Premium French marque Delahaye built only 1500 of its best model the Type 135 before it shut up shop in 1954.
The company’s top-performing sports and racing cars and prestigious sedans, coupes and cabriolets all came from a variety of coach builders, because Delahaye built only the engine and chassis.
The design, interior appointments and finishing touches were left Europe’s gifted metal, wood and leather craftsmen, who produced some masterpieces of the motoring world — no two identical.
Most of the coach builders were French or Italian, but two Dutch companies — Pennock and Van Leersum — also did some exquisite work.
The latter built just three Delahayes – one of which has just come on to the market.
It’s the 1946 Delahaye 135M with coachwork by Van Leersum, which makes it one of the world’s most exclusive classics.
The sleek coupe is in the UK, parked at Cars International Heritage, in Harrowgate.
Five years ago it featured at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, California, dressed in two-tone paint with a buyer guide figure of $775,000 to $960,000 Aussie dollars.
But it has since benefited from recent major refurbishment, including a coat of deep burgundy paint and an engine rebuild, and its price has become somewhat more realistic.
Under a long louvred bonnet lies at 3557cc overhead valve straight six engine, fed by a trio of Solex carburetters, with a four-speed transmission that is Cotal’s famed four-speed electro-magnetic pre-selector system.
It has independent front suspension and a live rear axle with big drum brakes on all four wheels.
Delahaye initially produced quality, belt-driven single and twin cylinder horseless carriages from 1894, but the picture improved greatly from 1935 with the first of a new generation that would change the marque’s image forever: the T135 Coupe Des Alpes.
It was powered by a 3.2-litre six-cylinder and was followed by the 3.6-litre, 120/130bhp T135MS, which soon made a name for itself finishing an impressive 2, 3, 4 and 5 behind the winning Alfa Romeo in the 1936 French Grand Prix which was run to sports car regulations.
Much of the brand’s competitive success was due to the efforts of American heiress Lucy O’Reilly Schell, who paid the development costs for short wheelbase Type 135 cars for rallying and racing.
She bought 12 of them, reserving half for her Ecurie Bleue amateur racing team.
Schell was the first American woman to compete in an international Grand Prix and the first woman to establish her own Grand Prix team.
She and husband, Laury, entered one in the 1936 Monte Carlo Rally — and finished second outright.
Next year René Le Bègue and Julio Quinlin won the Monte Carlo Rally in a Type 135 and in 1938 a Delahaye won the Le Mans 24-Hour Race.
Next, Prince Bira won the 1938 Donington 12-Hour Sports Car Race in Prince Chula’s example and went on to take victory in Brooklands’ Fastest road car in England race.
World War II then came along and the car re-appeared post-war as the 135M.
However, by then Delahaye was in financial difficulty as a result of the French Government’s taxation policies, which heavily penalised cars of over 3.0 litres, and in 1954 the company was taken over by Hotchkiss.
That didn’t last long before the Brandt Group swallowed up Hotchkiss, halted car production and brought an era of superlative motoring style to a close.
Some memorable sculptures were created by coachbuilders like Saoutchik, Henry Chapron, Franay, Graber and Figoni et Falaschi and were snapped up by the Who’s Who of Hollywood and other society celebrities.
Voluptuous British movie star Diana Dors had a 1949 Saoutchik-bodied Delahaye which The Globe and Mail headlined as ‘The French rocket and the British bombshell’.
The car for sale is the Delahaye 135M Van Leersum, built by Jan van Leersum, of Hilversum.
He started his business in 1919 and through the 1930s he concentrated on the vogue of streamlining, addressing detail features such as sunroofs and aerodynamic boot lids.
The coupe was one of just three 135Ms he dressed, indeed it might be one of the last to emerge from the Delahaye works since production of the Types 175, 178 and 180 which followed was discontinued in 1951.
Global financial difficulties also created a shortage of wealthy car buyers and by 1953 the number of Delahayes registered had dropped to a miserable 36.
The end came with the Type 235, a modern version of the 135, but production was discontinued after just 85 units.
Chassis #800311, the 135M Van Leersum, was registered in the Paris region in 1949, and was later owned by noted Italian collector Ennio Gianaroli.
He parted with it around 1980 and after several more ownerships the car joined an unidentified major collection in Europe.
It’s a classic beauty with a somewhat more appealing asking price: 250,000 sterling (which translates to $438,000 in Australian currency).
They’ve always been exclusive vehicles and have become hard to find these days.
A search of other Delahayes for sale revealed only eight on the world market.