In 1912 French coachbuilder, Jean-Henri Labourdette created an exciting new automobile body style when he built his first Skiff-Torpedo coachwork on a 20 h.p. Panhard & Levassor chassis that was comissioned by Chevalier René de Knyff. It was constructed with the same basic methods used for a wooden boat. Oak was selected for the framing, and the outer planking of mahogany fastened with copper rivets – the affect was sensational.
Soon other coachbuilders quickly offered their own versions aimed at the well-to-do sporting motorist. Different shapes and styles soon evolved, and a few were even constructed with the hood also covered in the same wooden treatment. Most were offered for four passengers, but another form used only a single rear seat. Doors for entry were the exception, and access to most was by using a side-mounted step plate. This new style of body remained popular until as late as the mid-twenties.
At the fourteenth annual Paris Salon held in the fall of 1913, the new body-style was one of the most popular on exhibit. Labourdette had half a dozen on display at their stand built on Panhard, Peugeot and Abadal chassis’. The builders deluxe form of construction used three layers of planking over the oak framework and ribs; two layers being diagonal and crossed with the outer layer being horizontal.
To protect and enhance the wood, boat finishes were used that were then polished to a high luster. Ornate boat deck ventilators were often added for effect and passenger comfort. The ribs and planking on the interior sides of the bodies were normally left exposed. The upholstery was often fastened in place with snaps, but on more finished jobs tacks were used with the edges covered with welting.
- 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Labourdette Skiff-Torpedo. Photos courtesy of Supercars.net.
A practical advantage of the new bodies was that in finished form the complete weight of a four passenger body was reported at the time to only be between 150 and 250 pounds. The construction was also stronger that traditional coachwork weighing about 600 pounds. One of the first Labourdette bodies was unfortunately put to the test when during an accident one of the cars hit a tree. The chassis ended up being badly wrecked, but all the planking stayed attached to the body.
The wooden skiff form of coachwork was not as popular here in the US, but a few were built. At the New York Auto show in 1916 the Holbrook Company offered a Crane-Simplex with a yacht-inspired design and a boat-like windshield and fittings. Automotive artist Melbourne Brindle later owned and restored the unique car that has survived. The photos below are from The Automobile October 23, 1913, coverage of the Paris Salon coverage by W.F. Bradley.