Delahaye 135M Narval Out of Hibernation for Rick Cole Auction


 

Certainly an automobile which will attract a lot of attention during Pebble Beach week has been entered in the Rick Cole Auction in Monterey. An ultra-rare, Figoni et Falaschi bodied Delahaye 135M, known as a Narval and one of only seven built, is as dramatic a vehicle in concept and history as any serious collector anywhere could ever want to consider having in his or her possession.

The auction of the Delahaye, together with 35 additional, hand-selected consignments will be once again headquartered at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Monterey. All vehicle sales during the annual three-day event will be conducted utilizing complimentary bidding afforded to on-site attendees, absentee bidders, telephone, internet, or users of Smartphones. Bidding will take place between August 13th and 15th. Winning bidders will be announced at Midnight on Saturday, August 15th.

According to Rick Cole and partner, Terry Price, the owner of the Delahaye admired all facets of our auction…the casual atmosphere, buyer-friendly environment, no pressure bidding format, and high dollar sale results from 2014. The Rick Cole Auction differs dramatically from all others at Monterey. While all cars are on display for inspection, buyers can only bid by Smartphone, on line, or by completing an absentee bidding form on site… there is no live auctioneer.

Cole’s 2014 event was impressive, considering he had been absent from the auction scene for many years before making a return to the Monterey peninsula. With display space for literally only 35 cars, Rick’s final sale tally found him safely mid-pack in total sale dollars among the five competing auction companies, and with the highest per car sales price average of all.

Additional 2015 Rick Cole Auction entries include a number of impressive Ferrari cars, including the first alloy 275 GTB/4 built, as well as a steel bodied 275 GTB/4, a 275 GTB, and 365 GTC. A late entry will include a Maserati 450S.

The Brilliant Delahaye 135

Founded during 1845 in Tours and later relocated to Paris, France’s Delahaye was one of the world’s earliest participants in the nascent automotive industry, having manufactured its first horseless carriage in 1894. Diversification into commercial vehicles brought further success; however, Delahaye’s signature product was undoubtedly the Type 135, introduced at the 1935 Paris Salon. Marking a refreshing break from the company’s reliable but somewhat uninspiring prior automotive designs, the 135 ushered in a new era for the company along much more sporting lines. Named “Coupe des Alpes” for its early success in the Alpine Rally, the 135 gained immediate fame and profoundly influenced Delahaye’s future designs.

Careful development begat several 135 variants for the road, including the 135 (Modifié), and 135 MS (Modifié Speciale). Highly successful competition models for Grand Prix and sports-car events acquitted themselves very well in the face of stiff competition not only from French manufacturers Bugatti, Delage, and Talbot-Lago, but importantly the German and Italian racing teams, with the less-powerful but highly reliable Delahayes often outlasting them to the checkered flag. The 135 would endure through the turbulent late 1930s and postwar reconstruction through 1954, when Delahaye automobile production effectively ended.

The Delahaye 135 chassis was designed by engineer Jean François. Standard 135 mechanical features were quite advanced for the era, including an independent front suspension, Bendix cable-operated brakes, 17-inch center-lock wire wheels, and a choice of a partially-synchronized four-speed manual or Cotal pre-selector transmissions. The 135’s inline six-cylinder engine, initially displacing 3.2 liters, featured modern overhead-valve architecture and it was particularly effective despite its relatively humble origins with Delahaye’s trucks and the more sedate, longer-wheelbase 138 automobile line. Developing 95 horsepower with twin carburetors and 110 with triple Solex downdraft carburetors, this engine was designed for strength with four main bearings supporting the crankshaft.

 

For 1936, power output increased with the 135 engine enlarged to 3.6 liters. Competition versions of the 135 proved dominant in sports-car racing during the late 1930s. Proving the point, Delahaye 135s took 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th at the 1936 French Grand Prix, which was run to sports-car regulations that year. While labor unrest forced cancellation of the Le Mans 24 Hours that year, Delahaye 135s scored second- and third-place podiums there in 1937 and first, second, and fourth in 1938. Track-bound 135s put England’s finest on notice as well, with Siam’s Prince Bira winning the 1938 Donington 12-Hour Sports Car Race and Prince Chula victorious at Brooklands’ “Fastest Road Car in England” event. Post-WW II, Delahaye 135s raced well into the 1950s, with one contesting the 1954 Tour de France.

 

The 135 was purpose-built for some of the most luxurious and sporting custom coachwork ever conceived by design, and also by necessity, as Delayahe did not produce coachwork. The era’s finest custom coachbuilders, including Saoutchik, Pennock, and Marcel Pourtout, of course gravitated to Delahaye’s 135 with the chassis’ independent front suspension and low height allowing the design of ever-more daring and streamlined bodies. However, none were as successful with the Delahaye 135 chassis as Parisian coachbuilders Figoni et Falaschi.

 

Figoni et Falaschi – Masters of Streamlined French Design

 

Without doubt, many of the most inspired body designs ever to emanate from France during the immediate pre- and post-WW II years were the products of the collaboration of Joseph Figoni and Ovidio Falaschi. Beginning in May 1935, Joseph Figoni partnered with Ovidio Falaschi, a successful Italian businessman, who provided working capital and business expertise plus design input. Soon after, Figoni was introduced to famed French artist Geo Ham, or at least to his work, with accounts varying as to the extent of the role that Ham played in the creation of the newly streamlined French design ethos, but his forward-thinking design language was certainly a source of inspiration. Another major influence on Figoni’s design was on the new crop of fast, streamlined aircraft of the 1930s, a possible by-product of the local airport adjacent to Figoni et Falaschi’s workshops.

 

The Delahaye 135M “Narwhal” Cabriolet

 

Despite the devastation of World War II, German occupation, and a particularly painful and uncertain postwar economic and political environment, the pent-up creativity of the French coachbuilding industry could finally be released again by 1946. The transition to peacetime was easier for some French manufacturers than others; while Figoni et Falaschi had been forced to produce aircraft components during wartime, it was also allowed to retain a portion of its facilities for production of stoves and home-heating radiators. While impossible to confirm, some clandestine body-design work may have continued as well, resulting in perhaps the most flamboyant and thrilling example of the French coachbuilder’s art form, the Narval or “Narwhal,” based upon the Delahaye 135M chassis and unleashed on the 1946 Salon de Paris, the first event of its kind to be held in postwar France.

Predictably, the Figoni “Narval,” so-named for its prominent frontal treatment, made a huge splash at its Paris debut, with intense public interest stoked by newspaper articles at the time. Just seven examples were built in all, with no two exactly alike. Visually, the Narvals were at once dramatic, sporting, and suggestive of a Narwhal or perhaps a Beluga Whale gracefully slicing through the ocean near the surface of the water, with the flowing fenders and chrome accents also evoking images of the water falling from the creature’s fins and tail as it glides through the water. The central dorsal fin atop the rear deck, while definitely evocative of that of its ocean-bound namesake also conjures images of Lockheed’s beautiful Constellation airliner that debuted during the 1940s and the twin vertical stabilizers of the hard-hitting Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter of WW II fame. The windshield, which could be folded flat, added further versatility and sporting flair to the Figoni et Falaschi Narval, as did the folding top with blind rear-quarters, which rendered the vehicle as striking with the top raised in place as with the top down.

An immediate object of desire among the rich and famous, the seven bold Narvals and their sleek, futuristic styling led the way into a brighter and more promising postwar world. As documented by Jean-Paul Tissot in the books, Delahaye: La Belle Carrosserie Francaise and Figoni & Delahaye 1934-1954: La Haute Couture Automobile, the Figoni Narval was a favorite of the era’s celebrities including French singing star and composer Charles Trenet, who took a Narval(800495) along with him on his American tour during 1948. Prince Ali Salman Aga Khan, the renowned international playboy and man of adventure, bought one for his bride, the legendary Hollywood screen icon Rita Hayworth. The sleek vehicles were also a hit in the United States, with the Narval depicted in a 1947 edition of Road and Track and in 1949, Narval 800543 was the cover subject of the magazine’s February 1949 edition.

This Delahaye 135M Narval Cabriolet – No. 800516

 

According to Tissot, this example, numbered 800516, was constructed upon Delahaye 135M Chassis 800516 and completed in March 1947 with its original color scheme comprising Light Blue Metallic paint with blue leather interior. It was sold and delivered to Mark B. Deitsch, the President of the Prima Company in Ohio, which manufactured fine ladies’ footwear. In 1954, the Narval was used in a magazine advertisement for “Cover Girl Dress Flats by Prima,” hence this car’s wonderful “Cover Girl” nickname.

Subsequently, 800516 seems to have disappeared from view until the 1970s or early 1980s, when it was owned by Erich Traber in Switzerland, where it received partial restoration and an engine swap to engine serial number 48482, with the donor car being an Antem-bodied Delahaye 135 convertible, which was the Carrosserie Antem’s Paris show car. It can be seen on Page 75 of the Jean Antem book by Dominique Pagneux and published in 2002. While some publications had stated that the car offered here, 800516, had once received a Cadillac V-8 engine, this is incorrect. Both the Narval (800516) on offer and the Antem-bodied car (48482) were later sold as a package to the late R.L. Atwell of Fredericksburg, Texas.

In the 1980's Mr. Atwell sold the Narval with engine 48482 installed to Russ Jackson of Barrett-Jackson collector-car auction fame. His son Craig Jackson (now CEO of Barrett-Jackson), performed a full restoration and sold the Delahaye, now finished in black with dark red snakeskin leather upholstery at Barrett-Jackson's 1989 auction to one Mr. Hata of Japan. The car remained there with him in nicely restored and little-used condition in the Hata Collection Museum until February 2013, when it was purchased and transported to California. Meanwhile, Mr. Atwell sold the Antem-bodied car with engine 800516 in it to John McMahan of Houston Texas, who retained it for many years, later selling it to J.A. Paalman of Holland. In February 2013, the Antem, now in very deteriorated condition, was purchased and transported to California to be reunited with the Narval on offer here. A number of photographs on file show the Antem-bodied car and the Narval’s original engine (800516) at the garage of Mr. McMahan in Houston circa-2000, and as located in Holland during 2013, including an image of the Narval’s original engine with the identification tag still affixed to the outside of the crankcase and just below the spark plugs.

While the Antem-bodied car is quite valuable in its own right, it is ultimately worth less than it would cost to restore it; however, the engines can certainly now be re-united with their original chassis, which will in turn enhance the “Narval”. Accordingly, the Narval’s original engine, numbered 800516, will accompany the vehicle at auction, mounted on a display stand. Additionally, the Consignor advises us that the Antem Cabriolet will also be included with the sale the Narval (plus shipping) if the winning bidder desires.

Recently during 2014, Narval 800516 was one of precious few road cars to be displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, alongside the Mercedes-Benz W198 Streamliner. This Narval was also on display that year at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. As an unqualified motoring icon and fabulously imaginative Figoni et Falaschi design statement, Delahaye 135M Narval 800516 stands today as the ultimate, and one of the very last, expressions of the French custom coachbuilder’s art form. Uncommonly sensual in every respect, 800516 also marks the closing chapter of the Classic Era and as such, it is a CCCA Full Classic automobile that will be welcomed at virtually any concours and event the new owner should ever desire to attend. As such, it will stand confidently on its own or provide the crowning touch to any proper collection of French motorcars including the finest achievements of French coachbuilders.