The 1938 Paris Salon
1938 Delahaye 135 MS Coupé
Coachwork by Figoni & Falaschi
Chassis no. 60112
Chosen as the epitome of their coachbuilding skills, this lithe and subline coupe was exhibited by Figoni and Falaschi on their stand at the 1938 Paris Salon alongside the Delahaye V12 roadster. Among its ingenious features was a positive rack-and-pinion gear for raising and lowering the side windows. It also features Figoni & Falaschis trademark Gothic Arch section wings, most beautifully adorned with brightwork embellishers that emphasize the fluidity of their lines as illustrated over these pages.
It dates from the period when Joseph Figoni switched from developing his body styles as full-size 'hammer forms' built up from iron to modeling the shapes in reduced scale in clay; from that clay maquette, his craftsmen would make a full-size wooden hammer form against which the panel-beaters could check the accuracy of their metalwork.
This coupes early history after the Salon is unknown, but postwar it came into the hands of Madame Michele Gautier of La Seyne-sur-Mer on Frances Cote dAzur. At some stage the frontal aspect of the car was modified with the fitting of a narrower radiator grille as well as chrome embellishers incorporating position lights on the leading edges of the wings. This enhancement replaced the exposed low-level lamps of its initial configuration. In 1964 the Delahaye coupe was discovered by that indefatigable seeker-out of rare and desirable automobiles Antoine Raffaëlli behind a reed hedge in South-West France and for the next 21 years he negotiated tirelessly with its owner before eventually acquiring it in 1985.
He had the car meticulously restored by the Conforti Frères of the Quartier du Port in Nice in 1986-87 before offering it for sale in 1990. It eventually found its way to America, where in 1998 Dragone Classic Motorcars of Connecticut traded it with the Rosso Bianco Collection.
Although having been a museum exhibit for a number of years, this beautifully presented Delahaye has enjoyed a recent and modest road test where engine, gearbox and brakes were reported to be in good working order.
It offers an intriguing and masterly alternative to Figoni and Falaschis famous Goutte dEau coupe, and was built on the new 135 M Spécial (or MS) chassis, whose robust four main bearing 3557cc engine had a light alloy cylinder head like that of racing Delahayes with an 8.4:1 compression ratio, a special camshaft and 14 mm spark plugs instead of the 18 mm plugs fitted to lesser versions. The 42 mm vertical inlet valves were operated by slender pushrods and the inlet and exhaust ports were transposed, with triple down-draft Solex carburetors and six exhaust ports feeding into a six-pipe bunch of bananas feeding a single exhaust pipe. This gave the impressive power output of 125 bhp at 4300 rpm.
Moreover, the 135 MS was the only Delahaye model delivered as standard with centerlock 5.50x17 Rudge-Whitworth wheels. Its light but strong and rigid box-section chassis had independent front suspension by means of a transverse leaf spring and radius arms, while the rear axle was carried on semi-elliptic leaf springs. The brakes operated in substantial 14in. diameter drums and were operated on the Bendix duo-servo principle. The steering of the 135 Delahaye was particularly light and sensitive, thanks to a well-engineered steering box and dual track rods pivoting on a needle roller idler.
This car is fitted with the ingenious Cotal electromagnetic gearbox, giving instantaneous changes by means of a little lever acting in a gate on the steering column; a central lever on the floor selects neutral, forward and reverse modes (an idiosyncratic feature of this system is that there are also four reverse speeds, though attempting to attain maximum velocity rearwards in high is not to be recommended!)
Beneath its beautiful bodywork beats the heart that made the 135 Delahaye such a formidable adversary in motoring competition in the 1930s: the 1936 French Grand Prix saw Delahayes finishing second, third, fourth and fifth after having led for many laps until being forced to concede first place to Wimilles Bugatti. A Delahaye scored the marques first of three victories in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1937 and, after coming second and third at Le Mans the same year, they finally won the worlds most famous endurance race in 1938; Delahayes also took second and fourth places. They also took first and second places in Englands Tourist Trophy race at the Donington Park circuit in September 1937 (where they ran as "Darracqs" to avoid confusion with the British-built Rootes Talbots). The 1937 Tourist Trophy winner stayed in England where Ian Connell raced it in the celebrated "fastest road car" contest at Brooklands in 1939 - and nearly won; the works racers were uprated to 4.5 liters during the 1938 season and in 1939 the 4.5 liter engine was fitted into a new monoplace racing chassis.
Yet Delahayes were also prominent in a diametrically-opposed form of motoring competition, the Concours d'Elegance, in which the products of the finest coachbuilders were paraded, accompanied by beautiful ladies in the latest haute couture fashions, at fashionable venues from Deauville to the Cote d' Azur.
In modern times, Delahayes have continued to excel at the top concours events; in 1978 the Type 165 Figoni & Falaschi roadster that shared the 1938 Paris Salon stand with this very car was the first example of the marque to win its class at the Pebble Beach Concours dElegance, and in 2000 a 1937 Delahaye 135 M Figoni & Falaschi cabriolet became the first Delahaye to be voted Best of Show at Pebble Beach, which has featured the marque in special displays in 1982, 1992 and is doing so again in 2006.
Here is a car that surely has the potential to excel at such an event.