1950 Delahaye 135 M
Year of manufacture1950
1950 Delahaye 135M Convertible
Coachwork by Franay
Chassis no. 801638
Engine no. 801638
Based initially at Tours and from 1906 in Paris, Delahaye built its first automobile in 1894 and soon diversified into commercial vehicle manufacture. Its early products tended to be rather lacklustre but then in 1935 came the first of a new generation that would change the marque's image forever: the T135 Coupe Des Alpes.
A few years previously Delahaye's chief engineer, Jean François, had been briefed by the company's major shareholder, Madame Léon Desmarais, to design a series of sporting cars worthy of the Delahaye name. The first of this family, the 2.1-litre, four-cylinder Type 134, was introduced at the Paris Salon in 1933. It was the first Delahaye with independent front suspension, which was mounted on a new chassis incorporating box-section side members and a sheet-steel floor pan welded to the cross braces. The Type 134 engine shared its 107mm
stroke with an equally new 3,227cc six which, although designed for car use, had first appeared in a Delahaye commercial vehicle. It was this engine that Jean François would use for the Type 135.
Equipped with triple Solex carburettors, the 3.2-litre, six-cylinder, overheadvalve unit produced 113bhp in Type 135 specification. It went into a chassis similar to that of the Type 134, featuring transverse-leaf independent front suspension, four-speed synchromesh or Cotal gearboxes, centre-lock wire
wheels and Bendix brakes. This engine's effectiveness had already been demonstrated when a short-chassis monoposto fitted with one established a number of world and international speed records at Montlhéry in 1934.
A 3.2-litre Type 135 finished 5th at Le Mans in 1935 and for the following year Delahaye improved on the formula with the 3,557cc T135 Spéciale and Compétition short-wheelbase versions, which came with 152bhp and 120bhp respectively. The new, 3.6-litre Type 135 was soon making a name for itself, taking 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places in the run-tosportscar-regulations 1936 French Grand Prix and winning the Monte Carlo Rally and Le Mans 24-Hour Race outright in 1937 and 1938
respectively. 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 against some formidable opposition. The model reappeared post-WW2 as the 135M with the 3.6-litre engine and lasted in production until 1951.
Delahaye had no in-house coachworks, so all its chassis were bodied by independents that created some of their most attractive designs on the Type 135. Chassis number '801638' carries unique cabriolet coachwork by Carrosserie Franay of Levallois-Perret, Seine. French coachbuilding ranked alongside the world's best throughout the 1920s and 1930s, when owning an expensive chassis equipped with bespoke coachwork by the likes of Kellner, Labourdette, Franay or Saoutchik was regarded as a mark of immense prestige. Coachbuilder Jean-Baptiste Franay
had founded his company in 1903, control passing to his son, Marius, in 1922. Franay specialised in bodying quality chassis and gained a deserved reputation for excellence, winning several Concours d'Élégance awards in the 1930s.
Changing times and the automobile industry's increasing adoption of unitary construction, supplanting the separate chassis that independent coachbuilders relied upon, meant that this Franay-bodied Delahaye was something of an anachronism when it was completed in 1950. A handcrafted luxury that few could afford, it was one of the final flourishes of a once-great industry that would all but disappear over the next few years.
Right-hand drive like many high quality French cars of the period, this Delahaye 135M was sold new through Baron Petiet's company Générale Française Automobile, whose initials appear on the grille badge. Author of La Belle Carrosserie Français, Jean-Paul Tissot, who is also President of the French Club Delahaye and one of the marque's foremost historians has kindly provided previously unseen material and details of the car's early history.
According to M. Tissot, 801638 was the last Delahaye to be bodied by Franay, who died in 1954. Over the course of his career his coachwork was respected for its flair of design and with a particular focus on the interiors, a talent which he inherited from his father Jean-Baptiste who was a saddler by trade. The luxurious finish of this car's interior today matches that with which it was delivered new.
This 135 M convertible, a 3 carburettor version, was registered new on November 14, 1953, in the Finistère department for Pierre Le Bris, founder of the Librairies de la Cité in Brest, Quimper, Rennes, Nantes and Paris. A bookseller and publisher who left his mark on his city of Brest and Brittany. His car remained in Brittany, through to the 1960s. It was transferred to the Ile et Vilaine department on March 4, 1964, registered 285 KA 35, then moved to the Loire-Atlantique department on September 2, 1965, registered 496 NU 44.
At the beginning of the 1990s, this convertible arrived in the United States where '801638' is recorded as registered in Pennsylvania. The car moved to Canada shortly after that and into the current collection.
Complete, correct and as one can see matching the contrasting colour form that it was when new, its owner describes the car as running and driving well, being a well preserved older restoration. This rare Franay Delahaye 135M would be welcome at any of the world's most prestigious concours venues: Pebble Beach, Villa d'Este, Monaco, Goodwood, etc. Offered with a UK V5 registration document.