Last revised: 26-1-2009

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Car of the Month - March 2008

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Lombard AL3 Grand Air - sports body - manufactured in 1927

French sales manager and racing driver André Lombard was responsible for some fine small sports and racing cars in the 1920s. Those were the days of the cyclecar era, a trend started in the UK just prior to and after WW I to provide simple and affordable transport by offering small-engined light weight cars with chain drive and cycle wheels. In the UK this trend lasted only a few years, until mass produced and more robust cars like the Austin 7 dispelled the cyclecars from the market. But in France the cyclecar found more fertile ground; here it continued the tradition of the pre-War voiturette and evolved into basic yet thrilling sports cars.
André Lombard raced Salmson cyclecars which were based on the British GN, and also took care of selling a large number of these cars. When Salmson decided to develop their own cars in 1921 (see Car of the Month - March 2007) he got very involved which resulted in Salmson models named after his initials: the AL and the VAL (with the V of "voiturette", meaning small car in French). These models had 1100 cc 4-cylinder engines with overhead valves and fitted with overhead camshafts they were very competitive in the popular cyclecar and voiturette races, both in France and abroad. Soon however he fell in disagreement with engineer Emile Petit, who he had introduced to the company, about technical matters and in 1923 Lombard left Salmson.
After his grievous departure from Salmson Lombard set out to establish his own company making cars in the same vein as the Salmson AL and VAL models. He teamed up with engineer Edmond Vareille, a former pupil of Emile Petit, who created a potent 1093 cc 4-cylinder engine with double overhead camshafts. It was fitted in cars constructed by E. Brault which were named Lombard AL1 and AL2 and introduced in 1927 at the Montlhery circuit in France. Both models were racing cars, the first a traditional looking prototype and the second fitted with a streamlined tank shaped body. Two of the AL2 "tank" models were made, with engines producing up to 60 hp @ 5000 rpm and they were raced extensively during 1927 and 1928.
Things started in earnest at the 1927 Paris Motor Show where Lombard introduced the AL3 model, initially named "Grand Air". The AL3 was to be the production model, a two seater available with all the fittings and trimming needed for normal road use or as a bare "course" racing version. In standard ("sport") form the 1093 cc engine produced 40 hp @ 4000 rpm; 45 hp @ 4500 rpm was available in the course version. Top speeds were 130 kph for the sport and 140 kph for the course version. It had a compact traditional chassis with the rear axle placed above the chassis beams which gave the car a low stance. In all it was a very tidy, efficient design showing plenty of quality.
Delivery of the AL3 started in 1928 and by now the Lombard cars were produced by "Les Fils de E. Salmson"; this was the company started by the sons of the founder of the original "Moteurs Salmson" factory with as main activity the production of pumps. It had however no relation with "Moteurs Salmson", where Lombard had worked before and the company he was now competing against. There were racing successes to boost the Lombard name, most importantly a fourth place in the 1928 Spanish GP (with the AL1) and a victory by a large margin in the 1929 Bol d'Or in France. Lombards were also raced in Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Austria. Sales started out promising but production was fairly limited. At the 1928 Paris Motor Show Lombard unveiled a prototype of a new model: the AL4. It was a more advanced design than the AL3 and showed hydraulic brakes, a modernized rear suspension, aluminum components, a high capacity fuel tank and a more powerful engine (up to 70 HP) by the use of a Cozette supercharger. It was a promising but expensive construction.
Main problem for Lombard was lack of funds. The racing and car development were ambitious and took a large chunk out of the company's account. By the end of 1928 there were serious financial problems; because of that the AL4 never reached production. The AL3 was continued into 1929 in an upgraded form as the Mark II and showed some aspects of the AL4 design, like the high capacity fuel tank and the availability of Cozette superchargers. Surprisingly another new model was presented at the 1929 Paris Motor Show: a highly ambitious 2987 cc 8-cylinder model designated AL5. But by know the end was in sight; the AL3 designs, parts and unfinished cars had already been purchased by BNC, a competing French manufacturer, who continued selling (and racing) the AL3 with a different radiator under their own name up to 1931. The stand at the Paris Motor Show was more or less the last sign of life of Lombard as a manufacturer and the AL5 was never produced, although André Lombard attempted to establish a new company for its production in 1930.

In the short 3 years of the company's existence there were only about 94 Lombards made. Still they were amongst the finest small sports cars of their day, proven by the fact that Lombard-based racing cars competed until the end of the 1940s. A small dozen Lombards are extant today and those are considered quite valuable. More information about Lombard cars can be found at the site "Automobiles Lombard 1927 - 1929".

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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