Societe des Automobiles Delahaye, Paris
In 1879 Emile Delahaye joined the company of Louis Julien Brethon, founded founded in Tours in 1845 for
producing machinery for the ceramic industry.
The first Delahaye car was presented to the public in 1895.
In 1898 George Morane and Léon Desmarais joined the company and the plant was moved to 10 Rue du Banquier,
Paris, where it was to remain. Despite competing in some city-to-city races in the late 19th century
the firm took little interest in competition and their last appearance was in
the Paris-Vienna and Circuit des Ardennes races in 1902.
Delahaye had no heirs and when he retired in 1901 a young engineer named Charles Weiffenbach took over the management of the factory and held it firmly until 1954. Known to his employees as "Monsieur Charles", Weiffenbach was born in Alsace in 1870. Born a few months later he would have been German instead of French. Weiffenbach was no friend of motorsports and Delahaye continued just a few years with offshore boat racing, taking several victories and taking the world water speed record (54.5 km/h) before finally leaving motorsports altogether. Instead Weffenbach put the company's resources into production of practical road vehicles. In addition to private cars Delahaye produced fire engines, trucks, parcel carriers for the post office and motor ploughs. During the first world war Delahaye's type 59 army trucks became a well known sight on the Western Front.
In 1927 Delahaye entered a rather unsuccessful 5 year partnership with Chenard et Walcker, Rosengart and the tractor firm FAR.
By the early 30s the French motor industry was in crisis and with Delahaye's private cars being robust but dull, Weiffenbach realized that dramatic changes had to be made to save the company. Several of his rivals were in for sports cars and Weiffenbach decided to go the same way, a bold move for a managing director who was already 62 years old.
A 42 year old engineer named Jean François was ordered to construct a series of sporty cars using as much as possible of the current parts. A independent suspension was constructed for a new strong chassis with box-section side members. The engine was a development of the 1927 type 103 car engine (also used in trucks) with a formidable 65mm crankshaft with internal lubrication. The cars, the Type 134 (2.1 litre, 4 cyl) and the Type 138 (3.2 litre, 6 cyl) were introduced at the Paris car salon in 1933.
With the 6 cylinder engine put into the four cylinder chassis the car proved suitable for rally events.
A special record breaker was also built from the 18CV Super-Lux chassis. The car broke several records in 1934 including the 48 h and the 10,000 km records. In 1934 Delahaye got a licence to build cars under the Delage name as the Delage company went into liquidation and their factory was closed down.
Further developements ofthe Delahaye type 134/138 led in 1935 to the type 135 Sport (3.2 litre, 96 HP), the 135 Coupe de Alpes (3.2 litre, 110 HP) and the 135 Compétition (3.6 litre, 120 BHP).
Lucy O'Reilly-Schell was the only child of an American multi-millionare of Irish origin. Living in France Lucy and her husband Laury became familiar names in rally events with Delahayes. Lucy Schell wanted a special racing variant to be built, the 135 Spéciale or 135 S. Soon she had collected orders from wealthy friends for Spéciales and suddenly to Weiffenbach's surprise Delahaye found themselves into the French sports car series with a two car works team and over a dozen privateer cars, many of them owned by Lucy Schell. The works team was withdrawn after that a terrible accident at the 1936 Marne GP had left Delahaye privateer "Michel Paris" paralysed, but the privateers went on racing their cars quite successfully.
Lucy Schell wanted to enter GP racng with her team and asked Delahaye to build a car for the new 4.5 litre formula for the 1937 season. The decision was taken to build a V12 car fitting for both Grand Prix and Sports car racing, the 1937 type 145. It was followed a year later by the unsuccessful type 155. The Delahaye 135S were entered in a lot of post-war races before becoming obsolescent in the late 40s.
During World War 2 Delahaye was was part of the "Generale française de Constuction Automobile" (G.F.A.)for the specialisation of vehicule construction. In 1954 Weiffenbach retired as the company was merged with Hotchkiss et Cie in Saint-Denis to become Société Hotchkiss-Delahaye . Two years later Hotchkiss was absorbed by Brandt to become Hotchkiss-Brandt and the name Delahaye vanished from the scene.
Delahaye 135 Spéciale
The car was a developement of the type 135 touring car. The chassis was of a new type that gave better weight distribution on the car. But many standard components remained and the brakes were still cable operated. The front suspension was independent. The customers could choose between a 80 litre and a 100 litre fuel tank. The driving seat was on the right-hand side.
The engine was a development of the 3.2 litre type 103 engine from 1927. It was a simple pushrod operated engine, its main speciality was the extraordinary sized "through-flow" crankshaft that served as a lubrication artery. The engine had high torque and good acceleration and reliability rather than high power.
The cars were delivered with bare chassis with the owners making their own bodies, so each car looked different. Some of the cars were built as 4 seaters to comply with the 1936 Le Mans rules.
The 135 S made its debut in the 1936 Monte Carlo Rally, finishing 2nd. Built mainly for rally and sports car events the cars also became regular backmarkers in the Grand Prix races both in the pre- and the post-war era. Most of the cars were rebuilt several times, some of them getting streamlined bodies. After the war the Delahaye 135S were entered in a lot races before becoming obsolescent in the late 40s.
135S Chassis log:
Delahaye 145 V12
The type 145 two seater was meant for both sports and GP racing. Work was concentrated on the new V12 engine while the chassis resembled the type 135.
The engine was quite short for being a V12 with a conventional two piece crankshaft mounted in seven roller bearings. To make the engine as light as possible the cylinderheads were made of an aluminuom alloy and the block was cast in a magnesium alloy, a technique hardly anyone has dared to follow. The engine was served by three carburettors, placed on top of it. The valves were operated by pushrods and rockers (1 central and 2 side camshafts).
The independent front suspension was similar to the one of the type 135. While the car was top modern at the front the rear end was antique. To reduce drag the semi-elliptic leaf springs were mounted flush to the chassis. That created troubles as the springs were in an angle to each other and not perpendicular to the axle.
A totally new body was made for the car. With its blunt nose it created quite a sensation when it was shown for the first time at the Montlhéry track 25 June 1937. René Dreyfus later admitted that it was the most awful-looking car he had ever seen.
The car was in fact very low and seen from the side it had a highly aerodynamic shape. The sports car mudguards had been set high over the rest of the car so that they should not disturb the air flow but it made the sports variant look even uglier. The new car made its debut at the Marne GP sports car race on 18 July 1937, retiring.
In 1937 the French Fonds de Course, an organization with the aim to put France back into GP racing, had announced that 1 million francs should go to the French car built to the 1938 formula that could run 200km at a speed exceeding 146.5 km/h by the widest margin on the Montlhéry track before 1 September 1937. On 27 August Dreyfus with a special built Delahaye type 145 took the record with a 146.654 km/h run, earning the million for the team. Lucy Schell ordered a white and red line to be painted in an angle over the body on all the cars to celebrate the event and it was seen on the cars all 1938 season.
The greatest time for the car was the victories at the Pau and Cork GP in early 1938.
Sports car racing 1937 (GP de l´Automobile Club de France, Marne GP)
GP racing 1938
Tripoli 1938 (Dreyfus)
(A special thanks to Jean-Maurice Gigleux for providing picture material)
Delahaye 155 Monoplace
Ordered by Lucy Schell the type 155 was to be a real GP car, built to the 1938 formula. The 155 retained the independent front suspension of the type 145 but hydraulic dampers were added. The rear of the car was completely new with a complex de Dion axle a la Mercedes-Benz. But Jean François couldn't resist to add a few Gallic tricks to the construction. The gearbox was below the wheel centerline so the power had to be transmitted through spur gears, creating lots of unsprung weight.
Because of the team boycotting the French GP and because of the financial situation there was no hurry in developing the type 155. The rear suspension geometry and the high unsprung weight made the Type 155 handling much inferior to that of the Type 145. As a result of the disappointment only one car was ever built.
I am much obliged to André Vaucourt for his great assistance to get this Delahaye page correct and up to date. The chassis logs follows latest research on the subject. Note that 4496cc is the volume always given for the V12 for some reason even if 75mm * 84.7 = 4490cc!
Suggested further reading: Delahaye, Le Grand Livre, by J. Dorizon, F. Peigney and J.-P. Dauliac.
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