Currently reading: From the archive: Ford's French V8-powered coupé
The swish coupé we called "unusual in many ways" originated in France and had a thumping V8

The Ford brand has always been uniquely and fascinatingly fractured. 

Most know that it has long had American, Australian, European and Brazilian divisions doing very different things with good deals of independence, and in the past there were, of course, British and German divisions (in fact, at one point, Brits could buy a Ford from three separate firms).

But there are also obscurities, both present (Turkish lorry or Chinese Mondeo, anyone?) and past (Italian Anglia or French V8 sports coupé?).

Wait, what? Yes, there was once a Ford of France, offering the rich a coachbuilt, rally-winning beauty.

Autocar Archive returns: 128 years of magazines available online

To properly tell the story of our 27 June 1952 road test car, though, we first must travel back to 1934.

Even with Dagenham recently completed as Europe’s largest car factory and similarly modern sites in Cork and Cologne, Ford was still not done expanding in Europe.

It had struggled in France of late, due to both the smallness of its factory in Paris and big new protectionist import taxes, but an opportunity to swiftly improve matters came in the form of the French manufacturer Mathis, which was in financial peril but had a large factory down in Strasbourg.

The result was a joint venture announced in October 1934. Matford would be overseen by the US, not the UK, at the request of boss Maurice Dollfus, who made it quite clear that he hadn’t enjoyed reporting to baron Percival Perry.

Ford spent big on modernising Strasbourg and in 1935 launched the first Matford, a saloon named after its home region of Alsace. Its chassis and 3.6-litre V8 came from the US; its body, derived from the American Model 48, came from respected parts supplier Chausson; and its interior was model-unique.

It made an inauspicious start, due to its strong power (89bhp) and thus high tax rating, but Matford quickly saved the situation after a year by adding a short-wheelbase model with a 59bhp 2.2-litre V8.

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That doing well, Ford began building a factory with a foundry for engine production in nearby Poissy. The future looked bright – until 3 September 1939, as France declared war on Germany, whose border was a stone’s throw away.

A new Ford of France restarted work in 1946, muddling through with an upgraded Alsace until 1948, as Dollfus persuaded Dearborn to sell the plans of a saloon that Edsel Ford and Bob Gregorie had created as a modern interpretation of the seminal Model T but which new boss Henry Ford II considered too commercially risky for the US.

The Vedette had a difficult start, primarily because war damage to Poissy and disruption in its supply chain hindered the build quality, sadly leading Dollfus to retire.

Three years later, with France starting to recover from the ruin of the war, his successor, ex-Renault man François Lehideux, approved a coupé spin-off, bodied by Facel according to plans by Italy’s famed Farina design house.

The Comète wowed all at the 1951 Paris show – and continued to do so everywhere we drove it the following summer.

“The V8 is notably smooth and quiet throughout its range,” we said. “The steering is very light, is quite free from road reaction and possesses a slight degree of understeer. In traffic, one is apt to feel rather busy at the wheel.

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"It does, however, combine with the springing to give excellent controllability. While it rides over pavé well, and the occupants are conscious only of the worst bumps, the springing is not so soft that road-holding and stability suffer.

"It can be [cornered] at a fast speed without any wheel hop or feeling of loss of adhesion. Rolling is hardly noticeable even in faster cornering. The brakes are adequate for the car’s performance. The driving position combines comfort of seating with convenience of controls.”

In conclusion, “the Comète is an unusual car in many ways, having a very modern and graceful appearance, possessing a vivacity of performance and being well equipped in every respect”.

Despite this, however, Ford of France’s losses continued to mount, and so in 1954 Dearborn sold it to rival French firm Simca. After a long series of buyouts and mergers, its vestiges are now part of Stellantis, with Poissy making cars for DS, Opel and Peugeot.

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