To many, the storied French carmaker Delahaye is best known for the swoopy, elegant coachbuilt Grand Tourers that typically grace the lawns of prestigious Concours d’Elegance around the world. Delahaye is commonly associated with coachbuilders like Figoni et Falaschi and Henri Chapron, with their sumptuous curves and sophisticated French style. But nearly from the company’s inception, the eponymous founder, Emile Delahaye, firmly believed that motorsport was a valuable tool for developing and promoting his motorcars. After his untimely passing, motorsport fell out of favor with management, but by the 1920s, clients pressed for a return to form, and Delahaye was soon back at the forefront of top-level motorsport. They achieved success in a wide variety of events, from international Grand Prix racing to endurance racing and continental rallying. Cars like the Type 135 S and Type 145 scored well in circuit racing, while the road-going Type 135 MS proudly represented France in events like the prestigious Alpine Cup Rally.
Briton Alan Selborne was an occasional competitor in Delahaye cars and had close ties with the factory as the official importer and agent for the marque in the British Isles. He often promoted races and events and hosted the works team on his home soil. In the years leading up to World War II, Grand Prix cars were developed at a feverish pace as the government-backed German squads of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz produced increasingly exotic and powerful machinery. Selborne longed for simpler times when road and racing cars were more closely related, and he began to design a sporting Delahaye that had the looks of a racer but the refinement of a road car. It was not until 1949 that his plan began to take shape.
Selborne delivered a Type 135 chassis, number 800518, in high-performance “MS” specification to coachbuilder Guy Jason-Henry’s workshop in 1949. Jason-Henry created a lightweight aluminum body akin to the Works Type 145 Grand Prix racer – with its narrow fuselage, cut-down cockpit, and spindly cycle fenders – but incorporating two seats, headlamps, tail lamps, and a proper windscreen. The inline-six under the bonnet was equipped with triple Solex carburetors and backed by a Cotal electro-magnetic 4-speed gearbox. Selborne displayed the completed car on the Delahaye stand at the 1950 Earls Court Motor Show.
After the motor show, Selborne sold the Type 135 prototype to Czech/English filmmaker Alexander Korda. He enjoyed the car for at least a decade before selling it to the Welsh character actor Hubert Rees, who appeared in numerous British television programs throughout the 1960s and 70s. In 1972, Rees sold 800518 to Carlton Coolidge of San Francisco, who, in turn, sold it to the respected marque historian and author Richard Adatto in 1979. From there, Adatto restored the Delahaye and enjoyed it on the race track and the concours lawn. He participated in the Monterey Historic races in 1981 and 1982 and showed the car at the 1982 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, taking second in the Delahaye class – fresh from the race track!
Many years later, and while still in the care of Mr. Adatto, 800518 received a mechanical and cosmetic freshening in preparation for the Colorado Grand. It was reported to run flawlessly throughout the 1,000-mile mountain drive – a compelling demonstration of the car’s dual-purpose capabilities as envisioned by Alan Selborne.
The Selborne Delahaye then joined a private collection, where it has remained since 2014. As offered, this unique and evocative prototype is in excellent condition, with attractive cosmetics and detailing. Finished in French blue and fitted with lovely chrome wire wheels, it evokes images of Works Delahaye competition cars dusting up rivals at Brooklands, Montlhéry, and Le Mans. Recent servicing has found it to be in fine mechanical order, including the Cotal gearbox, which functions well. The lightweight coachwork and powerful, robust inline-six ensure brisk acceleration, and the relatively long wheelbase makes for stable and predictable handling.
Unfortunately for many motoring enthusiasts, Alan Selborne’s dream for a series production Type 135 sports car did not materialize beyond this singular example. However, it represents a one-off opportunity for marque enthusiasts and collectors to acquire an unusually sporty post-war Delahaye with fascinating provenance. Unburdened by the ornate, heavy coachwork of the period, the Selborne Delahaye allows the full ability of the 135 MS chassis to shine, and its next custodian will undoubtedly delight in this unique experience.
Offers welcome and trades considered
Stock number 7457
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