Early in 2020, veteran automotive writer Axel Catton and veteran automotive photographer Michel Zumbrunn were looking for a project they could work on during the pandemic. Along with publisher teNeues, they settled on the idea that became Lost Beauties: 50 Cars that Time Forgot, a new, lavishly illustrated coffee-table book that takes an in-depth look at influential, outlier, or just plain weird vintage vehicles that have all but vanished from the (general) public imagination.
Starting with 300 images that Zumbrunn had shot over the past decade or so, Catton and his collaborators each created a list of the 50 cars they’d want to include in the book. “About 45 were identical on all three lists,” Catton said. “We said, wow, that’s something. It made our job much easier.”
Cars were chosen based on a few criteria. “I wanted to look at the pictures and have them speak to me directly, to communicate something special about the car. And I wanted people to find out some things they thought they knew, but didn’t,” Catton said.
Catton said he loves every car that is included, but he was able to choose some standouts that really represented the core concept of the book—elucidating forgotten, or unknown, automotive history.
“The L’Oeuf Electrique from 1942—that completely floored me. It’s an electric-powered, egg-shaped car that looks like a combination of a BMW Isetta and a Smart car. What is amazing is how futuristic it was, and that it was built in World War II occupied Paris, when all of the materials it was made of were rationed and electric power was not at all normal or standard,” Catton said. “That had to be in there.”
He is also a big fan of the cover car, a 1948 Riley. “That one sums up the entire book. When they see it, most people will say, ‘What the hell is that?’ They will look at the grille and think Alfa or Jag. But it was designed by a Swiss designer who had built bodies for Delahaye and other cars at the time,” Catton said. “But this is the car the designer made entirely for himself, not as a commission for a client. Which is why it’s so wacky.”
And then there’s the Bucciali TAV 8-32 Berline Saoutchik from 1932, an impossibly louche, front-wheel-drive French entry, sporting 24-inch wheels, powered by a V-16 engine, and bodied by famed coachbuilder Saoutchik. “It’s an under-slung chassis, therefore it looks incredibly low for its time. It’s a front-drive car, but it doesn’t look like one, with its big fenders and running boards. It looks like the wheels are bigger than the car,” said Catton. “You could spend a whole day walking around it and being fascinated by it.”
The youngest car in Lost Beauties—the extremely lightweight Venturi Fétish—is not quite 20 years old. When asked what vehicles he’d include in a book like this 50 years in the future, Catton had some excellent answers. “There are fewer and fewer individual one-offs now, what with all the safety regulation and legislation. Perhaps the Sultan of Brunei’s car, a two-door Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit converted by Hooper. Or maybe some of the cars from this Dutch guy Niels van Roij, who makes bespoke cars,” Catton said. “Or an Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato. Those are very lovely, and extremely rare. They will be Pebble Beach cars as soon as they are 20 to 25 years old.”
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