In the years leading up to World War II, Delahaye enjoyed elite status among the top French automakers, earning its lauded reputation for quality and performance at LeMans and on the Grand Prix circuit. In 1935, the firm introduced one of its most successful models, the Type 135. A natural-born performer in motorsport, the Type 135 chassis was also a darling of the prestigious French coachbuilding industry, providing the perfect canvas for Chapron, Franay, and Figoni et Falaschi, and others to work their magic.
As the dust of war settled, France's citizens and industry emerged from the rubble battered but far from broken. Delahaye returned to work, initially producing a 3 ½ -ton truck model, which paid the bills during Reconstruction. In 1946, the Type 135M returned, and Delahaye was finally back in business as one of France's premier sports car makers. Engineers revised the 135 with a widened track for better handling and improved the overhead valve six-cylinder engine, offering up to 130 horsepower for the "MS" and considerably more for racing. As it had before, Delahaye partnered with various high-profile coachbuilders, and the emerging postwar aesthetic proved a fine match for the superb chassis. Ultimately, 1155 examples of the post-war Type 135 were produced through 1952, but sadly for Delahaye, company fortunes meant the once great marque would not survive past 1954.
Clothed in sumptuous coachwork by Letourneur et Marchand, the 1949 Delahaye Type 135MS offered here is the desirable performance variant, replete with a 130-horsepower triple-carb engine and Cotal pre-select gearbox. Compared to powerhouses like Chapron and Figoni & Falaschi, the coachbuilding firm of Jean-Marie Letourneur and Jean-Arthur Marchand was a relatively small operation. But over their 50 years in business, the pair built a considerable reputation for original, tasteful designs and exquisite craftsmanship. Their work appeared on a wide range of prestige chassis, including Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Duesenberg, and Delage – their biggest client. Delahaye also counted in that list, with a total of 16 chassis coming through their Neuilly-sur-Seine workshops.
In the case of this splendid Delahaye 135MS, Letourneur et Marchand crafted a handsome, ponton-style four-seater coupe with exquisitely judged details like the creative pillarless window openings and the subtle use of chrome trim. It is believed this car was sold new in France, with registration forms going back to 1953 from the French city of Lyon. Later, it was imported to Belgium by a Delahaye collector and enthusiast named Baudouin Dejaiffe. He held the car in his collection for several years, preserving its low-mileage, unrestored condition. It then traded hands to a long-term owner in 1977. In the late 1990s, he treated it to a sympathetic yet superb quality refurbishment, taking it down to bare metal and refinishing the coachwork in its current shade of dark blue. Correspondence on file notes that the underlying body was exceptional, pointing to a cherished existence since new. Later work included a complete engine overhaul and detailing and a stunning restoration of the interior.
In 2007, the distinctive Delahaye was invited by the Malaysian Minister of Transport to be part of celebrations of the Monarchy's 50th Anniversary in Kuala Lumpur. The event included a massive gathering of classic cars from around the world, taking part in a road rally and concours d'elegance. The Delahaye not only completed the tour without trouble, but it went on to win its class in the concours and take Best in Show honors against a highly competitive field of 250 cars. After coming stateside following a change of ownership in 2015, the new owner commissioned further detailing and concours preparation work. In 2016, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance invited it to join a special class of Delahaye motorcars, where it scored a well-deserved 3rd in class.
Today, this distinctly elegant Type 135 remains in superb condition. The deep blue paintwork is exquisitely finished to a high standard, laid over crisp body panels with precise gaps. Beautiful brightwork and sparkling chrome wires with whitewall Firestones punctuate the understated livery. Authentic details include Marchal lamps, twin wing mirrors, and unique chrome drip rails. Swinging open the cleverly-designed, rear-hinged door reveals the stunning navy blue and cream leather-lined interior. It is ornate and opulent while also retaining an air of sporting purposefulness that reflects the chassis' potential. From the beautiful chrome-spoke banjo wheel to an array of lovely OS gauges and fine woodwork, the cabin is a splendid display of late-40s French luxury.
The finely detailed engine features a trio of correct Solex carburetors, denoting this as the hottest MS model, rated for 130 horsepower. The inline-six is paired with a Cotal pre-select gearbox, operated via the delicate H-pattern gear lever on the steering column. Aside from looking the part, it performs beautifully. With its elegant four-seater configuration, there is plenty of room and performance potential for four passengers to enjoy the experience on concours road tours or other driving events.
As one of just 16 Delahaye chassis clothed by Letourneur et Marchand, this represents a rare opportunity to acquire a truly unique and eminently stylish French Grand Routier. It is a beautifully prepared machine, proven on the concours field and beyond, and it will undoubtedly take pride of place in its next keeper's collection.
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