Louis Delage was an engineer who started the company that bore his name in 1905. The cars the firm built soon earned themselves a solid reputation, based on racing cars and elegant luxury models of unquestionable technical excellence.
Unfortunately, such quality was not cheap to achieve, and Delage met severe financial difficulties in the thirties. In 1935, the company was taken over by Delahaye
, who injected vital new blood and allowed Delage to continue production of its own products using Delahaye components wherever possible.
After a few of the problems that are normal in any industrial takeover, the Delage range was established once more. As the warclouds gathered over Europe the pride of that range was the DS-120, one of the most attractive of the French cars of the period.
When you think of Delage, you think of one of the company's straight-eight cars gliding silently by, yet Delage did not start production of this type until 1925, almost a quarter of a century after the formation of the firm. Until then, Delage's Courbevoie factory near Paris produced only 1, 2, 4 and 6-cylinder cars.
The first DS was one of the centres of attraction at the Paris Motor Show in October 1929. It was a 4-litre car with engine dimensions of 77 x 109 mm, capable of 5O to 55 mph in a remarkable silence. Produced as the normal DS version with 105 hp or the sporting DS S producing 120 hp, this first 8-cylinder Delage stayed in production from the autumn of 1929 until spring 1933.
A short-lived "small" eight, the DS-15 of 2.7-litre capacity (7S x 75.5 mm) appeared in the Delage range for 1933 and 1934, and a new "big" eight was introduced at the end of 1934, the 3.6- litre (79.3 x 90.5 mm) type being referred to as the D8-85 in an 85 hp standard version and the DS-I05 in a 105 hp sports version.
The engine was designed by Michelat and the car featured independent front suspension. At the beginning of spring 1935 the company's financial situation deteriorated badly and Louis Delage was forced to sell out to Walter Watney, an Englishman who was the boss of Delage's largest dealership in Paris.
Watney came to an arrangement with the management of the Delahaye company whereby the Delage cars were built in the Delage factory from components produced by Delahaye. A completely changed Delage range therefore made its appearance at the 1935 Paris Salon, comprising four models, three of which were based on Delahaye mechanical components.
Top of the range was a new eight, the DS-100. Its 4.3-litre engine, producing 100 hp, was a development of the 3.2-litre lSCV 6-cylinder of the Delahaye 135, and the two engines shared the same dimensions of an SO mm bore and 107 mm stroke.
At the 1936 Paris Show, a sports version, the DS-120, first saw the light of day. It retained the 4.3-litre engine of the DS-100, but the power output was increased, and the wheelbase of the car was shorter, at 131.9 inches compared to the 142.9 inches of the DS-I00.
A year after its introduction, the D8-120 received a larger engine, with a French horsepower rating of 27 CV instead of 25 CV, and a capacity of 4.75-litres. The enormous 8-cylinder was based on the 20 CV 3.5-litre six of the Delahaye 135M and 14S and shared that engine's dimensions of 84 x 107 mm. The D8-120 was to continue in this form until the outbreak of the second world war.
The Last Eight-Cylinder Delage
The DS-120 with its 4.75-litre engine was the last of a line, the most sophisticated of all the eight-cylinder models built by Delage. It was also one of the most beautiful, benefiting from the talents of a number of top-class coachbuilders, each trying to outdo the others in providing elegant bodies for the Delage chassis. The coach panoramique by Guillorc illustrated here is surely one of the best examples of that elegance.
The engine of the DS-120 had little in common with the Michelat types of earlier Delages. It was a straight-eight with a cast-iron cylinder-block (cast with the sump face uppermost), a removable cast-iron cylinder head
, and an aluminnium sump. The rocker cover was also of aluminium. The light-alloy piston
carrried three compression rings and a scraper ring. The drop-forged connecting rods were of double- T section with white-metalled bearings. The gudgeon pin was free to rotate in the solid small end and the piston
The crankshaft was of drop-forged steel and was supported in five main bearings with facings of low-friction metal. The crank pins were drilled to ensure the passage of oil to the bearings. The camshaft was situated on the left of the engine and driven by a chain housed in a separate cover at the front of the engine. Running in five bearings, the camshaft operated the valves through adjustable tappets
and pushrods that acted on rockers situated in the cylinder head
. The inlet and exhaust
valves were of differing types of special alloy steel, and were therefore not interchangeable. The guides for the pushrods and rockers were special castings, pressed into place.
The inlet and exhaust
manifolds were on the right-hand side of the engine, with the exhaust
taking the form of massive chromed pipes, which passed through the bonnet side and added enormously to the looks of the car. Fuel feed was by way of an SEV mechanical pump and inverted Stromberg EE3 twin-choke carburettor. Both the fuel pump and the distributor were mounted on the left of the engine and driven direclty from the camshaft. Firing order followed the sequence 17-4-8-6-2-5.
Cooling was by means of a water pump, fan and radiator, the fan being mounted on the same axis as the water pump and driven by a vee-belt which took its drive from the crank pulley and also turned the dynamo. Lubrication was under pressure provided by a camshaft-driven gear-type oil pump
mounted in the sump. Chassis lubrication was by means of an oil circuit and a pump operated by the driver's foot. The D8-120's transmission was of tradiitionallayout, with the gearbox mounted in a unit with the engine at the front of the car and driving a rigid rear axle through a propellor shaft.
The axle was a banjo type with a Gleason-type spirallbevel drive, and the driveshafts of the semi-floating axle had the wheel hubs mounted on their ends. Standard fitment for the D8-120 was the four-speed Cotal-licence MAAG epiicyclic gearbox with electromagnetic control linked to the engine by a singleeplate dry clutch. Suspension was by leaf springs, with a single spring mounted transversally at the front and two springs, conventionally positioned, at the rear giving indepenndent front suspension and a rigid rear axle. Houdaille dampers were fitted as standard. Stopping the vehicle, which weighed almost 2 tons and had a maxiimum speed of 100 mph, was entrusted to a Sensaud hydraulic system by Lavaud with independent front and rear cirrcuits.
Each wheel was fitted with an enormous drum with three separate shoes working on it. Steering - with the wheel on the right on all models - was by worm and nut, and the pierced steel wheels carried 7.00 x 17 tyres. Two 6 volt 90 ampere-hour batteries were fitted in series and could be isolated from the car's electrical system by loosening a single nut. The D8-120's equipment was as commplete as it was refined. The dashboard was particularly noteworthy. Made of fine wood, it carried a black ebonite plate in its centre in which were mounted two large and four smaller circular dials. The large ones were the speedometer
and rev-counter, and the small instruments were an ammeter, clock, oil temperature and pressure gauge
, and a fuel gauge.
The selector for the Cotal gearbox was mounted on the left-hand side of the steering
column, conveniently placed beneath the steering
wheel, and the characteristics of the box meant that the clutch pedal was only used for starting. On the right of the steering
column were two levers to control the lights and the horn. Trafficators were mounted in the sides of the body to indicate changes of direction. The car shown in these pages is now the property of a Swiss collector and was built at the end of 1938 in the Guillore workshops at Coubevoie in the Paris suburbs, close to the spot where Louis Delage established his first factory in 1905.
In this model Guillore was greatly influenced by the "Mouette" (Seagull) saloon, which Henri Chapron built around the same time - unless the contrary is the case. The resemblance is clear when one examines photo D on page 73; the same general line, the same shape to the front and rear wings, the same panoramic windows. On the other hand, the waistline and the cut-away of the doors are different. Numerous French coachbuilders exerrcised their art on the D8-120, because Delage only sold it in bare chassis form, which necessitated the collaboration of outside body-builders to complete the car. Besides the two already mentioned, Chapron and Guillore, De Vilars, Fraanay, Letourneur et Marchand, Pourtout, Figoni et Falaschi, Van Vooren, and Saoutchik also created splendid bodies for the D8-120.
Foreign coachbuilders also mounted their creations on the D8-120, notably the Belgian Albert d'Ieteren, whose company went on to build and sell V olkswagens in Belgium. An example of a d'Ieteren-bodied Delage is in the extensive Yvan Mahy collection in Ghent, Belgium. In 1939 the Delage D8-120 was almost the most expensive French car, with a price of 105,800 francs in chassis form, giving a price of approximately 160,000 francs with body.
Only the 12-cylinder Delahaye 165 was more expensive, at 138,000 francs in chassis form, but the model was never in regular production. Other French luxury cars were in general less expensive: the supercharged Bugatti type 57C sold for from 136,000 to 145,000 francs in complete form, the Talbot Lago Special ran from 136,000 to 145,000 francs, the Talbot Lago SS was 105,000 francs in chassis form, and the supercharged Voisin C30 S cost from 100,000 to 110,000 francs complete with body.
No other French car cost more than 100,000 francs. From a performance point of view, the D8-120 was among the best with a top speed of 100 mph. Apart from the Delahaye 165 and the Talbot Lago SSScompetition models of much lighter construction which achieved 124 and 115 mph respectively - the Delage's only competitors were the Bugatti 57C and the Talbot Lago Special, which were both capable of somewhere between 102 and 105 mph. After the war Delage abandoned the production of their 8-cylinder models, and from 1946 until they ceased operaations in 1954 the company only produced cars with 6-cylinder 3-litre engines much less pestigious than the excellent D8-120.
Also see: Lost Marques - Delage (USA Edition)