first flight of Voisin
Voisin's real passion was flying. In the First World War Voisin
wrote his name into French aviation history with his aeroplanes, and
like so many of his contemporary flyers, the aviator from
Issy-les-Moulineaux subsequently discovered the pull of the motor
car. And even the road machines of Gabriel Voisin displayed a
tendency for high flying...
Born in Belleville on the
Saone, February 5, 1880, in the Lyons area, Gabriel Voisin
was a direct descendent of a line of
industrialists. His brother Charles,
born in 1882, was to be his best
the end of the nineteenth century, Gabriel and Charles had
already invented a
wide range of items, including a rifle, a sailplane,
and a car.
Gabriel was engaged as draughtsman
with the World Fair of Paris, where he
met Clément Ader. This
reinforceded his passion for
aeronautics. Between 1901 and 1902, Gabriel, returned
to the Lyons area,
and carried out with Charles
the study of
aeronautics. In 1906, they created the
first aviation firm in the world: LES
FRÈRES VOISIN. In
1909. he became the youngest person ever to be awarded the
His brother Charles was
killed in a car accident in 1912. He continued developing and
building aircraft until the end of the First World War (It was a
Voisin aircraft that was the first to shoot down a German.)
he phased himself out of aviation and turned to the
design and manufacture of motor cars.
The Voisin Aerodyne
Voisin had a tendency to apply the knowledge
of lightweight construction and aerodynamics he had learnt from
aviation logically to road vehicles. And as he was a passionate
tinkerer, who never considered any product - not even his own -
good enough, he was constantly striving to improve it. It is
said the he even felt that the French language was in need of
improvement, and that gradually he began to evolve his own
version which had to be spoken in the factory! Every
production series which Voisin started in the 20-year phase of
his motor car construction era thus ran for just a short time,
in some cases only for a few months. This meant that he was
never able to make a profit, quite apart from the high pressure
of a rapidly strengthening competitor base in the guise of
Peugeot, Renault and Citroen. The writer had the good fortune to
own a 1929 Voisin car which was able to hold its own against the
'modern' cars of the mid 1960s.
A stylized bird
with erect wings adorned every Voisin radiator grille.
January 1958, Gabriel Voisin was installed as a "Grand Officier"
of the Legion d'Honneur. Only few days later, a painting order
was issued in the name of the creditor company SNECMA, to
overpaint the facade of the Voisin factory in Issy and thus
erase the name of the founder and owner. Gabriel Voisin took
this insult with humour, at least as recorded in his memoirs.
"In moments of great sadness, the dividing line between sadness
and comedy is a very fine one", he wrote. "That was the case on
my departure from Issy. For I had scarcely cleared my studio and
taken one more look at the charter from the Legion, which had
been so ceremoniously handed to me shortly previously, when
another government delegation turned up. Another honour...?"
Far from it. The gentlemen handed Monsieur
Voisin, who had already moved out, the indictment of the French
public prosecutor: during the occupation of France, he had
allegedly acted against state security interests. Voisin did not
know whether it was the summons itself, served thirteen years
after the end of the war, which should give him reason to laugh,
or the fact that the bearers of the indictment gave him a
military salute as a Grand Officier of the Legion d'Honneur.
Voisin was not convicted, but he had become a lonely man. He had
been able to take only one of his thousand motor cars to the
modest country property where an old lady friend gave him
accommodation. He worked there until the end of his days on new
inventions, from kite-like flying machines to banal domestic
appliances. "I invented the streamlined car", he once said to an
American admirer, to whom he gave one of the last interviews,
"but I am still working at perfecting the corkscrew...".