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Lot 43: Delahaye Type 135 Competition Court Roadster

Car, H&H Sales Limited (8 June 2011)

An engineer in applied arts and crafts who developed a flair for internal combustion engines, Emile Delahaye was among the select few to exhibit at the inaugural Paris Motor Show of 1894. Less reliant on proprietary components than many contemporaries and keen to prove his creations' worth, he entered the daunting Paris-Marseille-Paris race some two years later. Outpaced by teammate Ernest Archdeacon, Emile Delahaye nevertheless finished the 1,710km marathon in tenth place overall; a result which vindicated his decision to run with such newfangled technology as electric ignition and pneumatic tyres. Bolstered by patronage from the Duchess d'Uzes (the first Frenchwoman to obtain a driving licence and coincidentally a speeding ticket), demand for Automobiles Delahaye reached a level that tested its founder's health. Solace came in 1898 when existing customer Georges Morane and his brother-in-law Leon Desmarais not only bought into the company but also financed its relocation to Paris. That same year saw the recruitment of Charles Weiffenbach (better known as `Monsieur Charles') and Amedee Varlet who were appointed Factory Director and Chief Engineer respectively. Emile Delahaye retired from the business during 1901 and although the marque ceased its road racing activities a year later, it continued to be a major force in power boat racing. Nearly a decade before Ernest Henry et al famously equipped the 1912 Peugeot Grand Prix cars with `twin-cam' engines, Amedee Varlet devised a formidable, double overhead camshaft topped 300CV (circa 70-litre) marine powerplant that was used to capture the Water Speed Record. Further proof of Varlet's ingenuity, the 1911-1914 Delahaye Type 44 was powered by a patent-protected narrow angle V6 engine allied to four-speed manual transmission. A restraining influence, `Monsieur Charles' reasoned that his employer lacked the resources to challenge either the volume or prestige end of the market. So instead he plotted a course for the middle and concentrated on establishing Delahaye as France's premier commercial vehicle manufacturer. The Parisian concern's road car offerings during the 1920s were well engineered but hardly the last word in excitement (though, Prince Sixtus de Bourbon-Parma found his Type 104 near unbreakable when making multiple crossings of the Sahara Desert in 1929). Thanks to the Great Depression, the following decade witnessed a slump in private sales and increased competition for municipal contracts. Duly concerned, the Morane family decided to target the less volume critical sports and luxury car sectors. To this end, Monsieur Charles instructed one of his engineering staff, Jean Francois, to create a new breed of Delahaye (albeit that Francois - rather like Rudi Uhlenhaut when concocting the Mercedes-Benz 300SL `Gullwing' some twenty years later - was under strict instructions to use as many existing production components as possible). Debuting at the October 1933 Paris Salon, the resultant Types 134 and 138 generated considerable interest. With its 18CV (3.2 litre) six-cylinder engine and rugged construction, the latter attracted the attention of Mrs Lucy O'Reilly Schell who commissioned Delahaye to build her a modified version for rallying. The only daughter of an American multi-millionaire, she and her husband Laury Schell were committed Francophiles. A familiar sight in both high society and competition circles, their enthusiasm (and funds) convinced the company to go motor racing again. Bodied by Joseph Figoni, a tuned Type 138 18CV Speciale set four world and eleven international class records (including averaging 109.36mph for twenty-eight hours) at Montlhery in 1934, while a year on another Type 138 crewed by Michel Paris and Marcel Mongin claimed fifth place overall (2nd-in-class) at the Le Mans 24-hours. Notably lower slung than its predecessors, the Type 135 was unveiled during the October 1935 Paris Salon. Featuring box-section side rails and two substantial cross members, its new chassis was further reinforced via a steel transmission tunnel and welded-in floor panels. The independent front suspension comprised a lower transverse leaf spring and upper wishbones allied to longitudinal torque arms, while the live rear axle was supported by semi-elliptic leaf springs mounted outside the main chassis rails. Large cable-operated drum brakes (housing Bendix self-wrapping shoes) were complemented by high geared worm and nut steering. The Type 135 range soon evolved so that customers could have their Sport (18CV, 3.2 litre, 96hp), Coupe des Alpes (18CV, 3.2 litre, 110hp) or Competition (20CV, 3.6 litre, 120hp) models constructed around a variety of wheelbases (the shortest and longest of which were 2.70m and 3.15m respectively). Initially available in bare chassis guise only, the Delahaye proved a hit with France's most fashionable coachbuilders. Thus, a Type 135 Competition Court was the recipient of Figoni & Falaschi's first `enveloppantes' teardrop body. Anxious to explore the newcomer's competitive potential, the Schells asked Monsieur Charles to create a high-performance derivative. Combining the Court's short wheelbase (2.70m) chassis with a reworked version of the Competition's 20CV (3.6 litre engine), the Type 135 Speciale was among the greatest sports racers of the 1930s. With the self avowed intent of their `Ecurie Bleue' being to Delahaye what `Scuderia Ferrari' was to Alfa Romeo, the Schells set about convincing friends and acquaintances to buy Type 135 Speciales. Of the eighteen made between late 1935 and 1937, thirteen are thought to have survived to the present day. No two bodies were identical but most sported a dual cowl scuttle, low-mounted headlights and quickly detachable pontoon wings. With some 160bhp on tap accessed via four-speed manual or four-speed Cotal electromagnetic transmission, the Type 135 Speciale enjoyed an impressive debut season: Grand Prix de l'A.C.F (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 11th, 12th), Spa 24-hours (2nd, 3rd), RAC Tourist Trophy (8th but fastest ever lap of the Ards circuit at 137.638km/h), Coupe d'Automne (1st) and Mont Ventoux (1st). The following year, 1937, yielded equally strong results: Grand Prix de Pau (3rd), Mille Miglia (3rd), Le Mans 24-hours (2nd, 3rd), Donington 12-hours (1st), RAC Tourist Trophy (5th) and Coupe d'Automne (1st, 2nd), while 1938 proved better still: Le Mans 24-hours (1st, 2nd, 4th), Paris 12-hours (2nd, 3rd), Grand Prix des Frontieres (1st in class) and Cote Lapize (1st). Still a force to be reckoned with during 1939, Rob Walker's example outlasted and outran Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 and Talbot T150SS opposition at the Whit Monday Brooklands meeting to claim the title of `Britain's Fastest Road Car'. The same machine then went on to finish 8th overall at that year's Le Mans 24-hours two places behind the sister car of Louis Villeneuve and Rene Biolay (a third Type 135 Speciale driven by Robert Mazaud and Marcel Mongin set the fastest lap at 155.627km/h but retired). Belittled by some because of its comparatively simple pushrod overhead valve engine (the basic architecture of which was shared with one of the marque's truck powerplants) and dismissed by others as a tortoise to Bugatti's Type 57 hare, the Delahaye's imposing results' record and fastest laps' tally paint a rather different picture. Little wonder then that over the years enthusiasts have chosen to turn lesser Type 135 models into recreations of the hallowed Speciale. Reportedly beginning life as a Type 135 Competition Court road car, this particular example - chassis 46328 - was reconfigured in the style of a Type 135 Speciale during the 1980s. We are further informed that it incorporates several genuine competition parts acquired from a famous French owner of one of the most original remaining Speciales. Modelled after the Ecurie Bleue team cars of 1936/7, the two-seater's appropriately hued aluminium bodywork is punctuated by a plethora of louvers, Marchal headlamps, twin aeroscreens, bonnet slats and dual fuel fillers etc. Accessed via two diminutive doors the interior plays host to red leather upholstery and a bank of Jaegar instruments. Fitted with such correct-type goodies as an alloy cylinder head, individual exhaust header manifold, quick-fill rocker box cover and triple side draught Solex carburettors, the Type 103 straight-six engine is currently mated to four-speed manual transmission (however, an alternative Cotal electromagnetic gearbox can be made available). Entering the current ownership some twenty-one years ago, the Delahaye was initially used for historic racing. After competing very successfully with the Historic Grand Prix Cars Association amongst others at the likes of Montlhery, Nurburgring, Silverstone, Brno and Donington etc (not to mention participating in several Mille Miglia retrospectives), the past decade or so has seen `334 LPA' predominantly enjoyed as a fast road car. Maintained by Tony Merrick Racing and more recently Steve Hart Racing (copy invoices on file), the Delahaye is said to be "on the button". More authentic than many such recreations, this stunning looking machine exudes a light patina in keeping with the age of its transformation. Riding on Blockley tyres, it is offered for sale with a UK V5C registration document, copies of Delahaye's original chassis drawings for its competition cars, other marque related paperwork, expired FIA Historic Vehicle Identity Forms (in both French and English) and numerous Tony Merrick / Steve Hart invoices. A spares package comprising an engine block (complete with crankshaft), new alloy cylinder head, cast iron cylinder head, two Cotal electromagnetic gearboxes (one dismantled) and several brake drums etc is available by separate negotiation.

Lot Details
Auction Car
H&H Sales Limited, The Pavilion Gardens
Lot Number43
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Condition rating
Registration number334 LPA
Chassis number46328
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)3600
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors