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Lost Marques: Delahaye

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Delahaye

Delahaye 122 A Berline
Beautiful, and conventional, the 1933 122 Berline was the precursor to the wonderful 135...

Delahaye 135
The 1935 Delahaye 135 born from the genius of young French designer Jean Francois...

Delahaye 135
This is the same car, from the same year as that above it (1935 135 model). As can be seen, modifications to cars built as "race specials" was not confined to mere mechanicals...

Delahaye Figoni 235
The final iteration for the marque, the 1951 235 used a sweet 3.5 litre six encased in beautiful bodywork. It would only remain in production for 3 short years...

Today Delahaye is not only a lost marque, it could also be described as a forgotten one. Ask someone to name the lost French marques of last century and they will invariably mention better known competitors of Delahaye, such as Lorraine, Delage and of course the wonderful Bugatti.

Emile Delahaye started business back in 1895, building his first vehicle, although for some time the company concentrated on the manufacture of marine engines.

In 1903 the company manufactured a mammoth 7 litre four cylinder engine featuring twin overhead valve gear, unfortunately not for use in cars. Delahaye could have so easily been the first to introduce this technology to the automobile, but that honour goes to Peugeot for their 1912 GP.

The companies fortunes were to take a significant turn for the better when a young designer Jean Francois joined the Delahaye team. Soon the company were to release the 135 range, for the first time entering into direct competition with the aforementioned and better known French marques of the day.

The 135 used a robust six-cylinder 3557cc engine with push-rod overhead valve gear, which in sporting tune produced 120bhp.

As was typical for cars manufactured in the early part of last century, the 135 was also produced in racing tune, in the 135’s case the engine receiving a special cylinder head and triple twin-choke carburettors, these modifications bumping power up to a very respectable 155bhp.

While very efficient, the engine was rather conventional, and a de-tuned version even found its way into on of Delahaye’s delivery trucks!

The first of the 135’s used Wilson-type pre-selector transmissions, however these were soon replaced by a French “Cotal” transmission, which employed epicyclic internals and an electrical gearchange control, by means of electromagnetic clutches.

The Cotal transmission was typically French, and by that we mean typically very innovative, and complex! A variety of body styles were available, ranging from open sports to elegant Grand Tourers.

The 135 was also successful in competitions, and in 1936 a fleet of them took second, third, fourth and fifth places in the French (sports-car) GP. And to show how versatile the 135 was, an example that had taken part in the GP then went on to win the 1937 Monte Carlo rally.

The “sister” car to the 135 was the Type 145, which used the same basic chassis design, but with an overhead valve 4.5 litre V12 engine. This was reputed to be capable of 250bhp, a monstrous figure for its day.

The 145 was really intended as a two-seater racing sports-car, for long-distance events like Le Mans, or - with all road equipment removed - for use in GP racing against the Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union cars. On one famous occasion, at the Pau street circuit in 1937, a Delahaye defeated the mighty Mercedes-Benz!

The 165 was a road-going version of the V12 engined 145, with a greatly detuned engine. It appeared at the 1938 Paris Salon (motor show), but it is doubtful if more than a handful were produced before war broke out in September 1939.

After World War II, the 135 was reintroduced, and in 1948 it was joined by the 4.5 litre Type 175, which had hydraulic brakes and a claimed (though unsubstantiated) 185bhp.

The 235 of 1951 was the final development of this range, using the now familiar 3.5 litre six-cylinder engine, under modern, all-enveloping, coachwork, now with 152bhp and a 100 mph top speed.

It was, however, the final fling for this marque, for Hotchkiss took over Delahaye in 1954, and Delahaye cars were almost immediately put out of production. The war had not been kind to the marque, but many blamed the crippling post war taxation for the demise of this and other “Grandes Routieres”.

While the West did everything to re-establish West German manufacture, it would seem they turned their collective backs on those from their own backyards, we won’t call it a war crime, but at the very least it was a great tradgedy.

Also see: Lost Marques - Delahaye (USA Edition)

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