Let’s face it, writing an article about the car fleet of a national celebrity whose life was entirely punctuated by the pace of his horses’ steps is a real challenge.
After having spent a magnificent moment of sharing with his grandson, Maurice Decoppet, it was a real pleasure to immerse ourselves in the universe of General Guisan. He lived in this property from 1902 to 1960, the date of his death. It was built in the year of his birth, in 1874, and set on an impressive 12’000 m² park on the lake front. Aware of the historical importance of this area, the Confederation acquired it and entrusted its management to the foundation created in 1946 by a Lausanne Committee and chaired by the General himself until his death. Mr. Decoppet chaired it from 1982 to 2010. Today it shelters the reception rooms as they were in the latter part of the General’s life on the ground floor. The upper floors have been designed to accommodate public utility structures.
The “Verte Rive” property has been preserved in a state very close to its origin. It is maintained with care, and a certain devotion, by the steward of the estate, Mr. Thierry Christinat, adjutant non-commissioned officer. It happened that our interview was very quickly immersed in a certain intimacy with this illustrious character who the Swiss were fans of. Even if the word was not yet integrated into our vocabulary, it conveys this feeling, tinged at the same time with respect and gratitude towards this man, rather small and steely-eyed. That underlined his determination.
Admitted by his grandson himself, even though the man was very warm and benevolent, his charisma gave him, with regards to his hosts, a certain influential power. Moreover, Mr. Decoppet, who witnessed the arrival of visitors as impressive as Churchill or General Montgomery, took the chance of facing this power. And yet, he talked on an equal footing with the great people of his time, and one moment later he talked in a friendly manner with the driver of the trolleybus which took him to Lausanne.
Despite this, it must be remembered that Henri Guisan was appointed “general” by the Federal Assembly only one month after his retirement as corps commander. Before reviewing his cars, let’s take a few moments to listen to Maurice Decoppet “When he was in his house in Pully, he had a horse ride two hours a day every day, until Saint-Sulpice, that is to say 16 km, except Sundays which were dedicated to family visits. Sometimes he would take his private car, a Vauxhall, for a ride with his wife”.
The General’s connection with cars is above all an official necessity. Throughout the conflict, he used only two cars for his official trips. His two horses, Nobs and Dioskur, halfbreeds of the country, were his favorite personal traveling companions. It should be noted that the General was never very far from his headquarters. Direct contact, if necessary, was therefore very rapid. For the record. The Confederation, in a surge of rare generosity, offered the General two years of fodder provision at the end of the conflict. We are definitely very far from current excesses.
His cars were immediately recognizable by their registration which summed it all up. A large Swiss cross in the center and the “GENERAL” plate on a black background on the left. No doubt possible. They were recognized by their statutory dimension, but also by their registration clearly showing their membership. Another detail, the General always drove with an open hood and the occasions when his car was locked were very rare.
The General’s fleet consisted of two BUICK. A four-seater cabriolet type 41c, 8 cyl. 75,58 hp for a weight of 1’850 kg and a 6-seater cabriolet type 90 8 cyl. 75,58 hp for a weight of 1’850 kg and a 6-seater cabriolet type 90 8 cyl. of 87,31 hp for 2’200 kg, the only one to be flanked by the Swiss flag on a mast at the front left of the vehicle. The 6-seater cabriolet was a parade car or used while receiving distinguished guests. Throughout his service as a General he had only one appointed driver, Warrant Officer Eugene Burnens who was sometimes replaced by dteputy Chevalley.
His press officer, Captain Jules Sandoz, had an Oldsmobile. The rest of the staff officers were driven by Studbaker.
Aside from his automobiles, the General had a “command car” which was a SAURER truck and two command trains. One on the Gotthard “GG” line and the other on the Lötschberg “GL” line pulled by electric locomotive type “inspection”. For the record, it should be noted that these convoys were followed by a steam locomotive that could take over in the event of a breakdown on the electrical network.
At the end of this visit, to which we invite our readers, we would like to thank Mr. Maurice Decoppet for his warm welcome and Mr. Thierry Christinat for his invaluable contributions and his availability.