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
While still in his twenties, his streamlined automobile designs won
international awards. Historians of automobile design, with the
of Brooks Stevens, have ignored or belittled his work because of his
technical knowledge; but his charisma, vision, and talent for
influenced American automotive, household, and fashion design to a
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,
Verviers); D'Ieteren Freres (Rue de Mail 50-60, Bruxelles), L'Auto
(Ham 104, en Zondernaamstaat, 10, Gent), M. & Ch.Snutsel
Stevin 59, Bruxelles); Carrosserie Van den Plas, (Rue St. Michel,
Bruxelles), and Vesters & Nierinck (Rue du Foyer Schaerbeekvis).
Custom autobodies, coachbuilt to his design, were
constructed for chassis including Bentley, Buick, Cadillac, FIAT, Gräf
Hispano-Suiza, Imperia, Mercedes-Benz, Métallurgique, Minerva, Packard,
Rolls-Royce, Stutz and Voisin. Many of these vehicles won awards in
concours d'elegances between 1926-1931, in Beaulieu, Berlin,
Cannes, Le Touquet, Monte Carlo, and Nice. (Unlike today's Concours
which judge a vehicle solely on its own merits, Concours of the 1920s
awarded points for coordinated displays of coachwork and fashion,
featuring a woman's clothing but at times extending to matching dogs
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
unique 1929 Cord “Hayes Coupe” (which recently sold at auction for $2.4
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
the following periodicals: Autobody, Conquete de l'Air, Esquire,
L'Equipement Automobile, Motor Trend, Psyche, Skyways and The Classic
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
as art director with the latter in its Grand Rapids design studio.
tenure at Hayes, de Sakhnoffsky influenced the design of many
bodies, as Hayes' clients included American Austin, Auburn, DeVaux
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
of style extended to his wardrobe which according to Esquire consisted
"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,
Rapids, Milwaukee, New Canaan (Conn.), New York City; and Philadelphia
and was awarded 38 US patents during his lifetime. His numerous
clients included Attwood Mfg. (boat hardware), the Brown Derby
Chrysler Corp.(World's Fair exhibit), Earl Carroll Theatre, LA
(interiors) Emerson (radios),
Feather-Craft (boats), Fleetwheels (travel trailers), Frost-Craft
Gruen (watches), Hadley Mfg. (boat horn), Heywood-Wakefield
Kelvinator (refrigerators), Mullins (boats), Murray (bicycles), Muzak
(radios), Natan & Co. (dresses), Pedwin (shoes), Pioneer
(advertisements), Hal Roach (movie sets), Sabca (airplanes), Steelcraft
(toys & pedal cars), Vollrath (cookware), and Yale & Towne
Post-Hayes his automotive clients included
Bantam, Budd Mfg. (trailers), Crosley, Ford, Indiana (trucks),
LaSalle, Mack, Murray Corp. (auto bodies), Nash, Packard, Tucker, White
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.
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
automobile designers were non-existent and took a position with his
Brooks Stevens. He augmented his income with illustrations for
advertising agencies and
an occasional design project for small manufacturers and wealthy
After parting ways with Stevens he moved to Atlanta with his third
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
Alexis Wladimirovich de Sakhnoffsky was born
on November 12,
1901 in Kiev, the largest city in the Russian state of the Ukraine, to
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
counselor to Czar Nicholas II.
His mother was the granddaughter of the
magnate and industrialist Artemon Terestchenko, one of the wealthiest
in Czarist Russia. Her father, Nicola Terestchenko, inherited his
fortune, which was handed down to his children, who aside from de
mother included Theodore and Ivan Nikolavitch Terestchenko, the world
The extent of the immense wealth of Alexis'
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,
by Ramage and Ferguson Shipyards the Iolanda was the second largest
in the world. Purchased in 1911 from its original owner, Commodore
Plant, it sailed the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas carrying the scions
Europe as well as members of the Russian Imperial family, and one would
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
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
devotee of the open cut-out and when this monster moved along at 65 mph
flames shooting out of the cutout it was a sight to behold. I knew then
there that one way or another my future would he closely connected with
fast beautiful cars."
As a thirteen-year-old de Sakhnoffsky, whose
was to be the Czar's coachman, constructed his first vehicle, a
engineless model constructed using a sled and a set of wheels
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
confiscated and destroyed, after Alexis nearly struck his father while
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
revolution of March 1917 which itself was overthrown by the Bolsheviks
following October. The senior de Sakhnoffsky's patron abdicated on
1917 and summarily executed on July 16-17, 1918.
Due to their immense wealth the Terestchenko
easy targets for the Bolsheviks, and de Sakhnoffsky's father committed
in August of 1918. Saknoffsky recalled :
"The Red-imposed curfew was 6 p.m. Alone in
study, haunted by his last moments before taking poison, I sat
complete silence. The only perceptible sound was an occasional rumble
iron-rimmed wagon wheels. Since no traffic was allowed after hours,
that another group of wretched arrested people, maybe relatives or
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
volunteer army to fight the Bolsheviks. Headquartered in the Ukraine
of the White Army - as they were called - included a Private de
Luckily for de Sakhnoffsky, an Aunt in
Marseilles, France arranged
for his immediate family (Alex, his mother and sisters) to be smuggled
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
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
"But a style designer can't get anywhere in
Paris unless he can also
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
With his fashion career at a standstill, he
decided to take
a course in design at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Bruxelles,
help finance the move he began looking for a job in and around
Coincidentally, Thomas Hibbard, a partner in
Franco-American automobile design firm of Carrosserie Hibbard et
happened to be in Carrosserie Van den Plas' Bruxelles office in late
a young Russian artist (de Sakhnoffsky) came by looking for work.
his portfolio did not contain any renderings of automobiles rather it
of detailed drawings of women's clothing and accessories as his only
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
francs a month. His multi-linguistic talents were as much an asset to
employer as were his artistic ones as he served as translator whenever
the firm's international clients visited the shop. As Van den Plas
also served on the boards of Minerva, Metallurgique and Imperia, the
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
Not satisfied to be a mere interpreter-delineator, de Sakhnoffsky
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
hours with the same faces around you. I loathed the drab surroundings,
floors and garlic stench of my colleagues' garlic and lard sandwiches.
white smock seemed to me a brand of disgrace But. worst of all was the
of having to share the odiferous, window-less lavatory without any
During meetings in the conference room he
often feigned a
headache or some other malady just to be able to use his employer's
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.
the former he wondered:
"What about Madeleine, my new girlfriend, whom
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
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
De Sakhnoffsky met her while he was working for Van de Plas and she
him to Grand Rapids when he relocated to the United States, the 1930 US
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
in Belgium he met a girl who during the war had risked her life for her
in the intelligence service. She had a hatful of citations for her
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
"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,
always at least one finished car available on Saturdays, prior to be
driven away by the owner.
"Attired in my best clothes, I drove past
plate glass windows of the Belgian Capitol, watching the reflection of
long-wheelbase costly vehicle, with myself at the wheel. All my small
went towards trips to the sea-shore or mountain resorts, where the low
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
builders business came from its annual entries in Europe's prestigious
shows and Concours d'Elegance (translation: competition of elegance).
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
It was in 1871 that a blacksmith left his
workshop on the
industrial north-east side of Bruxelles to his nephew, Guillaume Van
who had served as his apprentice. By 1880 Guillaume had expanded into
manufacture of wheels and axles by 1884 entire carriages. In that year
relocated to Antwerp where he was joined by his three sons, Antoine,
Willy. Following Guillaume's retirement in 1898, Henri Van den Plas
control of the families Antwerp operations and Antoine and Willy
Bruxelles where they established their own works at 32 Rue de St.
Most of the firm's work was on the
chassis although they produced bodies for all the major European and
luxury chassis at one time or another. The 1934 bankruptcy of Minerva
the bankruptcy of Van den Plas during the following year, its last
project being a Torpedo Roadster on a Duesenberg Model J chassis. The
subsequently reorganized and survived into 1949, specializing in bus
In 1913 a British Van den Plas was
established in Hendon
by Warwick Wright who produced bodies under license from Van den
S.A. After various name changes and reorganizations the firm assets
purchased in 1923 by Edwin Fox and his brothers who reorganized it as
Plas Ltd. The British firm subsequently moved from Hendon
to Kingsbury where they established a mutually beneficial
with Bentley Motors Ltd. for whom they produced over 700 bodies between
and November 1931 when Bentley was purchased by Rolls-Royce. With the
their close association with Bentley, Vanden Plas Ltd. Supplied
various British firms including Alvis, Armstrong Siddeley,
Bentley, Daimler, Lagonda and Rolls-Royce. In 1946
became a subsidiary of the Austin Motor Co., who used it to manufacture
coachwork for its new Austin A-135 Princess. In 1960 Vanden Plas began
its own line of cars, but after a succession of mergers and
firm ended up being badge affixed to upscale versions of various
A third Van Den Plas was formed by Willy Van
de Plas, the
youngest son of Guillaume, who left Bruxelles and established a
with a Parisian coachbuilder in 1920 forming Carrosserie Willy Van den
Solomon & Cie. Willy bought out his partner in 1926, and the
subsequently conducted at 228 Rue le Courbe, Paris, without the Solomon
Willy won the 'Grand Prix du Concours d'Elegance de Paris' in 1930 and
de la Body' and 'Grand Prix d'Honneur' in 1931 with an 8-cylinder
chassis. Carrosserie Willy Van den Plas survived until 1934.
Alexis de Saknoffsky was attached to the
den Plas S.A. and did no work for the French or British firms that
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
small. At best, Van den Plas produced one to one and one-half bodies a
usually taking three months to finish them. The customers were
Englishmen, titled and/or wealthy Belgians and members of the rich
international crowd referred to the company by representatives in
"Our London representative was the
dealer; in Spain our Mr. Rugeroni sold Rolls-Royce, and so on. But our
salesman was debonair, impeccably dressed André Monimaerts. His job was
around races, bars and night clubs and weed out the latest information
is in the chips, or ready for a new custom-built creation. A lot of
information was channeled to him via ladies of easy virtue, with whom
quite a way. One of them, a beautiful creature called "Mouche" (Fly),
who divided her well-paid-for time between London and Brussels, was
to provide numerous tips which resulted in a few (auto) bodies for
"Upon arrival, the customer was brought into
sanctum of Monsieur Antoine's wood-paneled office. If the customer was
or American, I was immediately summoned to act as interpreter. Sooner
however, I was always in the picture when styling was discussed.
"Some members of old, noble families had
of their favorite models reproduced every few years on newer chassis.
family color schemes were always the same down to the last filet
Occasionally, some of the younger members drifted towards flashy
Mercedes, etc. but most of the aristocracy was not too wealthy and what
occasionally indulging in special cars for their lady-friends, they had
watch their own car budget. And watching who paid for whose car with
credit was a delicate job for Monsieur Antoine and his credit man.
"Hanging in the ante-room were about thirty
original drawings of our models. These were replaced from time to time
had a spare moment. Generally, the customer was able to find something
which was in line with his wishes.
"Since the reputation of quality was
after the customer selected his model and agreed on a general estimated
Monsieur Antoine summoned his production accounting- coordinating
who took in long-hand, copious notes of the details. These covered a
variety of queer wishes, from vanities carved out of solid ivory, to
roof treatments in pink leather or interiors matching the skin of the
(for a well-known mulatto songstress).
"My job was to either create an original or
the final renderings of the selected model in the chosen colors and
perspective sketches of interiors and fancy woodwork. The client
with full information on his crest or monogram to be hand-painted on
doors and engraved on silver cocktail shakers, flagons and cups.
"A staff meeting followed during which
chiefs (body drafting, lumber chief, sheet metal chief, upholstery head
finally chief painter) reduced the coordinator's notes to departmental
instructions. All were dressed in long white smocks, with only the
production manager, a two-hundred-fifty-pound Frenchman called Mr.
allowed to keep on his stiff black hat.
"From then on, thoroughly conscious of the
wishes, I worked with the body lofters who added all the necessary
to the master body drafts of our basic models."
Although Van den Plas S.A. is known to have
Bentley, Benz, Buick, Cadillac, Excelsior, Fiat, Gräf und Stift,
Imperia, Isotta-Fraschini, Mercedes, Métallurgique, Packard, Panhard,
Rolls-Royce, Puch, Stutz and Voisin, the bulk of their work was on
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
"Early in the '20's I started developing
design of bodies
with false hoods. I found that though the actual distance from the
the front door remains the same, by extending the hood almost to the
windshield, the effect of length is considerably increased. At that
of the deluxe chassis came to the coach builder with short hoods. These
generally narrow at the dash and the blending of such hoods to wide
necessitated ugly O-G * curved surfaces in the plan view. By discarding
hoods, we were free to lengthen and widen them and carry the flowing
(*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
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
attracted my attention. There, sitting in the window, was my ‘Minerva.’
inquiry developed the following: The polo playing Captain was estranged
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
folding seats added to the damaging evidence. The car was prominently
by the yellow press. After the scandal the Captain could not afford to
such a conspicuous vehicle and the barely broken-in car found its way
used car lot."
The second Minerva, a 1929 convertible
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
closed-coupled sedan on a 20-hp Rolls-Royce chassis built to order for
Conan Doyle, the son of Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.
The fourth and fifth, I'll let him describe
"One of our esteemed clients, Prince de
of one of the oldest Belgian families and brother of the Belgian
the United States, was also an ardent big-game hunter. I designed a
for him, following his detailed specifications. It was built on the
Minerva,-and was really a phaeton with a rakishly slanted V-windshield
extra low sides. There were no running boards proper. The fenders were
domed, individual cycle-type; there was a flat valance covering the
the sides and two large steps allowed entry into the body without
large un racks were attached to the outside. The hood and body were
finished in engine-turned aluminum with red leather trim inside. The
practicality of using a long wheelbase, deluxe chassis for the Belgian
roads is, of course, highly questionable, but I love to think of the
the wild game must have had admiring the gleaming finish in the African
"One day I was interviewing a striking
something bohemian about her. Her clothes 'reeked' the expensive
couturiers, she had a casual aplomb of people of wealth and a heavy
accent. She told me that her husband, a known painter, wanted two cars:
on the large Rolls and a convertible on the Isotta-Fraschini. Both cars
be finished in ivory paint, with large sterling silver monograms
applied on the
doors. The interiors were to be upholstered in fraises ecrasées
strawberry) leather and the vanities along the partition and next to
rests were to be carved out of solid elephant tusks. When I expressed
that the largest tusks would be large enough for full body width
advised me that she and her husband would provide the ivory gathered
of their recent safaris.
"In the center of the roof in the rear
there was to be an ivory rosette with the pink leather gathered around
it in a
"As blasé as I was by the unusual and often
requests of our wealthy patrons, my curiosity was aroused as to her
"Her husband complained that being a nature
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
windshield. The car was built as specified. Its owner was the late José
(Sert Room of the Waldorf and Murals at Rockefeller Center in New
wife, Nina, was born M'divani, sister of the three notorious,
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
was constructed by D’Ieteren Freres. Soon after its appearance Van den
made it available as did Waterhouse and Murphy in the United States.
Although the exact relationship between de
den Plas and the following Belgian coachbuilders is unknown, his
appeared on bodies constructed by the following firms during the late
A. Fils Aine (rue des Allies, 80, Verviers); D'Ieteren Freres (Rue de
50-60, Bruxelles), L'Auto Carrosserie, (Ham 104, en Zondernaamstaat,
Gent), M. & Ch.Snutsel Fils, (Rue Stevin 59, Bruxelles);
den Plas, (Rue St. Michel, Cinquantenaires, Bruxelles), and Vesters
Nierinck (Rue du Foyer Schaerbeekvis).
Between 1926 and 1929 many de Sakhnoffsky
won awards at competitions that took place at Beaulieu, Berlin,
Cannes, Le Touquet, Monte Carlo, and Nice. Although they share the same
name, the original were significantly different than today's, the Count
the 1920's the rules of the Contest were that the cars had to be:
owned, had to cost over $3,500.00 and be not more than three months
In Monaco, his work won
medallions for 5 years straight: 1926 with a Minerva, 1927 with a
with a Rolls-Royce, 1929 with a Packard, and 1930 with a Cord. De
recalled "fate was good to me."
Content with his reputation as one of
automobile designers, de Sakhnoffsky set his sights on his next goal,
his Continental success in America. He relates:
"I started thinking seriously
to America. Though ever-since my adolescence, I dreamed about living in
and gaining recognition, I never wanted to arrive as an immigrant and
from scratch to establish a reputation. If I was to come at all, it had
on my own terms: crossing on a deluxe liner with a substantial contract
"That required some preparation. I needed
outside of Belgium, but could not afford a publicity agent. I decided
building myself up by contributing to automotive trade publications.
had no training as a writer, I was fortunate to have acquired early in
command of French, English and German. Also my interest in cars helped
gather a working knowledge of technical terms. Soon I was writing
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
amounts of photos, which sharply reduced my writing time. Naturally I
the space with easily obtainable photos of all the cars which I
Van den Plas, S.A. This extra work provided me with additional income
outlets in France and America."
By early 1928 de Sakhnoffsky's contributions
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
salary. He declined, hoping a longer contract would materialize, but
meet his prospective boss, Harley Earl, at the Fall Olympia Show in
Several months later he received an offer
from the Hayes Mfg.
Co., a large automobile body manufacturer located in Grand Rapids,
at the time they were building production bodies for Chrysler, Marmon,
and Reo. Hayes officials had met de Sakhnoffsky who served as their
on a visit to Van den Plas' Bruxelles facility.
Familiar with his Autobody by-line and his
Hayes management hoped that a styling studio within the organization
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,
directly with the Parisian (Maurice Barbezat) and London (Leonard
Ltd.) distributors. Several of de Sakhnoffsky's designs won awards in
and Van den Plas supplied Barbezat with striking bodies for the annual
Salon. In fact Barbezat was so pleased his work he arranged a meeting
de Sakhnoffsky and Packard Chairman Alvan Macauley at the Paris Salon
Fall of 1928.
A de Sakhnoffsky-designed Packard
painted black and trimmed in red leather provided the back drop for
meeting, where the young designer enthused:
"The golden youth of Europe
waiting for chic bodies, which will match the performance of your
have to compete with Hispano-Suiza, Delage, Bentley and Minerva, or be
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
convertible top. Unconvinced that there would be sufficient headroom
opened the door and sat at the wheel ad discovered there were inches to
over his hat. Unbeknownst to Macauley, de Saknoffsky had installed the
a dropped floor pan affixed several inches below the top of the frame
custom touch that provided additional headroom in convertible
(somewhat similar to channeling as practiced by today's modern hot
Although the practice was sometimes used on competition vehicles to
center of gravity, it was rarely used on passenger cars at such an
After a short silence Macauley told the
man there is no doubt that you design striking cars, strictly
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
is a place for you in America, but I will not be the one to import you.
and see me when you reach Michigan".
The convertible Victoria in question was
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
set sail for New York on board the United States Lines' S.S. Leviathan
Manhattan on October 22, 1928.
Hayes had already alerted the press to de
the November 1928 issue of Autobody announced his upcoming appearance
December 10, 1928 S.A.E. (Society of Automotive Engineers) conference:
"Speakers for Detroit Body Meeting
"The Body Division of the Detroit Section,
meet on Dec. 10 at the Book-Cadillac Hotel, to hear a discussion of
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
of great immediate interest and a large attendance is expected by
W. N. Davis."
The December 1928 issue of Autobody formally
"Art Director for Hayes
"Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, who came here
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
Russia and entered the School of Engineers at Lucerne,
he studied two years and then continued his engineering studies for two
more at the Electromechanical Institute in Brussels. Having
specialized in designing, he spent another year and a half in
most of which time was devoted to dress designing.
"He was connected for five years with the
Van den Plas, S. A., of Brussels, first as line and color creator and
art director in charge of the line-and-color research department. For
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
Bournemouth Elegance Contest, and one at Le Touquet Rallye. In
bodies for Van den Plas, he has designed for the following Continental
coachbuilders: Snutsel Aine and Vesters and l'Auto Carrosserie, of
For three years, he designed dresses for Natan & Co. Besides acting
correspondent on the Continent for Autobody, he has had charge of
novelties in custom design for L'Equipement Automobile, of Paris; body
for Brussels fashion magazine, Psyche; contributed a series of articles
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
also had charge of developing special designs and color schemes for the
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
studying local automotive trends. After years of creating one-of-a-kind
it was a novel experience to design production lines, which sharply
the scope of possible silhouettes by requiring interchangeability of
adaptation of last year's fenders etc. At times it seemed as though I
prostituting my acquired experience of creating bodies for lines only,
considering production limitations. Still that was the fresh approach
US body-builders looked for, and it was up to me to adjust my sights
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
Club on East Jefferson Rd., Detroit. At that time the coachwork used in
Packard's custom body program was supplied by third parties who
in small lots of from 10 to 100 bodies on an as-needed basis. Each
employed their own designers and although they claimed the bodies
Packard were exclusively to them, Macauley believed the same bodies
offered to his competitors, albeit with minor modifications.
He wanted Packard to have its own exclusive
coachwork, and invited de Sakhnoffsky to form his own design studio at
firm, which would then be constructed by a custom coach builder of his
choosing. Although the young designer was tempted to take the offer,
considered to be the opportunity of a lifetime, he asked for a few days
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
quota, and understood they expected him to stay with the firm for at
However the offer still tempted him so he
discussed it with
the Chairman of the Board of Hayes, the same man who
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
Company, when he was offering me an important creative position in an
It was mutually decided that both Hayes and
were obligated to serve the best interest of the stockholders, so he
contract agreeing to stay with Hayes for the next 12 months. Hayes
him with the following excuse to provide to Macauley. As the original
visa was issued to Hayes, and not de Sakhnoffsky, his resignation could
in his immediate deportation back to Belgium. Apparently it pacified
as he repeated the offer four years later at which time the stylist had
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
awards during the 1930s Concours season*. The car and its owner of
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
(*Exactly which shows the car was entered in
- at the time Concours were held in Beaulieu (Uk.); Berlin (De.);
(Fr.); Bologne (Fr.); Cannes (Fr.); Monte Carlo (Monaco); Nice (Fr.);
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.
selected the lowest U. S. chassis, L29, front wheel drive Cord. Though
front end of this car had a lot of merit, the body lines were
proportioned with stiff vertical windshield, and flat body sides, the
were probably the reason for Cord's sales fiasco. - Though the
performance of the car did not warrant spending thousands on a deluxe
decided that its extreme lowness and beautiful front were a challenge
"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
Directors to underwrite such an expense in the middle of the
satisfy my desire to show it in Monaco, required some mighty fast
Fortunately I acquired full command of English from a British nurse in
native Russia. Apparently I talked fast enough, so the car was built
way I wanted it. It included a completely custom-built body, special
hood, and reworked fenders. To obtain perfect lines, the whole body was
built in hard wood as a mock-up for hammering out the panels and most
details were completely custom hand made.
"I caught the "Ile de France," just in time
the Show. None of the car's dash instruments were even connected when I
it from LeHavre to Paris for the first leg of the trip South. ‘Get to
E. L. Cord told me, ‘we have there one of our best mechanics who will
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
the inaccuracy of the fuel indicator, ‘none of the ones we have here
work. So we made some dip sticks for them.’ Imagine what it did to the
prestige to have cars costing a cool million in French francs delivered
quaint little dip sticks. So I left regardless. Each morning I was
with a dead battery. There was no such thing as a quick charger at that
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
front bumper bolts were sheared off by the vibration and the bumper
attached by wire. I arrived with dead batteries rattling grimly in the
but the new body lines were all there, and I was confident that the
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
Sharply at 10 I drove up to the International Casino. A medal bedecked,
doorman rushed to the car and turned the outside handle. It happened to
locked from the inside. With a sickening thud it broke, and hung weakly
"I noticed an ominous lack of excitement and
traffic for a
day which was supposed to be the date of the Elimination Contest, which
a day prior to the big event. The Secretary of the International
gave me the sad news — it took place the day before. Owing to the
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
U.S. car. They have contacted us yesterday and told us that if we
disqualifying the car until today and see it, we will realize that it
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
compliment. Such a support from my adopted country was more than I
"After an all-morning inspection, the judges
retired for a
champagne lunch. At 2 p.m., all contestants formed a procession. The
my car was surrounded by photographers gave away the news, the judges’
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
coming again to Monte Carlo. With the Grand Prix tag on our radiator,
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
Continental bodies on American chassis won awards. However, this was
time that an American chassis, with an all-American custom-built body
high award. A Grand Prix D'Honneur was bestowed on it the next week, at
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
unusual cars, my good friend, Brooks Stevens, from Milwaukee,
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
“Designer's Personal Car Wins Riviera Prizes
“The coupe on Cord chassis, shown in the
engravings, was designed by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky for his personal use.
sundry vicissitudes en route, it was exhibited by him at the Concours
at Monte Carlo and Beaulieu, win- fling a grand prix in its category at
former resort and the grand prix d'honneur at Beaulieu. The car is
for its departure from conventional design, sweeping lines being used
practical instead of rectangular effects. It is finished entirely in
Mist Blue, with body striping in gold and striping on the wheel disks
and Cicero Blue. The top is a special Eagle-Ottawa tan leather, with
fabric grain: the beading is covered with blue leather matching the
Exposed metalwork, including the radiator shutters, is chromium plated.
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,
door handles and the treatment of the rear, give it originality and
without being bizarre. The car has no running boards nor steps, it
practical to step directly onto the floor. The wide front fenders are
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
usual manner, but are swept over and adjoin the rear apron, being
only by the customary leather beading. The back panel extends slightly
fuel-tank apron and is decorated by chromium-plated protection strips
central raised panel that comes to a point at the tail: striping
over the fuel-tank apron gives a longer effect to this feature, abetted
repetition of the chromium-plated beading. The steps to the deck seat
special shape, harmonizing with the swept lines of the car. An aluminum
forms a reveal around the hack window and has a chromium-plated edge to
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
which are set at an angle corresponding to the sweep of the moldings at
point and give piquancy to the curved motifs of the car.
low overall height, this coupe has the usual 37-in, clearance above the
“The interior of the car is marked by
features executed with a restraint that keeps the car conservative,
distinctive, in character. The trim fabric is a Wiese gray-blue
done in the plain-stretched style and piped with gold leather. There is
center folding armrest and on the floor an extra thick carpet in a
The special interior fitments, executed by Dura, are in dull bronze; an
feature is that the door and regulator handles are straight instead of
curved. The instrument board is especially designed and finished with
grain to match the mahogany door trim; the control buttons are arranged
arcs on either side of the center, this rather modernistic effect being
by the fact that these knobs are of dull bronze. One of the knobs
radio-receiving set, the loud speaker of which is set in the center of
floor, with a protecting grid. Another bronze knob, when pulled out,
ash receiver, consisting of a slotted tube which may he emptied by
completely over or by removal, being fastened with a bayonet joint.
four cowl ventilators, two on the top and one on each side. The
covers are of Burbank, piped with blue leather, matching the body
openings being zipper controlled.”
“A special Cord coupe, designed for the
‘author’ by Alexis
de Sakhnoffsky and exhibited by him at two of the recent Riviera
contests, winning a ‘grand prix’ in its category at Monte Carlo and the
prix d'honneur’ at Beaulieu. As the car was intended for the designer's
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
clearly shown in the view below. The car was finished entirely in
Blue, with gold striping. The top is a special Eagle-Ottawa tan
fabric grain; the decorative welt across the back is covered with blue
matching the body color. This entirely special job was completed by
Hayes in 2
“The designer and his special Cord coupe
which, after sundry
vicissitudes en route, was exhibited with success in the Riviera
contests. In this view will be noted the horizontal, hinged bonnet
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
on the roof, although normal headroom is retained within. At the right
a closer view of the interesting treatment of the rear deck. This is
a central raised panel or molding which is swept to a point at the
strips on the tail meet similar strips on the apron over the gasoline
tying in the design of both units. Deck-seat steps, bumpers and in
elements of the rear have been considered in the design. Note the
interesting heading on the top and the unusually narrow oval
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,
issue of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune:
"AMERICAN AUTO WINS PRIZE AT MONTE CARLO
"Grand Rapids, Mich., July "5—A
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
show, and added fame to its 28-year-old designer, Count Alex de
art director of the Hayes Body Corporation.
"Winning Grand Prix awards at Monte Carlo,
nothing new for de Sakhnoffsky, despite his youth and his comparatively
motor cars. The 1930 award was his fifth, although it marked the first
for an all-American product.
"Last year he took the highest honor with a
chassis and a European body. An English Rolls-Royce was presented with
prize in 1928, and Belgian Minervas were the class of the fields in
1927 and 1926.
"Count de Sakhnoffsky, who traces his family
the fourteenth century, was born in Kieff, 'the mother of Russian
cities.' He left his native haunts in 1920, rather than face
by the Reds, going to Switzerland where he studied engineering and
"From Dresses to Cars
"From engineering he turned to designing
Paris where his mother at present runs a dress salon. His father is
he became art director of Vandenplas of Brussels, leading European
"He remained with the Belgian company five
he sailed for America. He has been in the employ of the Hayes Body
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
designed a 24-passenger cabin plane by Sabca of Brussels.
"Believing that engineers rapidly are
perfection in the mechanical parts of the car, Count de Sakhnoffsky
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
not only in America but in France where the designer was forced to keep
raised and the doors
locked to save the masterpiece from the curious crowds.
"While in Paris the swarm was so great he
four times to get new door handles. The car, striped with gold, is very
its over-all length being 175 inches. But the sweep of its lines makes
even longer. The long hood overlaps the cowl seven inches'. Hood
horizontal, narrow and long of the trap-door type. Even the door
set in such a way as to accentuate the sweep of the car's lines.
"There are no running boards, for the car is
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,
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
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
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
are on the dash, as is specially designed ash receiver. The door frames
are solid mahogany.
"The rear window is wide and elliptical, the
lowering to permit conversation with those in the rumble seat. The seat
is opened by the driver from the inside. Spare tires are mounted in
wells and the tire covers are of special design, opening with zippers
may be removed from the tires without soiling. The covers are light
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
(1:16 scale) by Danbury Mint in the late 1980s, it's popularly known
the Cord L-29 Hayes Coupe. The car was later owned by industrial
Stevens who as a young man traveled to Chicago to meet the Count. A
a decade ago the car won Best in Class, People's Choice, and
Trophy at 1997's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
Although the 'Hayes Coupe' never saw series
elegant boat-tail speedster he designed for another one of Errett
automobile holdings did. Based on a simple inverted hull, de
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
include the 1930-1933 American Austin, the 1931-32 DeVaux, the
Marmon, 1929-1930 Roosevelt and the 1929-1932 Peerless. He is also
have designed a striking 5-passenger Convertible Victoria on a Marmon
chassis for Hayes President W. H. Hoagland (who also sat on the
board). Coach building historian Hugo
Pfau believes more than one Convertible Victoria was constructed,
photograph showing golf-star Bobby Jones taking delivery of his Marmon
Convertible Victoria from Jack Hendricks, Jr., manager of Marmon's
Although Marmon owned an adjoining body
plant it was leased
(one account says sold for $200,000) to Murray in 1926, with the hopes
experienced body builder could provide them with better-built bodies at
cost. The arrangement continued into late 1928 when Murray's financial
difficulties prompted Marmon to abandon ship. The factory and related
contracts were turned over to Hayes, whose brilliant new art director
(de Sakhnoffsky) may have helped them seal the deal. Apparently Hayes
Marmon wasn't exclusive as the Grand Rapids-based body manufacturer is
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
fenders, basic body dies and assembly fixtures, with slight variations
imparted by the use of secondary dies and trim. The Marmon featured
moldings and a slightly more artistic treatment than the Peerless which
with a more uniform belt molding which included an odd panel above the
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
Peerless line, a different Hayes body shell and fender set made its
on the 1932 Marmon 8-125, 1932-34 Reo Flying Cloud 6S and 1933-34
Automobile customers rarely compared the
actual bodies, and
addressed their attention to a vehicle’s front end, which could be
disguised using a different grill or front fenders. General Motors
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
"How Europeans View Our Cars
"Friendly and constructive criticism of
design was made by the last speaker, Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, who has
direction of the newly created art department of the Haynes Body Corp.
primarily an artist, he is concerned with creating new designs and does
take the trouble to see whether an idea is readily adaptable for
For this reason, and because it is important to have the body and
designs blend into a harmonious ensemble, he believes it is desirable
chassis designers and production engineers work in very close
the body designer. An advanced idea which the speaker advocated some
in Paris is that, in developing a new car design, the working out of
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
lines have been fixed should the body and mechanical engineers go into
to work out the mechanical details so that they fit into the visualized
"Large-scale production body designers,
Sakhnoffsky, should study the trends in custom-body building and follow
more closely in production. Although the present trend is to lengthen
and cowl as much as possible and to emphasize streamlining, almost all
builders in America nickel-plate the cowl bead and so break up the
effect by a bright transverse and vertical line.
"The Roosevelt was a handsome automobile,
any vantage point, particularly in the optional side-mount
was the credible work of Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, styling
Hayes Body and Marmon, who gave it an athletic look. Reportedly he
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
The Hayes-Alsac line was introduced in a series of advertisements that
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
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
Marmon 8-79 noting that:
"Already, such discerning manufacturers as
Peerless have adopted these Hayes-Alsic creations. Already, custom
have recognized in this sound design a trend that bids Fair to win
popularity. Already, still other manufacturers have sensed the sales
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
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
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
residents of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In a 1933 interview he mentions
briefly, explaining that while in Belgium he met a girl who during the
risked her life for her country in the intelligence service. She had a
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
"Outstanding exterior characteristics of the
are the distinctive V-type radiator and low, roomy body designed by
Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, European artist and master of coachcraft, winner
year's Monte Carlo competition. A wide tread of 58 inches permits
passenger compartments in the body."
The May 31, 1931 Oakland Tribune included
article which states that the de Sakhnoffsky-designed coachwork would
integral part of the advertising scheme for the DeVaux:
"Body Builders Plan Campaign of Advertising
"GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., May — W.W. Hoagland.
and general manager of the Hayes Body Corporation, today announced the
Houlihan, Inc., as advertising counsel of his organization. He also
informed members of
staff that James Houlihan, who will personally supervise the account,
the future, be a member of the executive council as well as serving as
advertising and merchandising counsel.
"No announcement was made, by Hoagland
plan of campaign that had been presented and approved. It was said,
that the copy theme was a tie-in with the quality construction of Hayes
and the appreciation of motorists for artistry of design. It is claimed
Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, chief designer of the Hayes Body
the man who is responsible for the body lines of the De Vaux 6-75, will
featured in much of the national advertising that is placed by the
"As advertising counsel to De Vaux-Hall
Corporation, the Houlihan organization has played an important part in
creation and introduction of the De Vaux car. The introductory campaign
created and placed by Houlihan—the heavy advertising schedule including
national weeklies and more than 3000 newspapers being placed from James
He was also mentioned in press releases
sent out by
DeVaux-Hall, one of which was published verbatim in the June 7, 1931
"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
leader in his field of endeavor, are the men who are responsible for
automobile, product of DeVaux-Hall Motors corporation of Grand Rapids.
by the famous six-port, six-cylinder Hall motor, a creation of the
internationally recognized authority on internal Combustion engines who
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
approval of feminine motorists within a remarkably short time.
"In designing the body, Count de Sakhnoffsky
the chic effect that is desired and appreciated by women everywhere.
Sakhnoffsky created the body lines for the DeVaux, he asked that his
executed by Hayes Body corporation, craftsmen of proved ability."
Although DeVaux advertisements stated that
designed the cars coachwork, in reality the bodies he originally
the new car weren’t actually used. Instead, leftover Hayes-built Durant
were supplied to DeVaux with deSakhnoffsky-designed fenders, hood and
The DeVaux was built in a leased
portion of Hayes
huge Grand Rapids plant, and its bodies transported across a
bridge that ran over the street that separated the two buildings.
successor, Continental, continued to utilize various leftover
into late 1932.
De Sakhnoffsky left Hayes as soon as his two
was up and started taking on various free-lance assignments, one of his
projects being the design of a 15' metal runabout for the Mullins Mfg.
Salem Ohio. The firm is best known today as the manufacturer of the
'Red Cap' travel trailer, but during the early thirties they were
metal fishing boats under the Sea Eagle trade name. The March 12, 1931
the Sheboygan Press included a description of their new de
"New Model Of Motor Boat Is Displayed Here
"William F Schmitt and Son, 711-13 Center
taken over the agency in the Sheboygan territory of motor boat products
Mullins Manufacturing corporation of Salem, Ohio. The Sea Eagle, which
featured in the line to be handled by the local representative, is
displayed in a private 'boat show' in the Hensel building, southwest
N. Seventh street and Center.
"The boat represents a beautiful piece of
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
of finish, equipment and instruments, and two upholstered seats having
capacity of five Three may be seated in the cockpit and two in the
The Count and Countess were lucky to escape
with their lives
following a late May 1931 boating mishap. The May 28, 1931 Woodland
Democrat (California), reported on the heroic efforts of their local
"COAST BOY SAVES COUPLE
"SAN FRANCISCO — Richard P. Hurst, son of a
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
Michigan, when their speedboat overturned and sunk a mile from shore.
dived to the bottom, disengaged the motor and permitted the craft to
the surface. Then he discovered the Countess, apparently sinking for
time. He dragged her to the overturned craft, and then helped the Count
aboard. Hurst, former student at Hitchcock and Palo Alto military
the son of F. H. and Mrs. Hurst, of 1435 Bay street. Six months ago he
with Miss Helen Houlihan, University of California co-ed."
The de Sakhnoffsky story is continued -
Click Here for Page 2
Theobald for coachbuilt.com