Automobiles René Bonnet Missile

La chasse à l'homme, on YouTube, via

La chasse à l'homme, on YouTube, via

We pick up the story of this car after René Bonnet and Charles Deutsch separated their business, the former creating Automobiles René Bonnet (which would be absorbed into Matra) and the later would turn their firm, DB (Deutsch-Bonnet) into, simply, CD (Charles Deutsch).

Prior to the split, the Missile was known as the DB Le Mans, a fibreglass, two-door sports car with front-wheel drive, that had entered the French market in 1959. With price and performance comparable to a Porsche 356, it was an interesting choice in the burgeoning sports car market.

First equipped with two-cylinder boxer engines from Panhard, this car, the Missile, was a hastily-arranged update of the Le Mans…but on Renault mechanicals. (To confuse things even more, the Automobiles René Bonnet Le Mans from 1961 was turned into a hardtop-only model that aped the Facel Facellia in looks with vertically-stacked headlights, and retailed for twice the price of a Citroën ID19.)

With quality befitting a small operation and early fibreglass construction, there are few Missiles left today. They didn't know that few would survive on the eve of its launch at the 1962 Paris Motor Show, and could be pleased with the work done to update the car after Deutsch's departure.

Now on a Renault R4 L platform, the fibreglass body enclosed a more powerful Renault Dauphine '1093' engine*, found in the more sporting Dauphine variant of the same name. With 55 horsepower and a four-speed transmission, the car now housed one of Renault's most punchy engines inside a swoopy open body. Underneath, R4 suspension and disk brakes from the R8 completed the mechanical updates.

Sadly, due in large part to these changes, customers began to feel that the soul of the car—now without its flat Panhard engine—was compromised. (Need I mention that it performed and was built even better than the earlier cars?) Both the Missile and Le Mans remained in production until 1964, at which time Matra, impressed with the firm's mastery of fibreglass and composite bodywork, absorbed the firm and started to produce their own sports cars from 1965.

The Missile may represent an awkward adolescence for small, French sports cars, but even today, the later René Bonnet Missile is an interesting time capsule to an era when few would look down on an innovative sports roadster…with front-wheel drive.

(Its name is awesome, too…)


* Some missiles were delivered with the less powerful Dauphine 845-cc engine