Delage D8-120 Aerosport Coupe

Louis Delage was handicapped by blindness in one eye, yet it was in his mind’s eye where his genius took form. Born in 1874, Delage learned automotive engineering at Peugeot, which was perhaps the world’s leading engine designer at the turn of the twentieth century. Leaving in 1905 to begin the construction of his own motor cars, Delage started with a series of voiturettes powered by one and two-cylinder deDion Bouton engines, which achieved their first competition success when one of the two entered in the 1906 Coupe des Voiturettes de L’Auto, finished second overall. In turn, the publicity earned by finishing this exhausting trial made Delage the highlight of the Paris Salon held only a month later. With order books filled and dealers clamoring for product, Louis Delage enjoyed both commercial success and personal notoriety that, by all accounts, he enjoyed nearly as much as the company of beautiful women.

The company expanded rapidly, soon adding four-cylinder engines made by Ballot and others to the expanding model line, carrying the more elaborate and heavier coachwork increasingly favored by an ever more sophisticated and experienced clientele. In 1913, the first inline six-cylinder Delage was introduced, a 2.5-liter unit with 27 brake horsepower designed by Arthur-Léon Michelat, who had joined Delage in 1909 from the Belgian Hermes firm. Louis Delage’s autocratic rule discouraged many engineers, the first of whom was Michelat, who left in the middle of World War I. The allure of Delage, however, encouraged some of these designers to return, including Michelat and Maurice Gaultier, who began with Delage in 1910.

While Delage certainly enjoyed the lifestyle that business success afforded him, he was also fiercely loyal to France, and set about to bring honor to his country on the emerging racetracks of the day. By 1913, Delage had won the highest honor in French motorsport – the Grand Prix de France. The next year, his sophisticated racing cars featured both double overhead camshafts and four-wheel brakes – innovations that were far ahead of the competition.

By the mid-1920s, Delage racing engines were advanced, inline eight-cylinder units of 1.5-liters capacity, and it was with these engines that Delage achieved its greatest triumph. In 1927, with the very talented driver Robert Benoist behind the wheel, Delage won not only the Grand Prix de France, but also the Spanish Grand Prix, the Grand Prix de l’Europe at Monza, and the British Grand Prix at Brooklands. Having triumphantly swept the entire 1927 racing season, Delage had convincingly manifested his dream of carrying the French flag to the highest levels of organized motor sport. Satisfied, Delage announced his retirement from racing, and concentrated his attention to the production of his highly regarded road cars.

By 1935, however, the terrible effects of the lingering Great Depression had taken their toll on the majestic French marque, and Automobiles Delage entered voluntary liquidation in April of 1935. Paris-based Delage agent Walter Watney, who also planned to return the Delage marque to motor racing, purchased the company’s assets. However, Watney quickly discovered that saving the venerable company was beyond his own means. Consequently, Watney set about looking for an automotive partner – one with the financial strength to support the enormous costs of design, engineering, development, and manufacturing. Watney found salvation in Delahaye, and an agreement was made whereby the Delage name would survive, but the savings resulting from the use of Delahaye components would reduce costs.

The first major new product of this marriage was the highly regarded D8-120, which was introduced in 1936. Built upon a modified Delahaye chassis, the D8-120 featured an advanced independent front suspension with a transverse leaf spring. The engine was essentially a Delahaye 135MS six-cylinder unit, with two additional cylinders. This robust power unit initially displaced 4.3 liters, producing 95 horsepower, and it quickly grew in both size and power output to 4,744 cc and 115 horsepower respectively. While the D8-120 weighed approximately 3,700 pounds, its eight-cylinder engine provided sufficient torque, and propelled this magnificent automobile to speeds approaching 95 miles per hour. However, the D8-120 was, and remains, best known for its fast, comfortable long-range touring capabilities, as well as its fine handling and precise steering response. The D8-120 was a perfect solution – the car’s majestic grille, long hood, and striking external exhaust pipes struck just the right note, and quickly, many of Europe’s leading coach building firms were crafting exquisite new designs for the chassis – Saoutchik, Chapron, Portout, and Letourner et Marchand being the most notable among them.

The elegant Aérosport coupes by Letourner et Marchand have always been considered the most attractive of these new creations, and it is believed that fewer than twenty of the cars, likely fourteen, were originally built in two styles – a sporty fastback, and the more elegant notchback coupé, referred to as Style 5677. The Aérosport bodies were designed by the brilliant Marcel Letourner, who is considered by experts today alongside the renowned Jean Bugatti as one of the greatest young French designers of the 1930s. Incorporating early aerodynamic research by Andreu, both of the Letourner et Marchand body styles featured long hoods, flowing fenders, and a unique pillarless design, incorporating a window line that swept aggressively down and across the car’s flanks, creating a dramatic presence. The D8-120 as produced between 1936 and 1939, and the Letourner et Marchand interpretation of the D8-120 created such a sensation upon its introduction, that it was selected to join the French government’s automotive display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2009 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

115bhp, 4,744 cc inline eight-cylinder engine, Cotal four-speed electric pre-selector gearbox, independent front suspension with transverse leaf spring and trailing arm, live rear axle with longitudinal leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 133”

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright © Shooterz

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