1937 Delage D8-120 Chapron Cabriolet

From its inception in 1905, Automobiles Delage earned a fine reputation for producing motorcars of advanced design and uncompromising quality. The firm managed to exist as an independent organization through the early Great Depression until liquidation and reorganization under Delahaye corporate parentage from 1935 to 1953. Advanced engineering and quality characterized Delage throughout its existence, including pioneering work with overhead valves, overhead camshafts, supercharging, and a wide variety of four, six, eight, and 12-cylinder engine configurations, plus the industry-leading adoption of four-wheel brakes by 1918.

The Delage D8-120 was the company’s first new model produced following financial difficulties that had led it to collaborate with longtime rival Delahaye, under the supervision of a new corporate leader, Walter Watney. It utilized an inline eight-cylinder engine similar to the Delahaye’s competition-oriented six-cylinder powerplant, only, of course, with two additional cylinders, for an output of about 115 horsepower. This engine was mounted upon a sturdy frame, with advanced front suspension incorporating a transverse leaf spring. With beautiful custom coachwork by any one of Europe’s finest shops, it was a marvelous, swift grand tourer, capable of carrying passengers and their luggage to 95 mph on the Rue Nationale.

Those aforementioned coachbuilders found the D8-120 a superb basis for their work, with excellent proportions that lent themselves to powerfully designed bodies with long hoods. Most often the cars were seen with flamboyant chromed side exhaust emerging between the hood and fenders, a touch similar to that seen on the supercharged Duesenbergs, Auburns, and Cords of the period – and showing that styling cues did not always flow one way across the Atlantic.

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 Portout or Saoutchik designs. When one pictures a Delage of this era, the car usually captured in their mind’s eye is a Chapron creation, most often a cabriolet, a body style at which the coachbuilder particularly excelled.

Information previously provided from the Chapron archive indicates that chassis 51624 with body 5254 was delivered on 7 September 1937, just prior to the Paris Salon de l’Automobile held at the Grand Palais in October. According to research by the late Delage authority Francois Jolly, chassis number 51624 may have been delivered new to a prominent French actress of the era, whose name was unknown to him. Interestingly, the car is known to have worn the British registration ELM 508 which is a prewar London registration, so it is also possible that the first owner was in fact in the UK.

Following World War II, the actress’s D8-120 was indeed across the Channel, as it was reportedly in the British ownership, according to notes by Delage registrar Peter Jacobs, of a G. Maude of Cheshire, who then advertised it in the April 1957 issue of Motor Sport. Later British owners included J.W. Heaney, Jr., according to the late Sidney Fulker.

Mr. Jolly’s research further indicates that the Delage was imported to the United States and owned by Robert Muelke. An industrial designer and promoter of early custom automobile shows on the East Coast, Mr. Muelke was an early American connoisseur of the marque, famed for his long-term ownership of the special D8-120 S Pourtout Aero Coupe that later won Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d ’Elegance in 2005. The Delage was subsequently part of the small, select collection of Mark Gibbons of Cambridge, Massachusetts, alongside a Pourtout-bodied Talbot-Lago T-150 C SS, a Rolls-Royce Phantom II Henley Roadster, a Bugatti Type 57C, among other wonderful rarities.

The D8-120 then returned to Europe in the hands of Louis Vuitton dynasty heir Herve Ogliastro, who commissioned its present restoration by the renown French firm, Carrosserie Lecoq. In this era, Lecoq was one of the best-known restoration shops in Europe, renowned for its numerous victories at concours d ’elegance worldwide. As part of this comprehensive work the car was refinished to its present livery; the body’s wooden frame was extensively redone, but its sheet metal appears to have been well-preserved, as some original finishes can still be seen underneath the fenders. Much of the chrome trim was redone but certain original touches remained intact, with the Chapron body number “52” still visible on the underside of one of the windshield pillar caps. Following completion of the restoration, the Delage was exhibited at the 1992 Louis Vuitton Classic at Bagatelle, winning the Prix special du Jury. Most recently, this Delage has been cherished within a private California collection, its restoration meticulously preserved.

Today, 51624 presents in stunning condition in the elegant livery of sage green over a lush ivory interior. Paint and body quality are exceptional, the car having been maintained in superlative condition since its restoration. Fit and finish are outstanding, and the brightwork presents in fine order.

The cockpit, which is trimmed in beautiful ivory leather, shows only the slightest creasing from use but remains supple and beautifully presented. The rear seats are quite usable for additional passengers, making this a fine choice for touring or concours events alike.

The original, matching-numbers engine (number 51624) is mated to a four speed Cotal pre-select gearbox, operated via the delicate H-pattern gear lever on the steering column. Aside from looking the part, it performs beautifully. In keeping with the rest of this car, the engine is beautifully detailed with proper finishes, correct hardware and correctly presented ancillaries. The same goes for the undercarriage which, again, is fully detailed and exceptionally clean as one would expect from a concours-quality restoration such as this.

In sum, the D8-120 was not just a worthy effort to carry the Delage name, but had a special romance about it, all its own. It is a fit automobile with which to utilize Peter Ustinov’s famous quote – that a gentleman drives an Alfa Romeo, is driven in a Rolls-Royce, but gives only a Delage to his favorite mistress.

The Delage is an automobile that every enthusiast of prewar cars must experience at least once, and this example, bearing superb coachwork and a well-preserved restoration, would be worthy of anyone’s enjoyment. It is a lovely specimen of one of the company’s most delightful models.


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Stock number 7597

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