1939 Delahaye 135MS Grand Sport RoadsterSOLD

RM Auction - Vintage Motor Cars at Amelia Island - March 10, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $1,100,000 - $1,400,000

$1,347,500 Sold

160hp, 3,557 cc inline overhead valve six-cylinder engine, Cotal electro-mechanical four-speed gearbox, independent front suspension with transverse leaf spring, live rear axle with quarter elliptic springs, and
four-wheel assisted mechanically actuated Bendix drum brakes. Wheelbase: 114"

The Delahaye 135

Delahayes have always been remarkable automobiles. They are interesting, quick, responsive, and very often astonishing to look at. Emile Delahaye began building rear-engined, belt-driven cars in 1894. Adventuresome in their engineering, these early Delahayes drew many comparisons to the better-known Benz automobiles. Emile had great reserves of ingenuity; unfortunately he had no such luck with finances. He was forced to sell the company, luckily the Desmarais family who ended up purchasing it, recognized Emile’s vision and continued to expand on it throughout the rest of the company’s history.

Introduced at the 1935 Paris Salon, the Type 135 was a delight with its spirited and lively chassis, independent front suspension, light steering, and buttery-smooth Cotal electromagnetic gearbox. In racing form, the 135 series was a fierce competitor, taking the first six places at the 1936 Marseilles race, a second at LeMans in 1937 (the 1936 race was cancelled), and first, second, and forth place at the LeMans in 1938.

In 1938, a new, top-of-the-line model of the Type 135 was introduced at the 1938 Paris Salon, the MS (Modifiee Speciale). Its power plant was a thoroughly updated version of the existing 3.5 liter six-cylinder engine. A larger cylinder head and bigger valves improved breathing and horsepower was increased to 130hp and with proper gearing and slippery coachwork, could reach an incredible top speed of 110mph.

Competent as the 135 may be, it is the coachwork that defines a Delahaye. The greatest artists of the time created some of their best work on Delahaye chassis; Henri Chapron, Letourner et Marchand, Saoutchik, Guillore, Franay, and Graber were just a few of whose art graced Delahayes. However if one coachbuilding firm deserved special distinction, it would have to be Figoni et Falaschi.

Figoni et Falaschi

There is little doubt that the era of exuberant French coachwork precipitated a tidal change in automotive design. Gone were the largely functional forms of the twenties and early thirties, replaced by the fanciful curves and sensuous lines that ushered in the era of the automobile as art. Although others were versed in the style to one degree or another, it was the Parisian firm of Figoni et Falaschi that is widely regarded as the innovator of the new look.

Christened Giuseppe Figoni in Piacenza, Italy in 1894, Joseph Figoni was born in Italy but moved to France as a young child with his parents. After graduating from vocational school in 1908, Figoni apprenticed to a local carriage builder where he developed his understanding of the principles of body construction and began to develop his appreciation for the lines,
forms, and proportions of good design.

Figoni served in the French armed forces during the war, leaving in 1921 to start his own body shop. He developed his coachbuilding skills accommodating the needs of his clientele, and repairs began to be supplanted by updates and modifications. By the mid twenties, he was building complete bodies.

Figoni’s early work was quite conservative, probably a reflection of the wishes of his affluent clientele. Nonetheless, his early designs show a sophisticated sense of line and proportion. Far from extravagant, these early cars were like a well-tailored suit: impeccable craftsmanship combined with just enough flair in the cut to stand out from the ordinary.

By the turn of the decade, Figoni had begun to earn commissions for racing cars, and it was these unlikely orders that began to shift his image and reputation in a more sporting direction. Alfa Romeos, Lancias, Bugattis, and other sporting marques began to figure more prominently in his shops.

Even as his design talent flourished, Joseph Figoni’s methods remained primitive. For many years, he would build a framework outline of the body directly on the chassis, using strips of steel welded together. While not as sophisticated as an engineering drawing, his method had the decided advantage of allowing him to directly translate a concept into a three dimensional reality. Adjustments were easily made until he (and the client) was satisfied, at which point the steel framework would be used directly by the panel fabricators to clothe the chassis.

By the mid thirties, as the shop grew and became more sophisticated, he began to make scale models of a new design in clay, turning the result over to draftsmen to create the drawings that would be used to build the body. The principle was the same – the form would be realized and refined in three dimensions before being translated into drawings – the reverse of what was normal practice at the time.

In 1935, several events would take place that would prove pivotal both for Figoni and for French design. In May of 1935 Joseph Figoni took in a partner. Ovidio Falaschi, a successful Italian businessman, was to provide working capital and business expertise. By all accounts, the partnership was a success, with both men making substantial contributions.

The second seminal event was that Figoni was introduced to the work of the famed French artist Geo Ham. Accounts vary as to the extent of the role that Ham played in the creation of the new design ethos, but earlier work by Ham makes it clear that his design ideas were at least a source of inspiration for Figoni.

The third event was the development of the Delahaye 135 in 1935/6. The 135 introduced a new lower radiator and independent suspension, which not only improved the car’s handling dramatically, but also lowered the chassis. It was these innovations that created the canvas on which Figoni would design Delahaye’s 1936 Paris show car.

While Ham may have influenced the design of that first Delahaye 135, most historians believe that the remarkable series of designs that would follow were the work of Joseph Figoni. Regardless, Figoni et Falaschi would over the years cloth some of the finest Delahaye 135s, including the striking 1939 Delahaye 135MS Grand Sport Roadster presented here.

Chassis no. 60158

A Monsier Jeantet of Paris commissioned the Delahaye 135MS to be built with coachwork by Figoni et Falaschi, requesting specifically a Roadster Grand Sport, in Andalou Red, it needed to have handles in the middle of the chrome strip as well as a large rear window. 60158 was completed in the early part of 1939 and was issued 627 RMA as its French registration number. The car came just as he ordered, with one of a kind coachwork providing a sporty appearance appropriate for the 135MS’s tremendous aptitude.

Following the war, 60158 would find itself several owners before settling in the esteemed Emmanuel Collection. From there it was acquired by Peter Agg, and resided in his impressive stable. It was during this tenure that the 60158 was featured in several publications. Agg enjoyed driving 60158 tremendously and campaigned it in a collection of international rallies. From the Agg collection, the Delahaye would pass on to two more owners before finding itself offered here.

60158 was subjected to a complete restoration by the European restoration and engine-rebuilding specialists at Jim Stokes Workshops Ltd. Accordingly, the original engine was completely rebuilt and mostly likely runs better now than it would have when new. During the cosmetic side of the restoration, the Delahaye was refinished in a very dark shade of blue and the interior was upholstered in plush light brown leather.

Stunning from any angle, the Figoni et Falaschi design is perfectly proportioned, with long flowing lines, elegant curves and an unmistakably French use of brightwork. With so much to love about this design, it is the little things like the door handles camouflaging with the chrome sweep spear that give this one a kind Delahaye its character.

With modern roadster proportions and a very capable powerplant, 60158 would be perfectly suited to undertake any challenging touring event as it is comfortable, light and maneuverable, yet more than powerful enough to keep up with modern highway traffic. On the other hand, the Delahaye has not yet been shown at a concours event, nor has its visual condition deteriorated any since completing its restoration. Thus createting an excellent opportunity to bring it to show, where judges will certainly be impressed not only by its outstanding craftsmanship, but by its originality and careful attention to period correctness.

Above all else, what makes this 1939 Delahaye 135MS so appealing, both the learned collector and the neophyte will agree – it is absolutely gorgeous.

Reference Number 7410

as of 2/20/2007

Car 1939 Delahaye 135MS Grand Sport Roadster
VIN 60158 
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