1938 Delage D8-120 Drophead Coupe

In 1905, Louis Delage’s journey to the top of the French automobile business began in a tiny workshop in Levallois-Perret, about 4km outside of Paris, with just three employees and two lathes. A former Peugeot employee, Delage knew from the onset to surround himself with talent, with one of those three employees a former chief engineer from Peugeot. In those early years of his firm, Delage focused on small voiturettes utilizing deDion-Bouton engines, but soon he developed an interest in motorsport, so his motorcars grew in all aspects of size, quality and performance. By 1910, a new factory was needed to accommodate demand for their in-house designed four-cylinder models and following World War I, production expanded again to include a six-cylinder model. With the growth, Delage gained ever greater success on the world motorsport stage, becoming one of France’s most storied and revered marques.

By the 1920s, Delage had hit its stride, with ever more beautiful and technically advanced automobiles leaving the works for the next two decades, winning races around the world and finding favor with the cultural elite. The D8 was introduced in 1930 to great fanfare. Considered to be Delage’s pièce de résistance, the D8 was the largely work of gifted chief engineer Maurice Gaultier. At its heart was Gaultier’s 4-liter pushrod straight eight cylinder engine (France’s first straight eight), running on five main bearings and producing 105 brake horsepower with a smoothness and silence that was the envy of virtually every other automaker. The D8 continued as Delage’s flagship through 1940, with a variety of upgrades coming through the production. For 1937, the D8 120 was introduced as a “super sports” variant, preferred by discriminating buyers and the finest coachbuilders alike. Delage had once proudly boasted, “At the Concours d’Elegance held during 1930 in the principal cities of Europe, Delage Straight Eights received more awards than any other car.”

One look at this magnificent 1938 D8 120 by Carrosserie Vanvooren of Paris and it is easy to see why such acclaim was given to La Belle Voiture Française—“The Beautiful French Automobile”. Elegantly styled and beautifully finished, this fine Delage D8 120 is an exquisite example that benefits from a high quality concours restoration, wearing stunning three-position Cabriolet Victoria coachwork. The earliest history of this car, bearing chassis number 51637, is not yet known, but it is remarkable simply in the fact that it survived the hostilities of World War II virtually unscathed. In 2006, it was discovered by an American collector in highly original and complete condition under cover in a dusty Parisian warehouse. A deal was made and the Delage came to the USA where it was treated to a sympathetic but much-needed full restoration to concours standards in the caring hands of Steve Babinsky of Automotive Restorations in New Jersey.

Vanvooren’s elegant coachwork features sweeping, curvaceous fenders, with the main body finished in black; well-suited to the sporting nature of the D8 120 chassis. The body is highlighted by a unique light clay-colored accent on the bonnet that continues as a sweep down the doors. Another highlight of the coachwork is the single, rear-mounted spare wheel which is enclosed in a painted metal cover and fitted with a spun alloy wheel disc. The body is otherwise quite sleek and unadorned, letting Vanvooren’s stunning lines do the talking. Period appropriate blackwall Michelin tires are mounted on original steel wheels fitted with chrome covers and trim rings. Panel fit and paint finishes are outstanding, exemplified by the Delage having been shown at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2007 where it scored a third place in class. It remains in beautiful condition throughout, having enjoyed light use and expert care since, remaining very much in concours-worthy condition.

The exquisite interior is trimmed in distinct heavy grain patterned leather, the cognac-brown color playing beautifully against the highlight color on the bodywork. Finish quality is exemplary as one would expect from a high level restoration, and it shows very little signs of use, with virtually no creasing in the seating surfaces. Carpets, door panels and the gorgeous dash are all finely detailed and trimmed. The cabriolet top is finished in canvas, and fully lined which gives passengers a closed coupe-like experience. The top can be partially opened over the front passengers, or fully opened for the ultimate open-air motoring experience, allowing occupants to soak up the sounds and sensations from the fabulous eight-cylinder engine.

That eight cylinder power plant is a marvelous piece of engineering and one of the greats of the era. It is loosely based on the proven six-cylinder 135M engine by Delahaye, who had acquired Delage in 1935.  In D8 120 eight cylinder specification, it displaces 4.75 liters and produces over 120 horsepower. Paired with a Cotal pre-select gearbox, this example returns excellent performance. The Delage D8 120 was praised in period for its handling, precise steering and exquisite road manners, and this example, with its highly detailed and correct restoration, will no doubt live up to that praise.

Finely detailed and suitable for concours events or for touring in exquisite style, this fabulous, stylish and beautifully presented Delage D8 120 by Vanvooren is a most superlative example from one of France’s most storied marques.

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