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CHARLES WEYMANN, PART 1—AVIATOR, COACHBUILDER

IT’S AS THOUGH nature endowed the talents of Glenn Curtiss, Enzo Ferrari and Sergio Pininfarina in a single person. As a pioneer in aviation, Charles Terres Weymann set records for speed and distance and won a Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy. He invented coachwork technology used by many of the finest automobiles of the era. During the Twenties, he won a $25,000 challenge in a match race at Indy and a team carrying Weymann’s name posted a 2nd-place finish at Le Mans. Last, as recently as 2010, one of his aircraft designs made frequent (and puzzling) appearances at internet aviation forums.

Such were Weymann’s adventures and achievements that I divide this tale into two parts. Aspects of his early aero and coachbuilding are today’s topics; the 1928 Indy match race, the Le Mans podium and 2010’s aviation puzzle are topics tomorrow.

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Charles Terres Weymann, 1889 – 1976, French-American aviator, race driver, inventor, coachbuilder. He is shown with his 1911 Gordon Bennett-winning Nieuport monoplane.

Charles Weymann was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1889. His father was American; his mother, of a particularly wealthy Haitian family. Charles carried dual U.S./French citizenship, lived for a while in the U.S., though he spent much of his life in France.

Weymann earned American Aero Club license No. 24, granted in 1909. (Glenn Curtiss was No. 1; Lincoln Beachey, No. 27.) In 1911, Weymann set records in a Nieuport monoplane for the quickest 150 km (78.3 mph) and greatest distances, 31.862 km in 1/4 hour (averaging 79.2 mph) and 63.477 km in 1/2 hour (averaging 78.9 mph).

This same year, Weymann represented the U.S. in the third running of the Gordon Bennett Trophy races, held in 1911 in England. He impressed everyone with the aggressive steepness of his Nieuport’s banked turns around the circuit. Weymann took 1st against five other competitors from England and France. Among them was Edouard Nieuport who finished 3rd.

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Concours d’Hydro-Aéroplanes, Tamise-sur-Escaut, Belgium, 1912. Image from Belgian Poster Pages.

In a Nieuport converted to a float plane, Weymann competed in the 1912 Hydroplane event at Monaco and the Tamise-sur-Escaut Concours d’Hydro-aéroplanes in Temse/Tamise, Belgium.

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Weymann’s Nieuport at the hydroplane races, Temse/Tamise, Belguim, 1912. Image from earlyaviators.com.

During World War I, Weymann worked for Nieuport as a test pilot. By war’s end, he had become a Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur and earned a Croix de Guerre. Afterward, he applied his knowledge of aircraft fabrication in devising an innovative technique for automobile coachwork.

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At left, a Weymann framework. Image from coachbuilt.com. At left, a 1932 Stutz DV-32 Super Bearcat, coachwork by Weymann. Image from StudioLine MediaCenter.

Traditional automotive coachwork had evolved from the carriage trade: metal panels nailed to a wood framework. His idea of optimizing the wood substructure’s joints and using fabric rather than metal resulted in a lightweight body that eliminated squeaks and rattles of earlier coachwork. Typically, a Weymann body had metal fenders and panels forward of engine firewall; the fabric covering was aft of it.

By 1923, Weymann had facilities in Paris and London; Indianapolis followed in 1928. Licensing offices in New York City and Cologne, Germany, made the term “Weymann fabric coachwork” almost a generic among automakers.

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Weymann’s patented technique was licensed to others, including Pourtout in France, Gurney Nutting and Rover in England. Image from coachbuilt.com.

Woolf Barnato’s Bentley Blue Train Special, so named in celebrating his victory in another Bentley over le train bleu, had Gurney Nutting coachwork under license from Weymann. The Rover Light Six actually beating France’s legendary train carried Weymann coachwork licensed to this English manufacturer.

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A pair of Blue Train Specials (one of which actually beat le train bleu). At left, the Bentley Blue Train Special. Image from bourgooracing.be. At right, the Rover Light Six “Blue Train.” Image by MilborneOne.

By the late Twenties, a fashion for high-gloss finishes and improvements in metal fabrication diminished the appeal of fabric coachwork. However, plenty of automakers continued with the technique into the Thirties.

Weymann’s British company evolved into Metro Cammell Weymann, a major manufacture of bus bodies of conventional construction. The company survived into the 1980s.

Its Weymann facility was in Addlestone, Surrey, about 25 miles southwest of London. Originally a Blériot aircraft factory established in 1917, the site is now known as Aviator Park, a fitting tribute to both Louis Blériot and Charles Terres Weymann. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015

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