SARA - Société Automobile de Rhône Alpes

Update : I’ll soon smooth the worse edges, both in the designs and in the lore, in the near future.
I also will have to redesign a bit the engines, so that they fit better the french/UE octane ratings (leaded regular was at 89 RON, and “super” was 97, for instance)
Also, obviously, these cars are suboptimal - mostly by design, though, so feel free to ask me if you notice some quirky parameters - they might make sense lore-wise - then again, they also might be my own fault

  1. FInally the war is over, and France industry tries to get back on shape.
    War has taken a huge toll, though, and the division between “free” and “occupied” territories leaves the country scarred and divided.

Nowhere does it show more than here, in the Société Automobile de Rhône Alpes. The prestigious company from the thirties did save its factories, but at the price of what is now the gravest of sins, it survived by collaborating.

Louis Martin, its founder, and marketing genius tried to justify, in his trial, that it meant saving jobs for the workers, and keeping a superlative industrial tool in working condition.
But even his golden tongue didn’t save him, nor its company, this time. The SARA was confiscated from its owner, to become a company owned by the French people, and that should be devoted to offering them means of transportation.

Being now a company run by engineers and the workers unions, who tended to consider themselves as “The Nation’s company”, the SARA felt betrayed when they heard that, just on the other side of the Jura mountains, the FAAL also survived the war, without the stigma of collaboration, and was actually having quite the same project for a popular car.

With the tooling and design already started, neither the management nor the unions wanted to change their strategy…
They would compete with the capitalistic FAAL, and they were sure that, anyway, the SARA Armistice model that was ready to come out of the assembly lines would truly be the People’s car…


Marshall Pétain sent you a friend request from jail


PMI has a lost Russian branch (OOO Polezny) that might be looking for engine produced by strong workers who share certain ideals, but have access to better materials, somewhere between 1955 and 1991. The chairman heard some mumblings about a French company who might be willing to deal with the Motherland and be willing to export some previous generation engines at some point.

Proletariat of the World, Unite!

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SARA has already planned to develop 80 octane variants accross the board, mainly for their “Coloniale” versions.
Collaborations with Soviet Companies would be consistent with France diplomatic stance on “non-alignment”

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The SARA Armistice 600

Hopefully the final edit - I never checked on the insane cost of agressive pad types

After quite a few skirmishes with the unions over the overtime costs, SARA managed to have a model to present for the '45 Paris Salon…

With an air-cooled, long-stroked, and economy-tuned inline 3 (the intended flat-2 being abandoned due to lack of adequate tooling), and a severely limited equipment, the “Armistice 600”, a 3CV, wasn’t the kind of car you dreamed of, but that was the car you actually could buy…

At just a bit under 350 $ (4655$ adjusted) in building costs - about 400 $ MSRP, it offered practicality, decent drivability, a great reliability, it had the potential to be the workhorse of the rebuilding effort

And it came in any color you wanted, as long as you chose gray !

Some stats

Picture Summary

Engine details

Based on the SARA Armistice I3 engine line - 64.9 bore and 86.6 stroke for 861 cc max capacity, all cast pushrod

Capacity : long-stroked, 58.5x73.6, 592.6 cc
6.8 compression, single barrel eco carburetor tuned for french 89 RON regular, cast log header
18.5 hp@4300, 38.0 Nm@2200, 14.0% efficiency
81.3 kg, 289.7$ ('18) cost

Car details

4655$ build cost (0 markup)

4 Door - five seats, 2.06 Wheelbase, 3.31 total
Front Longitudinal RWD
Steel ladder chassis and panels
front/rear axle coils, 2 gear manual

Weight : 619 kg
Mileage : 9,4 l / 100 kms or about 25 MPG (US)

Max Speed: 84.8 km/h
1/4 mile : 32.56 s
kilometer : 62 s
G : 0.72-0.68
100-0 : 81.5 m

Airfield time : 2.44.18
493 towing / 424.9 load capacity


Not zero comfort!

The SARA Coloniale 600

The Coloniale variant, designed with french Archanian colonies in mind, quickly followed, with a detuned engine able to run on 80 octane fuel (*) and an even poorer equipment level. The manual windshield wipers were removed, as was the rearview mirror, and the door locks.

(*)well, able to run on basically anything, actually. It was a common sales trick to offer a glass of moonshine, then pour the rest in the tank.
While it never failed to impress the customer, it was nonetheless perceived as a inappropriate waste of perfectly drinkable moonshine

Extremely rustic, the car offered decent offroad capabilities and managed to be produced for close to 320$ (4366 adjusted) or 350$ MSRP, and even had decent load and tow capabilities, which helped swallow the awful perfomances and total absence of any comfort or safety.

It obviously is only available in Gris Neutre, called “Undercoat grey” for the rare english-speaking buyer.

Some stats

Picture Summary

Engine Details

Based on the SARA Armistice I3 engine line - 64.9 bore and 86.6 stroke for 861 cc max capacity, all cast pushrod

Capacity : long-stroked, 58.5x73.6, 592.6 cc
6.0 compression, single-barrel carb tuned for low quality, 80 RON gasoline, cast log header
17.4 hp@4600 (redline), 31.7 Nm@2400, 8.8% efficiency
82.7 kg, 317.5$

Car Details

4366$ build cost (0 markup)

2 door - two seats, 2.06 wheelbase, 3.23 total
Front Longitudinal RWD
Steel ladder chassis and panels
front/rear axle coils, 2 gear manual

Weight : 556 kgs
Mileage : 15.3 l / 100 kms or about 15 MPG (US)

Max Speed : 75 km/h
1/4 mile : 34.35 s
Kilometer : 66.15 s
G : 0.61/0.58
Braking 0-100 : 89.4 m

Airfield time : 2.56.61
507 kg towing / 476 kg load capacity


The SARA 800S Turini

Helped by the reconstruction needs, and the willingness of the government to limit importations as a mean to avoid devaluation, the “Armistice” did actually quite well…

Certainly, the design choices were close to the archi-rival (well, at least in the engineers minds) from the FAAL and Merciel, but then, how many options to build a car is there with such a limited supply of steel and money ?

The french needed cars, and there was enough place for severak quirky little cars with 4 seats and zero (or very close to zero) comfort.

SARA got even lucky in 47 - a mechanic/tuner/driver from Modane (*) did enter the '47 Monte-Carlo with an Armistice, bored, stroked and tuned as agressively as he could, which lead to a 800 cc that more than doubled the power output (imagine, over 45 hp !!!)… and benefitted from the heavy snow and the owner’s experience in moutain climate to reach the podium in their category.
And the most beautiful ?

The mechanic’s name ?
Amedeo Turini.
That’s right, just like the mythic pass in southern Alps, where the “Spéciale de nuit” from the Monte Carlo is traditionally held - and where the Armistice came close to the scratch time thanks to a ride height that helped it ride through the snow drifts.

(*) Yeah, that’s Modane, not Modena. But the pun is somewhat intended

Management quickly signed Turini to a contract as the exclusive tuner for the firm, and started to produce a roadster version based on its 800 “Turini” variant - not bothering to detune the engine for a less rugged road use.

The Armistice 800 “Turini” was felt internally as a major step upscale, setting up a few “firsts” for the SARA :

  • First SARA car without the mandatory “undercoat grey” (featuring instead a mandatory “Bleu de France” color)
  • First SARA car with (some) chrome (or very nearly chrome, or, well, at least someone has taken some time to polish the naked steel) trimmings
  • First SARA car to reach over 1.0 on the standardized Comfort evaluation
  • First SARA car to break the 0.0 barrier on the standardized Sportiness evaluation

As an omen to the things to come, though, the Turini really had no market - way too rustic to appeal to people looking for some comfort or prestige, and with an outdated suspension that prevented it from having any real sports appeal.

Amedeo Turini was the saving grace of the model, investing much time in energy in convicing fellow gentlemen drivers into racing it, finally investing much of the money from the SARA deal to promote a monotype formula champion, and dedicating lots of time and energy to help wanna-be rallymen in fine-tuning the car so that they could be somewhat competitive.

It is the investment, caring and enthusiasm of Turini that explains the somewhat cult following of the first Turini, that persists today, with auction reaching into the 40 000 for a genuine '47 model (the price for the shop-modified Turinis, before the deal with SARA, being stratospheric)

But by missing the market with “bold” engineering moves on one side (this car runs on 97 RON super only, for instance) mismatched to archaic decisions on the other (the axle coils, for instance), the Turini - and its relative success thanks to Turini himself - did a lot to root in the firm a (bad) engineering culture that would bring the company on the verge of disaster in a few years…

But then again, would we have Porsche, Alfa Romeo and the muscle cars without those weird mismatches ?

Picture Summary

Engine Details

Based on the SARA Armistice I3 engine line - 64.9 bore and 86.6 stroke for 861 cc max capacity, all cast pushrod

Capacity : long-stroked, 62.6x86.6, 800.0 cc (0.1 cc more and it wouldn’t have had any sporting career)
8.7 compression, single-barrel carb tuned for 97 RON french super,short cast header
45.3 hp@5200, 6.8 Nm@4800, 9.2% efficiency
85.5 kg, 327.7$

Car Details

6155$ build cost (0 markup)

2 door - two seats, 2.06 wheelbase, 3.29 total
Front Longitudinal RWD
Steel ladder chassis and panels
front/rear axle coils, 3 gear manual

Weight : 717
Mileage : 18 l / 100 kms (13 MPG US)

Max Speed : 117 km/h
0-100 km/h : 29.9
1/4 mile : 25.5
Kilometer : 46.06
G : 0.84-0.80
Braking 0-100 : 69.7

Airfield time : 2:07.20
300 kg load capacity


Alas, the tides would soon change for the SARA…

Succees breeds confidence, and confidence, in a company run by engineers, tends to lead to arrogance.
Now, imagine what this can do in a company run by french engineers…
Now, imagine what this can do in a company run by french engineers, and that cannot go bankrupt since it’s publicly owned.

Yeah, that is scary.

Coming soon, the Saga of the SARA Marshall and the “Presque Diesel” engine lines, a story on how to burn cash allowed by the Marshall plan with absolutely no return.

With political dramas, internal squabbles, absurd marketing decisions, and a definite absence of anything over 4 cylinders (or 60 hp, I’m afraid)


I can feel it too…
The frustration of not being able to do a proper French car company because of the absence of diesel engines in the game…


Sometimes, a company destiny relies on small things… And the SARA Armistice (well, the whole SARA lineup) would have suffered from brakes overengineering - due to the chief brake engineer suffering from some PTSD after a brake failure in his younger years - where it not for an ebriated exchange with a Merciel technician on the closing party of the '45 Paris Salon.
The engineering prowess of the brakes, costing more than 10% of the total car price, were quickly discarded, and the chief brake engineer relocated to Quality Control, where he will certainly have a lot of work to do.

The SARA Armistice 600 has been ajusted accordingly (with a big thanks to @Dorifto_Dorito for attracting my attention to the fact that my car was actually not really cheap for its technology)


The best laid schemes of mice and men...

So, on the surface, everything went smoothly at the SARA. The Armistice sold well, and the SARA benefitted from a huge influx of money from the US-backed “Marshall plan”, setting in motion a huge investment plan on the verge of the second half of the century.

The strategic plan, modestly called “Rebirth”, had been directly validated by the minister of transports, and it was ambitious. In less than three years, the SARA was to develop three new car platforms and two completely new I4 engines - one gasoline, one diesel.

Thus, the Armistice would be joined by the fourgonnette to corner the market on small vehicles, while the Marshall sedan (using the new Marshall I4) and the Percheron trucks (using the new Diesel Marshalls) would expand the brand into the large vehicles segment.

The trouble is, nothing ever goes according to plan. And the SARA wonky management amplified that tremendously.

You see, France has a tradition of “higher school” for everything - Commerce, Administration, Engineering… France has a “higher school” for that. Admission on a (very) selective examination, free tuition, guaranteed job in the administration afterwards. Including the SARA. With political ties, alumni loyalty and competition (or sometimes plain hate) between rival schools, the SARA was basically divided in a dozen of divisions, each of them refusing to talk or listen to the other one.

And then there was the political meddling.

While everything went, more or less, according to plans, the minister of transportation came to the board in '48, just a few months shy of the final tooling, and issued two orders :

  • Due to the strong interest in developping the ECSC (the ancestor of the European Union), the family cars and engines were to be designed as en European car, able to please every market.

Thus, due to varying taxation systems, the engine had to be of a low capacity, no more than 1600 cc (or it wouldn’t sell in France nor in Italy), and it had to be as oversquare as possible (to sell it in the UK), while the car’s wheelbase had to large (again, small cars didn’t sell that well in the northern countries)

  • Due to a complex political decision involving protecting diesel specialist companies (in which he happened to have large shares), there was no diesel engined to be developped by the SARA. Ever.

The Marshall I4 engines and Marshall I4 Diesel engines were hastily redesigned, restroked to the max, and the Diesel modified so that it would run on gasoline, while keeping the low-rev torque and economy of a Diesel. Meanwhile, they stretched the Marshall body somewhat and tried to throw in some cue intended for each market - some wood trim for UK, a tachometer for Italy, an armrest for Germany…

Needless to say, after two years of costly development, this was even worse than restarting from scratch…


When a company goes bananas

The 1949 SARA Marshall 7CV "CECA Familiale" Wagon

Also available in 5CV eco, 9CV Turini, and 7CV Coloniale and Utilitaire engine variants
Body variants : sedan, wagon, coupe (only with Turini engine) and pickup (with Coloniale and Utilitaire engines)

Nobody at the SARA expected the Marshall to be a good car, not after the botched development cycle it had. It was, bascially, a bigger Armistice, relying on the same agricultural chassis and engine.
But things that are ok on a 600 kg do not work that well on a much heavier car. It had a bad fuel economy, awful breaking distance, dismal road manners, almost no comfort, while costing a lot more than the Armistice.
Sure, you had more space, but between the vastly overdriven gearing and the softer suspension (to create some illusion of comfort), the car was actually even less of an utility vehicle.

The v-Shaped front grille, along with the round front lights, was its saving grace. Every time the chief design engineer, Eugene Fragonard, looked at the mess that the car was, he couldn’t help smiling a bit - at least, she looks happy, he would told to its depressed coworkers.

He explained that to a coworker from marketing at the cafeteria, and soon a memo was sent to all design teams, to make a systematic use of v-shaped grilles.

The car was started in early 49 with a large promotionnal campaign advertising "La voiture qui donne la banane" (litterally, the car that gives you the banana, a french idiom for “the car that makes you smile”).

Obviously, this backfired heavily, car reviews joking that the tyres rubber might have been made from banana skin, while lots of people expressed the feeling that “SARA nous prend pour des bananes” (litterally, they think we are bananas, which would translate to “they try to fool us”).
At 600$ (adjusted 6155) production cost, and 700$ MSRP, people were quite right about it

Yet, the v-shaped grille and smiling front fascia was indeed the saving grace of the car… It didn’t sell in the volumes expected, far from that, but it managed to gain some public sympathy.
We have a tendancy, in France, to root for the loser, and a car so obviously misdesigned, that managed to keep smiling, was fitting in french culture.

Still only available in undercoat gray, but look at those chrome trims !

Picture Summary

Engine Details

Based on the SARA Marshall I4 engine line - 72.5 bore and 96.7 stroke for 1596 cc max capacity, all cast pushrod

Capacity : long-stroked, 67.9x96.7, 1399 cc
6.8 compression, single-barrel carb tuned for 89 RON french regular gasoline, cast log header
43.5 hp@4200 (redline), 90.6 Nm@2400, 12.9% efficiency
124.3 kg, 434$

Car Details

6155$ build cost (0 markup)

5 door - 5 seats, 2.56m wheelbase, 4.11m total
Front Longitudinal RWD
Steel ladder chassis and panels
front/rear axle coils, 3 gear manual

Weight : 943 kg
Fuel Economy : 14.3 l/100 (16.5 MPG US)

Max Speed : 114 km/h
0-100 km/h : 29.1
1/4 mile : 24.6
Kilometer : 45.6
G : 0.69-0.68
Braking 0-100 : 90.1 m

Airfield time : 2:13.53
400 kg load capacity


So that means the type of people who buys this car is the one who is happy and full of laughter?

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I wouldn’t go that far… But given the french propensity towards irony and rooting for losers, the few buyers who got tricked into buying a Marshall compensated with some pride in having a crappy car - with a smile

It has reached a sort of cult status in collection, both for his quirk factor and because very few survived rust (yes, it was also using poor quality steel)

Its smiley face might have put some potential buyers off, and its grill is actually too modern for a 50s car, but there is no doubt its front end makes it look as if it has a positive outlook on life.

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I was the kind of kid you could recite spec sheets from memory, but never got past “I like how it looks” as far as design goes - not to mention I built my kid car culture around 70’s french cars, so I have an absolute blind spot on cosmetic fixtures.
Until I started committing myself to the forum, I think I never put any fixture on my cars (except for mandatory grilles in Kee, and lips/spoilers at any place I can find on sportscars), and it still shows

Lore-wise, we’ll argue that the anachronic grill is typical SARA quirkiness - and hope that SARA will become, as time passes, a company known to have gone from poor designs to sleek designs as the years pass

Easiest way to learn design is to look at cars of the era, and take influences from their designs to shape how you want your car to look.

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The 1949 SARA Fourgonnette légère

The SARA's savior

Also available in a (somewhat) long version, and with the 5CV “Marshall” I4 engine.

Typo on the weight edited - thanks to @Private_Miros

The legend at SARA is that the idea for the Fourgonnette (small van) came on one early machon (*) between chief platform engineer Antoine Watteau and the accountant principal during the hardest days of the Marshall development.

The accountant came to discuss how they could limit the development costs to a maximum of three times the initial budget, but the magic of shared bottle of Chardonnay brought the exchange in another direction.

“- So, these Armistice, they still sell well, don’t they ?”
“- Yeah, people seem to need to haul things, no matter what the comfort or safety is, and the Armistice is surprisingly good at that. Considering.”
“- Is there any Chardonnay left ? Great, thanks… Try those tripes, they’re delicious”
“- From me to you, the Marshall is a crap car, but, you know what, I’m sure we could build a fourgonnette with some leftover Armistice engines. We could just slap four steel panels, see, just like a box, see, put some lights in the corners, et voilà, a new fourgonette”
“- See, that sounds swell. Did you see my checkbook ? Start this now. Oh, and bring me another bottle for the road”

  • (a mâchon is a typical early breakfast from Lyon, a town proud to be the capital of gastonomy and home to the SARA headquarters. Traditionnally, you do a mâchon before starting your workday, and it consists of delicatessen, giblets, and wine)

So this is how the Fourgonnette project was put into motion. In a post-war France, (very) light commercial vehicles were very successful, and the Fourgonnette from SARA echos from the Citroen H and the Renault Estafette (although the SARA isn’t yet ready for FWD and unitary bodies) - not to mention the VW Typ 2 (and how much I would have loved to make the fourgonnette a RR vehicle…) (*)

  • Sadly, there is no decent way to make a successful Piaggo Ape in Automation…

While very light, the Fourgonnette did offer a decent load capability - provided you didn’t make taking a very long time to accelerate and to brake - and was very economic, with just 10 l/100 kms, low upkeep costs, and a low price - 470$ before markup (4890$ adjusted for inflation), and was a huge success.
With an engineering time under ten months, it helped the SARA at the turnaround of the fifties - it used almost no specific tooling.

It kept the Fragonard “smiley grille”, in a larger (and even more anachronic, I’m afraid) format, and became an icon of the “Thirty glorious years” of France booming economy. Even today, it is not an unusual sight, typically for itinerant markets where butchers or bakers will keep it for marketing reasons - the fourgonnette says 50’s France like nothing else, quite like a pink Cadillac Eldorado screams 50’s USA (except there is more steel on a Caddy’s fintail than on a whole fourgonnette)

Can you guess the color ?

Picture Summary

Engine Details

Based on the SARA Armistice I3 engine line - 64.9 bore and 86.6 stroke for 861 cc max capacity, all cast pushrod

Capacity : long-stroked, 58.5x73.6, 592.6 cc
6.8 compression, single-barrel carb tuned for 89 RON french regular gasoline, cast log header
18.5 hp@4300, 38 Nm@2200, 14.0% efficiency
81.3 kg, 290$

Car Details

4890$ build cost (0 markup)

4 door - 3 seats, 1.96m wheelbase, 3.76m total
Front Longitudinal RWD
Steel ladder chassis and panels
front/rear axle leafs, 2 gear manual

Weight : 778 kg
Fuel Economy : 10.0 l/100 (23.5 MPG US)

Max Speed : 81 km/h
0-100 km/h : you’re kidding, right ?
1/4 mile : 35.1
Kilometer : 66.8
G : 0.64-0.62
Braking 0-100 : 80.2 m

Airfield time : 2:55.12
400 kg tow - 900 kg load capacity


After a crash diet? I like it for the rest. It works with the simplicity here.

PMI Polezny is still looking to cooperate with engines from around 1960. In return PMI LLC - or rather one of their French subsidiaries - would not mind giving consultation on or simply providing design elements to SARA.