Jean Baptiste Labourdette (1826-1895), a French blacksmith from Bearn moved to Paris in 1858 to establish a workshop specialising in the construction of carriages. He is immediately noticed for his expertise in lightweight construction. His son Henri (1855-1910) continues his work bringing new designs to the carriage world. His talent allows him to be one of the first builders of bodies for automobiles. The first body for an automobile attributed to Henri Labourdette was built in 1896. It was a Georges Richard with back to back seats. In 1899, a closed body is conceived for Louis Renault and is considered to be the first car of its type in the world.
Famous customers, such as L.A.R "Les Infants D?espagne" and then later on King Alphonso XIII, Empress Eugenie, numerous Russian princes or René de Knyff, Panhard & Levassor's director, confirm the Labourdette's excellent reputation.
Henri Labourdette died in 1910, and Jean-Henri at the age of 22 inherits the company which is already established in Spain and will become present throughout Europe even in St. Petersburg.
In 1912, an important step is made in the history of French coachbuilding when Jean-Henry Labourdette creates the famous "Skiff", for René de Knyff, on a Panhard 20 HP frame. Shaped as a boat, without doors, the structure follows traditional naval carpentry methods. The mahogany body is fixed to the frame with visible nails. This first model delivered by the Depujols shipyard weighed only 180 Kg, including windscreen, mudguards and 4 seats. Labourdette's Skiff bodies were applied to many different cars including Rolls-Royce, Hispano Suiza, Renault, Peugeot and more. Its success continues until the mid twenties.
Jean Henri Labourdette's second important invention is the "Vutotal" system. His desire to increase visibility and security aboard an automobile bring about the idea to eliminate the windscreen mounts and side window frames. At the 1936 Paris Show, the Delage coupé "Vutotal" seduces the public. From this time on, his convertibles no longer have any side or top frame for the screen with the hood attached directly to the thick glass. On the 1st April 1938, more than 100 cars and 6 thirty-five seat buses are equipped with the Vutotal system.
Source: Eric Le Moine's www.carrosserie-labourdette.com