Automobiles Delage, Courbevoie-sur-Seine
Born in 1874, the flamboyant and extrovert Louis Delage had a lot of money and knew how to spend it.
When he formed a company at Courbevoie-sur-Seine to design and build cars in 1905 he immediately
set the aim to keep the quality high. Almost immediately he entered his cars in racing in the voiturette class, one of them
finishing second in the 1906 Coupe de l'Auto.
Delage continued to be one of the leading manufacturers in pre-WW1 voiturette racing. Albert Guyot won the
1908 GP des Voiturettes at Dieppe with a de Dion engined Delage. Soon the factory proceeded to manufacture their own
three litre four cylinder racing engine and with it Paul Bablot went on to win the 1911 Coupe des Voiturettes at Boulogne
and 1913 GP de France at Le Mans.
Sales improved with racing success and the company could expand facilities.
For 1913 Louis Delage went into full Grand Prix racing with a 6.2 litre car, making no secret that his ambition was to build the best and fastest racing cars in the world. At the French Grand Prix at Amiens the Delage proved to be the fastest of the field, Albert Guyot fighting with the Peugeots for the lead when he suffered a puncture and the mechanic, eager to fix the problem, jumped off too soon and got run over. After taking the mechanic back to the pits for medical attention Guyot finally finished the race in a disappointing 5th position. Next year René Thomas went on to win the Indianapolis in a similar Delage.
For the 1914 French Grand Prix Delage developed the three most advanced GP cars in the field featuring four wheel brakes, and an engine designed by Artur-Léon Michelat with twin camshafts, four desmodromic valves per cylinder, two twin dual-throat Claudel carburettors and a multitude of ball bearings. After being fastest in practice the cars were troubled by technical problems during the race, Arthur Duray finally finishing in 8th place. Soon afterwards the First World War began and the Delage factory changed to Army vehicle production.
Immediately after the war Delage was back producing a 5.15 litre six cylinder car for sprint and hillclimbing that proved to be very successful especially in the hands of René Thomas (see Hans Etzrodt's Hill Climb list for details). It took until 1923 before Delage was back in Grand Prix racing, this time with the highly complex 2LCV featuring a four o.h.c. V-12 engine. The car was built and tested in 120 days, the engine built in less than 8 weeks. Except for some experiments, the 2LCV ran during the following year without blowers but for 1925 the 1,983 cc, V-12 engine came with twin Roots supercharges, improving the power to an unheard of 190 hp at 7,000 rpm and the top speed to 215 km/h. The car had a chassis incapable of handling this much power and the car's full potential was thus not realized. That did not hinder it from taking a double victory at the French Grand Prix (Robert Benoist winning from Louis Wagner), and a triple victory at the Spanish Grand Prix (Albert Divo, Robert Benoist, René Thomas).
For the new formula in 1926 Delage produced a straight eight 1 1/2 litre car. Once again no expense was spared and the result was one of the great Grand Prix classics. No less than 62 roller and ball bearings were used in the remarkable engine constructed by Albert Lory. The cars were not ready for the French GP but made their debut at the Spanish GP at San Sebastian. At the race a serious defect appeared, the heat from the exhaust pipe turned the cockpit into a furnace and the drivers had to be given medical treatment while holes were cut in the cars before reserve drivers could take over. The problem reappeared at the British Grand Prix at Brooklands but Senechal/Wagner still managed to take the victory. After that the cars were sent back to the factory for a drastic rebuild.
1927 was the year of Delage's greatest triumph. The rebuilt cars now swept the board, taking five Grand Prix victories and the World Championship for the team. At the end of the season after achieving his goal and with costs running sky high Louis Delage decided to split the racing team and to sell the GP cars.
From that point on it went only downwards. Delage was one of several French manufacturers that suffered from the hard economic times of the early 30s. Close to bankruptcy, the Delage Company was bought in 1935 by Walter Watney, the owner of the principle dealership in Delage cars in Paris. While still nominally in command Delage was paid a small monthly pension to keep him invisible. Selling his possessions one by one he died as a poor man in 1947.
Under Watney the name Delage was saved in a way so that the general public hardly was aware of that anything had happened. Under the new name "Societe Nouvelle des Automobiles Delage", Delahaye (under Charles Weiffenbach) produced cars with Delage name on the radiators in a corner of the Delahaye factory, Weiffenbach getting a 10% commission for each Delage sold while Watney got 5% for each Delahaye. Several Delage engines were incorporated in the Delahaye production line. In 1954 it was finally over, the names Delage, Delahaye and Hotchkiss disappeared forever from the car manufacturer scene.
For the 1 1/2 litre formula Albert Lory, who had previously worked for Salmson, designed a car with a traditional chassis but with a remarkable engine. The 8 cyl engine had a cast iron cylinder block on an alloy crankcase. Lubrication was of the dry sump type. The one piece crankshaft was running on ten roller bearings. Altogether no less than 62 roller and ball bearings were used in the engine. Two overhead camshafts operated 16 valves. Two superchargers were mounted on the left side driven by one internal shaft, while the magneto was driven by another shaft on the right side. While 8000 rpm was marked as red on the counter, drivers often took the engine up to 9000 rpm and it has been claimed the engine had exceeded 10.000 rpm without any signs of damage.
The car was built as a two seater according to the formula, the driver sitting lower than the propeller shaft that was passing to the left. The exhaust was at the right of the car, passing close to the pedals. It has been estimated that the four cars for 1926 alone cost Delage £36.000.
After the heating troubles during the 1926 season the cars went through a complete redesign. The entire engine and transmission was moved 10 cm to the left and the exhaust was moved to the left side. That left no room for the twin superchargers and they were replaced by a single unit in front of the engine. The radiator was replaced by a new inclined one.
After winning the world championship the four cars were sold to privateers. Lord Howe owned two of them but he destroyed one at Monza 1932. The other of his cars ended up with larger brakes and a ENV pre-selector gearbox. That was the car Seaman bought from Howe at end of the 1935 season on the recommendation by his mechanic Guilio Ramponi. Ramponi rebuilt the car with duraluminium wheels, new front axle, a new combined tail and fueltank and replaced the pre-selector gearbox with a 1925 Delage 2LCV gearbox and the old mechanical brakes with Lockhead hydraulic ones. The supercharger pressure was increased and the valve timing, that was found to be incorrect, was changed. Altogether Ramponi lightened the car by some 115 kg and increased power to from 170 to 185-195 bhp/7500 rpm. After dominating the 1936 Voiturette season the car was bought by Prince Chula for his cousin "Bira". Chula also asked Albert Lory to design two more cars with independent front suspension and a streamlined nose. However the project proved to be a complete failure, costing Prince Chula £7.836.
As raced by Howe
As raced by Seaman
Delage 3 litre
The Delage chassis 50688 has been called the first GT car. As a cooperation between Charles Weiffenbach and Walter Watney Delahaye delivered a T135 CS chassis for Delage to be raced in the 1936 Le Mans. The engine was a short stroke variant of the Delahaye 3.6 litre 6 cylinder with a bronze cylinder head. The unsupercharged 3 litre engine was capable of 5500 rpm. For the chassis Figoni & Falaschi built a beautiful bright red luxurious coupé body. As the 1936 Le Mans was never run the car was instead used in rallying and sports car racing by Mr. and Mrs. Richer-Delavau and Jacques de Valence and it also became the show piece for the Delage brand, often standing in Walter Watney's car showroom in Paris. There it was bought by Louis Gérard, a man who with quite rough means had managed to achieve domination in the slot machine market in Paris and who had a liking for beautiful cars. Gerard was pursued by de Valence to enter the car in the 1937 Le Mans and they finished 4th, winning their class. Gérard continued to race the car in 1937 with quite good results. In 1938 the body was taken over by Mlle. Rouault, who put it on a Delahaye T 135CS chassis while Figoni & Falaschi delivered a new sports car chassis for the Gérard's Delage. With the rebuilt car Gérard took part in the 1938 sports car season, finishing second in Antwerp and Spa and winning the RAC TT.
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