‘La Perle’ does indeed translate as ‘the pearl’, so is a not-unsuitable name for a make of car, and one with sporting pretensions. But the dictionary reveals another meaning – that of ‘schoolboy howler’, maybe as in ‘purler’ – a headlong fall or maybe more general mishap. Very sadly, Louis Lefèvre, founder of the firm, by 1927 was in poor health and the company in financial dire straits, and he took his own life.
He had started his business building cyclecars in 1913, and the La Perle works in Boulogne-sur-Seine was in due course moved to Dreux, some 40 miles west of Paris, whilst activities continued by the Seine for ‘services commerciaux’ – i.e. sales. The pre-war La Perle cyclecars were listed with either two- or four-cylinder engine options, and a combination of friction disc and side-belt transmissions. After the end of the Great War, the La Perle cyclecar was re-introduced, now with a vee-twin engine, but still side-belt driven. Matters took a big forward step in 1921 when Louis’s younger brother, Franz became involved. A few Bignan 4-cylinder engines were purchased and some frames from Malicet et Blin and an altogether more substantial model introduced. The Bignan engine was a ‘T’ head side-valve of 1390cc, and the new cars achieved modest successes in suitable races.
Inspired to take the development further, the brothers redesigned the engine to have push-rod ohv from the twin crankcase camshafts, and the swept volume rose to 1498cc. This week’s ‘Snapshot’ shows one of these La Perles, a sports two-seater very much in the French idiom and in this case with four-wheel braking on the Perrot system. A scuttle fuel tank is apparent and whilst the front mudguards and windscreen have been discarded for some competitive event, a radiator cap mascot and basic lighting remain The mascot seems much like that of the Guy commercial vehicles: an American Indian warrior’s head with head-dress. Louis won the Paris-Les Pyrénées-Paris event of 1924 in a similar La Perle, but with an external exhaust system and bodywork that included a third seat in its pointed tail.
1924 saw the talented Bignan designer, Nemorin Causan commissioned to design a 6-cylinder single ohc 1.5-litre engine for La Perle. Not many of these were made, but they were quite formidable competition cars with twin Solex carburettors, delivering 62bhp at 4200rpm, and a few were Cozette supercharged.