This article is about another pioneer in the field of motor sports – the French Delage company.
Louis Delage founded his company in 1905 after working for Peugeot for several years. His plan was to act as an assembly plant and he originally designed bodies and bought single and twin cylinder engines from de Dion Bouton to power them and were known as the Type A and Type B. Delage very quickly entered racing and achieved early success that then translated into full order books when he presented his cars at the 1906 Paris Motor Show.
This allowed the company to grow and add more engines – this time four cylinder motors from Ballot another French manufacturer. The cars were true sports models and required ever more power to keep ahead of the competition. By 1913, Delage were employing their own engine designers and fitted their own 2.5 litre straight sixes delivering 27 hp. They even developed a four-litre desmodromic Overhead Valve motor and just before the First World War, Delage sent one of their cars to the Indy 500 and came away with a win in the 4th running of the race.
Like many factories, they stopped manufacturing during the war to produce army vehicles for the war effort and Delage made a small fortune in supplying the French army. When hostilities stopped, Delage went back to designing sports racers and luxury models adding in a straight eight engine to the line up and even a ten litre Land Speed Record car. Louis Delage wanted to rival Hispano-Suiza and Rolls-Royce in building a super luxury model.
The 1920s were a growth market for many manufacturers as Europe and the US recovered from the war. Delage developed racing cars with two-litre V12 engines and in 1927 his team won all of the Grand Prix in Europe! With that dream achieved, Delage closed the factory racing team to concentrate on luxury cars. However, Europe was about to drop into recession and this hit Delage hard. Like in comedy, timing is everything!
By 1935, the company was in receivership and one of their dealers in Paris, Englishman Walter Watney, bought the rights to the company. The plan was to go racing, however once the books were analysed it became apparent that another manufacturer was needed to help reduce costs. Delahaye was approached and they agreed to buy the rights to manufacture Delage models using Delahaye components.
By this stage, Louis Delage had amassed significant debts and the sale of his company enabled those debts to be paid off. He was also so poor that he accepted a minor role at Delahaye to keep himself alive. He died in December 1947 a broke, penniless man.
Delage, the company, continued making sports models using Delahaye engines although after the Second World War, business was tough and a second merger with Hotchkiss was an attempt to regain sales. However, this didn’t work and the Delage, Delahaye, Hotchkiss combination stopped building cars in 1953, instead focusing on building Willys cars under licence.
Because Delage cars were relatively low volume sports and luxury models, they are quite rare today. A 1934 Delage D8 Sports Tourer was sold for $224,000 at auction in August during the RM Sotheby’s event at Pebble Beach, however many that have come up for auction in recent years have not been restored and are selling for much less. Over fifty years an estimated 43,000 cars were built which was far more than many other luxury or racing manufacturers at the same time. This is depressing values, however any Delage is an asset that will surely rise in price over the next ten years as the market moves away from its heritage.
The featured image is a 1936 D6-70 Speciale that was seen at a recent MotorClassica in Melbourne.