Richard Dredge
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Richard Dredge
Author

Richard Dredge

Atlas Babycar

This French microcar disappeared from view almost as quickly as it arrived

The Societe Industrielle de Livry (SIL) was a specialist in the limited production of microcars, but its products were rarely seen outside France. There appears to be a curious relationship between the Sofravel 'Coccinelle' (Ladybird) shown at the 1948 and 1949 Paris Salons by the Société Annonay Sofravel, and the Atlas first shown by SIL in 1949, also at first called Coccinelle. They also bore a striking resemblance to each other in terms of their roadster shape with rounded bulbous wings.

The design of the Atlas changed in detail over the first year or so. The windscreen shape, grille casting, seat cushion type, and headlamp height were adjusted, and the addition of doors was a wise addition to suit its largely female demographic. Early in its development the name had been changed to Babycar. Surprisingly, the attractive compound-curved shapes were rendered entirely in steel by the skilled craftsmen at Duriez.

The SIL chassis was a very well-engineered design, being of strong tubular construction with A-arm and coil spring front suspension, triangular trailing arms at the rear, rack-and-pinion steering, and cable brakes to all wheels.

Several engines in different sizes were offered, including a 125cc, a 150cc, a 175cc, and even a 250cc electric start ILO unit, but the familiar 175cc AMC powerplant was eventually settled upon. To circumvent the need for an expensive differential, the motor drove only the left rear wheel via a cardan shaft to a cable-operated separate gear case incorporating a reverse gear (something that was not necessarily available on many of the small scooter-type motors used by other voiturettes). Starting was via a floor-mounted pull-lever in the cabin. The wheels were attractive two-piece aluminum castings.

SIL was so pleased with its chassis that it decided the basic design could be used as the platform for three different small cars placed at different price points. This was an idea that had previously been put forth by the keen cyclecar advocates in the press. The Atlas would be the most expensive at 245,000 francs. The Kover, introduced in 1950, was at an intermediate level at 215,000 francs, and the bare-bones Le Piaf, introduced in 1951 at 200,000 francs, would be the most economical.

The Kover eschewed the Atlas’s doors, folding windscreen, inbuilt headlamps, and baroque grille and headlamp alloy castings for a substantial price reduction. The Le Piaf (Sparrow) was an ultra-minimal runabout very much along the lines of the Voisin Biscooter. These striking vehicles, with their flat alloy panelwork with completely open sides, their steeply raked windscreens, and their canvas hammock-type seats provided plein air motoring for those with the thinnest of purses, but they also conversely suited the glittering beach resorts of the Côte d’Azur. Despite the three-pronged approach, sales did not materialise to any great extent, and SIL had disappeared by the time the 1953 Salon opened its doors.

The car shown was sold by RM Sotheby's in 2013 for $60,375, as part of the Bruce Weiner microcar sale. The description for the car ran:

This car was found in original condition in France, but its exceptional rarity and elegant roadster lines made a thorough and accurate restoration imperative. Reference material from the post-war French press was in scarce supply, and much use was made of the jeweler’s loupe in studying the period photographs. Fabrication of the ornate alloy grille castings was particularly trying. A poignant statement about the scarcity of materials of the time was the discovery of one franc coins being used in place of steel flat washers on the Atlas’ steering arms. A remarkable microcar indicative of the times in which it was born!

 

Vital statistics
Produced 1951-1952, France
Engine Rear-mounted, 175cc, 1-cylinder
Power 8.5bhp

 

Many thanks to RM Sotheby's for the use of its pictures to illustrate this article.

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