The 1999 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Class Winning
1939/46 DELAGE D8/120 CABRIOLET GRAND LUXE
COACHWORK BY CHAPRON
Chassis No. 51980
Engine No. 51980
Blue with red fender highlights and red leather upholstery
Engine: eight cylinder, in-line, two overhead valves per cylinder, 4,300cc., 90bhp at 4,000rpm; Gearbox: four-speed Cotal electro-magnetic; Suspension: front, independent with underslung transverse semi-elliptic leaf springs and wishbones, rear, semi-elliptic springs and hydraulic shock absorbers; Brakes: four wheel drum. Right hand drive.
Louis Delage was a man of style and exuberance and his long low eight-cylinder cars of impeccable performance reflected the image of their creator. The early four cylinder D1s were the company's mainstay in the early 1920s, followed by those jewel-like engineered eight cylinder Supercharged 1½-litre Grand Prix cars that gave Robert Benoist five Grand Prix victories in 1927 and were still winning Voiturette races with Dick Seaman in 1936. The D8 Series eight cylinder engine developed by Maurice Gaultier became the best engine of all Delage models. It helped the company achieve its world renown during the 1930s. Naturally, the cars were bodied by the very best of Europe's coachbuilders.
The D8 was a glamorous car. It was fast and had impeccable road holding. It was most suited to high speed, long distance touring that favored the affluent customers who dictated that Delage was the status symbol of success. Although the Delage D8 Series became one of the most desired high performance cars in Europe, they were expensive. Louis Delage was reluctant to change this image to suit the varying economic climate and after a fall-out with his co-directors, he left the company in 1935. Shortly afterwards the firm merged with their rival competitors, Delahaye. They retained the individuality, but became more selective with their range, and a new Delage D8 120 was introduced in 1937 incorporating hydraulic brakes, a revised Delahaye style chassis with transverse leaf independent front suspension and a Cotal electro-magnetic gearbox. The engine was an eight-cylinder version of the existing six-cylinder Delahaye with a capacity of 4.3 litres providing a healthy 95bhp at 4,000 rpm in its initial form. In April 1938 The Autocar tested a D8-120 (4.3 litre drophead coupe) and attained nearly 98mph, confirming that, with improved aerodynamics and/or slightly larger engines, these vehicles were capable of speeds exceeding 100mph.
Starting in 1937 the D8-100 and D8-120 received several beautifully proportioned bodies by Chapron, Pourtout and Letourneur et Marchand. At about this time many major European motor manufacturers were experimenting with streamlining, primarily to showcase the company image and sell expensive vehicles. Not surprisingly some of these vehicles were used for competition, and examples such as the Embiricos (Van Vooren) Bentley and the Louis Gerard (Figoni) Delage proved very fast and successful on circuits such as Le Mans. While proving cars on the racetrack was highly effective for the manufacturers, the coachbuilders gained far more recognition for their artistry by displaying their cars at Motor Shows and competing in Concours d'Elegance events. Undoubtedly, one of the stars of the D8-120 range was this stunning Cabriolet Grand Luxe whose design emanated from the famous coachbuilding establishment Henri Chapron of Paris.
Chassis no. 51980 was in fact the penultimate D8-120 chassis built in 1939; being unsold it had to remain hidden during the Second World War. Following the end of hostilities it was delivered to Henri Chapron in May of 1946 to have its coachwork made and fitted. The car was slated to have been an exhibit for the Paris Motor Show, Salon du Paris, held in October 1946, although we are unable to confirm if it was finished in time. The order was placed by Delahaye, who were presumably the owners of the car until it was exported and sold to Egypt in July 1948. Before the car was sold, this Delage may well have participated in a number of the fashionable Concours d' Elegance events at that time and further research may yet turn up some photographs from this period.
A wonderful file of information and a report upon this car, compiled by French historian Andre Vaucourt accompanies this Lot. Included in the report are copies of the original Chapron build sheet no. 6356, along with copies of several letters of correspondence between Delahaye, Delage (SNAD) and Chapron along with the English translations. Of most interest undoubtedly is the build sheet, which details the special features and elegant design work that went into this vehicle from new. Highlights included chrome plated moldings, pointed tail, louvers on the hood, a Torpedo special radiator grill, folding windshield, deco lines, wheel discs and Grand Luxe woodwork. The color scheme was also carefully described indicating Valentine Capri blue paintwork and red fender skirts, along with red leather upholstery. Attached to the original build sheet held in France were the paint samples and leather swatches enabling a perfect match during a later restoration. Although a little unclear from the documentation, the eventual selling price appears to have been around FrF 1,170,000 (about $10,000) certainly making it one of the most expensive French cars money could purchase in 1948.
The history overseas in Egypt is unknown at this time and we suspect that a few years later the car returned to France as many cars at that time were traded back. The next owner we believe was Robert 'Bob' Grier from the US. Bob Grier was a photographer and great friends with a number of other famous American automobile enthusiasts such as Henry Austin Clark and Alec Ullman. In the 1950s they made several buying trips to Europe and no doubt this was one of the vehicles they picked up. Mr. Grier owned many great vehicles in his life and was certainly a fan of D8-120s having previously purchased one from the 1939 New York Auto Show. The black and white photograph depicted in the catalogue was taken in New York City, we think during the late 1950s. We believe the car remained with Bob Grier until the late 1960s when it passed to Cal Bedell from Glen Cove, Long Island. The car was laid up in storage for almost 15 years and then, following persistent attempts over many years to purchase it, was eventually sold in the late 80s to Manny Dragone from Bridgeport, CT. Photographs of the car as purchased and unrestored demonstrate what a remarkably original and unmolested vehicle this truly was and still bearing its original paintwork. At this time the car had some 16,000 miles recorded which may well have been since new. A gradual restoration ensued at which time the car was painted burgundy with black fender treatments. In 1995 the car was shown at Pebble Beach while in the ownership of the collector Mr. Alfredo Brenner. A couple of years later the car was sold to Dr. Joseph A. Murphy to join his growing stable of mouthwatering classics. It is pictured in his book, In Search of Excellence where it was captioned as a Teardrop Convertible and not surprisingly it was favorably compared to some of the best designs to come from some other leading coachbuilders such as Saoutchik and Figoni et Falaschi.
In 1998 the Delage passed to the current owner who decided to return the vehicle to its original color scheme. At the same time he tastefully modified the rear metal tonneau screen (covering the three position convertible top) into a one piece unit and removed the cramped rear seating area, leaving in place a suitable area for a luggage case that is now appropriately fitted with a period trunk by Louis Vuitton. The Delage returned to Pebble Beach in 1999 and won a Best in Class award. More recently this car was greatly admired at the 2002 Greenwich Concours where it won the People's Choice. At Hershey 2002 it won a First Junior Award from the AACA. Earlier this year the car was due to be shown at the Amelia Island Concours, however, owing to the heavy rains, it in fact never left its enclosed trailer.
To fully appreciate the visual impact of this unique vehicle it has to be seen in person and viewed from all angles. Luxurious flowing fender lines and subtle curvatures blend along the whole length of the Delage, producing this rakish extravaganza. Interior appointments are also luxurious and in this case the red leather upholstery and trim complements the exterior painted fender skirt treatment. Set in a fine wood grained dashboard is a full compliment of instruments dominated by a Jaeger tachometer and speedometer. Beside the large steering wheel is the Cotal shifter, which allows clutchless upshifting. A fun novelty of these gearboxes is the ability to use all four gears in reverse!
Aerodynamically-designed classics, particularly from the French coachbuilders, have enjoyed a huge resurgence in interest and no major collection seems complete without one.