Thanks to the great technical innovation and foresight of Émile Delahaye, and his successor Amédée Varlet, Societe Des Automobiles Delahaye earned its place as one of France’s grandes routieres, building magnificent touring cars and high performance machines that racked up success on the grand prix circuit as well as the great sports car races of the era. Production of their most recognized and successful model, the 135, began in 1935 as a 3.2 liter sports car of either 90 or 110 horsepower. For 1936, a larger, 3,558cc triple carburetor overhead-cam six was made available in the 135M. It was upgraded yet again for the 135 MS, which became the machine of choice for buyers looking to use their prized Delahaye in competition. This magnificent engine delivered upward of 160 horsepower in the highest state of tune. When combined with a lightweight body, even a standard 135MS was capable of 100 mph, a rare accomplishment for any pre-war automobile.
Saoutchik, Franay and Henri Chapron were all employed to grace the Delahaye 135 with their artful bodies. And while their work doubtlessly helped to establish the model as a symbol for pre-war French elegance, it was the show-stopping teardrop designs by Joseph Figoni of Figoni et Falaschi that truly became the hallmark of the Delahaye 135.
Joseph Figoni was born in Italy in 1894, immigrating to France as a young child. At age 14 he began an apprenticeship with a local carriage maker, and following his military service, opened his own body repair shop in Boulogne in 1923. Figoni quickly gained a reputation for his quality craftsmanship and was soon being asked by owners of Bugatti, Salmson, and Delage automobiles to redesign wings and other details with good effect. He soon moved on to complete bodies; and as he became bored with traditional boxy shapes, he evolved his style, taking an ever more streamlined approach. Carrosserie Figoni would go on to produce some truly desirable and stunningly beautiful automobiles, but it was Figoni’s partnership with financier Ovidio Falaschi that truly marked the turning point in his craft. The stunning Goutte d’Or “teardrop” bodies of the mid 1930s brought Figoni & Falaschi, as well as Delahaye, to the forefront of high fashion style in motoring.
The story of our featured 1938 Delahaye 135 MS Coupe, chassis number 60112, begins at the 1938 Paris Salon, where, clothed in Figoni body number 729, it shared the Figoni et Falaschi stand with a V12 powered Delahaye 165 Cabriolet. According to interviews with Mr. Claude Figoni, the son of company founder Joseph, the resplendent teardrop coupe was shown in Paris in gleaming off-white, accented by a red interior, with the colors of French flag proudly adorning the radiator grille. It was soon delivered to its first owner, and with war looming, it is likely the Delahaye was very soon hidden away to protect it from occupying forces in France. From there it disappeared until 1964 when it was discovered by famed pre-war car hunter Antoine Raffaeli (Author, Memoirs of a Bugatti Hunter) hidden among the reeds in southern France. Discovering the car proved far easier than acquiring it, as Mr. Raffaeli pursued the car doggedly for the next 21 years, eventually convincing Madame Michele Gautier to part with her very special Delahaye in 1985.
Rafaelli delivered the car to the Conforti Brothers in Nice for a restoration which took place from 1986-1987. While in restoration, it was discovered that the years of exposure to the elements had taken their toll on the coachwork, and the body was painstakingly recrafted using the remains of the original as a template. Rafaelli sold the newly restored Delahaye in 1990 and it soon joined Peter Kaus’s famed Rosso Bianco Collection in Germany where it remained until 2006.
The late American collector John O’Quinn was next to acquire S/N 60112. He found the restoration to be ageing and commissioned a fresh one, managed by Parisian Delahaye expert Benoit Bocquet. The work was entrusted to Atelier Automobiles Anciennes Dominique Tessier, who embarked on a meticulous two-year restoration, with the strictest attention to detail paid. The beautiful Delahaye was again brought down to a bare chassis with literally every single nut and bolt receiving scrutiny. Period photographs provided by Claude Figoni allowed Tessier to restore the nose back to its original shape as shown at the Paris Salon, complete with the V-shaped front bumper and patriotic tri-color grille. The grille was particularly important, as Joseph Figoni used it as a show of pride for his adopted home country during the tumultuous years leading up to World War II.
Mr. O’Quinn’s untimely passing meant the Delahaye saw little use since the restoration. It was sold to a new owner who subsequently performed extensive mechanical sorting to the Cotal Pre-Select gearbox, rear axle and electrical system. Subtle details such as window winders and door latches have been painstakingly refined to ensure they operate as new. This magnificent and highly correct Delahaye 135 MS has been fully shaken down and sorted, and today presents in stunning condition in its original colors of creamy-white over a red leather interior piped in white. The restoration, both cosmetic and mechanical, is to world-class concours standards and the car has enjoyed success on the show field, shown at Pebble Beach in 2016, Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2017 (Best in Class), and Ault Park Concours in 2017 (Best in Show).
Rarely does the opportunity to acquire a genuine Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye 135 MS coupe present itself. This magnificent motorcar brings with it an incredible pedigree with some of the most famous collectors in the world, as well as the significance of being the very machine that Joseph Figoni chose to show off his talents at the Paris Auto Salon. The highly desirable and matching numbers racing-specification engine returns genuine 100MPH performance, while the sorted nature of the underpinnings ensures it is safe and enjoyable to drive. But the star of the show is the flamboyant, breathtaking coachwork, making this Delahaye 135 MS the ideal candidate for important concours events the world over.