Starting in the United States in June 1940 to found the Matam-Corporation away from the Germans he had to fear, Émile Mathis was already thinking about the postwar period with the project of a revolutionary economic automobile that would become the VL 333. WHEN the war broke out in September 1939, Émile Mathis had already stopped producing his own models for nearly four years (see Automobilia Hors-série n ° 1, page 55). A little more than twelve months before this suspension of its manufacture, in October 1934, the Alsatian builder had believed in a bright future for his large factory in Strasbourg-La Meinau thanks to the agreement he had just concluded with the owner of Ford-France Maurice Dollfus, an agreement expected for fifty years (!) Which had resulted in the formation of the Matford brand (see Automobilia Hors-série n ° 9, page 57). In fact, Mathis had had to disillusion very quickly, victim of disloyal acts of the leaders of Ford which forced him to initiate a series of trials of which it will ultimately win, but only in 1939. According to the expected of the judgment , Mathis SA was entitled on the part of Ford to pay considerable compensation (late payments for the premises of Strasbourg, profits, shares of the Mathis capital in the Matford company, non - pecuniary damages, etc.) Investment in E. Mathis while giving him the hope of an upcoming recovery of his Alsatian factory whose lease to Matford had been signed for five and a half years and thus expired at the end of April 1940. For his part, Maurice Dollfus had anticipated these events and, in 1938, he had acquired large plots of land on the banks of the Seine in Poissy on which he had built a state-of-the-art factory. The work ended in the spring of 1940, at about the same time that Ford was losing its rights as a tenant in Strasbourg. First of all. Maurice Dollfus had relocated the high-performance machines and equipment brought there five years earlier; He had them relocated to the new premises of Poissy where the head office of the company will also be transferred following a decision taken on 30 June 1940 at an extraordinary general meeting of Matford. The latter will then merge with the Ford SAF (French limited liability company), Matford no longer having to exist since the initial agreement with Mathis had become obsolete. However, the Matford mark will not be dissolved legally until June 10, 1941. In August 1939, even before the war was declared, Émile Mathis understood that it would be impossible for him to remain for a long time in his factory in Strasbourg, too close to the Franco-German border and thus at the mercy of the first fighting Could possibly take place there. He therefore decided to retreat to the Parisian suburb of Gennevilliers, where he had just established his Aviation subsidiary, created in November 1938: this return to the capital also protected him from possible reprisals by the enemy, since He had been considered deserter 'by the German military authorities in 1916. E. Mathis no longer built any model between 1935 and the war, but he was not indifferent to the problems of the French automobile industry. In particular, he wanted to get involved in the search for a modern, light and economical car differentiated from everything that had been seen until then. In this capacity he took a close interest in the Society of Automotive Engineers competition, which was launched in the spring of 1935 with the aim of defining the ideal prototype of the " Ture ". Many well-known engineers participated in this contest, including J.-A. Grégoire (see page 8 of this album) and Jean Andreau, the latter beginning to be known for his research of avant-garde aerodynamics applied to bodyworks Of automobiles. J. Andreau presented three projects in the SIA competition (Nos. 4, 26 and 68), one of which concerned a three-wheeled ultra-filtrated car to which E. Mathis was particularly interested. The industrialist made contact with the author of this project and encouraged him to develop his original idea which will be realized by the rolling prototype revealed in 1939. In the meantime, in order to obtain the greatest number of opinions and Possible solutions for a popular three-wheeled vehicle, E. Mathis had appealed to several stylists more or less known, including Flaminio Bertoni who enjoyed an excellent reputation since he had imagined the Forms of Traction Avant for André Citroën. However, these external collaborators did not go beyond the stage of simple consultants or subcontractors for a few bundles of plans, it being understood that Jean Andreau would be the only master contractor recognized by Mathis for the bodywork study of his future " Light three-wheeled car ". The decision to build such an automobile, reinforced by the significant financial contribution obtained as a result of its lawsuits against Ford. But he did not stay in France during the preparation of this car and, in June 1940, he left for America at the very moment when his factory in Strasbourg was invaded by the Germans to produce Junkers aircraft engines. Shortly after his arrival in the United States, October 10, 1940. E. Mathis will create the Matam Corp. from scratch. (MAThis America) in Brooklynn; From the spring of 1941 until the end of the war, it will produce more than 200 million DCA shells for Allied forces. Meanwhile, Jean Andreau and chief engineer Raymond Georges (creator of an overpowering engine for Mathis-Aviation) will supervise - one for the bodywork, The other for mechanics - the development of the prototype VL 333 in the utmost secrecy; This one will be unveiled only during the summer of 1945, exhibited at the occasion of a local trade fair organized at the Grésillons market in Gennevilliers. This surprising car, remarkably well shaped, very inspired by the Andreau prototype of 1939, will continue its tests on the road for more than a year before becoming one of the stars of the 33rd Paris Motor Show which will open its doors on 3 October 1946 See all the technical details of the 333 in Automobilia Hors-série n ° 4, pages 51 to 54). A few weeks earlier, in July 1946, Émile Mathis had returned from the United States and was attempting to restart his La Meinau business in Strasbourg, severely damaged by allied bombardment in 1944 and requisitioned by the French army in 1945, Finally restored to the company Mathis in the spring of 1946.
~ E. Mathis had founded his business in Alsace during the period when this province was annexed by Germany between 1871 and 1918. As a result, during the First World War he had to respond to the mobilization of the Alsatians and was enlisted In the imperial army in spite of his francophile feelings. Some time after his incorporation, Mathis escaped by taking advantage of a mission entrusted to him in German-speaking Switzerland, where he had gone with a great deal of currency to acquire trucks and other supplies for German soldiers; He kept the money and returned to our country to join the French army. Hence the accusation of desertion, and the bad memory left outside the Rhine that was likely to resurface in 1940 ...
Above and opposite. The Andreau prototype of 1939 already foreshadowed the shapes of the future Mathis 333, but it was distinguished by its rear flap (typically Andreau) and its rear steering wheel.
Above. Jean Andreau poses in front of the Mathis 333 whose shapes he has just determined by taking inspiration from his prototype of 1939 driven by a Traction Avant Citroën engine. On the technical level, the Mathis was distinguished from this initial Andreau by its two front wheels steering and its small engine 2 cylinders flat of 700 cm3. Opposite and above. The Mathis factory in Strasbourg-La Meinau, after the aerial bombardments of 1944 and during its reconstruction on 12 April 1946.
Above. With their headlights still hidden, these two first prototypes began to circulate clandestinely before the end of the Occupation. Opposite. When in 1940, immediately after the armistice, Mathis decided to study a small post-war small car, it was first necessary to determine the number of places it should include. The statistics of the time indicated that, in most cases, the driver was alone on board, transporting two persons orrasionally. A two-seater car would therefore satisfy the majority of users. However, as the cars were mostly four-seater sedans, it was admitted that a good arrangement would be to establish three large seats - instead of four tight - with 40 kg of luggage, the car also being able to ride with only two seats Occupied and 100 to 110 kg of additional load. The payload, thus defined, was 260 kg. The choice of the "three-wheeled" formula was adopted as a priority to improve the two factors that define power, namely weight and finesse. To achieve the lightest car possible, the best way to decrease the weight is obviously to remove coins. By adopting three wheels instead of four, a suspension and a shock absorber, an arm or an axle, a brake and its control, a wheel, a rim, a tire and its chamber are avoided; The sheet metalwork of the wings and the connecting hulls necessary for the two rear wheels are eliminated. In short, A four-wheeler weighs 25 to 35% more than the equivalent three-wheeler, with the same payload. For the finesse of the car, calculations show that a good aerodynamic hull has to move with the rounded part towards the front and the point towards the rear. This definition militates in favor of the three wheels because it makes it possible to partially accommodate the rear wheel in the hull.
Below. One of the first photographs of the Mathis 333 taken on the public road, near the Arc de Triomphe in the spring of 1946.