Record-breaking Thirties powerboat Rafale V expected to fetch up to£700,000 at auction
A record-breaking powerboat that survived World War Two hidden on the Seine is expected to fetch up to £710,000 auction in Paris today.
Rafale V, a 1934 racing hydroplane, is being offered for sale by Bonhams at its Grand Palais sale, metres from the river where Rafale V spent so much of its life. As well as being stowed in the city for the duration of the war, Paris was also the backdrop for some of the vessel’s speed trials – it is known to have travelled at 130kmh (80mph) along the Seine in the Thirties.
Originally named Aurora, the boat was commissioned by Tecalemit boss and yachting enthusiast called Emile Picquerez. It was custom-built at the Chauvière boatyard at Vitry-sur-Seine, now a suburb of the capital, which fabricated the 28ft hull out of mahogany. It is held together with countersunk copper rivets, and its metal parts are chrome-plated.
Chauvière was also responsible for aeroplane propellers, most notably those used by early aviator Louis Blériot. Having crossed the channel in 1909, Blériot was an aviation visionary who predicted international air travel long before it ‘took off’. Chauvière was undoubtedly a key part of the development of aeroplane technology, as well as its rise to prominence during the 20th Century.
Aurora was powered by a 36-litre V12 Hispano-Suiza engine understood to produce around 800bhp. This motor was developed for powerboat racing; Hispano technician Gabriel Raget was a record-holding boat racer himself.
In mid-summer 1936, Picquerez won the President of the Republic’s Prize at the Cannes Semaine Nautique, with an average speed of 90.34kmh over the whole course. Two years later, Aurora took part in the Marseilles-Cannes race, which includes both open sea and inland waterways.
Aurora was then sold, modified and renamed Rafale V. Improvements were made to the boat’s stability, and the current paint job (including the tricolor cockade) was applied. The boat competed in competitions around Europe with some success.
During the war, Rafale V was stowed on a barge in the Seine. In the sixties, after being briefly owned by the Marquis de Goulaine, the boat was sent to the USA on steamship SS Eurymachus. The vessel has been “immaculately rebuilt” preserving “almost all of her original fabric”. Rafale V remains a seminal piece of powerboat history and a fascinating relic of a bygone era of engineering.
“It’s an extraordinary piece of engineering, with a fascinating history,” says Bonhams spokesperson Poppy McKenzie Smith.
“It was the fastest boat of its time by some way, and has even beaten the likes of Baby Bootlegger in races across Europe. It is a pleasure to be offering the hydroplane in Paris, the city where it was built, raced and even hidden on a barge during the war.
“It is the type of vehicle that needs to be seen to be believed, and we hope that it’s future owner will unleash its potent V12 for years to come.”
Rafale V will be offered at auction by Bonhams on Thursday 8 February 2018, with the automotive lots beginning at 2pm.