Born in 1889 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Charles Terres Weymann would go on to become a leading light in coachwork technology, his designs featuring on many of the finest automobiles of his era. Brilliant, bold, and brave, his inventions revolutionised the industry and changed the face of commercial cars forever.
Charles Terres Weymann may not be a name that you’re familiar with, but he was a marvellous man. Endowed with the talents of Enzo Ferrari, Sergio Pininfarina, and Glenn Curtiss combined, he was famed for two fantastic feats: his aviation achievements and his invention of coachwork technology.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1889, Weymann was the son of a fabulously wealthy Haitian mother and an American father. Carrying dual US and French citizenship, he divided his life between the two countries, going on to earn fame in both.
He first garnered acclaim for his aeronautic accomplishments. Gaining his American Aero Club licence in 1909, he went on to set records for the quickest 150 kilometres, and the greatest distances travelled in a quarter of an hour and half an hour by 1911.
The very same year, he competed, on behalf of the US, in the third running of the Gordon Bennett Trophy, held in England, taking first prize against five other incredibly skilled pilots, including Edouard Nieuport himself.
By World War I, Weymann was employed by Nieuport’s company as a test pilot. Earning the accolade of Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur, as well as a Croix de Guerre, during this time, he greatly benefitted the war effort.
Innovation in automobile coachwork
Afterwards, Weymann continued to astound. Applying his knowledge of aircraft fabrication, he devised an innovative technique that could be transferred to automobile coachwork. This invention was arguably his greatest.
Unlike traditional coachwork, which had developed from the carriage trade and utilised metal panels nailed to a wooden framework, he optimised the wood substructure’s joints, and replaced the metal with fabric, thus eliminating squeaks and rattles, whilst making the body of the vehicle infinitely lighter.
His idea quickly gained ground, and by 1923 the success of it had allowed him to open facilities in both Paris and London. By 1928, he had also expanded into Indianapolis. Thanks to licensing offices in New York City and Cologne, ‘Weymann fabric coachwork’ soon entered the industry consciousness, becoming almost a generic among automakers.
The design was utilised by some of the finest car manufacturers of the day, on some of the most renowned models. Wolf Barnato’s Bentley Blue Train Special featured Gurney Nutting coachwork – under licence from Weymann. So did the Rover Light Six. The inventor’s design was an unequivocal success, and the sector wholeheartedly embraced it.
Unfortunately, it was not to endure. By the close of the 1920s, metal fabrication had been hugely improved, and high gloss finishes were all the rage. Fabric coachwork began to lose its appeal, although it was not superseded entirely.
A British connection
Nor was it the end for the Haitian born inventor’s commercial achievements. His British company evolved almost seamlessly into Metro Cammell Weymann, a major manufacturer of bus bodies well into the 1980s. For the rest of his life, Charles Terres Weymann knew nothing but success – a fitting end for one so brilliant.