Auctions and Brokerage
*Please note that this car is sold on a Bill of Sale
From the Collection of Thomas Mittler
The DB HBR
Charles Deutsch and René Bonnet were French engineers who set about building race cars in the mid-1930s, initially using Citroen components. By 1949, Citroen was experiencing supply issues, so the engineers instead turned to Panhard. Legendary as one of the earliest manufacturers of the automobile industry, Panhard had recently debuted the compact Dyna model, which was driven by a surprisingly powerful and lightweight air-cooled 610 cc flat-twin engine.
The Dyna platform proved to be a perfect basis for Deutsch and Bonnet’s racing ambitions, and they arranged for a supply deal for chassis and flat-twin engines, which they eventually bored to 745 cc. Debuting in 1950, a Panhard-based DB racer took 1st overall at the 24 Hours of Bol d’Or at Montlhéry, and led the Index of Performance category at Le Mans until the 19th hour. The following year, an HBR (as they became known by their chassis designation) finished 5th in the Index of Performance at Le Mans, attracting the attention of Sebring founder Alec Ulmann.
Mr. Ulmann invited Deutsch-Bonnet to participate in the 1952 12 Hours of Sebring, where the ever-developing HBR took 1st in the Index of Performance and made a strong impact on American racing enthusiasts. Later that year, an HBR roadster set numerous international records in the 750 cc class including a top-speed record of 118.9 mph.
Chassis number HBR 789 is a rare and beautifully restored example from one of the little-known chapters in French racing history. Featuring early pontoon-style coachwork with distinctive fender portholes and a sculpted nose with faired-in covered headlamps, this car is nearly identical to the roadsters that ran Le Mans in 1953. Indeed, its chassis number lies only a few cars away from HBR 784 and 785, the DB racers that respectively placed 17th and 19th overall that year at La Sarthe.
According to the research of noted DB enthusiast Jacques Grelley of Arlington, Texas, this car is one of just five examples built between late 1952 and spring 1953. In late 1953, two cars were exported to the US, and HBR 789 is believed to be the only extant example in America to wear the distinctive pontoon-cutaway fender coachwork.
HBR 789 was used extensively in SCCA racing during the next few years and is believed to be the car driven by Ken Heavlin and C.J. Davis at Sebring in 1954, where they famously won the Index of Performance. Mr. Grelley’s research suggests this DB also won at Southern California circuits, such as Torrey Pines, San Diego, and Vaca Valley, as well as Tucson, Arizona.
Acquired by Mr. Grelley by the 1990s, the car was sold in December 1999 to Thomas Mittler, one of the nation’s foremost collectors of DB race cars. Recognizing the roadster’s need for some refurbishment, Mr. Mittler commissioned a full restoration from Surrey Motorsports in Niles, Michigan. Proprietors Lou Mark and Kurt Przybysz are established Deutsch-Bonnet experts, having researched and restored several examples. Mr. Mittler invested approximately $105,000 in the three-year photo-documented comprehensive restoration, which was completed in 2004.
Available for the first time in years, this sensational French post-war racer is believed to be the only one of its kind in the US, and one of a small handful of extant examples worldwide. Eligible for numerous vintage events, this beguiling DB HBR 53 promises to make a head-turning entrance wherever it goes with its impressive and unique coachwork. In-period competition history endows the fascinating Deutsch-Bonnet with legitimate racing provenance, and it beautifully attests to the ingenuity of French post-war racing.