The French Connection - Drawn to Speed: The Automotive Art of John Lander (2015)

Drawn to Speed: The Automotive Art of John Lander (2015)


The French Connection

During the 1930s, French manufacturers and coachbuilders produced what, to me, were the most beautiful cars ever.

Bugattis and Talbots, bodied by Figoni and Falaschi, are among my favorites. The little Amilcar in my “Sidecar” illustration is simply a delight.

“High Maintenance”

Goutte d’eau, “A drop of water,” nature’s perfect aerodynamic shape, was the inspiration for the teardrop coupes by Figoni and Falaschi. Talbot-Lago supplied the race-bred chassis and Figoni and Falaschi the coachwork.

One of the cars, a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150C SS, chassis number 90107, was purchased by the Maharajah of Kapurthala for his daughter. She kept the car in Paris and Nice prior to World War II. The Maharani showed the car often and won a prize at the Concours d’Élégance Femina in June 1938. During this time, the car was repainted several times to match the Maharani’s current gown.

The car in my illustration, chassis number 90106, is currently on display in Peter Mullin’s collection in Oxnard, California. I had the privilege of touring the museum in 2012 and was floored by the cars and other art deco design. Pictures cannot do justice to seeing the car in real life.

In my illustration, the impatient young lady waits for her escort to get going! “High Maintenance”—the Talbot, or the lady?


“Red Pacific Sunset Red Atlantic Coupe”

The original owner of this Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe, one of three built, was Victor Lord Rothschild in 1936. I am showing the car as it appeared in Los Angeles in the early 1950s. The owner at that time was Robert Oliver. Oliver had front and rear bumpers installed and had the car painted red.

In 1953, the car was crated and shipped to the Bugatti factory and rebuilt mechanically. In 1954, it was sent to Carrozzeria Moto in Italy for a few body modifications, which included enlarging the rear window. From Italy, the car was shipped by rail to Paris. Oliver, who was unhappy with the original transmission, had a Cotal electromagnetic shaft transmission installed. It was then re-crated and shipped back to L.A.

After Oliver’s death in 1970, the car was purchased at auction by Dr. Peter Williamson of Greenwich, Connecticut, to be part of his impressive Bugatti collection. Dr. Williamson had the car restored to its original condition and blue color.

The car is presently at the Mullin Museum with other fine French automobiles.


“Carlos Background”

An unusual Bugatti gets a unique background. In 1936, Parisian Andre Bith bought his third Bugatti. The car was a Type 51 Grand Prix racing model. Bith added cycle fenders and headlights so it could be driven as a road car. In Paris, the winter of 1936-37 became bitterly cold. In February, Bith asked a designer friend, Andre Roland, to help create a coupe body mimicking the Bugatti Atlantic coupes. The coachwork was supplied by Louis DuBos. The profile suggested a shortened Atlantic coupe.

I wanted a light colored background to contrast with the dark blue car. I decided to do a copy of a pencil and watercolor drawing by Carlo Bugatti. Carlo, Ettore Bugatti’s father, was well known for his ornate furniture designs. The geometric insect stylization was used as a furniture inlay. Like his son Ettore’s automobiles, Carlo’s furniture was individualistic and unforgettable. I felt this pattern made a great background for this racecar coupe combination.

After passing through several owners, the car was acquired by the Nethercutt Museum collection. Sixty-six years after its creation, the car has been restored to like-new condition.



What do a diminutive French Amilcar and a young Floridian in Paris have to do with the classic cocktail, the Sidecar?

At the Ritz Bar, Horace Chase was becoming a regular, showing up in his tiny two-seat car. Frank, the famous bartender, jokingly referred to the car as a child’s toy, or more like a motorcycle sidecar. One day in answer to Frank’s “What will it be?” Horace decided to have something special. “Back home, I used to drink Bacardi and lemon juice with a little Cointreau. Mix that, but use brandy in place of the Bacardi.” Horace thought the result was quite good, as did others who tried it. Frank was also pleased and quickly named it a sidecar, after Horace’s little car.

The Amilcar was manufactured just outside Paris. In the decade of the 1920s, the dashing little car fit right in and prospered. When you see an Amilcar in real life, it is a delightful little car bubbling with personality. The cocktail named for it is a delight for the taste as well!


“Staggerwing Fantasy”

The 1930s not only produced some of my favorite automobiles, but some exciting aircraft as well.

The Staggerwing Beechcraft was introduced in 1932. The builders wanted a cabin aircraft with the interior feel of a fine luxury automobile. They wanted a high top speed but a slow landing speed for the short runways of most airfields. They succeeded at both. The plane could top 200 mph and land at 60 mph. The upper wing behind the lower improved pilot visibility and led to the name Staggerwing.

You already know about my enthusiasm for the Talbot-Lago Teardrop coupes. The third element in the illustration comes from my time reading comic strips as a kid. Milton Caniff’s comic strip Terry and the Pirates combined adventure, airplanes and exotic characters. One who captured my imagination was the wonderfully wicked Dragon Lady. The lady is based on her.

Our dashing traveler rushes from his Staggerwing Beech toward the Dragon Lady, who waits beside her midnight blue Talbot coupe … “Staggerwing Fantasy.”


“Just Imagine”

Mallard, the great locomotive of the London and North Eastern Railway, holds the all-time speed record for steam locomotives, 126 mph set in 1938.

The Talbot-Lago TI50C SS was one of the fastest cars in Europe when built in 1938. This cabriolet (with coachwork by Figoni & Falaschi) was delivered to its first owners, the Count and Countess de Colhiva, in Portugal.

The Mallard ran between London and Edinburgh. The two vehicles were never in close proximity. But, “Just Imagine” several miles of arrow straight rail line running parallel to an empty stretch of open roadway. The young lady in the Talbot challenges Mallard as they hurtle along side by side, flat out in our imagination!

The inspiration for this picture came when I was thumbing through an issue of Octane magazine at a local bookstore. An article on Mallard’s speed record caught my eye and this was the result.