VINTAGE car enthusiast Jim Merrington has driven his 85-year-old vehicle all over Europe to discover its history.
Now Jim, of Brancepeth, near Durham, has written a book about one of the pioneers of both aviation and motor cars, Louis Janoir, who built his Delage car body.
Entitled Aeroplanes to Automobiles, it reveals the history of a man who flew with Blériot, became a founder of the Russian Air Force and made 1,000 WWI fighter planes.
Then he turned his attention to making Jim’s aluminium car body – a forerunner of the modern car body shell – on a Delage chassis. Today there are only three such cars known in the world.
With only a small Janoir badge on the car, Jim and his wife Jean, travelled in the old car through France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland.
A breakthrough came when Jim discovered the family of the original owner living in the Pyrenees and the granddaughter of Janoir living in Paris.
Tomorrow Jim, 70, a former director of Newcastle Breweries, is displaying his findings in an exhibition.
He said: “He even sabotaged his own factory when the Nazi regime tried to take it over after it occupied Paris in the Second World War. He split up his family and went on the run. He was an engineering genius and inventor.”
Janoir bought his first aeroplane in 1909 and became a test pilot for the Deperdussin aeroplane manufacturer.
He went to Moscow to test and make aeroplanes and was engaged by the Russian government as a technical expert. In 1912 he was promoted to be in charge of Russian military aviation and at the outbreak of the First World War, he joined the Russian Army.
Janoir returned to Paris to open an aircraft factory where he made 1,000 fighters for the French and British.
After the war he turned his attention to motorbikes and cars designing Jim’s Tranformable Metallique.
But it is the car body which makes it special. Janoir built it in the same way as his favourite monocoque racing plane, constructing the frame in aluminium and cloaking it in metal.
Jim’s European travels brought him into contact with a relative of the original owner of the car.
“There is a badge on the car bearing the name Louis Michon. I knew the car was owned by somebody in the Pyrenees. Jean and I drove 1,500 miles to France and spent weeks getting nowhere fast.
“Then as we were about to leave I popped into a little two-pump garage in a French town called Oloron Sainte Marie and the pump attendant’s eyes popped out like a stork’s.
“He recognised the name and took us to see the grand-daughter of the owner. She was overjoyed to see the car.”
Jim’s car will now go on display at a free photo exhibition, open to the public, in Brancepeth Village Hall, near Durham, tomorrow from 10am to 4pm.
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