Paul Bablots La Coupe des Voitures Légères winning
1911 Delage 3 litre Type X Two Seat Racer - No.10
Registration no. BL 2618
Chassis no. 1712 TYPE X501
Engine no. 4X101
So far as concerns the race itself it was a magnificent one. Quite early it resolved into a battle royal between Peugeot and Delage, with the odds on the former for exactly half the race, and with a reversal of chances during the other. The marvellous equality in speed of the cars which finished in the lead was one of the features of the race. Circuit after circuit saw a bunch of half a dozen cars representing the two teams running within seconds of each other. The positions of the leaders remained constant Boillots Peugeot held premier position for the first half, to be displaced by Bablots Delage in the second, but the rest alternated circuit by circuit in a most interesting way
. seldom it is that in a race of this kind the final result is absolutely in doubt right up to the time of the finish as this was.
So reported The Automotor Journal on perhaps the most significant French motor race of 1911, with the premier award, La Coupe de LAuto presented by the eponymous French magazine. Louis Delage had entered four cars for this race, selecting Frances leading drivers, René Thomas, Victor Rigal, Albert Guyot and Paul Bablot to pilot his all-new 3 litre Type X racing cars a formidable team indeed.
Delage had rested from the racing scene since 1908, following Guyots victory in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes, while the French motor sport authorities sorted out a sensible new racing formula. This they achieved for the 1911 season with the 3 litre formula, restrictions on stroke/bore ratios to 2:1 enabling Delage to build a highly efficient, Michelat-designed new engine with a bore and stroke of 80 x 149mm, displacing 2,996cc. Two seats and mudguards were obligatory and a curious rule banned the display of the manufacturers name on the car. The sophisticated engine featured separate inlet and exhaust camshafts in the crankcase with pushrods operating horizontal valves through bellcrank rockers. The four cylinders were cast in pairs and tubular conrods ran on a five-ball-bearing crankshaft. Transmission was through a Hele-Shaw multi-disc clutch. A Bosch magneto fired the sparks for the twin sparking plugs while carburation was provided by Claudel. A 26 gallon petrol tank provided maximum capacity for the long distance race, while radiator and engine accommodated no less than 8 gallons of water. A double-dropped frame enabled driver and riding mechanic to sit low and offset in the car and Delage had tried both four and five speed gearbox options before finally opting for a five speed box for the race, 5th speed providing effectively a 2.5:1 overdrive easing gear for the long downhill sections at Boulogne. It is believed that this car represents a landmark in motor racing history being the first to race with a five speed gearbox.
As The Automotor Journal reported, the race was nail-biting from start to finish, Bablot taking the winners laurels after 12 laps and 623 kilometres in a time of 7 hours 2 minutes 41 seconds at an average speed of 54.8mph, driving the last three miles on a very flat punctured rear tyre and crossing the finishing line just 71 seconds ahead of Boillots Peugeot. Thomas and Guyot finished in 3rd and 4th places, ensuring that Delage also won La Coupe de Regularité - the team prize. Rigal had retired the 4th Delage after ten laps with an overheated transmission brake.
Spectating at that race were two young Cambridge undergraduates, Buster Lacon and W R Billy McBain. Billy McBain reported some 50 or so years later that Buster Lacon bought the winning car for £1,000 a not inconsiderable sum immediately after the race. Six months later Lacon sold the car to Billy McBain. In July 1912 the car was registered BL 2618 with Berkshire County Council in the name of Richard Sadler Freeman McBain of Wyfold Court, Henley-on-Thames, presumably Billy McBains father. In 1913 Billy McBain left the car in the care of his brother George (later killed in the 1914-18 War) and Brooklands records indicate that this car had an active racing history in 1912-13.
In June 1912 G.B.S. McBain drove it in the Private Competitors Handicap and the 70mph Long and Short Handicap races and in July was beaten into second place in the Private Competitors Handicap by Lord Exmouths Hispano-Suiza. Later that year, W.R. McBain came 3rd in a handicap race for 3 litre cars and at the final October meeting had a comfortable victory at 66.5mph with Exmouth finishing 2nd. In 1913, at the Easter Meeting, W.R. McBain finished 2nd in a Private Competitors Handicap and G.B.S. McBain was to campaign the car again at Brooklands later in the year.
On 1st July 1914 ownership was transferred to George Charnley Littleton of Abanchill Castle, Comrie, Perthshire and that year also ownership changed again to Captain Leslie Corah of the 4th Leicesters who was killed in action in 1915. In January 1919 it is recorded in the ownership of his cousin, John Reginald Corah, of St. Margarets Works, Leicester, where it was registered under the new Roads Act of 1920 on 28th January 1921. It remained in the Corah family ownership until 1951, when, by then in dilapidated condition, it passed to Lord Charnwood, formerly director and chief designer with Bamford & Martin, on condition that he restored the car.
This task was undertaken with great enthusiasm, mechanical elements being entrusted to the late John Bland, and Charles Cann, from that celebrated coachbuilding company in Camden Town, was commissioned to construct a two-seater body in the style of the original racing car. The restoration was well reported by John Bolster in Autosport in November 1951 and a post-restoration road test, carried out by Bolster at Vintage Silverstone, was reported in Autosport in May 1952. Charnwood gave the Delage the affectionate nickname Denise; following his premature death in 1955 the old warrior was willed to a Mrs Patricia Elizabeth Franklin of Gravely Hall, Hitchin, Hertfordshire. It would appear that the car was little used during her ownership and in 1961 was advertised for sale in a Veteran Car Club news sheet with the strict constraint that enquiries would only be considered from a V.C.C. Member living in the U.K. Sir John Briscoe knew the car well, telephoned Mrs Franklin and bought the old warrior unseen. So commenced another most active chapter in the life of this important racing car.
Bablots race-winning Delage Denise has remained in the Briscoe family since that date. She fits comfortably within a particularly high profile cadre of important veteran and Edwardian motor cars including the 1908 Itala, the 1903 60hp Mercedes, the 1914 Grand Prix Opel and the 1908 Grand Prix Panhard Levassor, all immortals of the Edwardian period and all featured extensively in the specialist motoring press over the last 60 years or so. It has been said that Denise is the most photographed of all of these cars and even back in 1927, The Autocar, in its 13th May edition, issued a supplement featuring Gordon Crosbys painting of this very car. Denise has been actively campaigned in both Veteran Car Club and Vintage Sports-Car Club events and has completed many tours both at home and on the Continent. Its owner finds that the car sits comfortably within the 60-70mph range with perhaps further potential, untried in deference to the cars age and significant place in motoring history. He records a memorable 92 mile run from Portsmouth to Oxford in an impressive 92 minutes in 2003.
In more recent years, during the second generation of Briscoe ownership, a further most carefully researched restoration of the car has been carried out, meticulous study of period photographs enabling her coachwork to be recreated as closely as possible to the form in which she raced at Boulogne in 1911. Work completed has included restoration of engine and gearbox by W.S. May, coachwork by Roach Manufacturing Ltd., and chassis and other engineering work by G.F.R. Blacksmiths and Hulks Engineering. New Phoenix conrods were fitted, replacement fuel and oil tanks were manufactured to exactly the original specification and a new steering wheel made, replicating as closely as possible the original, long since disappeared, that Bablot steered to victory. Since that restoration Denise has been actively campaigned, providing for her owner the most exciting Edwardian motoring combined with the matchless knowledge that here is a car of undoubted acclaim in her day and with a continuous, unchallenged history. Notable events completed by Denise during the Briscoe ownership have included a return to Boulogne in 1981 for the 70th Anniversary of La Coupe des Voitures Légères a return to Dieppe in 1983 for the 75th Anniversary of the French Grand Prix, and invited appearances at The Goodwood Festival of Speed in 1996 and 1998.
Denise comes with one of the most comprehensive history files that we have seen, practically every piece of paper, item of correspondence and magazine article published or written in the last 50 years, having been carefully filed away during the Charnwood and Briscoe ownerships. The car is fully road legal in every respect and appropriately presented in French Blue livery. She is offered with a Veteran Car Club dating certificate and a V.S.C.C. buff form. Naturally Denise is presented ready to motor into the next chapter of her illustrious history, complete with current road licence and MoT certificate.
Historic Edwardian racing cars rarely come to the open market. Denise is offered on the open market only for the second time since Buster Lacon bought her following her historic victory at Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1911.