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Clénet is an automobile series with old retro styling, mixed with modern technology. Each limited-production model was conceived, designed, and produced by a small team of men and women in Santa Barbara County, California, in the 1970s and 1980s. The automobile's distinctive styling was based on the high-end automobiles of the 1930s. Despite their retro looks, Clénets used modern drive trains and suspension systems.
Clénet Coachworks, Inc., was formed by Alain Clénet and investors in 1975. Originally started in a garage, the company was moved into an airplane hangar where an assembly line style of production was begun, later to be reborn in a "high tech" facility in Goleta, California (just north of Santa Barbara) where production of Series II continued until the company ran into financial difficulties in 1980, ceased production, and Alain Clénet filed for bankruptcy. The remaining bodies, tooling and equipment went up for auction.
Clénet's first car was, logically enough, called the Series I. It was a roadster, and a 1930's style. This was then replaced by the heavier-looking Series II in 1979.
A total of 250 factory authorized, Clénet Series I, 187 Series II, 65 Series III, and 15 Series IV cars were produced by Clenet Coachworks, Inc. Clénets sold for around US$100,000 in the 1970s. Recently Clénets in excellent or new condition with no mileage have sold for US$100,000 to $150,000. The Black Book CPI Collectible Value Guide currently shows the current value of Series I cars at roughly $30,000 in excellent condition, with the values of later cars at roughly $37,500.
Sir Alfred J. DiMora purchased of the assets of Clénet Coachworks, Inc., and revived Clénet and moved the company to a new production factory in Carpinteria, California. He re-established the production of the automobile to the same standards of the original, employing many of the original craftsmen from the first Clénet company. Production resumed on the two series of Clénets started at the Goleta facility. Later the Series IV and Series V was added to the line of Clénets. Clénet Coachworks automobiles offered such features as Italian walnut burl dashboards and etched glass accented by Waterford crystal ashtrays which brought many Clénet models in at over $100,000. Buyers included Farrah Fawcett, Rod Stewart, Ken Norton, Sylvester Stallone and King Hussein of Jordan. Clénets were called "Drive Art" by Automotive Age and the "American Rolls-Royce" by Fortune.
DiMora's new Clénet was selected as the Official Centennial Car in 1986, the year that President Ronald Reagan declared the Centennial Year of the Gasoline-Powered Automobile. As a result, DiMora was honored at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Michigan. DiMora was also honored with a "Golden Palm Star", part of the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, in 2009.
In popular culture
Clénet appeared in media during the 1980's as a symbol of wealth and sophistication. Spoilt young heiress Fallon Carrington drove a Clénet during the first two seasons of soap opera Dynasty in 1981-1982. Pamela Barnes Ewing's love interest and brief fiancé, suave man-of-the-world playboy Mark Graison, drove a Clénet Series I throughout the seventh and ninth seasons of Dallas in 1983-1986.