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Alexis de Sakhnoffsky (Алесис де Сакчноффскы)
Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky (b. November 12, 1901 - d. April 29, 1964)
Associated Firms
Hayes Mfg. Co.; Van den Plas S.A., Minerva, Budd

Count Alexis Wladimirovich de Sakhnoffsky's 1930s illustrations in Esquire introduced "streamlining" to the American public. Sakhnoffsky's distinctive style resonated with cosmopolitan Americans' desire for modernity, efficiency, novelty, and speed. While still in his twenties, his streamlined automobile designs won international awards. Historians of automobile design, with the prescient exception of Brooks Stevens, have ignored or belittled his work because of his limited technical knowledge; but his charisma, vision, and talent for illustration influenced American automotive, household, and fashion design to a remarkable degree.

After a short career in fashion illustration and design, his attention turned to automobiles and during the mid-1920s he was associated with the following Belgian coach builders; Lejeune A. Fils Aine (rue des Allies, 80, Verviers); D'Ieteren Freres (Rue de Mail 50-60, Bruxelles), L'Auto Carrosserie, (Ham 104, en  Zondernaamstaat, 10, Gent), M. & Ch.Snutsel Fils, (Rue Stevin 59, Bruxelles); Carrosserie Van den Plas, (Rue St. Michel, Cinquantenaires, Bruxelles), and Vesters & Nierinck (Rue du Foyer Schaerbeekvis).

Custom autobodies, coachbuilt to his design, were constructed for chassis including Bentley, Buick, Cadillac, FIAT, Gräf und Stift, Hispano-Suiza, Imperia, Mercedes-Benz, Métallurgique, Minerva, Packard, Puch, Rolls-Royce, Stutz and Voisin. Many of these vehicles won awards in continental concours d'elegances between 1926-1931, in Beaulieu, Berlin, Bournemouth, Cannes, Le Touquet, Monte Carlo, and Nice. (Unlike today's Concours d'Elegance which judge a vehicle solely on its own merits, Concours of the 1920s and 1930s awarded points for coordinated displays of coachwork and fashion, usually featuring a woman's clothing but at times extending to matching dogs and chauffeurs.)

In Monaco, his work won Grand Prix medallions for 5 years straight: 1926 with a Minerva, 1927 with a Minerva, 1928 with a Rolls-Royce, 1929 with a Packard, and 1930 with the first Grand Prix awarded to an American chassis: the unique 1929 Cord “Hayes Coupe” (which recently sold at auction for $2.4 million, making it the most expensive Cord in the world).

He designed the streamlined Labatt's delivery truck the fondly remembered traffic-stopping vehicles that transported the London, Ontario brewer's popular beverages across Canada from the mid-1930s into the mid-1950s.

His talent for graphics and line drawings extended his influence among the general public, and his illustrations appeared in the following periodicals: Autobody, Conquete de l'Air, Esquire, L'Equipement Automobile, Motor Trend, Psyche, Skyways and The Classic Car.

Fluent in four languages (English, French, German and Russian) de Sakhnoffsky became Autobody Magazine's 'Continental Correspondent' in the mid-1920s. By 1928 his articles and award-winning designs had attracted the attention of General Motors, Packard and Hayes Mfg. Co. and he accepted a position as art director with the latter in its Grand Rapids design studio. During his tenure at Hayes, de Sakhnoffsky influenced the design of many automobile bodies, as Hayes' clients included American Austin, Auburn, DeVaux (later Continental), Franklin, Marmon, Peerless, Reo, Roosevelt and Studebaker.

When his contract expired, he became a freelance consultant, having realized that consultation and free-lance projects generated the most income and best suited his lifestyle. Not surprisingly de Sakhnoffsky's eccentric sense of style extended to his wardrobe which according to Esquire consisted of "riding breeches and boots with open-collared white shirts."

His trademark monogram, seen to the right, needs a little explanation. In English, his initials are A.D.S.- A for Alexis, D for de, and S for Sakhnoffsky. In Russian, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, his initials are A.д.C. - A for Alexis , д for de, and C for Saknoffsky (Алесис де Сакчноффскы).

De Sakhnoffsky maintained offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, New Canaan (Conn.), New York City; and Philadelphia and was awarded 38 US patents during his lifetime. His numerous non-automotive clients included Attwood Mfg. (boat hardware), the Brown Derby (tableware), Chrysler Corp.(World's Fair exhibit), Earl Carroll Theatre, LA (interiors) Emerson (radios), Feather-Craft (boats), Fleetwheels (travel trailers), Frost-Craft (boats), Gruen (watches), Hadley Mfg. (boat horn), Heywood-Wakefield (furniture), Kelvinator (refrigerators), Mullins (boats), Murray (bicycles), Muzak (radios), Natan & Co. (dresses), Pedwin (shoes), Pioneer (suspenders), Revlon (advertisements), Hal Roach (movie sets), Sabca (airplanes), Steelcraft (toys & pedal cars), Vollrath (cookware), and Yale & Towne (forklifts).

Post-Hayes his automotive clients included Bantam, Budd Mfg. (trailers), Crosley, Ford, Indiana (trucks), Kaiser-Frazer, LaFayette, LaSalle, Mack, Murray Corp. (auto bodies), Nash, Packard, Tucker, White (trucks) and Willys-Overland.

In the late 1930s, he took on a number of interesting side jobs, including set design on a famous Hal Roach comedy ‘Topper”, and musical instruments for Phil Spitalny's popular "all-girl" orchestra.

De Sakhnoffsky became a US citizen in 1939. In 1941, his divorce (due to his wife's objection to his girlfriends) became the subject of gossip columnists from coast to coast. From 1943-1945, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, stationed in Moscow where his multilingual fluency proved useful.

Although his Army pension and work for Esquire provided a steady, albeit small income after the War, he discovered that opportunities for freelance automobile designers were non-existent and took a position with his protégé, Brooks Stevens. He augmented his income with illustrations for advertising agencies and an occasional design project for small manufacturers and wealthy individuals. After parting ways with Stevens he moved to Atlanta with his third wife, passing away there on April 29, 1964, at the age of 62.

The Count told his life story in a three-part article published in the journal of the Classic Car Club of America in the late 1950s, and most of the personal anecdotes that follow are taken from the series.

Alexis Wladimirovich de Sakhnoffsky was born on November 12, 1901 in Kiev, the largest city in the Russian state of the Ukraine, to Count Wladimir and Countess (Terestchenko) de Sakhnoffsky.

His father, Count Wladimir de Sakhnoffsky, was a quiet, scientifically inclined nobleman, who just happened to be the private financial counselor to Czar Nicholas II.

His mother was the granddaughter of the Russian sugar magnate and industrialist Artemon Terestchenko, one of the wealthiest persons in Czarist Russia. Her father, Nicola Terestchenko, inherited his business and fortune, which was handed down to his children, who aside from de Sakhnoffsky's mother included Theodore and Ivan Nikolavitch Terestchenko, the world renowned art collectors.

The extent of the immense wealth of Alexis' mother's family can be seen in the family's yacht, the 318 foot Iolanda, which was owned by his grandmother Elizabeth, Nicola's widow. Constructed in 1908 in Leith, Scotland by Ramage and Ferguson Shipyards the Iolanda was the second largest steam yacht in the world. Purchased in 1911 from its original owner, Commodore Morton F. Plant, it sailed the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas carrying the scions of Europe as well as members of the Russian Imperial family, and one would assume a young Count Alexis.

He grew up in a five-story mansion whose staff of 18 included a French governess and British nurse from whom he learned French and English. Early on Alexis became enamored with his relatives' automobiles, he explains:

"My interest in cars started in Tsarist Russia around 1912. A youngster at that time I was intrigued by my uncle's steam-propelled Serpollet, and my cousins' Opels, Austro-Daimlers and Mercedes cars.

"Just before World War I, my father purchased a large Mercedes-Benz touring car with outside exhausts and a most intriguing streamlined muffler on the side of the frame. Our Russian chauffeur was a devotee of the open cut-out and when this monster moved along at 65 mph with flames shooting out of the cutout it was a sight to behold. I knew then and there that one way or another my future would he closely connected with big, fast beautiful cars."

As a thirteen-year-old de Sakhnoffsky, whose boyhood wish was to be the Czar's coachman, constructed his first vehicle, a rudimentary engineless model constructed using a sled and a set of wheels appropriated from a perambulator. He often used the household custodian, Peter, as ballast on his daily charges down the hills surrounding his home in Kiev. The vehicle was soon confiscated and destroyed, after Alexis nearly struck his father while tearing down a steep hill.

Following a series of missteps and the entry of Russia into the First World War, which resulted in the deaths of 3,300,000 Russians, Czar Nicholas II was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of March 1917 which itself was overthrown by the Bolsheviks the following October. The senior de Sakhnoffsky's patron abdicated on March 15, 1917 and summarily executed on July 16-17, 1918.

Due to their immense wealth the Terestchenko family were easy targets for the Bolsheviks, and de Sakhnoffsky's father committed suicide in August of 1918. Saknoffsky recalled :

"The Red-imposed curfew was 6 p.m. Alone in Father's study, haunted by his last moments before taking poison, I sat motionless in complete silence. The only perceptible sound was an occasional rumble of iron-rimmed wagon wheels. Since no traffic was allowed after hours, this meant that another group of wretched arrested people, maybe relatives or friends, were on the way to interrogation or torture."

The Russian Revolution took place over a number of years, and during its early days a group of former Imperial Army Generals organized a volunteer army to fight the Bolsheviks. Headquartered in the Ukraine the rolls of the White Army - as they were called - included a Private de Sakhnoffsky.

Luckily for de Sakhnoffsky, an Aunt in Marseilles, France arranged for his immediate family (Alex, his mother and sisters) to be smuggled out of the country in January of 1920, his only possession being 1,000 rubles and a 5½ carat diamond ring. He was safe, but no longer wealthy, so Alexis' aunt financed a sojourn to Switzerland where he enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Lausanne.

After three years of school he ran out of money and moved to Paris where he began sketching gowns, which he hoped to sell to couturiers.

"But a style designer can't get anywhere in Paris unless he can also cut and fit dresses," explained de Sakhnoffsky. "So I could get only 17 or 20 francs for a sketch, and even then didn't make a sale very often."

With his fashion career at a standstill, he decided to take a course in design at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Bruxelles, Belgium. To help finance the move he began looking for a job in and around Bruxelles.

Coincidentally, Thomas Hibbard, a partner in the Franco-American automobile design firm of Carrosserie Hibbard et Darrin, happened to be in Carrosserie Van den Plas' Bruxelles office in late 1923 when a young Russian artist (de Sakhnoffsky) came by looking for work. Surprisingly, his portfolio did not contain any renderings of automobiles rather it consisted of detailed drawings of women's clothing and accessories as his only work up until that time had been for department stores.

However de Sakhnoffsky's talents were obvious and he was subsequently hired by Antoine Van den Plas as a junior draughtsman at 750 francs a month. His multi-linguistic talents were as much an asset to his employer as were his artistic ones as he served as translator whenever one of the firm's international clients visited the shop. As Van den Plas directors also served on the boards of Minerva, Metallurgique and Imperia, the company was the coachbuilder of choice for the three Belgian-built chassis.

Before long Alexis was given more responsibility and began executing final renderings of selected model bodies for Van den Plas wealthy clients. Not satisfied to be a mere interpreter-delineator, de Sakhnoffsky longed for his former life of luxury stating:

"My mind associates living below standards with the dreadful odor of wet wool, hungry eyes and gradual sinking to the acceptance of status quo."

He explains, "It was tough getting used to working long hours with the same faces around you. I loathed the drab surroundings, creaky floors and garlic stench of my colleagues' garlic and lard sandwiches. Even my white smock seemed to me a brand of disgrace But. worst of all was the ordeal of having to share the odiferous, window-less lavatory without any privacy whatsoever."

During meetings in the conference room he often feigned a headache or some other malady just to be able to use his employer's executive lavatory where he could "revel in clean, sanitary comfort".

On December 27, 1924 de Sakhnoffsky was summoned to his employer's office, unsure if he was about to be fired or promoted. Prepared for the former he wondered:

"What about Madeleine, my new girlfriend, whom I promised new outfits to join me on my weekend safaris?"

He needn't have worried as Mon. Antoine offered him a promotion, appointing him Van den Plas' Art Director, a position which included a key to the firm's executive lavatory.

Although he rarely mentioned her, de Saknoffsky ended up marrying the girl mentioned above. Little is known about the first Countess de Sakhnoffsky (nee Madeleine Parlongue) other than she was born in Belgium to Edgard Henri and Lucie Ernestine (Louat) Parlongue in 1910 (one source states 1914). De Sakhnoffsky met her while he was working for Van de Plas and she accompanied him to Grand Rapids when he relocated to the United States, the 1930 US Census listing the couple as Madeline and Alexis de Sacnoffsky (sic).

In addition to the preceding reference from his Classic Car series, de Sakhnoffsky mentions her in a 1933 interview, explaining that while in Belgium he met a girl who during the war had risked her life for her country in the intelligence service. She had a hatful of citations for her bravery – and also she had a pretty face and that indefinite something the stylist loved – 'chic'.

Ironically an art director's pay wasn't sufficient to allow for the owning of a car, de Sakhnoffsky explaining:

"It was agony to occasionally drive my own designs, when I ached for a car - just any car.

"To satisfy my craving, I arranged with the management of the custom-car factory I worked for, to allow me to "test" my creations over week-ends. And since our production ran at about 1½ cars a week, there was always at least one finished car available on Saturdays, prior to be shipped or driven away by the owner.

"Attired in my best clothes, I drove past the great plate glass windows of the Belgian Capitol, watching the reflection of the long-wheelbase costly vehicle, with myself at the wheel. All my small savings went towards trips to the sea-shore or mountain resorts, where the low bows of flunkeys and admiring glances of patrons gave me a heady feeling of success. Only the most exclusive places, I felt, were good enough for MY cars."

During those days a good portion of a continental coach builders business came from its annual entries in Europe's prestigious auto shows and Concours d'Elegance (translation: competition of elegance). Van den Plas S.A. creations

A little Van den Plas history is in order as there were three separate coachbuilders operating under the Van den Plas name at the time.

It was in 1871 that a blacksmith left his workshop on the industrial north-east side of Bruxelles to his nephew, Guillaume Van den Plas, who had served as his apprentice. By 1880 Guillaume had expanded into the manufacture of wheels and axles by 1884 entire carriages. In that year he relocated to Antwerp where he was joined by his three sons, Antoine, Henri and Willy. Following Guillaume's retirement in 1898, Henri Van den Plas assumed control of the families Antwerp operations and Antoine and Willy returned to Bruxelles where they established their own works at 32 Rue de St. Michael.

Most of the firm's work was on the associated Minerva chassis although they produced bodies for all the major European and American luxury chassis at one time or another. The 1934 bankruptcy of Minerva caused the bankruptcy of Van den Plas during the following year, its last known project being a Torpedo Roadster on a Duesenberg Model J chassis. The firm was subsequently reorganized and survived into 1949, specializing in bus and commercial bodies.

In 1913 a British Van den Plas was established in Hendon by Warwick Wright who produced bodies under license from Van den Plas, S.A. After various name changes and reorganizations the firm assets were purchased in 1923 by Edwin Fox and his brothers who reorganized it as Vanden Plas Ltd. The British firm subsequently moved from Hendon to Kingsbury where they established a mutually beneficial arrangement with Bentley Motors Ltd. for whom they produced over 700 bodies between 1924 and November 1931 when Bentley was purchased by Rolls-Royce. With the end of their close association with Bentley, Vanden Plas Ltd. Supplied coachwork to various British firms including Alvis, Armstrong Siddeley, Bentley, Daimler, Lagonda and Rolls-Royce. In 1946 the firm became a subsidiary of the Austin Motor Co., who used it to manufacture the coachwork for its new Austin A-135 Princess. In 1960 Vanden Plas began offering its own line of cars, but after a succession of mergers and acquisitions the firm ended up being badge affixed to upscale versions of various British Leland marques.

A third Van Den Plas was formed by Willy Van de Plas, the youngest son of Guillaume, who left Bruxelles and established a partnership with a Parisian coachbuilder in 1920 forming Carrosserie Willy Van den Plas et Solomon & Cie. Willy bought out his partner in 1926, and the business was subsequently conducted at 228 Rue le Courbe, Paris, without the Solomon suffix. Willy won the 'Grand Prix du Concours d'Elegance de Paris' in 1930 and the 'Coupe de la Body' and 'Grand Prix d'Honneur' in 1931 with an 8-cylinder Delage chassis. Carrosserie Willy Van den Plas survived until 1934.

Alexis de Saknoffsky was attached to the Bruxelles-based Van den Plas S.A. and did no work for the French or British firms that shared the same name. The following first-hand description of the Van den Plas shops is excerpted from his 1957 Classic Car article:

"The output of most deluxe coachbuilders was very small. At best, Van den Plas produced one to one and one-half bodies a week, usually taking three months to finish them. The customers were prominent Englishmen, titled and/or wealthy Belgians and members of the rich international crowd referred to the company by representatives in London, Paris and Spain..

"Our London representative was the Cadillac-Buick dealer; in Spain our Mr. Rugeroni sold Rolls-Royce, and so on. But our Brussels salesman was debonair, impeccably dressed André Monimaerts. His job was to hang around races, bars and night clubs and weed out the latest information on who is in the chips, or ready for a new custom-built creation. A lot of this information was channeled to him via ladies of easy virtue, with whom he had quite a way. One of them, a beautiful creature called "Mouche" (Fly), who divided her well-paid-for time between London and Brussels, was always good to provide numerous tips which resulted in a few (auto) bodies for André.

"Upon arrival, the customer was brought into the sanctum of Monsieur Antoine's wood-paneled office. If the customer was English or American, I was immediately summoned to act as interpreter. Sooner or later, however, I was always in the picture when styling was discussed.

"Some members of old, noble families had exact replicas of their favorite models reproduced every few years on newer chassis. Their family color schemes were always the same down to the last filet (stripe). Occasionally, some of the younger members drifted towards flashy Bugattis, SSK Mercedes, etc. but most of the aristocracy was not too wealthy and what with occasionally indulging in special cars for their lady-friends, they had to watch their own car budget. And watching who paid for whose car with whose credit was a delicate job for Monsieur Antoine and his credit man.

"Hanging in the ante-room were about thirty of my original drawings of our models. These were replaced from time to time when I had a spare moment. Generally, the customer was able to find something there which was in line with his wishes.

"Since the reputation of quality was unquestioned, after the customer selected his model and agreed on a general estimated cost, Monsieur Antoine summoned his production accounting- coordinating executive, who took in long-hand, copious notes of the details. These covered a wide variety of queer wishes, from vanities carved out of solid ivory, to sunburst roof treatments in pink leather or interiors matching the skin of the owner (for a well-known mulatto songstress).

"My job was to either create an original or to execute the final renderings of the selected model in the chosen colors and sometimes perspective sketches of interiors and fancy woodwork. The client supplied us with full information on his crest or monogram to be hand-painted on the rear doors and engraved on silver cocktail shakers, flagons and cups.

"A staff meeting followed during which department chiefs (body drafting, lumber chief, sheet metal chief, upholstery head and finally chief painter) reduced the coordinator's notes to departmental detailed instructions. All were dressed in long white smocks, with only the general production manager, a two-hundred-fifty-pound Frenchman called Mr. Gifflaux, allowed to keep on his stiff black hat.

"From then on, thoroughly conscious of the customer's wishes, I worked with the body lofters who added all the necessary modifications to the master body drafts of our basic models."

Although Van den Plas S.A. is known to have built on Bentley, Benz, Buick, Cadillac, Excelsior, Fiat, Gräf und Stift, Hispano-Suiza, Imperia, Isotta-Fraschini, Mercedes, Métallurgique, Packard, Panhard, Rolls-Royce, Puch, Stutz and Voisin, the bulk of their work was on Minerva chassis, and de Sakhnoffsky recalled five memorable examples.

The first was a 1927 Minerva convertible pictured to the right that was constructed for a wealthy British Polo captain named Featherstonhaugh (pronounced 'Fanshawe')

The car featured de Sakhnoffsky's 'false hood', a styling featured that wouldn't appear on an American production automobile (Chrysler) until 1932. The Count describes its evolution as follows:

"Early in the '20's I started developing design of bodies with false hoods. I found that though the actual distance from the radiator to the front door remains the same, by extending the hood almost to the windshield, the effect of length is considerably increased. At that time most of the deluxe chassis came to the coach builder with short hoods. These were generally narrow at the dash and the blending of such hoods to wide bodies necessitated ugly O-G * curved surfaces in the plan view. By discarding the short hoods, we were free to lengthen and widen them and carry the flowing lines into the body."

(*O-G curve refers to the 'Ogee curve' a double curve resembling the letter S, formed by the union of a concave and a convex line.)

Featherstonhaugh's Minerva had an extremely imposing appearance made possible by a raised radiator mated to the specially built false hood. The pale blue body was offset by a naturally tanned pig skin interior that included a built-in cocktail bar finished in satin sterling silver and front seatbacks that folded down flat to form a bed.

De Sakhnoffsky reports the car did not remain in the Captain's possession for very long:

"Some two months later I was walking along London's used car row on Bond Street when a large pale blue car attracted my attention. There, sitting in the window, was my ‘Minerva.’ A short inquiry developed the following: The polo playing Captain was estranged from his wife. Shortly after the delivery of the car, her detectives found him in a compromising situation in the woods with a stunning musical comedy blonde. The folding seats added to the damaging evidence. The car was prominently displayed by the yellow press. After the scandal the Captain could not afford to drive such a conspicuous vehicle and the barely broken-in car found its way to the used car lot."

The second Minerva, a 1929 convertible constructed for the Nizan of Hyderabad (an Indian maharaja) was finished in navy and upholstered in black lizard with Maccassar Ebony woodwork and 14-karat gold plated hardware. The Nizan's personal crest was substituted for the regular Goddess Minerva radiator mascot.

The third was a closed-coupled sedan on a 20-hp Rolls-Royce chassis built to order for Adrian Conan Doyle, the son of Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.

The fourth and fifth, I'll let him describe directly:

"One of our esteemed clients, Prince de Ligne, member of one of the oldest Belgian families and brother of the Belgian Ambassador to the United States, was also an ardent big-game hunter. I designed a special car for him, following his detailed specifications. It was built on the large Minerva,-and was really a phaeton with a rakishly slanted V-windshield and extra low sides. There were no running boards proper. The fenders were of the domed, individual cycle-type; there was a flat valance covering the frame on the sides and two large steps allowed entry into the body without doors. Two large un racks were attached to the outside. The hood and body were entirely finished in engine-turned aluminum with red leather trim inside. The practicality of using a long wheelbase, deluxe chassis for the Belgian Congo roads is, of course, highly questionable, but I love to think of the field day the wild game must have had admiring the gleaming finish in the African sun.

"One day I was interviewing a striking brunette with something bohemian about her. Her clothes 'reeked' the expensive couturiers, she had a casual aplomb of people of wealth and a heavy Slavic accent. She told me that her husband, a known painter, wanted two cars: a sedan on the large Rolls and a convertible on the Isotta-Fraschini. Both cars were to be finished in ivory paint, with large sterling silver monograms applied on the doors. The interiors were to be upholstered in fraises ecrasées (crushed strawberry) leather and the vanities along the partition and next to rear arm rests were to be carved out of solid elephant tusks. When I expressed doubt that the largest tusks would be large enough for full body width vanities, she advised me that she and her husband would provide the ivory gathered during one of their recent safaris.

"In the center of the roof in the rear compartment there was to be an ivory rosette with the pink leather gathered around it in a sunburst effect.

"As blasé as I was by the unusual and often ridiculous requests of our wealthy patrons, my curiosity was aroused as to her identity.

"Her husband complained that being a nature lover, he was stymied by the lack of vertical vision in the average sedan. Wishing to see mountains and sky, he wanted a transparent section of the roof just over the windshield. The car was built as specified. Its owner was the late José Sert (Sert Room of the Waldorf and Murals at Rockefeller Center in New York). His wife, Nina, was born M'divani, sister of the three notorious, "marrying" M'divanis."

Although he doesn't mention it in his Classic Car series, a number of de Sakhnoffsky designs were constructed by Van den Plas S.A.'s Belgian competitors, one notable example being a Packard convertible Victoria shown at the 1928 Paris Auto Salon that was constructed by D’Ieteren Freres. Soon after its appearance Van den Plas made it available as did Waterhouse and Murphy in the United States.

Although the exact relationship between de Saknoffsky, Van den Plas and the following Belgian coachbuilders is unknown, his designs appeared on bodies constructed by the following firms during the late 1920s: Lejeune A. Fils Aine (rue des Allies, 80, Verviers); D'Ieteren Freres (Rue de Mail 50-60, Bruxelles), L'Auto Carrosserie, (Ham 104, en Zondernaamstaat, 10, Gent), M. & Ch.Snutsel Fils, (Rue Stevin 59, Bruxelles); Carrosserie Van den Plas, (Rue St. Michel, Cinquantenaires, Bruxelles), and Vesters & Nierinck (Rue du Foyer Schaerbeekvis).

Between 1926 and 1929 many de Sakhnoffsky designed vehicles won awards at competitions that took place at Beaulieu, Berlin, Bournemouth, Cannes, Le Touquet, Monte Carlo, and Nice. Although they share the same name, the original were significantly different than today's, the Count explaining:

"During the 1920's the rules of the Contest were that the cars had to be: privately owned, had to cost over $3,500.00 and be not more than three months old."

In Monaco, his work won Grand Prix medallions for 5 years straight: 1926 with a Minerva, 1927 with a Minerva, 1928 with a Rolls-Royce, 1929 with a Packard, and 1930 with a Cord. De Sakhnoffsky recalled "fate was good to me."

Content with his reputation as one of Europe's top automobile designers, de Sakhnoffsky set his sights on his next goal, repeating his Continental success in America. He relates:

"I started thinking seriously about going to America. Though ever-since my adolescence, I dreamed about living in America and gaining recognition, I never wanted to arrive as an immigrant and proceed from scratch to establish a reputation. If I was to come at all, it had to be on my own terms: crossing on a deluxe liner with a substantial contract in my pocket.

"That required some preparation. I needed recognition outside of Belgium, but could not afford a publicity agent. I decided to start building myself up by contributing to automotive trade publications. Though I had no training as a writer, I was fortunate to have acquired early in my life command of French, English and German. Also my interest in cars helped me gather a working knowledge of technical terms. Soon I was writing monthly articles on automotive design trends for 'L'Equipment Automobile', - an influential Paris publication, and 'Autobody', - a popular trade magazine published in New York.

"Both carried my by-line and address, and since I was paid a fixed amount per printed page, I found it profitable to send large amounts of photos, which sharply reduced my writing time. Naturally I filled the space with easily obtainable photos of all the cars which I designed for Van den Plas, S.A. This extra work provided me with additional income and publicity outlets in France and America."

By early 1928 de Sakhnoffsky's contributions to Autobody began to pay off. The first offer came from General Motors Corp.'s Art & Colour division, who offered him a six-month contract at double his current salary. He declined, hoping a longer contract would materialize, but agreed to meet his prospective boss, Harley Earl, at the Fall Olympia Show in London.

Several months later he received an offer from the Hayes Mfg. Co., a large automobile body manufacturer located in Grand Rapids, Michigan who at the time they were building production bodies for Chrysler, Marmon, Willys and Reo. Hayes officials had met de Sakhnoffsky who served as their tour guide on a visit to Van den Plas' Bruxelles facility.

Familiar with his Autobody by-line and his numerous awards Hayes management hoped that a styling studio within the organization would provide some additional prestige with clients, and they offered him the position of Art Director - Stylist at what he considered to be "an excellent figure".

During the 1920s Packard enjoyed a substantial popularity on the Continent and Van den Plas, S.A. bodied quite a few of them, working directly with the Parisian (Maurice Barbezat) and London (Leonard Williams Ltd.) distributors. Several of de Sakhnoffsky's designs won awards in France, and Van den Plas supplied Barbezat with striking bodies for the annual Paris Salon. In fact Barbezat was so pleased his work he arranged a meeting between de Sakhnoffsky and Packard Chairman Alvan Macauley at the Paris Salon in the Fall of 1928.

A de Sakhnoffsky-designed Packard Convertible Victoria painted black and trimmed in red leather provided the back drop for their meeting, where the young designer enthused:

"The golden youth of Europe is waiting for chic bodies, which will match the performance of your chassis. You have to compete with Hispano-Suiza, Delage, Bentley and Minerva, or be frozen out of the deluxe Continental market".

Macauley walked slowly around the car which was fully ten inches lower than the surrounding production models, his head towering over the convertible top. Unconvinced that there would be sufficient headroom inside, he opened the door and sat at the wheel ad discovered there were inches to spare over his hat. Unbeknownst to Macauley, de Saknoffsky had installed the seat on a dropped floor pan affixed several inches below the top of the frame rails, a custom touch that provided additional headroom in convertible automobiles (somewhat similar to channeling as practiced by today's modern hot rodders). Although the practice was sometimes used on competition vehicles to lower the center of gravity, it was rarely used on passenger cars at such an early date.

After a short silence Macauley told the designer:

"Young man there is no doubt that you design striking cars, strictly Continental. However, since our total volume of export to Europe amounts to less than 5% of our production, who cares about what the Europeans prefer. Still, I think there is a place for you in America, but I will not be the one to import you. Come and see me when you reach Michigan".

The convertible Victoria in question was subsequently purchased by the Packard Motor Company and shipped to Detroit. Although a position with Packard would have been a great opportunity, he had already accepted Hayes offer and immediately set sail for New York on board the United States Lines' S.S. Leviathan reaching Manhattan on October 22, 1928.

Hayes had already alerted the press to de Sakhnoffsky's hiring, the November 1928 issue of Autobody announced his upcoming appearance at a December 10, 1928 S.A.E. (Society of Automotive Engineers) conference:

"Speakers for Detroit Body Meeting

"The Body Division of the Detroit Section, S.A.E., will meet on Dec. 10 at the Book-Cadillac Hotel, to hear a discussion of body development and design as revealed at the Paris and New York Salons. The speakers as now arranged are : L. Clayton Hill ( Murray Corporation of America) ; Raymond H. Dietrich (Dietrich, Inc.) ; Alexis de Sakhnoffsky (Hayes Body Corporation). The subject of this meeting is one of great immediate interest and a large attendance is expected by Chairman W. N. Davis."

The December 1928 issue of Autobody formally announced his hiring:

"Art Director for Hayes

"Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, who came here recently to accept an engagement as art director for the Hayes Body Corporation, of Grand Rapids, Mich., is a native of Russia. When 18 years of age, he left Russia and entered the School of Engineers at Lucerne, Switzerland, where he studied two years and then continued his engineering studies for two years more at the Electromechanical Institute in Brussels. Having meanwhile specialized in designing, he spent another year and a half in Paris studios, most of which time was devoted to dress designing.

"He was connected for five years with the Carrosserie Van den Plas, S. A., of Brussels, first as line and color creator and later as art director in charge of the line-and-color research department. For five successive years, bodies which he designed were awarded grads prix at the Concours d'Elegance de Monte Carlo; a first prize was won by his design at the recent Bournemouth Elegance Contest, and one at Le Touquet Rallye. In addition to bodies for Van den Plas, he has designed for the following Continental coachbuilders: Snutsel Aine and Vesters and l'Auto Carrosserie, of Ghent. For three years, he designed dresses for Natan & Co. Besides acting as correspondent on the Continent for Autobody, he has had charge of articles on novelties in custom design for L'Equipement Automobile, of Paris; body articles for Brussels fashion magazine, Psyche; contributed a series of articles on the adapting of body designing to the airplane in Conquete de l'Air and acted as a consulting body engineer to the aircraft factory SABCA, of Brussels. He has also had charge of developing special designs and color schemes for the 30-hp. Minervas of Minerva, Ltd. of England."

De Sakhnoffsky recalled his first few months in the country:

"By mid-December I was slowly absorbing America, learning its customs and studying local automotive trends. After years of creating one-of-a-kind bodies it was a novel experience to design production lines, which sharply restricted the scope of possible silhouettes by requiring interchangeability of doors, adaptation of last year's fenders etc. At times it seemed as though I was prostituting my acquired experience of creating bodies for lines only, without considering production limitations. Still that was the fresh approach which the US body-builders looked for, and it was up to me to adjust my sights and inject original ideas into dies for mass production."

On December 24, 1928 de Sakhnoffsky received a phone call from Packard's Alvan Macauley inviting him to Christmas dinner at the Old Town Club on East Jefferson Rd., Detroit. At that time the coachwork used in Packard's custom body program was supplied by third parties who supplied them in small lots of from 10 to 100 bodies on an as-needed basis. Each coachbuilder employed their own designers and although they claimed the bodies supplied to Packard were exclusively to them, Macauley believed the same bodies were also offered to his competitors, albeit with minor modifications.

He wanted Packard to have its own exclusive custom coachwork, and invited de Sakhnoffsky to form his own design studio at the firm, which would then be constructed by a custom coach builder of his own choosing. Although the young designer was tempted to take the offer, which he considered to be the opportunity of a lifetime, he asked for a few days to think it over.

Although de Sakhnoffsky had signed no written contract with Hayes he knew they had obtained a special dispensation from the State Department to import him as a 'skilled specialist', due to an overfilled Russian quota, and understood they expected him to stay with the firm for at least a year.

However the offer still tempted him so he discussed it with the Chairman of the Board of Hayes, the same man who had originally retained his services back in Belgium. De Sakhnoffsky felt:

"... he could not afford to hurt Macauley's feelings by choosing to remain with a less prominent Company, when he was offering me an important creative position in an executive capacity."

It was mutually decided that both Hayes and de Sakhnoffsky were obligated to serve the best interest of the stockholders, so he signed a contract agreeing to stay with Hayes for the next 12 months. Hayes attorneys provided him with the following excuse to provide to Macauley. As the original 2-year work visa was issued to Hayes, and not de Sakhnoffsky, his resignation could result in his immediate deportation back to Belgium. Apparently it pacified Macauley as he repeated the offer four years later at which time the stylist had no reason to decline it.

He created a number of memorable body designs while working at Hayes, chief among them was the striking Cord L-29 coupe that won him numerous awards during the 1930s Concours season*. The car and its owner of record, Countess de Sakhnoffsky, won Grand Prix (1st prize) at the 1930 Monte Carlo (Monaco) and Paris Concours d'Elegance as well as the coveted Grand Prix d'Honneur (best in show) at Beaulieu.

(*Exactly which shows the car was entered in remains unknown - at the time Concours were held in Beaulieu (Uk.); Berlin (De.); Biarritz (Fr.); Bologne (Fr.); Cannes (Fr.); Monte Carlo (Monaco); Nice (Fr.); Paris (Fr.)and Villa d’Este (It.).

De Sakhnoffsky described his L-29 Coupe in great detail in the Winter 1955 issue of The Classic Car:

"Upon my arrival in America in 1928, I decided to try once more to win a high award in Monte Carlo with an all-American built car. I selected the lowest U. S. chassis, L29, front wheel drive Cord. Though the front end of this car had a lot of merit, the body lines were atrocious. Poorly proportioned with stiff vertical windshield, and flat body sides, the bodies were probably the reason for Cord's sales fiasco. - Though the miserable performance of the car did not warrant spending thousands on a deluxe body. I decided that its extreme lowness and beautiful front were a challenge for a stylist.

"The story of the building of this $15,000 car by Hayes Body Company is an epic in itself. Let me just say that persuading a tough Board of Directors to underwrite such an expense in the middle of the depression, to satisfy my desire to show it in Monaco, required some mighty fast talking. Fortunately I acquired full command of English from a British nurse in my native Russia. Apparently I talked fast enough, so the car was built just the way I wanted it. It included a completely custom-built body, special aluminum hood, and reworked fenders. To obtain perfect lines, the whole body was first built in hard wood as a mock-up for hammering out the panels and most of the details were completely custom hand made.

"I caught the "Ile de France," just in time to make the Show. None of the car's dash instruments were even connected when I drove it from LeHavre to Paris for the first leg of the trip South. ‘Get to Paris,’ E. L. Cord told me, ‘we have there one of our best mechanics who will really check her out for you.’

"The best mechanic proved to be a colored chap who had little respect for the Cord car engineering. ‘Hell’ he said, when I complained about the inaccuracy of the fuel indicator, ‘none of the ones we have here (in Paris) work. So we made some dip sticks for them.’ Imagine what it did to the U.S. prestige to have cars costing a cool million in French francs delivered with quaint little dip sticks. So I left regardless. Each morning I was confronted with a dead battery. There was no such thing as a quick charger at that time, so I reached the Riviera with a rear compartment full of dead batteries.

"To reach the Riviera in time for the Contest I drove it flat out, and after taking her around the winding turns of the Corniche towards Cannes, my front bumper bolts were sheared off by the vibration and the bumper hung limply attached by wire. I arrived with dead batteries rattling grimly in the back, but the new body lines were all there, and I was confident that the arty French judges would not overlook them.

"From our arrival at 1 a.m. to 9 next morning, a team of sleepy French mechanos replaced parts, washed and polished ‘la Cord Americaine.’ Sharply at 10 I drove up to the International Casino. A medal bedecked, livened doorman rushed to the car and turned the outside handle. It happened to be locked from the inside. With a sickening thud it broke, and hung weakly in a vertical position.

"I noticed an ominous lack of excitement and traffic for a day which was supposed to be the date of the Elimination Contest, which is run a day prior to the big event. The Secretary of the International Sporting Club gave me the sad news — it took place the day before. Owing to the confusion in Paris, we were off one day in our schedule.

"'However, Monsieur, you are lucky,' he said. 'The American Colony here is quite excited about the entry of this unique all custom-built U.S. car. They have contacted us yesterday and told us that if we postpone disqualifying the car until today and see it, we will realize that it could pass the elimination contest hands down. Let's see it.'

"My spirits rose. The fact that fellow Americans would sort of guarantee the appearance of my car without even seeing it was more than a compliment. Such a support from my adopted country was more than I could expect.

"After an all-morning inspection, the judges retired for a champagne lunch. At 2 p.m., all contestants formed a procession. The fact that my car was surrounded by photographers gave away the news, the judges’ decision leaked out - my baby got the Grand Prix.

"When we reached the judges' stand, I was asked to leave the car and the Prince of Monaco handed me the Cup and Scroll and thanked me for coming again to Monte Carlo. With the Grand Prix tag on our radiator, we were immune from traffic police trouble and we made the most of it.

"May I mention here that prior to this event, many deluxe American bodies on American chassis were entered at the Contest, also many Continental bodies on American chassis won awards. However, this was the first time that an American chassis, with an all-American custom-built body got this high award. A Grand Prix D'Honneur was bestowed on it the next week, at the Beaulieu Elegance Contest.

"Years passed. The car was sold and almost perished on skids in the back of an iron factory in Erie, Pa. An enthusiastic collector of unusual cars, my good friend, Brooks Stevens, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, purchased it sometime after World War II and restored it. It is now (1955) one of the prized possessions of his collection of some thirty unusual vehicles."

The car was featured in the May 1930 issue of Autobody:

“Designer's Personal Car Wins Riviera Prizes

“The coupe on Cord chassis, shown in the accompanying engravings, was designed by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky for his personal use. After sundry vicissitudes en route, it was exhibited by him at the Concours d'Elégance at Monte Carlo and Beaulieu, win- fling a grand prix in its category at the former resort and the grand prix d'honneur at Beaulieu. The car is noteworthy for its departure from conventional design, sweeping lines being used wherever practical instead of rectangular effects. It is finished entirely in Mountain Mist Blue, with body striping in gold and striping on the wheel disks in gold and Cicero Blue. The top is a special Eagle-Ottawa tan leather, with the modish fabric grain: the beading is covered with blue leather matching the body. Exposed metalwork, including the radiator shutters, is chromium plated. The bonnet is unusual in having two long horizontal trap doors on the sides, set in an embossed panel which extends onto the cowl.

“The exterior of this car, its curved moldings and sill, the long arrowhead panel on the bonnet and cowl, the sweep of the fenders, the special door handles and the treatment of the rear, give it originality and distinction, without being bizarre. The car has no running boards nor steps, it being practical to step directly onto the floor. The wide front fenders are swept into the side valances which have embossed ribs and a courtesy light.

“The rear fenders are specially shaped, being carried down past the front center of the wheel, this reverse curve emphasizing the streamline effects of the body; the rear fenders are not terminated in the usual manner, but are swept over and adjoin the rear apron, being separated only by the customary leather beading. The back panel extends slightly over the fuel-tank apron and is decorated by chromium-plated protection strips and a central raised panel that comes to a point at the tail: striping carried down over the fuel-tank apron gives a longer effect to this feature, abetted by the repetition of the chromium-plated beading. The steps to the deck seat are of special shape, harmonizing with the swept lines of the car. An aluminum casting forms a reveal around the hack window and has a chromium-plated edge to correspond to the other metal trim.

“The sweep of the door-window reveals will be noted in the lower right-hand view, also the unusual length of the wedge-shaped door handles which are set at an angle corresponding to the sweep of the moldings at that point and give piquancy to the curved motifs of the car. Notwithstanding the low overall height, this coupe has the usual 37-in, clearance above the seat cushion.

“The interior of the car is marked by numerous special features executed with a restraint that keeps the car conservative, although distinctive, in character. The trim fabric is a Wiese gray-blue broadcloth, done in the plain-stretched style and piped with gold leather. There is a center folding armrest and on the floor an extra thick carpet in a matching blue. The special interior fitments, executed by Dura, are in dull bronze; an unusual feature is that the door and regulator handles are straight instead of being curved. The instrument board is especially designed and finished with mahogany grain to match the mahogany door trim; the control buttons are arranged in two arcs on either side of the center, this rather modernistic effect being subdued by the fact that these knobs are of dull bronze. One of the knobs controls the radio-receiving set, the loud speaker of which is set in the center of the floor, with a protecting grid. Another bronze knob, when pulled out, reveals an ash receiver, consisting of a slotted tube which may he emptied by turning completely over or by removal, being fastened with a bayonet joint. There are four cowl ventilators, two on the top and one on each side. The spare-tire covers are of Burbank, piped with blue leather, matching the body color, the openings being zipper controlled.”

Caption 1:

“A special Cord coupe, designed for the ‘author’ by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky and exhibited by him at two of the recent Riviera Elegance contests, winning a ‘grand prix’ in its category at Monte Carlo and the ‘grand prix d'honneur’ at Beaulieu. As the car was intended for the designer's personal use, he was free to differentiate it from conventional designs and used sweeping lines wherever possible, in place of rectangular effects. The interesting rear treatment and sweep of the door-window reveals are more clearly shown in the view below. The car was finished entirely in Mountain Mist Blue, with gold striping. The top is a special Eagle-Ottawa tan leather, with fabric grain; the decorative welt across the back is covered with blue leather, matching the body color. This entirely special job was completed by Hayes in 2 ½ months.”

Caption 2:

“The designer and his special Cord coupe which, after sundry vicissitudes en route, was exhibited with success in the Riviera Elegance contests. In this view will be noted the horizontal, hinged bonnet louvers set in an embossed panel that extends aft onto the cowl. The extreme lowness of the car will be appreciated by the fact that, the designer is able to rest his arm on the roof, although normal headroom is retained within. At the right is shown a closer view of the interesting treatment of the rear deck. This is marked by a central raised panel or molding which is swept to a point at the tail. Chromium-plated strips on the tail meet similar strips on the apron over the gasoline tank, tying in the design of both units. Deck-seat steps, bumpers and in fact, all elements of the rear have been considered in the design. Note the interesting heading on the top and the unusually narrow oval window.”

De Sakhnoffsky's Cord, which appears to the right with 'Ziegfield Girl' Marion Dodge posing next to it, was described in great detail in the July 5, 1930 issue of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune:


"Grand Rapids, Mich., July "5—A mountain-mist blue body, entirely devoid of straight lines, mounted on a Cord front-drive chassis, this spring brought to America for the first time the Grand Prix of the annual Monte Carlo automobile style show, and added fame to its 28-year-old designer, Count Alex de Sakhnoffsky, art director of the Hayes Body Corporation.

"Winning Grand Prix awards at Monte Carlo, however, is nothing new for de Sakhnoffsky, despite his youth and his comparatively brief experience in designing motor cars. The 1930 award was his fifth, although it marked the first victory for an all-American product.

"Last year he took the highest honor with a Packard chassis and a European body. An English Rolls-Royce was presented with the prize in 1928, and Belgian Minervas were the class of the fields in 1927 and 1926.

"Count de Sakhnoffsky, who traces his family back to the fourteenth century, was born in Kieff, 'the mother of Russian cities.' He left his native haunts in 1920, rather than face conscription by the Reds, going to Switzerland where he studied engineering and drafting for three years.

"From Dresses to Cars

"From engineering he turned to designing dresses in Paris where his mother at present runs a dress salon. His father is dead. Later he became art director of Vandenplas of Brussels, leading European coach builders.

"He remained with the Belgian company five years when he sailed for America. He has been in the employ of the Hayes Body Corporation nearly two years. All his time now is devoted to the creating of artistic cars. As art-director of the Hayes concern he designed the Marmon, new Peerless and Little Austin bodies. The count also has designed a 24-passenger cabin plane by Sabca of Brussels.

"Believing that engineers rapidly are attaining perfection in the mechanical parts of the car, Count de Sakhnoffsky asserts the car buyer is paying more attention to the beautiful lines and color schemes. He pays little attention to body construction but says his part is purely artistic.

"The Prize Winner

"The Grand Prix Cord has attracted no little attention, not only in America but in France where the designer was forced to keep the windows raised and the doors locked to save the masterpiece from the curious crowds.

"While in Paris the swarm was so great he was forced four times to get new door handles. The car, striped with gold, is very long, its over-all length being 175 inches. But the sweep of its lines makes it seem even longer. The long hood overlaps the cowl seven inches'. Hood louvres are horizontal, narrow and long of the trap-door type. Even the door handles are set in such a way as to accentuate the sweep of the car's lines.

"There are no running boards, for the car is quite low and requires only, one step to the ground. Yet the car has a nine-inch clearance. But with its 137 1/2-inch wheelbase, its sweeping line, which seems to cling to the ground, and the 54-inch total height, Count de Sakhnoffsky's creation seems even lower than it actually is.

"In spite of the height of but four and a half feet, the interior offers 37 inches of headroom. The designer speaks of the car as the lowest in the world and also as the widest, the automobile having a 61-inch tread, said to be two inches wider than any car so far introduced.

"The upholstery and carpet are of rich, soft materials, the seat trimmed with old gold braid, matching the antique bronze of the interior hardware. A radio is concealed behind the seat with the loudspeaker in the floor. The radio controls are on the dash, as is specially designed ash receiver. The door frames are solid mahogany.

"The rear window is wide and elliptical, the glass lowering to permit conversation with those in the rumble seat. The seat itself is opened by the driver from the inside. Spare tires are mounted in fender wells and the tire covers are of special design, opening with zippers so they may be removed from the tires without soiling. The covers are light tan, matching the top.

"The wheels are of the wire spoke type, but the wire is covered entirely with a convex plate which blends in color and design with the rest of the product."

Recently sold for $2.4 million and produced in miniature (1:16 scale) by Danbury Mint in the late 1980s, it's popularly known today as the Cord L-29 Hayes Coupe. The car was later owned by industrial designer Brook Stevens who as a young man traveled to Chicago to meet the Count. A little over a decade ago the car won Best in Class, People's Choice, and Co-Chairman's Trophy at 1997's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Although the 'Hayes Coupe' never saw series production, an elegant boat-tail speedster he designed for another one of Errett Lobban Cord's automobile holdings did. Based on a simple inverted hull, de Sakhnoffsky's Auburn speedster was produced in three series, the 8-115 in 1928, 8-120 in 1929, and the 8-125 in 1930.

Other Hayes projects that de Sakhnoffsky was involved include the 1930-1933 American Austin, the 1931-32 DeVaux, the 1929-1932 Marmon, 1929-1930 Roosevelt and the 1929-1932 Peerless. He is also thought to have designed a striking 5-passenger Convertible Victoria on a Marmon Sixteen chassis for Hayes President W. H. Hoagland (who also sat on the Nordyke-Marmon board). Coach building historian Hugo Pfau believes more than one Convertible Victoria was constructed, citing a photograph showing golf-star Bobby Jones taking delivery of his Marmon Sixteen Convertible Victoria from Jack Hendricks, Jr., manager of Marmon's Manhattan factory branch.

Although Marmon owned an adjoining body plant it was leased (one account says sold for $200,000) to Murray in 1926, with the hopes that an experienced body builder could provide them with better-built bodies at a lower cost. The arrangement continued into late 1928 when Murray's financial difficulties prompted Marmon to abandon ship. The factory and related body contracts were turned over to Hayes, whose brilliant new art director (de Sakhnoffsky) may have helped them seal the deal. Apparently Hayes contract with Marmon wasn't exclusive as the Grand Rapids-based body manufacturer is known to have constructed bodies for Peerless alongside bodies for Marmon and Roosevelt in the Indianapolis facility.

All three automobiles (1930-31 Marmon-Roosevelt Models 69, 79 and Big Eight and Peerless Standard 8, Master 8 and Custom 8) shared the same fenders, basic body dies and assembly fixtures, with slight variations being imparted by the use of secondary dies and trim. The Marmon featured larger moldings and a slightly more artistic treatment than the Peerless which imbued with a more uniform belt molding which included an odd panel above the molding and below the window.

With the onset of the Depression, manufacturers began sharing bodies to help reduce cost. In addition to the shared Marmon-Roosevelt and Peerless line, a different Hayes body shell and fender set made its appearance on the 1932 Marmon 8-125, 1932-34 Reo Flying Cloud 6S and 1933-34 Franklin Olympic.

Automobile customers rarely compared the actual bodies, and addressed their attention to a vehicle’s front end, which could be easily disguised using a different grill or front fenders. General Motors started doing it at the same time, and the practice continues today.

The following synopsis of de Sakhnoffsky presentation at the December 10, 1928 S.A.E conference appeared in the January 1929 issue of the SAE Journal:

"How Europeans View Our Cars

"Friendly and constructive criticism of American car design was made by the last speaker, Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, who has assumed direction of the newly created art department of the Haynes Body Corp. Being primarily an artist, he is concerned with creating new designs and does not take the trouble to see whether an idea is readily adaptable for production. For this reason, and because it is important to have the body and chassis designs blend into a harmonious ensemble, he believes it is desirable to have chassis designers and production engineers work in very close cooperation with the body designer. An advanced idea which the speaker advocated some time ago in Paris is that, in developing a new car design, the working out of the whole external and internal outline should be placed in the hands of "mechanical" artists, without interference by body engineers, so that every part of the car and its mechanism shall be artistic. Only when the general lines have been fixed should the body and mechanical engineers go into action to work out the mechanical details so that they fit into the visualized chassis and body.

"Large-scale production body designers, thinks Mr. Sakhnoffsky, should study the trends in custom-body building and follow them more closely in production. Although the present trend is to lengthen the hood and cowl as much as possible and to emphasize streamlining, almost all car builders in America nickel-plate the cowl bead and so break up the longitudinal effect by a bright transverse and vertical line.

"The Roosevelt was a handsome automobile, viewed from any vantage point, particularly in the optional side-mount configuration. It was the credible work of Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, styling consultant to Hayes Body and Marmon, who gave it an athletic look. Reportedly he proposed, and promoted unsuccessfully, the placement of the cameo portrait on the radiator core, pendant to a necklace from the shell."

Hayes quickly set about building up their new star, naming its new 'Alsac' line of bodies (Al-Sak for Alexis Saknhoffsky) in his honor. The Hayes-Alsac line was introduced in a series of advertisements that appeared in the 1929-early 1930 automobile trades and featured curved bottom sills and through reveals (a window reveal which ignored the inter-window - aka B & C pillars) as seen on 1930-1932 Marmon and Peerless automobiles.

A Hayes advertisement included in the January 18, 1930 issue of Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record showed a line drawing of the Marmon 8-79 noting that:

"Already, such discerning manufacturers as Marmon and Peerless have adopted these Hayes-Alsic creations. Already, custom designers have recognized in this sound design a trend that bids Fair to win widespread popularity. Already, still other manufacturers have sensed the sales advantages this design makes possible. To an additional few progressive automobile manufacturers the creative talent of Hayes is still available. To those manufacturers and their engineers, consultation with Hayes designers and exhaustive investigation of Hayes Facilities should prove profitable."

Although de Sakhnoffsky doesn't mention her in his Classic Car articles, it is assumed that Countess Madeline (Parlongue) de Sakhnoffsky accompanied him when he first moved to the United States. She was most certainly here at the time of the 1930 US Census which lists the couple as residents of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In a 1933 interview he mentions her briefly, explaining that while in Belgium he met a girl who during the war had risked her life for her country in the intelligence service. She had a hatful of citations for her bravery – and also she had a pretty face and that indefinite something the stylist loved – "chic".

The April 16, 1931 issue of the Sheboygan Press included a picture of the new DeVeaux automobile which was accompanied by the following caption:

"Outstanding exterior characteristics of the new DeVaux are the distinctive V-type radiator and low, roomy body designed by Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, European artist and master of coachcraft, winner of last year's Monte Carlo competition. A wide tread of 58 inches permits roomier passenger compartments in the body."

The May 31, 1931 Oakland Tribune included the following article which states that the de Sakhnoffsky-designed coachwork would be an integral part of the advertising scheme for the DeVaux:

"Body Builders Plan Campaign of Advertising

"GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., May — W.W. Hoagland. president and general manager of the Hayes Body Corporation, today announced the appointment of James Houlihan, Inc., as advertising counsel of his organization. He also informed members of the executive staff that James Houlihan, who will personally supervise the account, would, in the future, be a member of the executive council as well as serving as advertising and merchandising counsel.

"No announcement was made, by Hoagland concerning the plan of campaign that had been presented and approved. It was said, however, that the copy theme was a tie-in with the quality construction of Hayes bodies and the appreciation of motorists for artistry of design. It is claimed that Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, chief designer of the Hayes Body Corporation, and the man who is responsible for the body lines of the De Vaux 6-75, will be featured in much of the national advertising that is placed by the company.

"As advertising counsel to De Vaux-Hall Motors Corporation, the Houlihan organization has played an important part in the creation and introduction of the De Vaux car. The introductory campaign was created and placed by Houlihan—the heavy advertising schedule including leading national weeklies and more than 3000 newspapers being placed from James Houlihan's offices."

He was also mentioned in press releases sent out by DeVaux-Hall, one of which was published verbatim in the June 7, 1931 Luddington (MI) News:

"Three Leaders Bring Out De Vaux Auto

"Norman DeVaux, the manufacturer; Col. Elbert J. Hall, the engineer; and Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, the artist—each a recognized leader in his field of endeavor, are the men who are responsible for the DeVaux automobile, product of DeVaux-Hall Motors corporation of Grand Rapids. Powered by the famous six-port, six-cylinder Hall motor, a creation of the internationally recognized authority on internal Combustion engines who won world-wide renown as co-designer of the Liberty motor, the DeVaux out-performs other cars in its price class.

"Because of its flexibility and the ease with which it is handled by women in traffic and on the highway, the DeVaux has won the approval of feminine motorists within a remarkably short time.

"In designing the body, Count de Sakhnoffsky has achieved the chic effect that is desired and appreciated by women everywhere. When Sakhnoffsky created the body lines for the DeVaux, he asked that his designs be executed by Hayes Body corporation, craftsmen of proved ability."

Although DeVaux advertisements stated that deSakhnoffsky had designed the cars coachwork, in reality the bodies he originally designed for the new car weren’t actually used. Instead, leftover Hayes-built Durant bodies were supplied to DeVaux with deSakhnoffsky-designed fenders, hood and grill to update them.

The DeVaux was built in a leased portion of Hayes huge Grand Rapids plant, and its bodies transported across a second floor bridge that ran over the street that separated the two buildings. DeVaux’s successor, Continental, continued to utilize various leftover Hayes-built bodies into late 1932.

De Sakhnoffsky left Hayes as soon as his two year contract was up and started taking on various free-lance assignments, one of his first projects being the design of a 15' metal runabout for the Mullins Mfg. Co. of Salem Ohio. The firm is best known today as the manufacturer of the diminutive 'Red Cap' travel trailer, but during the early thirties they were producing metal fishing boats under the Sea Eagle trade name. The March 12, 1931 issue of the Sheboygan Press included a description of their new de Sakhnoffsky-designed craft:

"New Model Of Motor Boat Is Displayed Here

"William F Schmitt and Son, 711-13 Center avenue, have taken over the agency in the Sheboygan territory of motor boat products of the Mullins Manufacturing corporation of Salem, Ohio. The Sea Eagle, which is featured in the line to be handled by the local representative, is being displayed in a private 'boat show' in the Hensel building, southwest corner of N. Seventh street and Center.

"The boat represents a beautiful piece of workmanship. Styled by Count Alex de Sakhnoffsky, five times winner of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, the craft has a hull of steel, a 4.0 horse power Lycoming motor having a speed ability of over thirty miles an hour, and a fluted bottom feature that makes it easy to manipulate It has a fine quality of finish, equipment and instruments, and two upholstered seats having a capacity of five Three may be seated in the cockpit and two in the rear."

The Count and Countess were lucky to escape with their lives following a late May 1931 boating mishap. The May 28, 1931 Woodland Daily Democrat (California), reported on the heroic efforts of their local son:


"SAN FRANCISCO — Richard P. Hurst, son of a San Francisco family, is a candidate for a Carnegie medal, following his rescue of Count and Countess Alexis de Sakhnoffsky. Hurst and the Sakhnoffskys were cruising about Lake Higgins, Michigan, when their speedboat overturned and sunk a mile from shore. Hurst dived to the bottom, disengaged the motor and permitted the craft to rise to the surface. Then he discovered the Countess, apparently sinking for the last time. He dragged her to the overturned craft, and then helped the Count to clamber aboard. Hurst, former student at Hitchcock and Palo Alto military academies, is the son of F. H. and Mrs. Hurst, of 1435 Bay street. Six months ago he eloped with Miss Helen Houlihan, University of California co-ed."

The de Sakhnoffsky story is continued - Click Here for Page 2

©2012 Mark Theobald for






Алесис де Сакчноффскы


Alexis de Sakhnoffsky Papers; 1901-1964; Finding Aids - Benson Ford Research Center, pub. 2011

Kathleen Franz - Tinkering: Consumers Reinvent the Early Automobile

Griffith Borgeson  - Errett Lobban Cord: His Empire, His Motor Cars

Rusty McClure, David Stern, Michael A. Banks - Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire That Transformed the Nation

David LaChance - The Count of Kenosha: The 1940 Nash Ambassador Eight Special Cabriolet, with a dash of continental flair, Hemmings Classic Car March, 2007 issue

Charles K. Hyde - Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors

Alexis de Sakhnoffsky - A Portfolio of Antique and Modern Horseless Carriages, pub. 1960

Michael Lamm & Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style, pub. 1996

Beverly Rae Kimes – Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, Automobile Quarterly Vol. III, No. 4, pub. 1965

Alexis de Sakhnoffsky – Tucker Number Two: the Carioca, Automobile Quarterly Vol. 4, No 1

Beverly Rae Kimes - Automobile Quarterly Vol. X, No. 4, pub. 1972

Beverly Rae Kimes - Memories of a Friendship: Alexis, Mills and the Stable of Thoroughbreds, Automobile Quarterly Vol XVI, No. 4, pub. 1978

American Film Institute - The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States 1931-1941. Pub. 1993

Glenn Adamson - Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World, pub. 2003

Steven & Roger W. Rouland - Heywood-Wakefield Modern Furniture, pub. 1994

Harris Gertz - Heywood-Wakefield, pub. 2001

Rusty McClure, David Stern & Michael A. Banks – Crosley; Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, pub. 2008

Ray Djuff - Glacier on Wheels: A History of the Park Buses, Part 2: 1927 to 1939, The Inside Trail, Winter, 2000 issue

Beverly Rae Kimes, Winston Goodfellow & Michael Furman - Speed, style, and beauty: cars from the Ralph Lauren collection, pub. 2005

Beverly Rae Kimes – The Classic Era, pub. 2001

Peter Hunn - Tail Fins and Two-tones, The Guide to America's Classic Fiberglass and Aluminum Runabouts pub. 2006

George Philip Hanley & Stacey Pankiw Hanley – The Marmon Heritage, pub.1985

Beverly Rae Kimes - Alexis de Sakhnoffsky Obituary, The Classic Car, Spring 1964 issue

Alexis de Sakhnoffsky – Memo From Sakhnoffsky, Installment 1, The Classic Car, Winter 1955 issue

Alexis de Sakhnoffsky - Memo From Sakhnoffsky, Installment 2, The Classic Car, Fall 1957 issue

Alexis de Sakhnoffsky - Memo From Sakhnoffsky, Installment 3, The Classic Car, Spring 1961 issue 

Alexis de Sakhnoffsky – Memo From Sakhnoffsky, The Classic Car, March 1990 issue

Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

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