Pebble Beach 2008: French coachwork, by way of New Jersey


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The sultry beauty of Grand Era French coachwork — the Bugattis, Delahayes, Delages, Voisins and Figonis of the world — has always had a strange effect on the hearts of men (and the women they seek to impress).

But perhaps nobody has ever been rendered quite as insensible as Terry Cook, a New Jersey hot rodder, custom lead-sled maker, buddy of Chip Foose and now, carrosserier. Cook, whose company Deco Rides is familiar to custom-car lovers as the maker of fiberglass-bodied Lincoln Zephyrs, branched out three years ago to create Delahaye USA, a company devoted to alloy-bodied re-creations of some of the most beautiful cars in history.


I found Cook standing with his fabricating partner, Steve Pierce, at their stand at the Retromobile tent at Pebble Beach on Thursday. Cook explained that he was well along in creating two cars — one a high-tech riff on the Delahaye 165 owned by collector Peter Mullin, the other a ‘tribute’ to the Bugatti Type 57C ‘Shah of Persia’ car — using digitized body and chassis designs, computer-fabricated plywood bucks and modern running gear, including BMW V-12 engines. Both these cars are extravagant in the extreme, massive, pontoon-fendered confections, the highest examples of mobile lyricism. I asked Cook the reasonable question: What the hell is he thinking?

‘The voices in my head told me to do it,’ said the affable car builder, in a ‘Sopranos’-esque Jersey accent. ‘They just didn’t tell me how to pay for it.’

And yet something about Cook’s effort makes a lot of sense. Design classics — whether phones or boats or watches — are pretty common these days, marrying the perfection of early 20th century and Deco design with the guts of modern machinery and electronics. Many people who might want to drive a classic car would not be able to tolerate its mechanical limitations (no power steering or brakes, for instance), even if they could afford it.

Meanwhile, Cook’s neo-classics will make some significant improvements. Among them, power retractable windshields for the front seat and the rumble seat; an ‘occasional step’ is hidden in the curb side of the car to allow passengers to gracefully ingress the rumble seat. The rumble seat will also have its own set of driving instruments, such as speedometer and tachometer. There will be two cut-glass decanters (by Pepe Herman) and four glasses in the rear compartment. Also included are fitted aluminum luggage as well as matching shoes, purse and gloves for the lady in question.

But can a nice guy from New Jersey match the refinement and quality of the great French coachbuilders?

‘We can exceed it,’ Cook said. ‘Those cars were knocked together in just a few short weeks. We’re spending years.’ The modern fabricating techniques available — TIG welding, CNC-machined body forms, high-strength alloys — will give Cook’s cars a dimensional accuracy the French builders never dreamed of. Also, he said, ‘They never spent the kind of money we’re spending on these cars.’


Again, why? ‘It’s a passion,’ he says. ‘Some guys spend it in Las Vegas, some guys blow it up their nose. I love French coachbuilding.’

— Dan Neil

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