Lot 465: 1947 Delahaye 135M Three-Position Drophead Coupé
Coachwork by Figoni & Falaschi
Based initially at Tours and from 1906 in Paris, Delahaye built its first automobile in 1894 and soon diversified into commercial vehicle manufacture. Its early products tended to be rather lacklustre, but then in 1935 came the first of a new generation that would change the marque’s image: the T135 Coupe Des Alpes. A fine sporting car, the T135 somewhat paradoxically borrowed its engine from one of its maker’s trucks. The 3.2-liter, six-cylinder, overhead-valve unit produced 110bhp on triple Solex carburetors, while the chassis featured transverse-leaf independent front suspension, four-speed synchromesh or Cotal gearboxes, center-lock wire wheels and Bendix brakes.
Delahaye improved on the formula the following year with the 3.6-liter, 120/130bhp T135MS, and the sports version was soon making a name for itself in competitions, taking 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places in the run-to-sportscar-regulations 1936 French Grand Prix and winning the Monte Carlo Rally and Le Mans 24-Hour Race outright in 1937 and 1938 respectively. Prince Bira won the 1938 Donington 12-Hour Sports Car Race in Prince Chula’s example and went on to take victory in Brooklands’ ‘fastest road car in England’ race against some formidable opposition. The model reappeared post-WWII as the 135M with the 3.6-liter engine and lasted in production until 1951.
Delahaye had no in-house coachworks, so all its chassis were bodied by independents, who created some of their most attractive designs on the Type 135. It was a most fortuitous partnership, which resulted in memorable automotive sculpture from the likes of Saoutchik, Chapron, Franay, Graber, Pennock and Figoni et Falaschi. The latter’s dropheads, produced between 1946 and 1950, are considered by many to be the most classically beautiful examples of this type of coachwork, with the 1947 and 1948 models most admired. Figoni’s classical style, as exemplified by this car, proved very popular with a discerning clientele who wanted to own a Figoni-styled car, yet shied away from his later, more exuberant designs. Industrialists, movie stars, politicians and royalty were typical customers, and like racing driver Prince Bira of Siam, Prince Glaoui (the most important Moroccan Royal after the King) ordered a car designed by Figoni. The result was presented at the Paris Auto Show in 1946 and this design would persist, with some evolution, until 1950.
One of the most successful in the post-war era, the design of this particular car is like that which was presented in 1947 at the Paris, Brussels, Geneva and London Auto Shows, albeit with later modifications. According to coachwork expert Benoit Bocquet, author of Quand Joseph Figoni Habillait les Delahaye 1934-1952, chassis number ‘800954’ has the correct front and rear fenders, trunk design and dashboard of a 1947 model. Furthermore, this car displays the two-level bumpers and the horizontal grille typical of the post-war Delahaye. Features added later in the period include the large light on the trunk imitating the 1939 Delahaye, a one-off sister car to the 12-cylinder owned by Mrs. Richepin. Furthermore, the color has been changed and some alterations made to the exterior brightwork. The dashboard of this car clearly shows it to be of post-war design and construction (all pre-war Figoni dashboards featured round gauges, whereas post-war dashboards featured round gauges with four square gauges).
This car’s current appearance appears to have been inspired by a Figoni design dating to 1936-1939 and found on both Delahaye and Talbot chassis. In summary, it appears that a post-war owner intended to imitate this pre-war look. With relatively simple modifications this Delahaye could be restored to its correct appearance, thus providing the new owner with the opportunity to display it at concours events where this important motorcar would be a welcome addition. (As a matter of interest, the sister car to this one is on display at the Schlumpf Collection in France). The car is offered with specification sheets and operating instructions relating to engine starting, air conditioning and soft-top removal.
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