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1912 Gobron-Brillie 12 CV Skiff Tourer by Rothschild
Automobiles of Amelia Island Collector Car Auction, Amelia Island, Florida, March 13, 2009
Sold at a price of $170,500
35 hp (rated), 5,970 cc double-piston four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual gearbox, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and double chain drive, two-wheel mechanical brakes and twin transmission brakes.
The skiff, or boat, body is quintessentially French. It is constructed of wood to a marine architecture, though it may or may not be boat-tailed. Historian Frederick Usher traces the concept to coachbuilder Jean-Henri Labourdette in 1912. Labourdette, the third generation proprietor of Henri Labourdette, Carrossier, the family coachbuilding firm, was approached by the Chevalier René de Knyff, a director of Panhard et Levassor and a prominent sportsman. De Knyff desired a "light but comfortable torpedo offering the least wind resistance."
Labourdette studied hull design with a constructor of motor boats and laid up a body of three layers of mahogany on a frame of ash. When weighed, it measured but 180 kilograms (400 pounds), body, windscreen, wings and fittings. The idea took hold, and in a short time Labourdette had constructed similar examples on chassis from Renault, Peugeot, Hispano-Suiza, Rolls-Royce, Delaunay Belleville and Lancia. Other coachbuilders embraced the style, among them Muhlbacher, Duquesnoe, and Schebera. Skiff bodies are widely said to have been built of tulipwood, but Labourdette himself wrote that he consistently used mahogany.
The car being offered here, a skiff by Rothschild on chassis by Gobron-Brillié, is particularly unusual. Reported to have been exhibited at the 1913 Paris Salon where it attracted many onlookers, this car is believed to have been sold there, although the name of the original owner is not known. Around 1920, it was modified with new wings, side storage boxes and a spare wheel was added to the near side. An Autovac replaced the pressurized fuel supply system. A folding windscreen was also fitted where the car originally had none.
After being used a few years, according to tradition, it was put on display in the entryway of one of the large chocolatiers – different versions of the story place it in France or in Luxembourg. Various stories have been advanced for its life between then and its purchase by David Baldock in the 1970s. Complete in most respects, it was engineless at that point in time. It was then acquired by Marc Nicolosi, who managed to locate a genuine Gobron engine, albeit in poor condition, from its resting place beneath the sea. The late Uwe Hucke bought the lot, cleaned everything up and displayed the remains in the Nettlstadt Museum in Germany. According to Charles Howard's AUTObiography, he bought the car in Nice in 1972 from a "charming Belgian dealer called Johnny Thysbaert." Howard claims to have been the one to replace the engine, sourcing a unit from Lord Montagu. In the late 1970s, it went to the von Raffay collection in Hamburg. In 1993, von Raffay engaged restorer Eddie Berresford to rebuild the engine and make the car operable again. In 1997, it finally ran under its own power for the first time in nearly 75 years. It went to the United States early this century, making its first public appearance at Pebble Beach in 2005. It was entered in a special class for skiff-bodied cars that year, which it handily won. In its most recent ownership, the engine was completely rebuilt once more by Zakira's Garage in Cincinnati. It was blueprinted and comes with a book of photos and diagrams of the entire process. An award-winning example with interesting provenance and lovely skiff coachwork, this is truly a very rare motor car.