In the aftermath of World War II, there was little demand in France for high-performance luxury cars of the type Salmson had been producing in the late 1930s, the result of punitive rates of taxation. Nevertheless, for the 1953 season, their talented technical staff produced an updated version of the 2.2-liter Randonnée: the 2300 Sport. Styled by Eugène Martin, the 2300 Sport was a pretty 2+2 coupe, 227 examples of which were made up to 1957 with bodies by Esclassan and Henri Chapron, the latter being responsible for the bulk of production.

The Randonnée’s 4-speed Cotal gearbox was retained, while other noteworthy features included torque tube transmission and rack-and-pinion steering. All Salmson cars were built in right-hand-drive configuration. With 105 horsepower on tap from its 2.3-liter twin-cam four, the 2300 Sport was a strong performer by the standards of the day, boasting a top speed of 112 mph.

With its class-leading specification, the 2300 Sport clearly had competition potential. Examples competed at Le Mans in 1955 and 1957 (in 1956, in standard trim complete with all luxuries, including a radio!), and the 1956 Mille Miglia. While little was achieved on the track, the 2300 Sport proved a much more effective rally car, winning on 13 occasions in 1954. However, like France’s other quality motor manufacturers, Salmson was struggling to survive. Renault bought the factory in 1957. A 2300 Sport was the last car off the production line.

The example offered here is one of fewer than 80 2300 Sports believed to survive worldwide. These cars very rarely come onto the market, particularly in such outstandingly roadworthy condition.

This car was restored in the early 1990s when work undertaken included a “bare metal” body restoration, with rusty panels cut out, repaired, made good with lead loading and then finished in a deep Rosso paint. A testament to the quality of these repairs and paintwork is that, after 20 years, it still presents in superb condition. At the same time the interior was retrimmed, the engine rebuilt and gas-flowed — plus all brightwork replated.

An estimated 12,000 miles have been covered since the restoration was completed. Currently taxed and MoT’d, this rare French GT comes with Swansea V5 document, the original production sheet, facsimile handbook, miscellaneous parts and service items, and a comprehensive history file containing restoration invoices and photographs, ownership history, list of events/rallies attended since 1992, and a copy of a Classic Cars article.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 Salmson 2300 Sport Coupe
Number Produced:80
Original List Price:$4,500
Chassis Number Location:Plate in engine compartment
Engine Number Location:Left side of block
Club Info:Amicale Salmson
Alternatives:1955 Aston Martin DB2/4 MkII Coupe 1954 Lancia Aurelia B20 Coupe 1954 Bristol 404 Coupe

This car, Lot 262, sold for $48,105 at the Bonhams Goodwood Revival Collectors Motor Cars auction in Chichester, U.K., on September 16, 2011.

Conventional Wisdom, that prison of small minds, holds that all the upper-class cars of France died in the 1950s due to the crushing rate of taxation the Fourth Republic assigned to cars with engines larger than that of the Citroën 2CV or Renault 4. It’s been repeated again and again, even, I dare say, by me. But, is it possible that we didn’t have Delahaye, Bugatti, Hotchkiss, and Salmson to enjoy into the 1960s thanks to bad management, poor product planning and indifferent marketing?

The end of World War II saw the European nations in ruins and the U.K. in dire economic straits. On the other hand, the U.S. was coming into the height of the Pax Americana and its wide-open roads were filling with well-heeled enthusiasts who had just discovered the joys and thrills of European sports motoring.

So, where would a French luxury sports manufacturer pitch its wares? At home, where the few who can still afford it can’t be seen in anything that screams “I kept my money all during that horrible war, didn’t you?” — and where the authorities in Paris just wait, like some in governments today, to “soak the rich.” So, who in France would buy your cars?

Or do you make a real effort to sell them in California, New York, Chicago and Florida to the guys — and gals — making movies, winning sports championships and racing cars? Apparently the question was too tough for most of those in the boardrooms of the Grandes Marques in France, and it took Jean Daninos, a novice at the game, to break the code with the Facel Vega.

That Salmson was late to the car building party didn’t seem to matter, as their reputation built quickly. Ironically, it was at the end that they seemed to have it all together, as they were doing well in rally competition and fielding a modern line of well-made, reasonably attractive cars with good — but not outstanding — performance.

The suspension of the 2300 Sport was advanced, with alloy front A-arms and a system called Flexivar in the back that used rubber blocks to locate the shocks and rear axle. It was designed to produce the compliant ride expected in a French car, with a measure of controlled handling expected in a GT.

Better looking in person

I can see sort of a Bristol-like aspect in the clean, simple and vaguely aerodynamic Chapron bodywork. Details such as the bolt-on wire wheels similar to those seen on early Facel Vegas, and inset — dare I say Frenched — taillights in elegant chromed recesses give the Salmson a sophisticated look. The effort to give the rear seat passengers adequate headroom has come with the price of some awkwardness in the roof line, which when photographed from some angles looks like a derby hat riding atop the body.

Having seen one of these in the metal, I can safely state that the eye captures it better than the lens. From photographs it would seem that the ultimate spec two-seater GS version, with a shortened wheelbase, looks rather better balanced.

The dashboard has the typically unstyled look of the Delahaye and Hotchkiss and the seats are equally simple in design.

It’s clear the car has been set up for touring use, with effective modern lap/shoulder belts fitted, their bright red release buttons a bit jarring in appearance. The engine is a highlight of the 2300 Sport, and when Daninos sought to build his own twin-cam engine for the Facel Facellia, he might have taken a close look at the Salmson’s 2.3-liter aluminum DOHC 4-cylinder, instead of allowing Pont-a-Mousson to take their unfortunate flyer on the Alfa twin-cam instead.

The Cotal pre-selector gearbox has a frightening reputation, but as is the case so often, when properly set up and maintained is a delight in action, as it is much superior to many manual transmissions — and head and shoulders above automatics of the period.

Rare — but not in demand

By any estimation, this is a rare car, and if the catalog figure is correct, one of fewer than 80. However, proving once again the adage that “almost all valuable cars are rare but not all rare cars are valuable,” the market for this Salmson is thin at best, and they’re not very expensive cars. Having said that, it’s interesting to note that this car was reported sold in July 2011 at the HVA auction in Hertfordshire, U.K. for $37,127, almost $11,250 less than it brought two months later at a bigger sale venue. Factoring in transportation and fees, there was still a profit made.

For a collector who can look at the specific attributes of a car and how well they might meet his or her needs, a car such as this could be a compelling buy. It’s eligible for the Mille Miglia and Le Mans Classique. It was featured in a major international magazine, and after a freshening restoration, would be welcome at any number of concours events around the world. If you have high self-esteem, are confident in your collecting choices and enjoy giving a long explanation wherever you go, the Salmson is a good option. In light of the recent flip, I have to call it well sold, but it’s still a good buy for the usability.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

Comments are closed.