“In this world where everything is banal and ugly, we must know how to create the beautiful and unusual.” These are the words of Jean Pierre Ponthieu, quite possibly the maddest French inventor of the 20th century.
In the 1960s, Ponthieu embarked on a new career in car design and created more than 200 small cars, given the highly unfortunate name, “Pussy Cars” (even if it was just a reference to the vehicle’s size).
The Parisian answer to the mini (the miniest mini on the market), built mostly of plastic with a top speed of around 50 km hour, they weighed very little and could be easily lifted for maintenance or dragging into the garage.
They cost around £300 to £400 at the time and were more like golf carts, classed as “cyclomoteurs”, meaning they did not requite a driving license.
But in 1968, Ponthieu came out with a UFO-like spherical version of the Pussy car that could do wheelies down the Champs Elysées powered by a single 250cc single-cylinder engine…
He called it the world’s first Automodule. What the heck is an automodule you ask? Well, it’s pretty simple in Ponthieu’s own words. An automobile is ugly, while an automodule is beautiful.
Only ten models were produced but it was named “The Car of the Year 2000” and attracted plenty of publicity, particularly within the fashion industry.
(The Pussycar featured in a spread for L’Officiel magazine, 1971).
In fact, when Jean Pierre Ponthieu wasn’t playing the mad-hatter for the automotive industry, he also worked as a fashion designer, a decorator and an artist. His resumé is probably one of the bizarre things I’ve read.
There’s not a huge amount of information available on the guy (he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page), but among his extravagant achievements, one allegedly includes “inventing” the modern holster.
The body holster which Steve McQueen wears in Bullit was designed by Jean Pierre Ponthieu, and apparently he had huge worldwide success with it after the movie. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to fact check something like that, so don’t take my word for it, but I found it on a French automobile blog which seems to know a lot about Pontheiu’s career (and even provides an email address for him, although likely outdated).
The blog also notes that he built giant models of King Kong and Godzilla and inexplicably took them on tour around France, and in the 1980s he designed the largest floral wreath in the world (4km) to decorate a French church that Pope John Paul II was visiting.
At the same time he came out with the Pussycar Automodue, he also built “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang”, the biggest car in the world at the time, which can now often be spotted near the Eiffel Tower, being hired out for weddings or photo shoots.
While the height of Ponthieu’s career was primarily in the 60s and 70s, he apparently continues to work, most recently making mini-slot machines for casinos. I told you it was bizarre.
I’ll leave you with some rare footage of the Pussycars in action…