The French, before and immediately after World War II, created a class of automobiles known as grandes routieres, luxurious high performance cars that took advantage of the French grandes routes that linked its centers of commerce, society, politics and entertainment. Famous and historic models like the Rolls-Royce and Bentley Continentals were built to meet the standards of performance, luxury and sporting coachwork set by the grandes routieres of France, the cradle of the modern motor car.
Prominent among these stylish, comfortable and powerful automobiles was Delahaye. With a long stroke inline six-cylinder engine producing 95hp and gobs of torque Delahayes could roll down the autoroute from Paris to the Riviera at over 80 mph. Their comfortable ride and luxurious interiors allowed their owners to arrive refreshed in time to don dinner attire and join the crowd at the casino. Their powerful engines and competent chassis were clothed by the finest automotive couturiers such as Figoni & Falaschi, Sauotchik, LeTourneur et Marchand and Henri Chapron. The Delahaye Type 135 engine in competition tune proved its mettle by winning the 1938 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Development continued at Delahaye, culminating in the Type 135M, a tuned engine with three carburetors that reliably produced 110hp. Following the war, the Dutch government allocated resources to coachbuilder Pennock in The Hague to build a series of Delahayes with body designs attributed to Henri Chapron. Low and lithe but also luxurious and large enough for four, they were the epitome of postwar European open coachwork.
This magnificent example, chassis number 800667 with matching engine number 80667, is one of about 60 examples built by Pennock. Its close-coupled coachwork, teardrop fenders, bold Delahaye grille and severely raked one-piece windshield is one of the best of its period. It was imported to the U.S. by legendary car dealer Max Hoffman. The first known owner in 1962 was Phil Lawtner and later owned by Bob Wells and Larry Nicklin before being acquired by Gordon Johnson in Alamo, California in 2007. A comprehensive restoration by the finest specialists followed with Laurence Anderson handling the engine, Cotal pre-selector transmission and mechanical details, paint by Darryl Hollenbeck and interior and top to the original patterns by Ken Nemanic. The owner, Gordon Johnson, completed electrical work and assembly with his son-in-law Bob Fracolli.
Importantly, it retains most of its original details: trim, chrome, lighting and even the coachbuilder's crayon marks on floorboards. It may have been in distress when acquired by Johnson, but it hadn't been misused.
Now beautifully presented, it is a dramatic statement. Competition bodied Delahayes with essentially the same chassis and drivetrain as the standard 135M contested the first postwar Le Mans 24 Hours in 1949 finishing fifth, ninth and tenth. It was invited to Pebble Beach in 2010 but did not attend due to now resolved paint issues.
Correspondence with several earlier owners accompanies it, as does a sense of the style, comfort and performance of the Grandes Routieres that is the high water mark of French automobiles.
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