By on September 24, 2019

Today’s Rare Ride is one of the more obscure vehicles seen on these pages. The result of an argument between two men, the Le Mans was a short-lived model from a short-lived manufacturer.

Automobiles René Bonnet was formed after the dissolution of French manufacturer Deutch et Bonnet (known as DB). Its founders were engineer Charles Deutch and racing driver René Bonnet. DB built lightweight sports and racing cars between 1938 and 1961, utilizing engines sourced from Panhard.

Near the end of DB’s existence in the early Sixties, Deutsch and Bonnet had a big disagreement. Deutsch insisted DB continue to use Panhard engines, while Mr. Bonnet wanted to move on to Renault power. The situation proved a complete impasse, and the two men went their separate ways. Deutsch created a firm after his own initials — CD. Bonnet choose a similar tack, founding a new brand which wore his name.

In production since 1959, the DB Le Mans became the René Bonnet Le Mans in 1962. New, Bonnet-produced models kept the front-drive, Panhard-derived chassis, but swapped to Renault propulsion. The Renault mill of choice was a 1.1-liter inline-four tuned to produce around 69 horsepower. Overall length was just 160 inches, with the car boasting a feathery weight of 1,500 pounds.

The Le Mans was the foundation for two other Bonnet vehicles: the Missile and the Djet. The latter of the two, though developed by Bonnet, is better known today as a Matra. The weapons manufacturer was interested in fiberglass technology, a subject in which Bonnet had extensive expertise.

Bonnet and Matra worked together for a few short years before Automobiles René Bonnet closed its doors. The creation of Matra Automobiles in 1964 coincided with the last time Bonnet produced any vehicles. Matra took over, and Mr. Bonnet ended involvement with the automobile industry entirely, perhaps after receiving a check from Matra. Bonnet was killed in a car accident in January of 1983, at the age of 78.

Located in the Netherlands, today’s 1963 Le Mans was previously the subject of an extensive restoration. It sold recently, so perhaps soon its Mercedes-Benz headlamps will light the roads of Europe once again.

[Images: seller]

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17 Comments on “Rare Rides: A René Bonnet Le Mans From 1963 – French and Fiberglass...”

  • avatar

    Other than the nose being a bit too long, this is a very nice looking car!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Why is there a toggle ‘stick’ on the instrument panel? Isn’t it’s placement as safety hazard? And why does its cover plate look rusty after a complete restoration?

    Other than that a nice looking auto of the time, that will probably either bankrupt or drive the new owner ‘up the wall’.

    And add Bonnet “Missile’ to the list of great car names.

  • avatar

    Other than a Morgan Trike, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a car with its engine hanging over the front bumper – can you say oversteer?

  • avatar

    “The Renault mill of choice was a 1.1-liter inline-four tuned to produce around 69 horsepower. Overall length was just 160 inches, with the car boasting a feathery weight of 1,500 pounds.”

    See, 69hp doesn’t *sound* like much, but in a 3,000lb car that’d be the equivalent of, uhh… well, 138hp… hmm…

    • 0 avatar

      That 69 hp Renault engine was chosen by René Bonnet to replace the 49 hp opposed twin preferred by his former partner Charles Deutsch.

      • 0 avatar


        I mean, that said, for the time, it was probably pretty spry. The only real problems with it are that relying on super light weight means that getting in a 1500lb car as a 150lb guy hurts the performance as much as getting in a 3000lb car as a 300lb guy, so the apparent power/weight isn’t quite as good as it seems when you add a driver, and a four-speed isn’t really going to be able to take good advantage of the power that’s there.

        • 0 avatar

          Before the social engineers in the government gave us the food pyramid, there weren’t too many 300 lb people to worry about. With so little power, a four-speed might no be all that bad. While a transmission that keeps the engine at its horsepower peak would be optimum, even today such CVTs either consume power, weigh more than simple transmissions, or both. A 6-speed of similar strength would also weigh more, and all return would be on more closely stacked ratios. It isn’t like these little engines could benefit from overdrive in competition.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah, I was just gonna say… 300lb driver in a 3,000lb car, not all unusual. I mean, have any of you guys walked around the parking lot at WalMart lately? (chuckle)

  • avatar

    Wow, stumped. I’d heard of Deutsch Bonnet, but not Rene’ Bonnet.

    I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with that radio dial.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a three-band radio, with shortwave at the top, mediumwave (AM) in the middle with the big numbers, and longwave on the bottom. As was the custom of a certain bygone era, they are using the meter measurement instead of kHz. It had me stumped for a while, too. 300 meters = 1000 kHz.

  • avatar

    Thought of the Renault Carevelle – so charming – and the engine hangs out over the rear axle.

  • avatar

    I wish you could take and write up a test drive to see if it scoots as good as it looks .


  • avatar

    very interesting facts! on the Automotive Craze site you can read reviews and stories not only about old models, but also new cars from different continents around the world

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