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The Delahaye years
1933-'35: why Delahaye decided to go racing


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"Michel Paris"/Marcel Mongin


Delahaye 138 Sport


Le Mans


1935 Le Mans 24 Hours

Delahaye 45497, 1935 Le Mans

After it was founded, the Delahaye company took several decades before deciding to enter the sports and racing car scene. Apart from a few races in the period between 1896 and 1903, nothing was attempted until 1933.

It was at the height of the Great Depression in France that the major shareholder and head of the family-owned company, 66-year-old Madame Léon Desmarais, took the bold and unexpected decision not to go into mass production. Instead, she decided that it would be wise to produce less cars, and make them better, faster and more luxurious. Furthermore, these cars would be honed in a competition environment.

The decision was accepted by all concerned and immediately a small racing department was set up, headed by 72-year-old Amedée Varet and assisted by 43-year-old engineer Jean François, who had just joined the firm and was responsible for a new line of cars called the Superluxe.

There was no time to design and develop new chassis, so existing chassis were used, modified at the front to accommodate an independent suspension and powered by the modern and robust Type 103 engine for the 6-cylinder cars and the extrapolated 4-cylinder engine for the smaller cars.

In May 1933, two Type 126M cars, the forerunner of the 138 Superluxe, and two 28-seater buses on the 4-ton chassis were engaged in the Tour de France Automobile, and all won a gold medal for having covered the 5000kms without a penalty. Remarkable is the fact that the same basic engine, the Type 103, was used in both the cars and the buses.

Delahaye poster, 1933 Tour de France Auto

The two cars and the two 28-seater buses, powered by the same Type 103 basic engines, which completed the Tour de France Automobile in 1933, with no penalties, and won four gold medals.

After these very encouraging results a Type 138 Superluxe had a test run at Monthléry in the summer of 1933, covering 500kms at just over 158kph, achieving 158.673kms in one hour.

Delahaye test car, summer 1933

The test car at Montlhéry, driven by Albert Perrot, completed 500km at just over 158kph.

At the Paris Motor Show in October 1933, the new models were unveiled.

type cv* capacity bore & stroke bhp wheelbase speed
132 Superluxe 10 1832 73,8 x 107 34 2m86 110kph
134 Superluxe 12 2150 80 x 107 45 2m86 115kph
138 Superluxe 18 3227 80 x 107 90 3m16 125kph

* Fiscal horsepower, a typically French taxable horse-power rating that has nothing to do with the actual horsepower of a car.

The sporting models were not yet announced, but the wealthy sportsmen and women were well aware of their construction, and orders began to trickle in. They were impatient to test the new cars in rallies, hill climbs and local races, and the results were immediate:

month 1934 events car driver result
Jan Monte Carlo rally 92RG8 Perrot 24th
Feb Paris-St Raphael rally ? Mrs Nenot 1st
92RG8 Miss Gonnot 2nd
1821RJ1 Mrs Schell 4th
Mar Chanteloup hillclimb 92RG8 Perrot 1st in class
Mar Paris-Nice rally 92RG8 Mrs Schell 1st of the ladies
Apr Chateau Thierry hillclimb 92RG8 Perrot 1stin class
May Monthléry Records - Perrot/Dhome/Girod 4 world records
Jun Harfleur hillclimb 2536RG1 Perrot 1st in class
Jun Vosges circuit 1536RG1 Perrot 1st
Jul French Alpes rally 1821RJ1 Mrs Schell 1st in class
Aug International Alpine Cup 2537RJ1 Perrot Team cup
Dhome 4243RJ2
4884RG2 Girod
92RG8 Mrs. Schell Ladies cup
Oct Algerian GP Tourism 2537RG1 Perrot 1st

Mrs Schell, better known as Lucy O’Riley Schell, the American millionaire of Irish origin, and her husband Laury who had been engaged in motor sports for a number of years were strong supporters of Delahaye, also financially.

Delahaye 92RG8 Delahaye 44430

Left: Lucy O’Riley Schell with the very first 138 Sport, probably coach-built in a clumsy way by the small Delahaye racing department workshop. Right: This was Lucy's favourite, coach-built by Figoni, a very elegant and fast roadster.

Albert Perrot was the works test driver and along with Marcel Dhome and Armand Girod, two other test drivers, Perrot broke no less than four world records driving in a special 138 monoplace bodied by Figoni, on the 8th, 9th and 10th of May:

Furthermore, he also broke 11 international records! The fastest speed recorded was 193 kph.

Delahaye speed records 1933

The 138 monoplace broke four world records and 11 international records in May 1933.

At the Paris Motor Show in October 1934 two new models were on display, and the name Superluxe had disappeared. The 138 Sport carried one carburettor whereas the 138 Coupe des Alpes sported three carbs.

type cv capacity bore & stroke bhp wheelbase speed
138 Sport 18 3227 80x107 95 2m86 135kph
138 Coupe des Alpes 18 3227 80x107 113 2m86 145kph

The 1935 racing season opened with the Monte Carlo rally. A 135 Special (or 135S), the racing car, was present for the first time at the next Monte.

month 1935 events car driver result
Jan Monte Carlo rally 44430 Lucy/Laury Schell 3rd
Mar Paris-St. Raphael rally 7442RG4 Germaine Rouault 2nd.
44430 Lucy Schell 3rd
Mar Canteloup hillclimb 44430 Albert Perrot 1st in class
Apr Paris-Nice rally 44430 Lucy Schell 4th
4884RJ2 Laury Schell 8th
7442RJ4 Germaine Rouault 18th
May Tour de France Auto 45513 Albert Perrot 1st
44430 Lucy Schell DNF
May Orleans speed race 45513 Albert Perrot 1st
44430 Lucy Schell 2nd
Jun Vosges circuit 45513 Albert Perrot 2nd in class
Jun Le Mans 24 Hours 45497 “Paris”/Mongin 5th
Jun Lorraine GP production cars 44430 Lucy Schell 1st
7442RJ4 Germaine Rouault 3rd
? Armand Girod 4th
Jul French Alpes Rally 45513 Albert Perrot 1st
Jul Mont Ventoux hillclimb 45513 Albert Perrot 1st
Jul Reims GP tourisme 45513 Albert Perrot 1st
45497 “Michel Paris” 2nd
44430 Lucy Schell 6th
7442RJ4 Germaine Rouault 7th
Aug Pescara 24 Hours 45497 Mongin/”Paris” 3rd in class
Sep Lapize hillclimb 7442RJ4 Germaine Rouault 1st in class
Jan 1936 Monte Carlo rally *1707RK* Lucy/Laury Schell 2nd
45538 Jacques Ambaud 12th
45496 Siko/Des Forest 44th
45537 Caylac/Fontgnac DNF
45533 Paul/Foch accident

Albert Perrot, Delahaye, 1935 Tour de France Auto

Albert Perrot drives the works roadster to victory in the Tour de France Automobile, with no penalties, and wins a gold medal, the Ansaldo Cup, the Coupe de l’Auto and the ACF Cup.

Only 300 Type 138 chassis were built. Of all these 138 Sport and Coupe des Alpes racing cars, only two survive today in private collections, as can be seen in the following table. The table also connects the registration numbers to the chassis numbers, which are not always known. The first 135S is of course the Schell car, *1707RK* which will be described in the next part of this series.

date reg.no. chassis no. first owner other owners 2012 status
12/33 92RG8 ? works Schell lost
6/34 1821RJ1 44430 Schell destroyed
6/34 2536RJ1 45513 works Soulié/Pastoriano/Rigodon/
6/34 2537RJ1 ? works lost
7/34 4234RJ2 ? works lost
7/34 4884RJ2 ? works lost
12/34 7442RJ4 ? Rouault lost
4/35 9782RJ6 45497 “Paris” Bellecroix/Grignard/Meyrat/
Pozzi/de Tudert
6/35 6200RJ8 45533 Ambaud Bérard/Beach lost
6/35 6201RJ8 45538 Ambaud AGASI/Pozzoli/Marçais Honneger
6/35 6202RJ8 45496 Ambaud Bittel/Merlin/Vendiesse/
6/35 6203RJ8 45537 Ambaud lost

The first seven of these cars were left-hand drive, and 'high-level chassis' on their 18” wheels. The last five were RHD on semi-lowered chassis, also on 18” wheels.

Delahaye 2537RJ1 Delahaye 4234RJ2 Delahaye 4884RJ2

These three 138 Coupe des Alpes roadsters, driven by Perrot, Dhome and Girod, the works test drivers, win the Alpine Cup team prize of 1934. The photo of no.30 was taken the 1935 Algerian GP, won by Perrot as usual, as one could say. No.5 is Marcel Dhome's car at a control at Zagreb and no.6 is Armand Girod's car at a control at Munich, both during the 1934 Alpine Cup.

Delahaye 7442RJ4 Delahaye 45497

Left: Germaine Rouault, a formidable lady driver, would use her imposing 138 roadster during 1935-'37. She is seen here after having won the Paris-St.Raphael ladies rally in 1936. We shall see her again, driving a 135S with great success in 1938 and 1939. Right: Delahaye's first attempt at the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 15-16, 1935. Driven by “Michel Paris” (his real name was Henri Toulouse) and his partner Marcel Mongin the car obtained an honourable 5th place. The car had many owners and was rebodied four times until it disappeared in the late fifties in Morocco when owned by count Yves Georges de Tudert.

Delahaye 45538, les quatre Ambaud Delahaye 45538 Delahaye 45533

Left: Jacques Ambaud, a wealthy sportsman from Marseille, ordered four cars from Delahaye, had them coach-built by Chapron and registered them the same day in Paris in June 1935. All four were entered in the Monte Carlo rally in January 1936. Middle: here we see Jacques in front of the massive 138 Coupe des Alpes he drove alone. He came in 12th. Right: here we see car no.24 driven by Paul/Foch after a collision with a truck. They obviously did not finish.

Delahaye 45496

Mesdames Siko and Des Forest in car no.22 came in 44th. Unfortunately, there is no photo of car no.23 driven by Cayla/Frontgnac, who did not finish.

On August 19, 1935, an official Delahaye price list introduced the last development of the Type 138, which was the 'Type 135 Competition'. Alongside the 'Type 135 Sport' and 'Type 135 Coupe des Alpes', these cars were still on the old 2m86 wheelbase chassis, semi-lowered and with 18” wheels. These were not 135s as such but '138', an astute transition between the well-known 138 line and the new 135 line which would be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in October 1935.

The 138 Competition was identical to the 138 Sport or the 138 Coupe des Alpes, but with a 3.5-litre engine of 84mm bore and 107mm stroke, a displacement of 3557cc producing 20cv/120bhp, with three carburettors and a maximum speed of around 155kph.