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...Cars & Races

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Car of the Month - March 2012


Benova B3 - sports special body - manufactured in 1927

It's not only quality, engineering, innovation or competitiveness that can make a car manufacturer successful. Perhaps most important of all is marketing. And this is were French manufacturer Maurice Jeanson excelled, albeit for a limited time. Jeanson entered the car market in 1921 during the cycle car craze. He choose the name of his nephew, Benjamin, as brand name and introduced a small 750 cc 4-cylinder car with shaft drive that weighed just under 350 kg. That meant that the car benefitted from the tax advantages for cycle cars while it offered the better built quality of more conventional cars. But more importantly he concocted an innovative financing scheme for his customers. In association with bank Société Générale he offered a credit which meant that the cars could be bought by paying 12 monthly installments, which added only 200 francs to the price. Benjamin acted as a security to the bank, which proved to be both productive as well as risky.
At first business boomed and sales grew rapidly. In 1923 the range was expanded with a long chassis model that could be fitted with 4-seater bodies but was also offered for commercial vehicles. That same year also a 2-seater sports model was introduced with a single overhead cam engine that propelled the car to a maximum speed of 100 kph. A year later a true cycle car was marketed as the Benjamin P2. It was powered by a 525 cc 2-cylinder 2-stroke engine that was mounted in the rear of the boat-tailed car. Though it had some success in competition the car didn't sell well and the model soon disappeared from the model range. After that Benjamin stuck by 4-cylinder 4-stroke models and capacities up to 1095 cc were offered.
Up to 1926 production grew and grew and Benjamin prospered. Four wheel brakes were introduced on the cars, which had made a name for them selves for offering quality at a modest price. But then things went awry as the economy suddenly was in decline and customers failed to pay off their loans. Since Benjamin acted as security the company was obliged to reimburse the bank for the failed payments of their customers and this lead to a bankruptcy in 1927. As the creditors saw more advantages in continuing production as opposed to selling the assets the company was not liquidated and Jeanson was allowed to reestablish his company, but now closely governed by his main creditor, the bank. Benjamin was renamed into Benova, meaning "new Benjamin".
Most notable new car was the Type G with 1502 cc (later enlarged to 2 litres) straight 8-cylinder provided by S.C.A.P. This was a luxury car quite unlike the preceding models and was made up to 1929. More common were the models powered by 4-cylinder engines provided by Chapuis-Dornier. They ranged from 945 cc to 2100 cc capacities and powered models varying from small 2-seaters, conventional 4-seaters to commercial vehicles. They sold reasonably well but with the recession, the competition from mass produced cars and without the attractive financing scheme the market dried up for Benova and its last vehicles were sold in 1931.

It's not quite clear how many Benjamins and Benovas were made in total. Of the B3 model shown here there were more than 300 made between 1927 and 1929. Most of them had regular tourer, coach or sedan bodies but there were sportscars as well. This one has the 945 cc. Chapuis-Dornier engine and fits in quite nicely with contemporary small sportscars from Amilcar and Salmson. There are still a number of Benjamin and Benova cars extant, mostly in Western-Europe and often as 2-seater sport specials which enjoy some popularity. They hardly remind of the early days of car financing which is so common now but still it's an interesting bit of history that accompanies these cars.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland


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