Delahaye 135 MS Competition Cabriolet by Figoni and Falaschi

The Type 135 model Delahaye was the first car produced after the merger in 1935 of Delage and Delahaye, enjoying tremendous success in competition, from Montlhéry to Le Mans. In 1936, the Model 135 M, or Competition version, joined the line-up with a six-cylinder 3,557 cc engine that had a larger bore and triple carburettors. In 135 MS form, with its larger exhaust valves, the Delahaye could reach 110 mph.

With stunning Figoni & Falaschi open coachwork constructed on the 135 MS Competition-type long chassis, this unique Delahaye offers the delectable combination of the best in late ’30s French custom body design with some of the highest specification mechanicals ever offered by the company. This particular Delahaye is also somewhat unusual in that it participated in two diametrically opposed forms of motoring competition by being both a show car and a racing car.

According to the Figoni archives and verification by the sales manager for Delahaye, Jean-Pierre Bernard (who later became the President and founder of the Delahaye Club), chassis no. 49197 was delivered by Delahaye to the Figoni & Falaschi works in April 1938 destined to be an exhibit on the Delahaye stand for the Paris Salon of 1939. In fact the Salon was cancelled owing to rumours, soon to be justified, about an impending war. This information was also verified by a long term owner of this car, Philippe Looten, similarly a previous President of the Delahaye Club. The beautiful two-seater cabriolet was created and finished in black and sent to the first owner, a Mrs. Chandler.

The car was custom fitted with red leather interior and upholstery (which included the dashboard and steering wheel) supplied and sewn by the master craftsmen from Hermès, the renowned saddlery, luggage, silks and handbag firm. According to the records, Mrs. Chandler took delivery of her prized Delahaye Cabriolet in July 1938 with the French registration number 2354 RL9. The next entry, according to J-P Bernard, is after World War II, when the car passed to French racing driver Marcel Contet, and the registration number changed to 9654 CL75. Contet was a well-known driver in French events during the late 1930s, and he quite often competed in Delahayes, including a victory in one at the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally.

According to Philippe Looten, the Delahaye was acquired by Contet before the war, and Madame Contet took top awards in 1939 at the Concours d’Elegance at La Baule and at the Concours of “La Grande Cascade” in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris. A period photograph of the car on a mountain pass with a lady posing appears in Benedict Bocquet's book on Figoni Delahayes and is captioned as “Madame Contet in 1939 at the Col du Simplon.” More black and white photographs on file show the car crossing the parade ramp at other early Concours d’Elegance events.

Monsieur Contet returned the car to Figoni after the war to have the nose updated with a different grille, perhaps in an attempt to improve the cooling for racing purposes. In the Francois Jolly book on Delahaye, there is a racing photo of 49197 competing post-war (Car No. 75) at Montlhéry with this new nose fitted. Contet may have sold the car to another racing driver, Edmond Mouche, although this information conflicts with the recollections of J-P Bernard who states that in early 1955 Mr. Contet returned the car to him to re-sell, and it was purchased in February that year by a Michel Boujean, a salesman working for Mr. Bernard.

Apparently Boujean kept the car only for a few months and sold it in September 1955 to a Mr. Depaie Georgas of Blvd Raspail, Paris. It was sold again the following month to the President of the Chamber of Commerce of Le Havre (registration plate 9903GF59). Later, it was sold to Mr. Andre Ziegler who was President of the Chamber of Commerce of Dunkerque. In 1960, Mr. Ziegler decided to sell the car to a scrap dealer for 500 French Francs, because it had been in storage and received damage in one of his garages.

Fortunately, the car was to find a deserving new home, because the dealer’s son knew that Philippe Looten was a Delahaye enthusiast, and so he sold it to him for 700 French Francs! Mr. Looten, who was the long term President of the Delahaye Club (and is still the current Vice President), owned this important car from 1960 until 2002. During that long period of time, the Delahaye was restored twice and driven more than 160,000 kms on various rallies and pleasure trips. The original red Hermès leather interior had been almost completely destroyed during the period when the car was in storage, although a few parts did survive, including the leather trimmed steering wheel. Also of note was that the car came with racing buckets seats, which again had most likely been fitted by Contet.

In 2005, this fabulous car, complete with a spare 135 MS engine and the second nose which had been fitted in the early post-war period, was sold to the current (USA) owner. The decision was taken to have the Delahaye fully restored and ready to be exhibited at Pebble Beach in 2006, where it won a class award. A frame-off, full nut and bolt restoration was undertaken with the aim of returning the car to its former show glory with the correct colour scheme it had from new.

Since it had originally been supplied with a custom made interior by Hermès, the owner made contact with the family-owned business in Paris. After Hermès inspected the car and consulted their archives, they readily accepted the task of supplying a new red leather upholstered interior, including the correct bench seat. Furthermore, Hermès made a set of custom leather luggage suitcases bespoke for this car, complete with exquisite crocodile leather-trimmed corners and handles. Hermès even scoured their own archives to find new old stock, period correct latches and hinges! Apparently this was the very first car interior undertaken by Hermès since before the Second World War, and they were so delighted with the project that they expressed interest in borrowing the car for their future promotional events.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in May of 2010 at the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco.

160 hp, 3,557 cc six-cylinder engine, four-speed Cotal pre-selector transmission, independent front suspension with transverse leaf springs, live axle rear suspension with leaf springs, four-wheel Bendix drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2,700 mm (106")

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Tom Wood

Gallery: Delahaye 135 MS Competition Cabriolet by Figoni and Falaschi