Ballot RH3 - Aerosport coupe body by Brandone - manufactured in 1932
Ballot was a engine manufacturer from Paris, France which was established in 1906 and provided engines for several famous French car makes. After the first World War Ballot started to produce cars of their own and did so in style; the first Ballot cars were Grand Prix racers with powerful 8 cylinder engines designed by Swiss engineer Ernest Henry. Henry had introduced the twin overhead camshaft with 4 valves per cylinder lay-out and his designs for Ballot were based on that technology. Ballot racing cars scored podium finishes in the 1919 Targa Florio, the 1920 Indianapolis 500 and the 1921 French and Italian Grand Prix amongst others, more than enough to establish a high profile name for the new car manufacturer.
This first road-going car by Ballot was the 2LS from 1921, a 2-litre 4-cylinder model which was almost a Grand Prix car for the road. It was very expensive and offered 75 hp and a top speed of 150 kph, thanks to Henry's twin cam system. Quite an unheard of performance at the time and it proved to be reliable as well. But its price prevented it to be a sales hit, no more than 100 were made until production stopped in 1924. By then it had already been replaced by a more affordable model with a single overhead cam 2-litre engine and the standard 2 valves per cylinder, much to the chagrin of Henry who subsequently left the company. This 2LT model met with more success and formed the mainstay of Ballot car production. In 1924, after the demise of the 2LS, a sporting version of the 2LT was introduced, named the 2LTS. It still had the single cam 8 valve cylinder head but now the combustion chambers in the cylinders were hemispherical and the valves placed at an incline, again very advanced for the time. Power output rose to from 48 to 60 hp and the 2LTS became the classic Ballot model, one of the last quality 4-cylinder 2-litre premium cars of its era.
In order to be able to cater to the discerning affluent clientele who had bought the sporty Ballot cars but now craved multi-cylindered models, a new 8-cylinder design was introduced in 1928. It was named the RH and featured a single cam straight 8-cylinder 2.6 litre engine. Placed in larger, more luxurious cars than the sporty compact Ballots from before the engine disappointed by lack of performance. That same year the engine capacity was enlarged to 2.8 litre and a year later to
3 litre, resulting in the RH3 model. Finally at 105 hp there was enough performance to be worthy of the Ballot name but now time had caught up with Ballot and the economic crisis limited the market for these attractive but expensive cars.
Financial troubles arrived at the end of the 1920s and Ballot was taken over in 1930 by the famous Spanish make Hispano-Suiza, who also had a factory in Paris making cars for the rich and famous. The RH3 was continued
but alongside it a version with a 6-cylinder 4.6 litre Hispano-Suiza engine was now offered as the Ballot HS26. In 1931 this model became the Hispano-Suiza Junior. Ultimately both the RH3 and the Junior disappeared from the market in 1933 and Ballot returned to making only engines; this time fuelled by diesel.
About 580 RH 8-cylinder models were made in total, most of them of the RH3 type. The chassis with a wheelbase of 3.3 or 3.6 meters were usually fitted with bodies by coachbuilders of the highest grade. Etienne and Pierre Brandone from Nice were responsible for the beautiful streamlined coupe shown here. Carrosserie Brandone is perhaps less well known than contemporaries like Figoni and Vanvooren who had also made bodies for the RH3 but at the time they were famous for their elegant, almost sculptural unique creations which were often price winners at the popular concourses d'elegance. All sorts of chassis by a variety of manufacturers were bodied by Carrosserie Brandone between 1923 and 1963, when the company closed after the death of Etienne Brandone.
The combination of the avant-garde engineering of Ballot, once regarded equal to that of Bugatti, and the artisanal styling by Brandone result in an almost monumental car. Both names may not be known to everyone anymore but the high quality and value of this car is evidently clear to anyone who enjoys the premium cars and style of the era.
© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland