Happy New Year, my fellow petrolheads! Come taste some crème de la crème from France!
Louis Delage was born in 1874 and was handicapped by blindness in one eye. This handicap would not hinder him at all in creating some of the most elegant and beautiful creations of the pre-WWII era, and into the early 1950s. He acquired his engineering abilities while working for Peugeot. He worked with the company until 1905, when he left to build cars bearing his own name.
1912 Delage by Austin7nut, on Flickr
Delage had a strong loyalty to France, and he endeavored to build cars that would bring honor to his country. He began racing in 1906 and acquired some success. By 1913, he had constructed a worthy racing machine to claim the Grand Prix de France. His racing machines continued to evolve. In 1914, they featured double overhead camshafts and brakes on all four wheels.
1914 Delage (Indy winner) by jbspec7, on Flickr
Rene Thomas drove a Delage in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 where he emerged victorious. In 1924, he set a land speed record at just over 143 mph.
During World War I, the newly built factory in Courbevoie was used for the production of military items.
1920 Delage Cabriolet by aldenjewell, on Flickr
During the mid-1920s, the Delage cars were powered by eight-cylinder engine displacing 1.5-liters. In 1927, Robert Benoist drove a Delage with an inline-eight cylinder engine to a victory at the Grand Prix de France, Spanish Grand Prix, British Grand Prix at Brooklands, and the Grand Prix de l'Europe at Monza. After this brilliant accomplishment, Delage announced his retirement from racing.
1926/30 Hispano Delage 500CV by robertknight16, on Flickr
1932 Delage D8 Fernandez et Darrin Boattail Roadster by dmentd, on Flickr
by sjb4photos, on Flickr
1933 Delage D8 S DHC by Albert S. Bite, on Flickr
1934 Delage D8SS Cabriolet (only one built) 4 by Jack_Snell, on Flickr
by sjb4photos, on Flickr
1935 Delage D8-85 Roadster at Amelia Island 2009 by gswetsky, on Flickr
Delage had left the sport on a high-note, but there were troubled times in its future. The Great Depression rattled many industries, including the automotive world. By 1935, Delage had felt the strains of this painful time in history, and was forced to enter liquidation. A Delage dealer named Walter Watney purchased the company's assets. This proved to be a pipe-dream for Watney, and soon was looking for aid from an automotive partner who could help bear the costs of engineering, development and manufacturing. Luckily, he found the assistance he was searching for - at Delahaye. An agreement was reached which allowed the Delage name to continue.
After the Delahaye take-over in 1935 the Delages were constructed to Delahaye designs while retaining their own short-stroke engines and hydraulic brakes.
Delage with 'Stabilizing Fin' by paul.malon, on Flickr
(actually, a 4.5-litre one-off design on a Delahaye 135 chassis. See its story here)
In 1937 the D8-100/120 was introduced at the Paris Auto Show. The D8-100 was a long wheelbase version while the D8-120 used a shortened wheelbase.
Delage D8 100 brochure, by gueguette80, on Flickr
Delage D8 120 brochure, by gueguette80, on Flickr
The D8 120 was outfitted with coachwork done by famous coachbuilders such as Chapron, Pourtout, and Letourner et Marchand. At the front was a very larger and imposing radiator. Hidden underneath the hood was a powerful, eight cylinder engine that gave this vehicle a reputation as being a fast, high-performance automobile.
1937 Delage D8 Letourneur et Marchand Aerodynamic Coupé by dmentd, on Flickr
1937 Delage D8 120SS Aerodynamic Coupe at Amelia Island 2010 by gswetsky, on Flickr
1937 Delage D8 Letourneur et Marchand Aerodynamic Coupé by Rex Gray, on Flickr
This D8 120 was built after the merger with Delahaye. Even though it retained its Delage styling, there are Delahaye influences. A Delahaye-style chassis was used that included a transverse-leaf independent front suspension and a Cotal electromagnetic gearbox.
1939 Delage D8-120, Letourneur & Marchand by aldenjewell, on Flickr
The Aerosport was the highlight of the D8 line-up. It was designed by Marcel Letourner, the son of Letourner. In 1939, the design was selected to represent part of the French government's automotive display at the World's Fair in New York.
1939 Delage D8/120 Chapron Grand Luxe Teardrop Cabriolet by dmentd, on Flickr
The Pourtout Aero Coupe (below) was penned by Georges Paulin for the French coach builder Pourtout. Paulin had resume that included designs for Darl'Mat, Bently, and other famous European marques.
The flambouyant yet elegant designs created by Delage were futuristic and sexy. It is unfortunate that their production was limited; however, it does guarantee the vehicles exclusivity by today's standards.
Delage D6-70 Coach by tautaudu02, on Flickr
In 1937 the D6-70 was introduced featuring Delage's powerful 2729cc overhead-valve six-cylinder engine and mated to a Cotal electrically operated four-speed gearbox.
1936 Delage D6-70 by berwickyellow, on Flickr
A Speciale version of the D6-70 was constructed with Joseph Figoni commissioned to construct the aerodynamic body. It had a Delage prepared three-liter six-cylinder engine and mounted on a Delahaye 135 chassis. It was constructed to race in the 1936 24 Hours of LeMans but the race was cancelled due to strikes across the country. Its competition career took a slight detour - it was shown at Concours d'Elegance events where it had a profound impact on many that were in attendance.
The following year the D6-70 Speciale finally made its inaugural competition debut at LeMans. It finished first in class and fourth overall, behind a Bugatti and two Delahayes. The Figoni coupe body was later removed in 1938 and fitted with a Figoni & Falaschi roadster body. It continued its racing career, with highlights including a victory in the 1938 Tourist Trophy. This success spawned two similar cars for 1939, but with further modifications including a lightweight chassis.
1937 Delage D6 Course by snapsy_mac, on Flickr
The lightweight cars were raced at LeMans where the experience and lessons-learned paid off with another first in class and second overall. War would postpone the efforts for several years; after the war, Watney commissioned five racers similar to the lightweight cars. The three-liter engine now produced 142 horsepower and clothed in a body with cycle-fenders and lightweight materials.
These five new cars, as well as the original Speciale, did well in racing during the post-War era, with several significant victories. Four cars were on the starting grid at the 1949 24 Hours of LeMans. After 24 hours of intense racing, a first and second in class had been achieved, and a very impressive fourth overall with a Ferrari 166 taking the first.
1946 Delage D6 Grand Prix by dmentd, on Flickr
As the 1950s came into view, the six-cylinder engine was showing its age. At the 1950 LeMans race, only one car was entered and managed to finish the race but in seventh place.
1946 Delage D6 Grand Prix by dmentd, on Flickr
Delahaye searched for funds to revitalize their racing program, but they had little luck. Production continued for only a few more years, ending in 1953 when the company entered bankruptcy.
The Delage D6-70s in production trim were raced with much success beginning in early 1937. With strong finishes at the Rallye Monte Carlo and Rallye du Maroc, the Delage's earned a reputation for their speed and durability.
Text: Daniel Vaughan on conceptcarz
Headline picture: 1932 Delage D8 Fernandez et Darrin Boattail Roadster Hood Ornament by dmentd, on Flickr