Historic Car Brands
Amilcar was founded in July 1921 by Joseph Lamy and Emile Akar and the name was an imperfect anagram of the partners’ names. The original Amilcar was a small cyclecar, designed by Jules Salomon and Edmond Moyet.
The business was boosted by a cyclecar boom, prompted by a reduced rate of annual car tax, for two-seater vehicles weighing no more than 350kg dry weight and powered by an engine of not more than 1100cc.
1921 Amilcar CC – Christian Kath
Salomon and Moyet had worked together and collaborated on ‘cyclecar’ design at LeZebre. After World War I, Salomon went to Citroen and later Moyet joined him. (Moyet is credited by all Citroen authorities of note as having designed the Citroen 5CV.)
Moyet designed the Amilcar CC. It appears this was while he was actually with Citroen or ‘overlapped’ the time he was with Citroen.
Both the 5CV and the Amilcar CC were presented to the public for the first time in October 1921 at the Paris Salon.
The four-cylinder, 903cc Amilcar CC appeared in 1922, with a wheelbase of just 2320 mm (91 inches). The C4 variant was a slightly longer sports car and the CS, introduced in 1924, was a brisker sports version with the engine size increased to 1004cc.
Amilcar’s side-valve engines had splash lubrication and drove through three-speed gearboxes.
The most famous derivative was the CGS Grand Sport of 1924, with a 1074cc side-valve engine and four-wheel brakes. This car evolved into the more sporty CGSS Grand Sport Surbaissé.
Amilcar gained the type of publicity it could have done without when world-famous dancer Angela Isadora Duncan was killed in a freak accident on September 14, 1927.
Isadora was an American dancer who performed to great acclaim throughout Europe and the USA. Born and raised in California, she lived and danced in Western Europe, the US and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50.
Her untimely end occurred when her scarf became entangled in the knock-off nut and wire spokes of the rear wheel of the Amilcar CGSS in which she was travelling in Nice, France.
in the movie of her life, starring Vanessa Redgrave, the car was a Bugatti, because the producers couldn’t find a suitable Amilcar.
The CGS and CGSS models were built under licence in Germany, as the Pluto, in Austria as the Grofri and in Italy as the Amilcar Italiana.
Amilcar six cylinder racing engine – Humaag
Amilcar entered automobile racing in the mid-1920s with supercharged, double overhead camshaft, 1100cc, six-cylinder cars that had a choice of built-up, roller bearing crankshafts in the full racing versions, or with forged crankshafts with plain metal bearings.
Amilcar Berline M3 Sedan – Charles01
During the late-1920s the company had expanded out of small economical cars launching a light touring car called the ‘M-Type’, powered by a side-valve, 1200cc engine. It was followed by the M2, M3, and M4 versions.
In 1928, an overhead-camshaft, 2.3-litre, straight-eight engine was launched in a new model, the C8, but it proved unreliable and soon disappeared, after only a few hundred were produced.
Then, by 1930, the effects of the Great Depression began to affect all businesses.
In 1931, a business agreement with André Briès and Marcel Sée had to be negotiated. Sée was already familiar with the company, having been dismissed from a management position with Amilcar in 1929.
Amilcar continued to struggle and in late-1933 a company owned by Briès and Sée, called ‘Sofia’ (Societe financiere pour l’automobile), took effective control of the brand, but this did not ease financial pressure on Amilcar.
The M Type and its successors continued to be produced through the following years of financial difficulty, offered for sale till 1935, although M Type production is thought to have ended in 1934.
At the end of August 1934, still faced with disappointing sales volumes, the factory at Saint-Denis closed, as management struggled to save the business.
1935 Amilcar Pegase – M.A.R.C.Croquant
A new model was clearly needed and, in October 1934, the company presented the 12CV Amilcar Pégase, powered by a 2150cc, four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine that was supplied by Delahaye. There was also a competition version of the Pégase, with a 2490cc (14CV) engine.
With the smaller Amilcar models discontinued, the Pégase was the only Amilcar model listed for 1936.
Amilcar obviously couldn’t survive with only one car model and by then Hotchkiss had taken a large shareholding in Sofia, Amilcar’s holding company. It was expected that Hotchkiss would help with the development of additional models, but, as war clouds gathered over Europe, Hotchkiss’ lucrative armaments business was nationalised by the Blum government.
On top of that, Hotchkiss models were being challenged by upmarket cars from Peugeot and Citroën.
Amilcar Compound B38 – Alf van Beem
However, Henry Mann Ainsworth, automobile director at Hotchkiss, had already been presented with a promising prototype car. This lightweight, 7CV-category, technically advanced family car had been penned by high-profile engineer Jean-Albert Grégoire.
The automotive businesses of Hotchkiss and Amilcar were merged and the prototype was developed into the Amilcar Compound.
The front-wheel-drive Amilcar Compound was technically advanced for its era, featuring a monocoque frame made of a light alloy, with independent suspension all around. Its engine at launch was a four-cylinder, side-valve unit of 1185cc displacement.
Amilcar Compound – Crewpitman
The Compound’s ambitious use of aluminium in its body structure and its front-wheel-drive configuration meant that production got off to a slow start. Although it was launched in October 1937, 584 of the 681 passenger cars produced date from no earlier than 1939, with a further 64 produced during the early months of 1940.
The German invasion of May-June 1940 effectively ended civilian automobile production in the Paris region.
Production prototypes for an upgraded Compound with an overhead-valve, 1340cc engine were running by the summer of 1939 and this version was scheduled for an October launch at the 1939 Paris Motor Show.
The declaration of war against Germany put paid to that launch and Amilcar did not resume car production after World War II.
Peter Ustinov, the Amilcar
Sir Peter Ustinov is well remembered by the grey-haired generation for his various movie appearances, including Quo Vadis, Spartacus, Topkapi, We’re No Angels and Death on the Nile. He won two Oscars and numerous awards for his movie acting and playwriting.
Less known is Sir Peter Ustinov’s love of fine vehicles, including Aston Martins, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, Lagonda and two beloved Hispano Suizas – a J12 and an H6C.
In a Crankhandleblog The Stolen Ustinov Hispano, Simon Haldy recounts that, in his last interview, Sir Peter recalled his fascination with cars from an early age and laughingly lamented that …“ there was no one yet qualified to exorcise an internal combustion engine from a small boy”.
A somewhat tubby, nine-year-old Peter Ustinov ‘became’ a car:
“I know to this day precisely what make of car I was – an Amilcar.
“At one period in my life, I switched on in the morning and stopped being a car at night only after I reversed into bed, and cut the ignition.
“Even at that age I had a presentiment that a certain portliness would be with me all my life.
“Amilcars appealed, for being waspish, athletic and slightly fragile.”