To today’s enthusiasts, the name Delahaye conjures images of opulent, art-deco sports cars that grace the lawns of the world’s most prestigious concours d’elegance events. However, since its founding by Emile Delahaye in the late 1800s, the company built a diverse range of passenger cars, heavy trucks, and buses. In post-World War I era and into the 1930s, it was the popularity of Delahaye fire trucks that sustained the company. In the middle of the 1930s, influential members of the board convinced the managers that a return to motor racing would boost automobile sales and rid them of a somewhat undeserved conservative image. Success came quickly, with a Delahaye winning the prestigious Coupe des Alpes (Alpine International Cup) in 1934.
To celebrate the achievement, Delahaye introduced a new model called the Type 135 “Coupe des Alpes;” a car that marked Delahaye’s triumphant return to the world of sports cars, and their return to top-level motorsport in Europe. The 135 chassis featured independent, leaf-sprung front suspension with a live rear axle. Bendix cable-operated brakes sat behind 17-inch wire wheels. Power came from a 3.2-1iter inline six with overhead valves and a four main-bearing crank. The stout and reliable engine shared its basic design with Delahaye trucks but was refined with dual carburetors and tuned to produce 95 horsepower. A formidable competition machine, the 135 achieved its goal of returning Delahaye to top form in racing, securing an all-time record at the Ulster TT and finishing on the podium at both the Le Mans and in the Mille Miglia in 1935. The larger displacement 135M followed the 135 in 1936 with up to 115 horsepower available in triple-carburetor spec. Production halted during the German occupation, but when production resumed after World War II, the 135M remained one of the most desirable sporting cars in France, and it would remain so until 1954 when new owners Hotchkiss ended production for good.
Buyers commissioned the finest French Carrossiers to clothe their prized 135s, creating a veritable greatest hits of Art Deco design as shops like Figoni et Falaschi, Saoutchik, Franay, Pourtout, and Chapron tried to top their rivals. The Delahaye 135 was the ideal platform for these designers to practice their craft, as it offered the performance and refinement worthy of the highest style. Henri Chapron Carrossier was one of the most prolific coachbuilders in France, penning a wide variety of bodies for the Delahaye 135 series. Chapron’s signature style was usually at the forefront of fashion, yet with a degree of maturity and restraint that set it apart from the more flamboyant Figoni or Saoutchik designs.
Breathtakingly elegant, this 1948 Delahaye 135M is one of a number of Delahayes bodied by the great Henri Chapron. This stunning 3-position drophead coupe body style was officially known as “Dandy Grand Luxe,” debuting at the very first post-war Paris Salon in 1946. The hallmark full-figured Chapron look features faired-in headlamps and smoother, integrated fenders to bring it up-to-date in the post-war era. This example has enjoyed single continuous ownership since the mid-seventies. In the early 2000s, the owner commissioned the highly respected shop International Auto Restoration of Oak Lawn, Illinois to perform a concours-quality nut-and-bolt restoration. Upon completion, the car debuted at the 2006 Meadowbrook concours, where it secured a class win and an invitation to the prestigious Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. It has remained with the same owner since then, enjoyed on occasion, and maintained in exquisite condition.
Elegant colors highlight Chapron’s impeccable style, with Capucin Gray providing the base and Marine Blue accents on the fenders and body feature lines. The paint quality is outstanding, as one would expect from a concours-quality restoration. The panels are precisely fit and absolutely straight. Likewise, the brightwork and plating are exceptional. Pencil thin bumpers, chrome side moldings, and graceful landau irons add carefully judged flash to the elegantly restrained coachwork.
Up to four passengers ride in comfort in the opulently trimmed cabin. Complimentary dark blue leather covers the seats, with matching blue Wilton carpets. The interior is in excellent order, showing some light creasing that is consistent with this car's gentle use and meticulous care. Gorgeous wood veneer covers the dash and door caps, with more lovely wood trim framing the blue leather door panels. Factory correct O.S. gauges are fully restored as are the controls and switchgear. The folding three-position roof is covered in blue Stayfast canvas and is lined for comfort and sound insulation. The craftsmanship is truly stunning, with high-quality materials, gorgeous stitching, and exquisitely finished woodwork.
A goal of the restoration was to create a car that was not just visually stunning, but one that could be driven as intended. This 135M is a car to enjoy, rather than to just drive from trailer to concours lawn and back. As such, the triple carb 3,557 cc six-cylinder is entirely rebuilt and mated to an Alan Taylor-built Cotal preselect gearbox. The engine runs beautifully, and the car emits a glorious bark from the exhaust that reveals its sporting aspirations from beneath the elegant coachwork. It remains in beautiful condition with the restoration showing only the slightest signs of mellowing. Attractive enough for concours duty, it is also wonderfully suited for touring. Few cars of the era can top the Delahaye 135M chassis for its performance and sophistication, and with this car’s Chapron coachwork it becomes one of the most desirable collector cars