Classifieds Hero: 1928 Salmson Grand Sport 8 Roadster

This arrestingly beautiful Salmson offers a rare opportunity to acquire a French take on state-of-the-art 1920s grand prix engineering…

Poised in striking elegance and accentuated only with a single coachline arching gracefully down towards the rear of the doors, it’s hard to believe this light-grey 1928 roadster came from a manufacturer who had developed a wide range of industrial products.

French engineering firm Salmson was founded in 1890, and initially fabricated steam-powered machinery for the railway and military sectors, including petrol-powered lifts and motors.

As World War One erupted, Salmson switched its focus to constructing aeroplanes – primarily its two-seater 2A2 used in both battle and reconnaissance. As the war drew to a close, the production of motor cars was a natural next step. Study the history books and you’ll find that many pre-war marques, including Salmson, played a role in wartime aviation before their automobiles arrived.

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Having acquired a strong reputation from its aircraft, not to mention two world records courtesy of female aviator Maryse Bastié, Salmson had a great deal of potential to do well in the increasingly popular motoring sector.

An initial lack of experience with motor cars didn’t deter the brand; it got the ball rolling by building British GN cyclecars under licence at its Billancourt factory on the western outskirts of Paris. From 1921 onwards, Salmson began producing vehicles to its own design, such as its D-type, which featured the company’s first overhead-cam engine.

The company was unusual in that it produced virtually every component of its cars itself, and it was quick to embrace new engineering developments. In 1922, the firm became the first to commence production of a more advanced, twin-overhead-camshaft engine, which in years to come would inspire Vittorio Jano’s design of the highly regarded Alfa Romeo 2300 motor.

Subsequent Salmson models, including the VAL3 and AL3, were released. Competition success was quick to follow, serving as a reward for a marque that was clearly throwing itself whole-heartedly into vehicle development.

Representing state-of-the-art design in grand prix mechanicals, the eagerly anticipated Grand Sport model was then launched. Impressive power came from an 1100cc engine equipped with a Cozette No.8 supercharger and twin-plug ignition. This could deliver an impressive 85bhp at 4000rpm with ease, and the model recorded a top speed of 156km/h at Montlhéry.

The Grand Sport came with a four-speed gearbox, four-wheel Perrot brakes and a differential-less back axle. Even seasoned drivers took a while to get to grips with it, but the time invested in doing so was usually highly worthwhile. In Britain the model was marketed as the Grand Prix, and an impressive number competed in various races and challenging trials at the banked Brooklands motor circuit.

Over a period of six years, 128 Grand Sport 8 vehicles were produced. They took Salmson to new heights in positive feedback received, as well as success gained at international level – including the illustrious Targa Florio 1100cc class of both 1926 and 1927. Quite simply, the Grand Sport became the fastest and most successful event-winning French light car of its time, and was happily able to give the likes of the Brescia Bugatti a run for its money!

This light-grey Salmson, featured in the AutoClassics classifieds, is believed to be the fourth model produced. It was delivered in 1928 to Salmson’s German dealer in Kehl am Rhein, where its first owner chose to fit graceful coachwork rather than the more usual sporting body. After World War Two, an American GI purchased this Grand Sport 8 for export, before an engine knock in 1954 resulted in the car going into storage.

In 2017 the car was sold to a new owner, who has treated it to a full restoration including a reupholstered black interior. The Salmson has also been converted to 12-volt electrics, and now sports an electronic cooling fan and retro-fitted starter motor. Incredibly, the car retains its original German number plate, and now represents an opportunity to acquire a rare but stimulating drive contained within a gloriously chic package.

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