The Delahaye name is revered among enthusiasts of great French automakers. Founded in 1894, the company earned an enviable reputation through its series of robust road cars and in the dust and grit of motorsport venues, including Le Mans and the Grand Prix circuit. For many fans of the marque, the 1935 model year represents a high-water mark, as it saw the arrival of the superlative Type 135. A natural-born performer in motorsport, the Type 135 chassis was also a darling of the prestigious French coachbuilding industry, providing a versatile canvas for carrossieres like Chapron, Franay, Figoni et Falaschi, and others to perfect their craft.
As France emerged from the shadows of war, Delahaye returned to work. Occupying German forces controlled Delahaye’s factories, and despite orders to produce heavy trucks and munitions, boss Charles Weiffenbach kept his staff busy disorganizing every aspect of production, and not a single bullet left the works.
After the liberation of France, Delahaye returned to work in earnest, producing a 3 ½ -ton truck to pay the bills. In 1946, Type 135M production resumed, marking Delahaye’s long-awaited return to the sports car business. Engineers revised the 135 chassis with a widened track for better handling and made numerous improvements to the overhead-valve six-cylinder engine. The proven unit offered up to 130 horsepower for the triple-carb “MS” spec and considerably more for racing. Delahaye did not have an in-house body shop, so many high-profile coachbuilders applied the latest post-war aesthetic to the superb chassis. Ultimately, 1155 examples of the post-war Type 135 were produced through 1952.
As expected from a French marque, most type 135 chassis were bodied by local coachbuilders, but a handful of cars crossed borders to receive their coachwork. Chassis number 800368, featured here, is notable for its unique drophead coupe body crafted by the Belgian masters Van den Plas.
The Belgian firm had deep roots, first as a wheelwright shop, and by the 1880s, as a constructor of complete carriages. After a takeover in 1870 by Guillaume Van den Plas, the company was named Carrosserie Van den Plas in 1898 and moved to a new factory in Antwerp. Motor bodies followed soon after, and they soon grew to become complex, expensive, and ideally suited to prestige chassis like Minerva, Hispano-Suiza, and Mercedes-Benz. The British “Vanden Plas” counterpart was, in fact, an independent firm operating under a licensing agreement to use the prestigious name.
Chassis number 800368 is one of just a handful of Delahayes bodied by the Belgian firm, with the added distinction of being a one-off design. The unique and flamboyant drophead coupe styling is characterized by its sweeping pontoon fenders, upright radiator grille flanked by twin spot lamps, and dramatic cat’s eye air inlets. It is finished in an appropriately bold red and crimson two-tone color scheme, with flashy accents such as chrome wire wheels, whitewall tires, and polished copper-plated brake drums.
The early history of this chassis has yet to be discovered; however, a brass firewall tag from the legendary New York imported car dealer Fergus Motors suggests the car has been in the USA since new or nearly-new. The glamorous drophead would have undoubtedly made quite a statement on the streets of New York City! Since being restored in the late 1980s, it has made rare public appearances and appeared in Nick Georgano’s Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding as an example of Van den Plas design. Since 2008 it has been displayed in a prestigious private collection alongside other superb models of coachbuilt French and art-deco automobiles.
As offered, the older restoration is well-maintained and benefits from some recent freshening and detailing. Some age-related imperfections can be found in the paintwork and chrome, though the body is in fundamentally good order with crisply defined lines and details. The cabin is finished in deep maroon with tan accents and is also in good condition, with nicely patinated leather and period-correct fittings, including the banjo-type steering wheel and OS instrumentation.
The robust and powerful inline-six is the desirable “MS” high-performance variant, equipped with a trio of Solex downdraft carburetors and mated to a Cotal four-speed gearbox. The stamping on the brass tag corresponds with the chassis number, indicating the engine is original. Recent recommissioning work has found it to be a good running and driving example, though additional attention may be warranted before embarking on extended tours.
Delahaye’s superlative 135 MS is one of the most revered grand tourers of the early post-war era, and chassis 800368’s striking Van den Plas coachwork makes it an intriguing prospect for collectors of coachbuilt motoring icons.
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Stock number 7456
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