Unique Cars
May 26 - June 22, 2004, issue 235

Words Chris Beattie / Pics Stuart Grant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourteen years in the making the Melbourne-designed Devaux Coupé is cast in the image of Europe's great pre-war classics.

Sliding into the cockpit of the Devaux Coupe, I was immediately transported back to the golden years of motoring. Or to be more precise, I felt a little like a WWII fighter pilot.

Projecting out in front of me was a vast expanse of heavily louvered cowling, seemingly stretching off to the horizon. The low seating possition, small doors, squat windscreen and Muirhead aviation leather seats accentuated the aeronautical illusion; the only things missing were propeller blades, machine guns and a "tally ho chaps" from it's creator, David Clash.

Which is entirely appropriate given that, that is exactly the imagery David has tried to evoke with his romantically styled, curvaceous tribute to the cars of the pre-war era. Names like Bugatti, Bentley, Alfa Romeo and Delage lit the flames of inspiration for this unasuming 40-year old industrial designer from Melbourne.

An unashamed admirer of the automotive designs of the '30's and 40's, David began working on his own tribute to their artistry, extravagance and flair around 14 years ago.

Growing up in England, the aspiring designer spent his childhood creating his four-wheeled fantasies in pencil and then had his mother mail them off to the Maserati factory. The staff there were kind enough to send the enthusiastic youngster copies of automotive publications in return - "although they were in Italian, which was a bit of a nuisance", laughs David.

The Clash family eventually settled in Australia and David persisted with his design aspirations, completing a BA in Industrial Design at Melbourne's RMIT. While he spent a few years working for automotive design houses, his ambition had always been to take his four-wheeled visions from concept to reality.

Owning classics like an E Type Jag, a TR4 and even a gargantuan Pontiac Parrisienne had at least fed his desire for exotic automobilia. But it wasn't until 1988 that his dream car finally began to take shape in a cluttered suburban Melbourne garage.

"I think one of the main inspirations for the Coupé was the Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic. I just loved the lines; the look", he says. "But the last one I saw sold for something like $9m - obviously a little out of my price range. So I thought if I can't buy one, maybe I can build something."

Working with a 2.5 Riley chassis, David crafted the dramatically sweeping bodywork initially in plaster, before taking moulds off the praster 'plug', out of which he now makes fibreglass body sections and parts.

In keeping with the early motoring theme, the prototype's powertrain was derived from Jaguar, with a traditional 3.4-litre engine mated to a Mark VII Moss gearbox.

All up, the first Devaux (the name was derived from David's mother's maiden name) Coupe accounted for close to 14 years of his spare time. But it allowed him to fine-tune his designs and experiment with various ideas, such as gullwing doors and cutaway guards, that he tried and either incorporated or discarded alond the way.

Conversely, the first 'production' prototype took substaintially less time to put together. In fact it was crafted from scratch in a spectacular 5 months after David and partner, Lynn Bruce raced to have it ready for this year's Australian Formular 1 Grand Prix.

"We were invited to have a production car at the Tattersall's Historic Garage at the Grand Prix," explained David. "We didn't have a lot of time, we had to get a bit of help to complete it."

Geoff McInnes and Raz Hansen from Melbourne's Vintage & Classic Garage were drafted into the side, as was David's father, Frank and another enthusiast and friend, James Gillham.

Outwardly similar to "the old girl", as David affectionately dubs the original Flint grey Devaux, the newer production model is conceptually a 'second generation' version, with totally differently running gear and engineering. Having to build the new car in such a short time spurred David to commit to going full-time on his, up till then hobby project.

With eventual limited production in mind, the drive train and other parts were chosen on the basis of their availability as much as their suitability. And, of course, the external components had to fit in with the overall look of the car.

"In some ways, the earlier car was easier to build, because I could go around and just rummage through parts bins to get various bits and pieces," explains David. "But with the new car everything has to be sourced with production and suppy in ind. So we had to end up sourcing parts from all sorts of places."

But while many parts were existing items, a large part of the Devaux remains hand-built, with much of that crafted by it's designer. The distinctive chromed brass grill, buffed aluminium window surrounds, body and myriad other items were all designed and made by David, sometimes with more than a little help from his friends.

A new ladder-type steel chassis was designed and fabricated on a special jig, of which hangs some more contemporary running gear in the form of a 4.0-litre Tickford-tweaked Ford six, rumbling through a 4-speed auto.

At the rear is a narrowed Ford live axle in a fore-bar, Panhard rod configuration with coil-over shock absorbers. Up front is a very sanitary double wishbone suspension. The fully-adjustable, coil-over set-up was supplied by South Australian company Rod-Tech.

Braking, front and rear, is achieved by very beefy, locally sourced disc brakes. Wheels are also locally produced, 16-inch replica Jaguar items, wrapped in Dunlop 215-70R rubber.

Such a unique car is not only a challage to the eye; just getting in can require a bit of an effort to the uninitiated. At least it was a challage to the physical dexterity of this writer. One leg - and arm - at a time seemed to be the best bet, followed lastly by the head.

The Devaux leaves no doubt that it was designed by a driver, for drivers. Seating possition is very much English sports car, with the Motorlita wheel dominating the interior.

Starting is - entirely in character - accomplished by pushing a black button in the middle of the pseudo-timber dash, complete with digital VDO gauges convincingly disguised to look like period Smith pieces. The big engine is pleasingly throaty, although I'd venture not enough to prevoke a roadside noise tester.

You can forget about taking the dog and 2.5 kids for a weekend jaunt in the Devaux. There is barely enough room in the parcel shelf for the spare wheel, so it's strictly toothbrush and comb if you are taking to the road if you are taking to the road for more than a Sunday cruise. Not surprisingly, with barely 500km on the clock since it was first rolled of of David's new Dandenong factory, the first production Devaux has the feel of a car that needs a few birth wrinkles smoothed out. David was a pains to point out that the suspension and ride were a little raw, but given the adjustability of the quality components, it shouldn't be too long before all the bugs are ironed out.

The first thing you notice when you hit the road in a Devaux is, well... how much you get noticed. It was like driving around with a giant neon sign saying 'Go on, ask me what it is, where it's made and how hard it goes!'. Which of course, is exactly what half the population of Dandenong did the minute we rumbled out onto the highway.

Owning a Devaux is not for the faint-hearted or shy. You get noticed in this car. Big-time.

Plant the right foot and it's impressive power-to-weight ratio makes itself felt. At 1125kg, the Devaux allows the big six to positively lope along. David says the engine bay has been designed to allow for a variety of powerplants - including V8's - but the hairy-chested six seemed somehow more in - character for this period-inspired beauty. Once fully sorted I'd expect the Devaux Coupé to cut a fine line sweeping throught winding country lanes.

David and Lynn say they have had a big response to their website - www.devauxcars.com - and are now well down the road to setting up for limited production. Plans call for a quota of four cars to be built each year as Individually Constructed Vehicles, thus keeping them within the confines of current limited-build legislation.

Further down the track, they're talking about other variations, including a convertable, and possibly offering the Devaux in 'High Build' kit-car format, leaving the buyer to choose and fit their own engines. Given the exclusivity and uniqueness that comes with the Devaux badge pricing is aimed more at the well-heeled.

The couple have had hundreds of enquiries, with requests for information coming from as far afield as India, the United Arab Emirates, Europe and the US.

If the response we had on our brief outing through suburban Melbounre is any indication, the Devaux Coupé could be Australia's next boutique car success story.

A car that looks this good absolutely deserves to succeed.

 

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