It was a good thing Jacques Vaucher's godfather was a toymaker, because as a child Vaucher went through more than his share of model cars. "I was always outside in a sand pile, wrecking them," he recalls. Thus launched, Vaucher became a Formula Three race driver and then, after leaving his native France for New York City, a car salesman. There he began collecting toy Ferraris, this time for keeps, and soon he had more than 100. "It got to the point where I was going to have to put them in boxes in the closet," says the boyish 36-year-old.
Instead he opened a gallery on East 66th Street called l'art et l'automobile. You don't have to speak a lot of French to understand the basic premise. Paintings, posters, sculptures and even tapestries of cars adorn the two-room gallery. There are hundreds of models, too, ranging from a Matchbox Mercedes to Duane (Buzz) Lockwood's foot-long Formula One Ferrari, which sells for $3,500.
The gallery is an institution of sorts in the vintage-car world. "It's funny," says Vaucher, "how people who have the real thing parked in their garage want a picture of it in their living room."
For the most part he sticks to legitimate artwork: futurist and art deco posters that advertise long-forgotten car shows and Grand Prix races; Norman Rockwell-like paintings by the celebrated illustrators Peter Helck and Gordon Crosby; an abstract bronze acquired because "it looked like a '38 Talbot."
Vaucher also handles airbrush paintings by Thierry Thompson, an American photorealist who's gotten some good press. "Automotive art is really closer to illustration than to fine art," Vaucher admits. "But people now recognize that illustration has a lot of artistic value, too." Which piece means the most to him? He lifts a model from its display case, a bright red sports coupe with a tiny prancing horse painstakingly painted on the front fender. He turns the toy from side to side, admiring its lines. "Enzo Ferrari," he sighs. "He's the real artist."
SUSAN AIMEE WEINIK
Vaucher finds selling miniatures beats racing.