French engineering whiz went from artillery to autos
Unless you grew up in France, or have a keen interest in French automotive history and its 121 French car manufacturers, you’ve probably not heard of a car called a Rosengart.
Lucien Rosengart was born in Paris in 1881, and his interests in mechanical engineering began at an early age. Long before he entered the world of automobile manufacturing, he invented the Foosball game, held patents on railway and bicycle parts and designed an artillery shell that could explode whilst in mid-air.
The artillery invention impressed the French government so much that they set him up with two factories. It was during this time that Rosengart met Andre Citroen, whose company made the spun brass shell casings for Rosengart’s missile.
By the end of the First World War, Rosengart was a very wealthy businessman and in a position to help automakers Citroen and Peugeot from going bankrupt. He loaned the cash-strapped companies money against cars already built, enabling them with a cash flow to allow them to continue to manufacturer cars.
In 1923, Rosengart purchased the licence to build the English Austin Seven in France. BMW did the same thing in Germany with the Dixie.
With the help of engineer Jules Salomon, the first Rosengart motor car was built in 1927. The French-built version differed from the English model by adapting the bodywork to suit French tastes with features like the ribbon radiator.
During the 1930s, Rosengart acquired the licence to build the German Adler Trumpf in France, beating his old friend Citroen by one year to producing a French-built, front-wheel-drive car which proved very popular and reliable.
After the Second World War, and having spent some time in the United States, Rosengart took the wrong approach by building a car using a 3.9-litre Mercury engine.
These cars were not exactly what postwar France needed, so in 1952 he returned to building smaller cars, including the Ariette, powered by a small engine based on the legendary Austin Seven. This model was available from 1947-1954 but failed to sell. His change of plan came a little too late, he was unable to compete with the smaller models built by Renault and Panhard.
The doors to the Rosengart factory closed in 1955.