Innovation is what keeps the car industry moving forward, whether through a new feature or design. A car that was considered ahead of its time was the 1935 Peugeot 401 D Eclipse, the world’s oldest surviving tin-top convertible. It was the first car to have a folding metal roof. The Eclipse inspired a generation of new motors, which is why we’re charting the history of this impressive model.
The Eclipse was dreamed up by French designer Georges Paulin, who took note of how a neighbour lost his temper every time he tried to lower his car’s canvas hood. This observation led to Paulin creating a vehicle alongside Peugeot. It took him four years to come up with the design and he developed a Citroen Rosalie with an electric motor that could fold a steel roof. He called the invention Eclipse because the moving top looked like a moon moving across the sun.
Paulin took his design to Citroen, but the company were too busy to show interest in it. Then, Paulin met coachbuilder Marcel Pourtout, who believed in the design. Paulin’s father-in-law helped him acquire a Peugeot 301 chassis that Pourtout bodied. Peugeot quickly took notice and the Eclipse went into production.
Despite Peugeot producing the car, they chose not to use the Eclipse name. The opted for Cabriolet Tole, which referenced the convertible sheet metal used in the motor. It had a metal body that incorporated the folding roof, immediately setting it apart from other vehicles of the 1930s. It had a sleek, streamlined body, luxury interior and 1720 cc sidevalve straight-four engine.
Even though the car looked great, only 79 examples were sold. The roof design proved to be too complex and expensive. The design was complex because of the heavy steel roof and boot. With the combined size and weight, the adjustments of the electric motor needed to be highly precise. But in the 1930s there weren’t any electric sensors to confirm the roof and boot had clicked into place.
The Peugeot Eclipse is the perfect example of a car that deserves more recognition. It featured an ingenious design that highlighted the prowess of its creator.
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