Claveau: the rarest car in the world?

Émile Claveau was one of those innovative car designers we love most here at His company began making cars in Paris in 1923 and ceased production after World War Two.

Claveau cars are among the world’s rarest cars because hardly any were made.

But Émile Claveau should be celebrated as he came up with ideas way ahead of their time. You can draw a line from his thinking directly forwards through French cars such as Citroen.

Émile Claveau’s first design was for a mid-engined car with an aerodynamic body. He applied for a patent in 1923 and this model was discovered in Tours near where the designer was making a living as a grain broker:

A model of a Claveau car in a glass case in a museum
A model of the first Claveau car of 1926

In this design, Claveau foresaw mid-engined, aerodynamic cars with a forward driving position and independent suspension.

A collection of four photographs of an aerodynamic prototype car in a museum
The Claveau had a mid-engine and forward driving position (I took this photo at Tampa Bay Automobile Museum).

And in 1930 he designed a front-wheel drive car.

A collection of four photographs of sketches of an aerodynamic prototype car in a museum
The Claveau was aerodynamic for 1926 (I took this photo at Tampa Bay Automobile Museum)

After the war, Émile Claveau came up with something quite different. At the 1947 Paris Auto Show, he presented his Claveau Déscartes, surely the first car to be named after a French philosopher.

This thoughtful machine had a 2.3 litre V8 engine and front-wheel drive. René Descartes may have asked, “Cogito ergo sum?”: how many gears are there? It had a five-speed gearbox.

The Claveau Déscartes therefore preempted the 1966 Oldsmobile Tornado, also a car with a V8 and front-wheel drive.

Now then, if someone asked “which was the first 1950’s small car of under 900cc capacity, with front-wheel drive and rubber suspension” you might say “BMC Mini!”, right?

A yellow Claveau car in a museum
The Claveau featured front-wheel drive

But you would be wrong.

Try Claveau.

In 1955 Émile Claveau showed this prototype at the Paris Auto Show. The car had a unibody bodyshell with independent suspension. The springing medium was by rubber rings called “Anneaux Neiman”, a system also used on scooters.

A yellow Claveau car in a museum, showing the side
The Claveau was suspended by rubber

The car had a DKW three-cylinder two-stroke engine of 896cc, and a four-speed gearbox with the drive to the front wheels. It wasn’t entirely original: the design owed something to the Cisitalia 202 coupe of 1947.

A yellow Claveau car in a museum, showing the front left side view and white wall tyres
The Claveau had a DKW engine

The Claveau 56 prototype never had a fuel tank fitted and could not be driven. After the Paris show it was despatched to a scrap yard.

Luckily it was rescued by one Doctor Jeanson, a French car enthusiast. The Tampa Bay Museum acquired the car, restored it and fitted a fuel tank.

At last, after fifty years the car was driven on the road.

A yellow Claveau car in a museum, showing the rear
The Claveau had independent suspension

How much is a Claveau worth?

It is not known how much a Claveau car is worth. As the total production number of this car was only one, it is almost impossible to put a value on it. Let’s say $100 million.