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#1 John Cross

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Posted 13 August 2000 - 10:38

The Sacha-Gordine was one of the most fascinating projects that never came to fruition (along with the Cisitalia, of course). This stunning car was contemporary with the F2 Ferrari 500 and Maserati A6GCM, yet it would not have looked out of place 10 years later. If only Vigna had not gone overboard with the magnesium, they might not have run out of money. Oh, well... Here is what Doug Nye says about it in 'Motor Racing Mavericks' - does anyone else know more about it?

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The Cisitalia-Porsche story had an early sequel in the fifties. An engineer named Vigna had studied at the Porsche Office, and he gained backing from the French film producer Sacha Gordine to build a series of major-Formula racing cars, which he based on Cisitalia experience.

Sacha Gordine was an extremely wealthy man. He was then in his early forties, and had made his name as a film producer after shooting his first movie clandestinely during the German occupation. Post-war he made films with stars such as Simone Signoret and Jean Gabin, and two of his perhaps more famous titles were La Ronde and Black Orpheus.

He was a great motoring enthusiast and was a regular rally competitor with his wife. He wanted a modern Grand Prix car which would put France back on the racing map, for although Amédée Gordini’s cars were performing miraculous feats in comparison to their shoestring budget, their French blue was very much subordi-nated to Italian red.

So Gordine set-up his racing car company at 154 Rue Danton, Levallois-Perret (Seine) and to avoid confusion with his compatriot, Gordini, he hyphenated his names to christen the project Sacha-Gordine.

Simultaneously the French government were back on their national racing car bandwagon, Messrs Chaban-Delmas, Flandin, Puy and Gaubert urging a 250,000,000 franc budget for the construction of a French car ‘... capable de représenter nos couleurs et de défendre nos intérêts dans les competitions internationales, avec une chance sérieuse de succès . . .’. After the SEFAC and the CTA-Arsenal they were choosing their words well!

Sacha-Gordine, however, was self-financing, and in January 1953 the first car was virtually complete and the press were shown round the Levallois workshops.

Vigna’s design owed much to the ill-fated Cissy’s layout, but it was much lighter and smaller, creating a sensation at the time because hardly any part of the bodywork stood higher than the tyres!

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The Sacha-Gordine chassis was a very simple ladder-frame, with two straight tubular side members joined by cross-pieces and carrying a light superstructure of thin tubing to support the body panels.

Front suspension, like the Cisitalia, was by parallel trailing links, sprung by transverse torsion bars mounted in the chassis cross-members. A De Dion axle was used at the rear, sprung on longitudinal torsion bars housed within the main chassis longerons.

Vigna seems to have had a free hand with the budget, for he used extremely expensive magnesium castings everywhere in the engine and transmission, and all over the rear suspension.

The De Dion tube was itself in magnesium, was located by a ball joint tiding in a vertical slide housed in the magnesium final drive casing, and was located fore-and-aft by twin cast magnesium radius arms running forward to the chassis on either side. Even the brake back-plates and air-scoops were formed in magnesium.

The engine was a 90-degree V8 unit with cylinder dimensions of 70 x 64mm giving a Formula 2 capacity of 1,970cc. The crankcase, base chamber, cylinder blocks and heads were all cast in magnesium alloy, and the steel wet liners were extensively finned just like an air-cooled cylinder barrel.

Combustion chambers were hemispherical, carrying two valves at an included angle of 90-degrees actuated from twin overhead cam-shafts per bank. Again in similar style to the Cisitalia, the camshafts were shaft driven.

A one-piece crankshaft was used running in Vandervell shell bearings, and dry sump lubrication was employed with a double oil pump in the engine’s extensively finned base chamber. In unsuper-charged Formula 2 trim the Sacha-Gordine carried four double-choke carburettors. Single spark plugs per cylinder were fired by a single Vertex Scintilla magneto, and glycol cooling was used with twin pumps driven from the camshafts.

The mid-mounted engine drove rearwards through a twin dry-plate clutch (in a magnesium housing) to a five-speed gearbox mounted transversely accepting drive through a central bevel pinion. A splined output shaft carried a transfer gear in a separate casing which could easily be changed to match the final drive ratio to any given circuit. Jointed half-shafts drove from a differential assembly to the rear wheels. Like the Cisitalia a motorcycle style gearchange was used, with each gear being engaged in sequence, if only momentarily, as the driver changed up or down.

Nostril intakes formed in the car’s bodywork fed air into two large ducts which fed through two small radiators and then discharged through outlets just behind the front wheels. An oil cooler, oil tank, rack-and-pinion steering gear and glycol header tank filled the front end of the chassis, while massive pannier tanks were slung on either side of the cockpit offering a combined capacity of 66 gallons. Each tank was attached by two straps and could be easily detached from the chassis to give maintenance access.

Vast drum brakes were mounted on the wheels, sixteen inches in diameter at the front and fourteen at the rear, with four leading shoes and operated by independent hydraulic circuits front and rear. The wire wheels were themselves seventeen inches in diameter with an optional eighteen inch size at the rear, and the new car’s smooth, flat bodyshell with its nostril air intakes and thrust forward, eager appearance (heightened by the stub tail being tucked down between the rear wheels) looked terrific, slung low between those tall Dunlop tyres.

Vigna and development engineer Perkins (a Frenchman of Siamese descent) were also working on 1,500cc, 2,500cc and 4,500cc versions of the V8 engine, with the 1.5-litre carrying twin Roots superchargers for Formula 1. A Le Mans car was projected, to use a special three litre version of the Sacha-Gordine engine, and a twin-tube chassis frame was mocked-up for this mid-engined vehicle, alongside five single-seaters!

Claims were made that the 1.5-litre Formula 1 engine was to have a 22:1 compression ratio, which would require ‘iso-octane’ fuel. Boost pressure for this engine was claimed to be 57lbs but I believe the unit was never to be completed. Vigna also intended to adopt a Hirth-type crankshaft with roller bearings in each of his engines. Power output for the virtually complete Formula 2 car was quoted as 191bhp at 8,000rpm, and the new Sacha-Gordine’s dimensions were released as wheelbase, 8ft 5.5ins; front track 4ft 5.1ins; rear track 4ft 4ins and dry weight 1,400lbs. Vigna hazarded a Formula 1 supercharged engine output of over 380bhp at 8,000rpm.

This staggeringly ambitious project had two cars virtually complete in early 1953, and one was entered for the Pau Grand Prix at Easter, but suddenly Sacha Gordine realised that his fortune was fast dribbling away — he wrote off the whole project as a tax loss and it foundered as abruptly as it had begun.

Denis Jenkinson tells me that for years there was a story that the two virtually complete cars were stored in a factory park on an island in the Seine, and if one could find the proper vantage point the cars could be seen clearly. Evidently the story died a natural death about ten or twelve years ago, and nobody now seems to know where the Sacha-Gordines disappeared to.


#2 Roger Clark

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Posted 13 August 2000 - 20:15

The nose was copied by the piccolo Maseratis, which have been dicussed on another thread, an later by the 1961 Ferraris.

Mike Lawrence in Grand Prix Cars 1945-65 tells much the same story. He does raise the reasonable question, of why anybody would build a 1.5litre F1 engine in 1953; let alone a 4.5litre as well.

The Sacha=Gordine also rates a brief mention in Blue Blood, but I don't think there is any addtional information.

#3 Marcor

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Posted 15 August 2000 - 10:42

I’ve found two very interesting items where two journalists tried to understand the Sacha-Gordine saga. The first one was edited in Sport-Auto, August 1980, and the second in Automobilia, volume 1, April 1996.

The two authors met Sacha Gordine’s wife, Regine Gordine, and had access to unpublished documents. The two versions tied up but differences subsisted.

The end of the story was really more accurate than the Doug Nye’s version.

Sacha Gordine spent a real fortune in the construction of the cars. Too much indeed. Being a Film producer, he received a loan. The Financial administration knew that, there was no benefice in the Producer’s account. The Tax department gave the signal of the quarry. The hopeless situation was increased by the special parameters of the merciless environment of the cinema’s industry. The financial help of a Swiss friend banker, Mister Foufounis, was not enough. The liability was 90 millions FF high and Sacha Gordine wrote off the whole project. The SAG (La Société des Automobiles Gordine) was broken up in June 1953. Almost all the machines-tools were sold to compensate the privileged creditors.

In this disaster, Sacha Gordine was satisfied with saving, until his death, the relics of his fabulous project.

At the apogee of his film glory, Gordine had bought a barge to stock his material and the 3 boat’s levels gave him a 600 m² usable area.

After his financial ruin, he installed in the barge, moored along the Seine near the Asnière’s bridge, what he could keep of his constructor’s activities : 3 cars including the finished one, 5 or 6 engines, some machines-tools, the wooden moulds and models of foundry...

The complete car, put on the superior level of the barge, could be seen during some years by the train passengers, until Gordine gave the car to the French petroleum society Shell.

The barge, including the vestiges of the SAG, had to move near St-Denis Isle. A guard kept an eye on the material but one day he disappeared without trace. The boat became a receiver’s den and was burgled : the pieces of the uncompleted cars, the engines, the moulds and the models, as well as the ¾ of the machines-tools disappeared completely without leaving a mark. The robbers boned the 2 uncompleted cars to resell the expensive raw material : aluminium and magnesium.

In 1968, at the age of 58 Sacha Gordine had suffered a heart attack and died. The car, given by Sacha Gordini to Shell, also disappeared.

In spite of incessant investigations, Mrs Gordine, former President of SAG, never found the car. Maybe a secret collector kept the secret !

What does remain now of the superb Sacha-Gordine’s cars ? Just a little technical dossier, some plans, some articles, some pictures, 1 or 2 machines-tools and a heap of invoices...

According to Sport-Auto, the complete F2 car was parked in the lower level of the barge and wasn’t robbed for that reason. There was no hint at Shell but the journalist only specified that Sacha Gordine preserved the car until 1967, then gave it to a museum.

Two different versions for the same result : the car disappeared without leaving a mark...

#4 John Cross

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Posted 15 August 2000 - 21:31


Many thanks for that - it really is a fascinating story! Now I'm waiting to see what Felix can find.

#5 Felix Muelas

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Posted 15 August 2000 - 22:20


My basic notes where the ones that Marc has already quoted, namely the Sport-Auto article in 1980 and Nye & Lawrence & Bellu. I am very happy to see that all the basic known (to me) elements have been already posted and just hope that someone else could come with something else unknown to all of us! Come on, please, where's the car now?
What a fascinating story !
(So now, please go on with the Cisitalia theory, please. I am sure we will have a whale of a time with that one too)


#6 Marcor

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Posted 16 August 2000 - 02:38

I always found that the French motoring literature was poor in relation with the English one.

Sometimes it’s not the case !

#7 karlcars

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Posted 21 August 2000 - 20:01

Great stuff! One of my favorite racing-car projects. Worth mentioning that the ultimate plan was to convert the cars to unblown 2-liters to compete in the French and World Championships of 1952-53. Sadly this didn't happen.

As well, work had begun on the sports-car version of this car! It was to have a 3-liter version of the V-8 and a huge central frame tube not unlike some of De Tomaso's later efforts. Andre Simon was named as the likely driver.

Any suggestion that the twin-nostril design influenced later designers such as Chiti is spurious. That's just a coincidence.

#8 Ray Bell

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Posted 25 August 2000 - 10:43

Mention of De Tomaso brings to mind a thought I had when I read the first bit of the story... that incredible cast magnesium monocoque built for the 1.5-litre F1... was that 1962 or 1963?
This story deserves a better billing.

#9 KzKiwi

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Posted 26 August 2000 - 20:44

Can anyone confirm who first initiated the Sacha-Gordine project?

Doug Nye (with reference to 'Motor racing Mavericks' and 'Autocourse History of the Grand Prix Car 1945 to 1965')suggests that it was Vignas idea and that Gordine was approached by Vigna to finance the scheme.

However Mike Lawrence (in 'Grand Prix cars 1945 to 1965'), DSJ ('Racing car pocketbook') and Serge Bellu ('Blue Blood') all imply that it was Gordine who approached Vigna to design the cars, and not the other way around.

So who is correct? Who initiated the idea? The only thing we know for certain is that Vigna designed the car, with help from the mysterious Mr Perkins, and Gordine financed it!

As for where the cars are is anyones guess. I cant help thinking about the brothers Schumplf (spelling?) and their huge 'hidden' collection of Bugattis and other exotica. I know that this museum was discovered when their empire crumbled but is it possible that everything has been revealed?

#10 Ray Bell

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Posted 27 August 2000 - 06:48

Schlumpf, I think. You mean "is it possible that not everything has been..."
What a lovely thought!

#11 Roger Clark

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Posted 05 October 2000 - 20:58

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This shows the Sacha-Gordine engine on test in about May 1952

#12 Ray Bell

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Posted 05 October 2000 - 23:49

Testing the mechanics, you mean?

#13 marion5drsn

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Posted 09 February 2001 - 18:21

An example of unlikely data published in the Sacha-Gordine engine data.
The data furnished in the list give a Bore and Stroke of 2.7559” (70 mm) x 2.5197” (64 mm) x 8 cylinders = 120.24
cubic inches (1,971 cc).
The test also states that the cylinder head had the valves at 90 degrees included angle implying a full hemispherical combustion chamber. That is it had one half of a sphere and not a smaller spherical segment. It then states it had a compression ratio of 22 to 1.
Any one who has drawn even a few chambers of this type knows the impossibility of this task. Firstly the chambers need just .716 cubic inches to achieve the 22-1 comp. Ratio. 15.725 divided by 21 = .7157 cubic inches.
V1 (.7157cubic inch) +V2 (15.0302 cubic inches) =15.7954 cubic inches / V1 (.718 cubic inch)= 22. to 1 to comp. ratio.
The cylindrical height of the V1 would only be .120” (3.048 mm). 005” less than an eight of an inch. If it had this type of chamber, which has valve stems parallel to the centerline of the cylinder.
This in turn means that the dome of the piston needs to clear the head surface in the hemisphere by less than the .120” (3.043 mm) in a flat chamber as the hemispherical chamber has a lot more surface. We will ignore the valve clearance in their overlap position. The point of this is that the 22-1 C.R. is not very likely and even if it were, then what about the flame front and the likelihood of unwanted wash out of the flame.
This whole thing doesn’t even talk about the DIESELING EFFECT OF THIS HIGH OF A COMPRESSION RATIO!
M. L. Anderson

#14 Steve L

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Posted 09 June 2017 - 16:59

This is a fascinating thread from a long time ago!

I wondered if since then any trace of the missing car has been found?

#15 StanBarrett2

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Posted 09 June 2017 - 17:09

Cutaway drawing signed by Thierry Dubois (original B&W was by Robert roux in period) for a 

6 page French article in Automobilia magazine #1 April 1996




#16 Vitesse2

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Posted 09 June 2017 - 17:48

There's a well-illustrated thread on the Autodiva website in which it's suggested that two cars were stored on a barge but disappeared some time between 1958 and 1960 and that the one remaining chassis was given to an unnamed museum in about 1967. Thereafter, no trace.


In French, and you will need to register as a member if you haven't done so previously: http://www.autodiva....t=sacha gordine