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 racked up victories across various events, from endurance races to rallying to Grand Prix racing. On the road-going side, the 135 series chassis was also a darling of the prestigious custom coachbuilding industry, providing the ideal canvas for Chapron, Franay, Figoni et Falaschi, and others to create some of their finest offerings.
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 using the type 135 engine, 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 before, Delahaye partnered with various high-profile coachbuilders, and the emerging postwar aesthetic proved a good match for the superb chassis.
Before WWII, Swiss coachbuilder Hermann Graber developed a stellar reputation for quality and understated style, producing bodies on excellent French chassis, including Bugatti, Talbot-Lago, Delahaye, and Delage. Graber’s work graced numerous other prestigious marques from around the world – with Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Packard, and Duesenberg receiving the Swiss touch. As Europe entered the postwar era, creativity blossomed among prestigious coachbuilders across Europe. Designers experimented with fully enveloped forms with increased attention to aerodynamics and clean, uncluttered lines. Graber bodies have long been renowned for their flowing form and lack of embellishment, and the new postwar aesthetic ideally suited that tradition. The sporty, grand touring-oriented Delahaye Type 135 chassis was a natural fit for the Swiss builder, who ultimately built many bodies on the versatile platform.
Chassis number 800320 is an early post-war Type 135M, clothed in elegant Graber bodywork. It is one of just two cars produced by Graber in this design, and it benefits from a superb restoration from the late 1990s and high-quality refinishing in 2021. It is desirably equipped with a numbers-matching triple-carburetor engine and Cotal gearbox and is equally well-suited to touring and concours events. Fittingly, the original owner of this car was the well-known Swiss Banker, Maurice Labhardt. An avid motoring enthusiast, Labhardt owned many significant motorcars, including Bugattis, a Mercedes 540K, Lancia Lambda, and Ferraris, and was a founding member of the Swiss Bugatti Club and Swiss Ferrari Club. The lovely Delahaye Cabriolet was undoubtedly in fine company in Labhardt’s stable.
Following Mr. Labhardt’s death, the Delahaye 135 remained in the care of his estate until another Swiss banker acquired it in the mid-1980s. His collection was liquidated in the early 1990s, and the car joined the collection of Prof. Dr. Norbert Reuter. He commissioned the highly respected Vantage Motorworks in Miami, Florida, to perform a ground-up, nut-and-bolt restoration, finishing it in an elegant shade of dark blue over rich red leather trim. Through subsequent ownership, the car continued to receive meticulous care, and in 2021, it was refinished in the same dark blue color and extensively detailed. It appeared in a feature article in the June 2012 issue of Vintage Roadcar magazine and has been shown at select events, including the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was part of a celebration of Graber-bodied automobiles.
From a styling standpoint, this is one of the most exemplary efforts from Graber on a Delahaye chassis, understated and sophisticated, with expertly judged detailing, and looking particularly fetching in this beautifully finished dark blue livery, accented with chrome wire wheels and black-wall Michelin tires. The luxurious four-place cabin is in superb condition, with lovely supple red leather and proper detailing, controls, and instrumentation. Engine bay detailing is also finished to a high standard, and the car is mechanically well-sorted, as recently proven on the 50-mile Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance.
With its luscious Swiss-built coachwork on a highly capable and sporting chassis, this Delahaye 135M Cabriolet would undoubtedly make a superb addition to any collection of European motorcars and a fine companion for open-air motoring adventure.
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