THE NAME DELAHAYE is invariably associated with large and fast French sporting and Grand Prix cars of the late 'thirties, and expensive chassis fitted with eye-catching examples of the coachbuilder's art during the decade following World War 2.
Yet during the sixty years of Delahaye production, from 1894 until 1954, the design of the cars varied from the unusual and interesting to the prosaic and even dull - and back again.
Emile Delahaye had been chief engineer of a Franco-Belgian firm that built railway rolling-stock when, around 1890, he took over a machine shop in Tours which had been founded by a Monsieur Brethon in 1845.
Originally, Brethon manufactured machinery for the production of bricks, but he progressed to making steam engines as well, and, in the 1880s, gas and paraffin engines.
Before long, Delahaye was experimenting with a car modelled on Benz principles, and in 1894 he planned to produce Benz-like belt-driven cars, whose four- cylinder engines, fitted at the rear with their cylinder heads pointing forwards and with crank-throws at 180 degrees, were set in tubular chassis with tubular radiators.
1896 Paris-Marseilles-Paris Race
His experiments were successful enough to encourage him to enter two cars for the Paris-Marseilles-Paris race from 24 September to 3 October 1896. One of the cars was to be driven by Delahaye himself and the other by the well known sportsman, Ernest Archdeacon, who, back in January 1890, had accompanied Serpollet in a four-wheeled steam car on an epic 300-mile journey from Paris to Lyons.
The steam-car broke down so often on this trip that the improvisations were found to have increased its weight by 150 kgs at the end of the run. The most famous feature of the Paris-Marseilles-Paris race of 1896 was the terrible storm which broke out on the second day's run from Auxerre to Dijon, when trees were blown down in all directions and the rain came down in torrents so that the roads were turned into slippery quagmires.
1897 Paris-Dieppe Race
The two Delahayes acquitted themselves well, Archdeacon finishing sixth at 14 mph and Delahaye eighth at 12½ mph. The winner, Mayade on an 8 hp Panhard, averaged 15.7 mph and the slowest car, Pary's 3 hp Bollee, averaged 7½ mph. In contrast to the Paris-Marseilles-Paris race, the Paris-Dieppe race in 1897 was a mere sprint of 106 miles and, better still, it was held on a fine and sunny day.
A feature of the 6 hp Delahaye was its comparatively long wheelbase, which encouraged the fitting of commodious bodywork. In the Paris-Dieppe, Archdeacon came third in the four-seater class at 18.7 mph, behind a De Dion and a Panhard, whilst Courtois actually won the six-seater class at 17.8 mph in another 6 hp Delahaye, although it must be whispered that he only had one opponent in the class, a Peugeot which averaged 16.5 mph.
In a thoroughly damp Marseilles-Nice race in March 1898, Courtois could only manage 28th place, but Georges Morane in a similar 6 hp Delahaye was sixteenth. At the Course de Perigeux in May, De Solages drove a Delahaye with lighter bodywork and finished sixth out of ten cars entered. The Paris- Amsterdam-Paris race in July was won by Charron's Panhard racing car, but in the touring class Givet had the satisfaction of making best time in his Delahaye.
1903 Delahaye 2.2 liter, twin cylinder 12/14 hp.
1908 Delahaye Type 32, the first to use a L-head engine.
1908 Delahaye Type 32 Limousine.
The Delahaye Coupe des Alpes, Alpine Trial winner, and good for 110bhp.
1936 Delahaye Type 135 competition version, which produced 160bhp from a 3.5 liter engine.
This rare image is from the 1938 Paris motor show, the Delahaye 3.5 liter six looking svelt and very, very sexy.
Delahaye Type 145, which was powered by a 4.5 liter V12 developing 245 bhp @ 5000 rpm.
Delahaye Type 175
Delahaye Type 175
Delahaye Type 178
Delahaye Type 180
In 1898 the Delahaye works were moved from Tours to what was to become a permanent home in Paris. By this time, Emile Delahaye had joined forces with Leon Desmarais and Georges Morane in the business. The new Paris factory, where hydraulic machinery had previously been made, actually was owned by Morane's father.
An important event happened at this time in the appointment of Charles Weiffenbach as works manager. 'Monsieur Charles', as he became known, was destined to be the eminence grise behind Delahaye throughout the life of the firm, although he had been on the point of leaving France for Indo-China when he received his original appointment. Until the turn of the century, three Delahaye models were being produced: two twin-cylinder models, the Type 1 of 2.2 liters, catalogued at 41 hp, the Type 2 of 6 hp and a 1.4-liter, single-cylinder on similar lines, but lighter in construction, called the Type Zero, which appeared towards the end of 1898.
All had rear-mounted, water-cooled engines with automatic inlet valves, surface carburetors and trembler-coil ignition. Steering was by bicycle-type handlebars on top of a column. The clutch action was by a belt on pulleys, the pulley on the crankshaft serving as a flywheel, and the final-drive was by side chains; there were three forward speeds and a reverse. The cars were good performers for their time and sturdy and reliable. The single-cylinder Zero reached 22 mph fully equipped, its engine producing 5 to 7 bhp at 900 to 1200 rpm.
The Nice-Castellane-Nice Race
In March 1899, Ernest Archdeacon returned to the wheel, or rather the handlebars, of a Delahaye in the 75-mile Nice-Castellane-Nice race. His car, an 8 hp, finished eighth at 20.4 mph, while Buissot in a similar Delahaye was twelfth at 18.7 mph. In 1901, Emile Delahaye retired from the company, whose destinies were guided by Desmarais and Morane until 1906 and thereafter by Monsieur Charles.
The Delahaye Type 10B, the Paris-Vienna and Circuit des Ardennes
In 1902, a new and more advanced design appeared, the Type 10B. This had a vertical, 2.2- liter, 12/14 hp, twin-cylinder, 100 x 140 mm engine at the front, with detachable cylinder heads, a three-speed gearbox, a proper steering wheel and chain drive. This might have been the model that saw the last Delahaye racing appearances for thirty years in the Paris-Vienna and Circuit des Ardennes races of 1902, except that these entries have been quoted as being four-cylinder cars, in which case they must have been prototypes.
In the Paris-Vienna race, over 615 miles, the fastest Delahaye, a 16 hp, driven by Pirmez, averaged 25.9 mph to finish 37th in the Light Car class while, in the Ardennes race, Perrin drove the fastest Delahaye, another 16 hp, to finish tenth. Some 850 of the twin and single-cylinder, rear-engined cars were sold, and they continued in production up to 1904, although, after 1902, in the form of light vans only.
The Type 13B, the first 4 cylinder Delahaye
In 1903, the Type 13B was introduced. This was the first four-cylinder Delahaye, the cylinders being cast in 522 two blocks, still with automatic inlet valves. This 24/27 bhp, 4.4-liter car was timed over a flying kilometre at 60.75 mph. 1904 saw the range of models considerably augmented, to include a four-cylinder, 4.9-liter, 28 hp model, called the Type 21 and capable of around 60 mph. At the other end of the scale, the Type 15B had the twin-cylinder engine and a maximum speed of 45 mph. In the middle range came the Type 16, four-cylinder car, capable of over 50 mph.
An unusual Delahaye design feature which seems to have appeared first in the Type 21 4.9-liter car was the water jacketing of the exhaust manifold, this being cast in the cylinder block. As the idea has never generally been adopted, although Lancia were to favour it in the famous Lambda model, its advantages are questionable, but no doubt it gave a neat appearance to the engine. Although, by 1903, most manufacturers were going over to fixed-head engines, Delahaye always featured detachable heads.
Delahaye T-head Engines
In 1905 the range included a luxury 8-liter, double-chain-driven car, an example of which was delivered to King Alphonso of Spain. This had two handbrakes and two footbrakes which were used alternately to prevent overheating in the separate transmission brake drums. T-head engines were now being introduced with high-tension magneto ignition, and a gate-change was featured in contrast to the steering-column change of the first Delahaye with wheel steering, the Type 10B of 1901.
Shaft-drive was first adopted on a twin-cylinder model in 1907, but chain-drive was continued on the larger cars up to 1911. An L-head mono-block engine was first catalogued in 1908 on the 1.4-Iitre Type 32. In 1907, all models had two half-elliptic springs at the back shackled to a third inverted transverse spring, as on the contemporary Delaunay-Bellevilles. By 1907, Delahayes were being made under licence by Protos in Germany, and they entered the English market in 1909, imported by H. M. Hobson of Claudel-Hobson carburetors.
Delahaye Pressure Lubrication
In 1909, the makers of the White steam car, of Cleveland, Ohio, abandoned steam and their petrol cars were close copies of the Delahaye design. Their piracy caused mixed feelings in the rue du Banquier, but World War 1 came before any action was taken, and the matter was allowed to drop. Before the outbreak of war, a novelty introduced by Delahaye was pressure lubrication to the spring shackles, while in England in 1911, Parry Thomas's electric transmission was successfully fitted to the four-cylinder Delahaye belonging to one of Thomas's backers, W. F. Hickman.
The Delayahe Type 44 with one of the First V6's
1911 saw a notable Delahaye engine introduced by Monsieur Charles. One of the world's first V6s, of 3.2 liters, it was fitted to a car known as the Type 44. The intricate casting had the cylinders at thirty degrees, with two camshafts dealing with three cylinders each; the very compact block measured only thirteen inches in length. Inlet and exhaust passages were cast integral with it, giving the whole the appearance of a large single cylinder.
Stodgy, Dependable and Uninteresting
The model was not successful and was discontinued in 1914. After World War 1, Delahaye spent fourteen years producing what motoring historian Michael Sedgwick later described as 'stodgy, dependable and uninteresting cars', and motoring-writer and ex-racing driver John Bolster claimed the vintage Delahaye of 1920-1930 was 'a dull, non-performing vehicle'.
American-style Mass Production
As a result of his wartime production experiences, Monsieur Charles, like Citroen and Renault, was attracted to American-style mass production, and also to the standardisation of components amongst manufacturers. Yet Delahaye were early in fitting front-wheel brakes (1921) and carried on their usual extensive and not particularly standardised range: it embraced side-valve, inlet-over-exhaust and OHV, four and six-cylinder engines.
For a period, however, they co-operated with Chenard-Walcker and the FAR Tractor Company, when Delahayes and Chenard-Walckers were almost identical. This attempt to emulate General Motors did not last long. By 1930 - 1931 Delahayes were distinctly unattractive, with American-like ribbon radiators, and they were not selling well in this time when there was a financial depression.
The Delahaye 3.2-liter Superluxe
With typical foresight, Monsieur Charles then went on a completely new tack, and Delahaye entered the performance field with the exhibition, at the 1933 Paris Show, of the six-cylinder, push-rod, 3.2-liter Superluxe, with a light chassis, transverse independent front suspension, streamlined bodywork and the choice of a Cotal electromagnetic gearbox, or synchromesh. There was also a four-cylinder, 2150 cc version, with the same cylinder dimensions, and a sports edition of the Superluxe, the 18 Sport.
The 1935 Alpine Trial
In 1934 a streamlined and stripped saloon 18 Sport took eighteen world and international class records at Montlhery, circulating for 48 hours at over 107 mph. Success in the 1935 Alpine Trial bred a 'Coupe des Alpes' model of 3.2 liters and 110 bhp, and, in 1936, the famous competition Type 135 of 3.5 liters was developed from the 130 bhp road-going 135, to give 160 bhp. Meanwhile, in 1935, Delahaye had taken over the Delage
Breaking the Ulster TT Lap Record For All Time
Delahaye continued building successful Delage models, and Sport Delahayes won eighteen minor sports-car circuit races in France, as well as hill-climbs, and took fifth place at Le Mans. In 1936, Delahaye entered the big league of sports-car racing with the 135 'Competition', breaking the Ulster TT lap record for all time, and being beaten only by a Type 57S 'tank' Bugatti in the French GP sports-car race; the Bugatti was followed home by no less than four Delahayes.
Although beaten by a supercharged 2900A Alfa Romeo in the Belgian 24 Hours Race, Delahayes filled the first five places at the three-hour Marseilles GP sports-car race at Miramas. In 1937, Delahayes were second and third to a Type 57S Bugatti
at Le Mans, won the twelve-hour sports-car race at Donington Park and were third in the Mille Miglia
, to two 2900A Alfa Romeos. One of the drivers of the latter Delahaye was Laury Schell, husband of Lucy O'Reilly Schell, who had won the Coupe des Dames for Delahaye in the 1935 Monte Carlo Rally and who started the 'Ecurie Bleu' Delahaye racing stable.
Taking The 1937 Monte Carlo Rally
1937 saw a Delahaye win the Monte Carlo Rally outright. In the winter of 1936-7, Monsieur Charles asked his chief engineer, jean-Francois, to design a car suitable for both sports-car and GP racing. The result was the Type 145, which had a de Dion
back axle and a 4½-liter, V12, pushrod engine with three camshafts, dual ignition and three carburetors. The engine developed 245 bhp at 5000 rpm. One of these cars, driven by Rene Dreyfus, won 200,000 francs, presented by the French government, by averaging 91.07mph for 200 kilometres at Montlhery.
Jean-Pierre Wimille earned a similar sum by averaging 91.13 mph in a Type 59 GP Bugatti, over the same road-cum-track circuit. In 1938, on the small twisting Pau circuit, Dreyfus won the Pau GP in a Type 145, an Ecurie Bleu entry, from the 425 bhp, V12, 3-liter GP Mercedes W154 of Caracciola/Lang, which had to stop to refuel, whereas the Delahaye did not.
1938 Le Mans, Monte Carlo and Paris-Nice Rally Victories
On fast circuits, the 145 was out-classed as a GP car, although it later had a proper single-seater body in contrast to the Pau car, which actually had doors. A handful of touring V 12s were sold, these being the single-ignition Type 165s. Also in 1938, Type 135 Delahayes won Le Mans and the Monte Carlo and Paris-Nice rallies, while a V12 sports car was 4th in the Mille Miglia
After concentrating on the production of trucks during World War 2, Delahaye were quickly back to car production in 1946, and, between 1946 and 1950, the Type 135s won several races such as the GP de Frontieres and the Comminges GP. The post-war sports model was known as the 135M.
In 1947, new cars were factory-styled by Philippe Charbonneaux, and in 1948 the new Type 175 appeared with a seven, instead of the traditional four, main-bearing engine, this being a big, six-cylinder 4½-liter. A de Dion back axle was featured, and this was the first Delahaye with left-hand drive. Coach builders continued building special bodies on Delahayes, some of them being in execrable taste. Although a 175S sports model won the 1951 Monte Carlo rally, the 175 and its sister 180 model were not successful, being heavy and costly to run, and they were dropped in favour of the Charbonneaux-styled Type 235 in 1951, a 135 with the engine uprated to give 152 bhp.
Monsieur Charles was now assisted by his son, Raymond, but sales dropped dramatically (mainly due the the prohibitive French taxes placed on luxury cars) and, after production of a Jeep-like vehicle, Delahaye were taken over in 1954 by Hotchkiss, when car production ceased and only trucks were made. Not long afterwards, the new company was taken over by the Brandt organisation and renamed Hotchkiss-Brandt, and the honoured name of Delahaye was dropped altogether after 1956.
Also see: Lost Marques - Delahaye (Aus Edition)