadly, replaced the racing carburetors (these are the very rare Memini which I have been unable to find).

The car later was seen in Washington, DC and ultimately purchased by Paul’s friend, Tom Pollack. Between 1966 and 1967, Tom gradually restored the entire car with the exception of the motor because he had a limited time to work. In 1983, he turned the restoration over to Paul who finished the job including the engine and the chassis and planned to take it to Le Mans in the 1987 for the 50th anniversary of the great Peugeot Le Mans racers. Sadly, Paul did not have the funds for the transatlantic trip. He recalls this car fondly and at some point in time it was passed on. Dual carburetors were reinstalled and she was put into running condition, but things like the instruments, dash panel, upholstery, were not refurbished. The car had to be painted, however, in a blue similar to the car’s original finish at Le Mans. And she looks like and is a repaint of a used race car.

Prior to purchasing this car, I reviewed the extensive details which Pollock had collected in the 1960s while he owned the car. At that time, the world’s recognized expert for Peugeots of all types was Hubert Auran. In his 1967 letter to Pollock, Hubert Auran writes:

I have all of the documents from the factory, those technical and also the archives of Carrrossier Pourtout. The chassis was built in the factory in March 31st, 1937. It was delivered to Paris to the concessionaire Darl’mat. It is a competition roadster identical to the one I have (chassis 705.509) which in entirely an aluminum with a special motor, the Cotal gearbox, which also participated at Le Mans in 1938.

He goes on,

Your roadster also participated in the 24 hour Le Mans because only those cars reserved for competitions were delivered without doors.” He concludes, “It is very sad that I was unaware of the existence of your car prior to your leaving France. Please come and see my cars, I live 80 kilometers from Marseille.

Pollock was obviously pleased to learn that he had a verified Darl’mat Le Mans car, and he proceeded with his restoration without making any changes. When Wilson got the car, he did have to replace some wood and renew the trunk metal, but it all came together. To help in this process, he wrote,

Once my wife and I went to France with the intention of seeing as many Darl’mats as possible, and she took voluminous pictures of them.

Paul was never able to find the garage owner in Bordeaux from which Phil Mast purchased the car. However, a letter which followed an article in the French magazine indicated that, “The garage in Bordeaux Mast bought the car from – it was the center of activity for interesting cars at that time.” Jacques D’Horizon recalls seeing a Darl’mat with racing numbers in that garage in 1950.

We have done very little to the car since acquiring it. For 1938, two of them did not finish, but the third was the one that won the index of performance and came in fourth overall. Pretty good for 2,000 cc car racing against the big boys in 1938. The winner, of course, was a 3.5 liter Delahaye.