Motoring Trailblazers - Peugeot 401 Eclipse

Sat 22nd Dec 2018

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Peugeot 401 Eclipse
The electric roof is a key element of many luxury cars these days, and the technology involved in ensuring a roof retracts in style is still being perfected, which makes Peugeot’s electric folding roof all the more remarkable considering it debuted in 1935.

The electric folding roof debuted on Peugeot’s 401 model, which was given the title Eclipse to denote that it had a retractable hardtop. The idea came about due to a collaboration between French coachbuilder Pourtout and Peugeot’s own Paris dealer. The design for the Eclipse was the brainchild of French dentist, Georges Paulin, who having seen his friends struggle to remove canvas hoods from cars. Paulin spent four years drawing up his plans for the electric roof, naming it the Eclipse because the movement resembled the moon moving across the face of the sun.

Having secured a patent, Paulin took his idea to Citroen, but they were less than impressed with the invention at the French car manufacturer’s Paris headquarters. Still Paulin’s luck change when he went a Parisian coachbuilder, Marcel Pourtout, who was working on an experimental car design for a wealthy client. Unfortunately Pourtout’s client had grander designs on actually selling the Eclipse roof on his own range of cars, so with a modified Peugeot 301 featuring Paulin’s invention, it was Peugeot who took the design and making the young dentist an offer of 100 francs for every convertible sold through the French dealer’s network, a deal was struck.

While regarded by enthusiasts as the Peugeot 401 Eclipse, the motor manufacturer actually renamed it as the 401 Cabriolet Tole and sold 79 examples of it, a further 580 more flamboyant 402s and 21 601s. But despite the car looking amazing and stunning observers, the Eclipse system proved to be expensive for a car which wasn’t even a luxury or sports car in its class.

Regardless, it wasn’t until the Ford Motor Company launched the Fairlane 500 Skyliner in 1957 that the technology was seen again.