Last revised: 9-2-2009

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Car of the Month - December 2008

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Rosengart Supertraction - coupe body - manufactured in 1939

Lucien Rosengart was a self-made French industrialist who played an important role in the history of French car manufacture between the two World Wars. As a component manufacturer, producing all sorts of things ranging from screws and bolts to pumps and lighting sets, it has been said that at one time practically every French built car had at least one part made by Rosengart in it. During the first World War Rosengart produced fuses for grenades made by Citroen; this not only made Lucien Rosengart very wealthy, it also lead to his installment as a financial director on the Citroen board in 1919. Here he was the central figure in raising capital to start Citroen off into car manufacture. In 1923 he left Citroen for Peugeot, again with the job to secure the company's financial future.
During these exploits outside of his own company he acquired the Bellanger factory, a large car manufacturing plant. In 1926 Lucien Rosengart left Peugeot with ideas of starting car manufacture on his own. He hired engineer Jules Salomon, who had worked for Citroen and Le Zebre, and together they decided to produce the small British Austin Seven in the former Bellanger factory under the Rosengart name. Introduced in 1928 these models became the most affordable 4-cylinder cars on the market in France and made Rosengart the 4th largest French car manufacturer.
In the early 1930s Lucien Rosengart became interested in front wheel drive cars, like many others at the time. Having no engineering staff to speak of he acquired the rights to the German Adler Trumpf Jupiter, one of the first popular front wheel drive cars in the world, modified it and introduced it in 1932 as the Rosengart LR500 Supertraction. This 4-door saloon beat the much more famous Citroen Traction Avant to the French market by two years, but never became successful. Apparently Rosengart decided to take this car into production because his new wife said his Austin Seven based cars looked like soap-boxes...
A revised version named the LR505 Supertraction II appeared in 1934 to give the all-conquering Traction Avant better opposition but to no avail, only a few hundred were made. Rosengart's main business remained the small and cheap 4 and 6 cylinder models derived from the Austin Seven, right up to the second World War. Not content with this Lucien Rosengart launched one last model aimed at an upmarket clientele, now with the help of former employer Citroen: the LR539, plainly named the Supertraction. It appeared in 1938 and impressed everyone with its long flowing lines and elegant appearance. Totally unexpected from Rosengart the car matched the stature of the French grand routiers of the era, the domain usually associated with Delage and Delahaye.
The design of the Supertraction did not come from one of France's famous coachbuilders but from M. Jacob, Rosengart's in-house designer. He took his cues from the American Lincoln Zephyr, especially at the front section, added some art-deco elements and matched it all perfectly together in a sleek silhouette made possible by the front wheel drive chassis. Underneath it was a mix of components from various manufacturers, mainly the chassis and front wheel drive system of Adler combined with the engine and transmission of Citroen's Traction Avant. Apart from its pleasing appearance the car also offered excellent roadholding and a comfortable ride. In return for supplying the car's powertrain Citroen demanded however that it should not be offered as a 4-door sedan, to avoid direct competition to their own Traction Avant model. And so the Supertraction took the concours d'elegance scene by storm as a 2-door coupe and later also as a 2-door cabriolet.
Production of the Supertraction commenced in 1939 and ended in 1940, cut short by the War. In all about 180 were made and amongst them even a handful of 4-door sedans despite the agreement with Citroen. One of those was Lucien Rosengart's personal car and the others were ordered by French government officials. It was again not the success that was hoped for which was attributed to, apart from the price, it being overweight for its engine and therefore not offering a performance fitting its pretensions.

Lucien Rosengart moved to the USA during the War and when he returned he found his factory in ruins. A halfhearted attempt was made to restart the production of the Supertraction with a more powerful Mercury V8 engine which ended after just one coupe and one cabriolet. Also a modernized version of the small 5 CV model, mechanically still based on the old Austin Seven design, was shown. But Lucien Rosengart had had enough; he decided to retire and sold his company to a consortium which soldiered on with the production of small cars until 1955 when they had to give up due to much stronger opposition of Renault and Citroen.
Now the Supertraction coupe and cabriolet are the crown jewels of the almost forgotten make of Rosengart. Of the few that have been produced quite a number has survived, in part because their special looks kept them from the scrap heap and in part because they were easy to maintain thanks to their mass produced mechanical components. Most of them have remained in Western Europe, being taken care of by a small number of enthusiasts. They're a rare sight but still a welcome addition to any concours.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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