Emile Delahaye built his first automobile in 1895 and in 1896 drove one of his cars to sixth place in the Paris-Marseilles-Paris race. Sporting ambition lurked in the background as his truck business was crippled by a glut of WWI surplus U.S. trucks.
Delahaye hung on, aided by a marriage of convenience with Chenard et Walcker and F.A.R. Tractor, until the 1930s when Ettore Bugatti urged him to rediscover his performance image.
The vehicle for Delahaye's new direction was the Superluxe and its sports sibling, the Delahaye Type 135. The Type 135 engine was an OHV six with a cross-flow head and four main-bearing crank. It proved to be one of the most durable engines in racing history.
Delahaye's sporting history in the 1930s is embodied by Laury and Lucy O'Reilly Schell. Lucy was the only child of an Irish-American millionaire who met Laury Schell in France. The two cut a swath through French society and the racing community.
Their team, Ecurie Bleue, eventually became the proxy for the Delahaye factory. Their son, Harry Schell, became a noted grand prix driver after the war. It was Ecurie Bleue and its driver, René Dreyfus, who won the famous "Million Franc Prize" for Delahaye in 1937.
IDEAL FOR THE 1936 RACING SEASON
The competition prospects for the Type 135 were embodied in the short wheelbase, 3,557-cc tri-carburetor, 160-horsepower, Delahaye Type 135 Special. The Type 135 Special featured additional engine cooling passages, a lighter and better balanced crankshaft, an 8.4:1 compression ratio, modified valve gear, and a high-lift cam. It breathed through six exhaust ports with individual headers.
All Type 135 Specials were bodied with lightweight two-seat coachwork with removable teardrop fenders, making them acceptable in both sports car and grand prix competition. Aggressively functional, gracefully styled, and effectively aerodynamic, the Type 135 Special was ideal for the 1936 French racing season.
At the conclusion of the 1936 season, Delahaye disbanded the factory team and sold this Type 135 Special to the Schells' Ecurie Bleue, where it joined two others, chassis numbers 46835 and 47193. This car was modified for 1937 with the addition of doors and campaigned by Laury Schell.
He recorded a number of excellent results; third in the Mille Miglia with Carrière, third in the Tunis GP, and fifth in the GP de la Marne with René Dreyfus. Lucy O'Reilly Schell and a co-driver captured third overall in the Monte Carlo Rally. While it is believed that Dreyfus regularly raced chassis 47193, no satisfactory records or other evidence have been uncovered to identify specific race appearances for chassis 47189 other than the fifth place at the GP de la Marne.
After the war, 47189 raced in September 1945 in one of the first postwar events, the Coupe des Prisonniers race in the Bois de Boulogne, driven by Roger Wormser. Later, it was exported to Argentina through Harry Schell's friend Georges Gath, where it was raced by a number of owners as late as 1966. It was acquired by Rudolfo Iriate "well-used," with a Chevrolet engine and Fiat gearbox.
The body was rebuilt using the original coachwork as the templates and Iriate raced 47189 regularly into the late 1980s, when he sold it to Peter Agg in England. Agg sold it to Hugh Taylor in 1993, who passed it to Anthony Bamford, then Nicolas Springer in Germany. It was restored by Lukas Hüni in the mid-1990s.
The history of the Delahaye Type 135 was featured in Automobile Quarterly (volume 39, number 2, July 1999) and this car was singled out for the "Coda" spotlight as a "True Bleue Delahaye."
Twelve of the 16 original Delahaye Type 135 Specials are believed to survive. The best performing were the two factory cars of the 1936 season and the Ecurie Bleue, which mounted a challenge to Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union and Enzo Ferrari's Alfa Romeos. Type 135 Specials—and perhaps this very car—scored points in grands prix, sports car, and endurance events, driven by racing legends.
The SCM Analysis
This car sold for $1,320,000 at RM's Phoenix, Arizona, sale, January 19, 2007.
The reputation of Delahaye in the years leading up to World War II was outstanding. The company produced cars with powerful engines and strong, low-slung chassis with front independent suspension, in many ways more modern than contemporary Bugattis and the equal of the super sport 6C Alfa Romeos. The leading French coachbuilders created stunning bodies for the road cars, most notable being the teardrop coupes of Figoni et Falaschi.
Delahaye had an enviable record in competition, although it must be said that like Alfa Romeo, most of the successes in the 1930s came when the all-conquering Germans either didn't show up or had a rare problem. After the war, of course things were rather easier for the French and Italian marques.
AN ADAPTATION OF A ROAD CAR
The Type 135 Special was the main source of this reputation in the years leading up to WWII, as its successor, the V12 Type 145, was barely developed by the time war broke out. Like most pre-war French competition cars, it was not a purpose-built vehicle, but rather an adaptation of the road version. This car continued to do well after the war as well, even after its French engine was swapped for the Chevy. The "original" engine, however, remained with the car and was rebuilt with parts from three others in its first restoration in the 1970s.
Although the Type 135 Special was created for grand prix circuit racing as well as long-distance road racing, the realities of today's vintage race fields seem to dictate that the best use might not be on circuits. Running in race groups with far smaller and more nimble grand prix cars, the Type 135 would be a handful.
However, in vintage rallies such as the Mille Miglia Storica and other European and U.S. rallies, the car would be fun. The reliability of the sturdy, torquey ex-truck engine and the quick changes the Cotal pre-selector gearbox allows make the Type 135 a much less stressful drive than many of its contemporaries. SCMer Sam Mann, who has campaigned a 1937 Delahaye 135 MSC in vintage races, says "It always starts, always runs well, and always finishes. It's utterly reliable."
The history of chassis 47189 as stated in the catalog raises a great challenge in the valuation. Although the conversation is best led by my SCM colleague Thor Thorson, there is no doubt race cars are at their heart "tools" and—much like George Washington's legendary axe—require enthusiasm, dedication, and compromise to keep them racing. In the heat of battle, keeping detailed records is hardly first on any team member's list.
LITTLE DOUBT IT'S A FACTORY TEAM CAR
There is little doubt that 47189 was a Delahaye factory team car, was sold to Ecurie Bleue, and has an engine block with the original number. However, beyond one fairly minor race, no documentation exists as to its actual track record. The background is full of tantalizing "maybes" involving Dreyfus and other noted drivers and races. The fact that the body is new and the engine has been built up from the parts of many is not really a problem for a "tool."
It is not uncommon for a manufacturer to have replaced worn engines or to have done major repairs or replacement of bodies if the car was used as intended. As long as the block, head and ancillaries are of the proper year and type and the chassis has most of its original components, all should be fine.
The known history alone, along with the model's impressive racing record, the beauty of the design and the quality of the restoration make this car worth the price achieved. It remains a first-class ticket to any historic event in the world.
Years Produced: 1936
Number Produced: 14
Original List Price: N/A
SCM Valuation: $800k–$1.25m (at time of print)
Tune-up Cost: $1,200–$1,500
Distributor Caps: $50–$100
Chassis #: 47189
Chassis # Location: Stamped on frame rail on left side; also on chassis plate
Engine # Location: Tag on left front of engine; casting number on lower left block
Club Info: Club Delahaye President Philippe Looten, Rue A. Carrel, B.P. 15 59944 Dunkerque, Cedex 2, France
Web Site: http://www.clubdelahaye.com
Alternatives: 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C, 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS, 1934–39 Bugatti Type 57
Investment Grade: A