Delahaye was an automotive manufacturing company founded by Émile Delahaye in 1894, in Tours, France, his home town. Delahaye acquired two partners, needed for their investment capital, and available factory. In 1898, the newly incorporated automobile manufacturing company expediently moved to the incoming marriage-related partners' vacant factory, at number 10, rue du Banquier, in an industrial district of Paris.
Delahaye remained a private, extended, two-family-owned company that remained entrenched in the same Paris factory, until its closure at the end of 1954.
In the interim: Delahaye acquired a failing truck manufacturer for its assembly space, needed to augment Delahaye's own. Delahaye also acquired the assets and trademark of Delage, in 1935, but not its leased manufacturing premises. Delage chassis were thereafter built under the same Paris roof, at number 10 rue du Banquier. The Delage parts inventory was first consumed, then replaced with Delahaye components.
The coachbuilt cars the company manufactured, particularly between 1934 and 1939, being the Types 134, 135, 138, 145, 148, 155 and 165 chassis, and the Delage D6 and D8, sprang from the drawing board of chief design-engineer Jean Francois. These exceptionally attractive bespoke cars were what set Delahaye's star in the French automobile industry's firmament.
After the second World war, the second, and last, of Delahaye's large-displacement engined chassis, the Type 175, 178 and 180 series, was belatedly introduced. It was planned to debut in 1940, but was unable to do so, due to the outbreak of the second World war. France was invaded, and Paris fell to German occupation, in June 1940. The completely new and unproven chassis-series had to await the tranquil return of peace.
The six-cylinder, large displacement chassis series was undoubtedly modern, and quite sophisticated. They were the platforms under some of the most intriguing, trend-setting coachwork ever experienced. But the series was not particularly successful, and did not remain in production for long.
There were inadequately resolved engineering issues, resulting from chief design-engineer Jean Francois' unanticipated early demise from disease. Those were what prematurely went into o Production. Certain mechnical components that depended on the use of high-tensile-strength steel for crucial suspension system forgings, unexpectedly failed, some catastrophically. Accidents occured. Damages were sustained by wealthy car owners. The essential steel-grade was not available after the war, having been universally consumed in the war effort; and, France's steel-mills were bombed into oblivion. But not only that. The politico-socio-economic situation in early postwar France was a chaotically disrupted shambles, with the franc in constant decline, and socialistic policies coupled with rampant unionization, and disruptivr national stikes, fueled by the French Communist Party that was in ascention. The prospect of success was an improbability.
Series production ceased in 1951, after only 107 examples were built. Twenty-four are registered with Club Delahaye, the global authority on the marque, as recorded Survivors.
Emile Delahaye was an educated, qualified, very experienced mechanical engineer, possessed of considerable knowledge gained in a locomotive engine works, and the military, prior to his purchasing the retiring Monsieur Berthon's successful foundry and machine-works in Tours, France.
The company was situated in a cluster of ancient stone buildings that Berthon acquired as and when needed, to service demand, and fill purchase orders. Berthon primarily manufactured products for the ceramics industry. When Emile took over, it soon specialized in building pumps, powered by a small range of petroleum and steam driven motors.
When it came to machinery, Emile Delahaye was no neophyte. Soon after he took over from Monsieur Berthon, he decided to diversify, by conceiving, designing, engineering, and building, his first automobile. He distrusted outside suppliers, so he and his seventy workers fabricated and assembled it entirely in-house. Emile Delahaye entered his four-wheel, tiller-steered motorcar in the first motorized vehicle exhibition, held in a prominant Paris art gallery, in 1894. Among the numerous motorized tricycles, and motorcycles, Emile's was one of the two automobiles exhibited.
Delahaye was among the earliest pioneers in the French automobile industry. He was respected for his inventiveness, competent engineering, and exceptional product quality, utilizing only the best materials. England's Henry Royce, who built his first car a decade after Emile, in 1904, did things much the same as Emile Delahaye had.
Delahaye's first car introduced electric-spark ignition, unlike the primitive methods utilized by the competition. These early Delahayes were belt-driven, with single, or twin-cylinder engines, mounted at the rear.
His Type One was an instant success. Consequently, Emile urgently needed far more operating capital; a unified, larger, manufacturing facility; and, the latest machine-tools, to satisfy the exponentially growing demand. He knew the buying public had to be served, and the demand met, or a car-maker faced perishing in the competitively unforgiving auto industry. It was ever thus.
Those essentials were provided by a new Delahaye owner and fellow racer, George Morane; and, his brother-in-law Leon Desmarais. They partnered equally with Émile, in the incorporation of the "Societe Des Automobiles Delahaye" in 1898.
The three partners rolled up their sleeves, and worked with Emile's seventy-five foundry and machine-works employees, to fabricate parts, and assemble the company's automobiles. But, middle-aged Émile's health was in rapid decline. There is no record of what ailed him, but he did not live past middle age.
In January 1901, Delahaye realized he was unable to capably continue as president. Not having an heir to assume his role, he resigned, and sold his shares to his partners. Emile Delahaye died in 1905, not long after the company's enormous, multi-valve, overhead cam, Titan marine-engine, created by Amadee Varlet, set the world speed record on water, in the custom-made, purpose-built speedboat, La Dubonnet, constructed for, and driven by, the heir to the Dubonnet apparatif fortune.
To distribute responsibilities and assist the partnership in 1898, Emile hired two instrumental mechanical engineers: Charles Weiffenbach, and Amédée Varlet.
 Both remained with Delahaye their entire working career. The elder of the two engineers, Amadee Varlet, retired shortly before France was invaded by Germany in mid 1940. He had no reason to continue, since the French government had curtailed all automobile manufacturing in France in June 1939, ordering every company to convert their machine tooling to the production of France's war materiel. Varlet's engineering role was effectively usurped. Delahaye was ordered to make Enfield rifles, and Hispano-Suiza's V8 aircraft-engine parts. Neither had need of an engineer.
In 1906, soon after Emile's premature demise, Charles Weiffenbach was appointed Manager of Operations by George Morane and Leon Desmarais. Weiffenbach assumed control of all operations, and corporate decision-making, and promptly curtailed all motor-sports activities by the company. Delahaye cars were no longer to be entered in races or any other such competitive venues.
Chez Delahaye, the role of president was more an honor, than one of decisive direction: it was essentially a signatory role. Managing director Charles Weiffenbach was at the helm of Delahaye, from the company's incorporation in 1898, until its closure, when he locked the doors the final time, at the end of the workday on December 31, 1954.
Amédée Varlet was the company's designer and engineer from 1898 to 1932, when he was promoted to manage the new drawing office and racing department. He capably fulfilled the role until mid 39, when all automobile manufacturing ceased across France, to make way for the government's prioritized production of war materiel.
Twenty-six years old when he was hired, Charles Weiffenbach was significantly younger than his compatriot. Weiffenbach's forte was administration, rather than new product engineering, despite his qualifications. He was hired as Emile's assistant: his right-hand-man, and second-in-command. Both hirings were instrumental. Varlet focused his attention entirely on innovativations and new products. He was expert on technical advancements, and manufacturing techniques in a low-volume, limited production facility. Such was, and would remain to be: Delahaye.
While Varlet was busy being inventive, and supervising manufacturing processes, product 6testing, and vehicle production, Weiffenbach was responsible for the decisions keeping the company's doors open, for its two marriage-related families of shareholders to realize a modest profit.
At some undis closed point, the shareholders elected to appoint Charles Weiffenbach as a company director. His role changed from that of an employee, to an owner.
Delahaye remained a family-owned company throughout its entire six decade history. That fact limited its potential to grow and compete with the much larger, public subscribed car-makers like Renault, Citroen, Peugeot and Simca. At Delahaye, the directors were the shareholders, and the shareholders were the directors. The executives were family-members, appointed as executived in accordance by the directors' wishes. None were actually qualified experts in the automobile realm. The only director outside the families, was Charles Weiffenbach. The families had a say in what the company did, or did not do, unlike the mass-production manufacturers, where speculating avoricious shareholders focused on dividend distributions and consistent annual share-value growth, relying on the directorship to invariably, reliably, and consistently, steer their awkward conveyance in the best direction possible. Anything less instigated a change in directorship. The business management practices between Delahaye andthe large companies could hardly have been more disparate.
Emile Delahaye's partners owned a prosperous Paris copper-smithing enterprise; and together had inherited a vacant Paris factory that needed a longterm tenant. The timing of their meeting with successful Tours businessman Emile Delahaye, and their mutual incorporation of the new automotive company, was fortuitous for all concerned.
Delahaye moved from its cluster of old, disjointed, inefficient, low roofed stone structures in Tours, into Morane's and Desmarais' impressively modern, reinforced concrete and heavy-timber constructed Paris factory, at number 10, rue du Banquier.
Emile Delahaye retained ownership of his Tours foundry and machine-works. The old Berthon-founddd enterprise continued making Delahaye automobile engines and other components, that were transported to Paris for assembly. That remained the procedure, until the Paris facility was equipped and staffed, to take over, after the first World war.
Emile Delahaye died in 1905, without an heir to assume control of his successful Tours enterprise; and, participate in the ownership of the burgeoning Delahaye automotive product manufacturing company. It is not recorded what transpired upon his death. The presumption is that, since neither Morane nor Desmarais were involved in the foundry and machine-works, that the business was sold to settle the estate.
Delahaye remained entrenched at 10 rue du Banquier, until Charles Weiffenbach locked the factory doors forever, at 5:00 PM, on Friday, December 31, 1954.
Amédée Varlet is credited with a number of inventions that Delahaye patented. Two of those, registered between 1905, and 1910, included the multi-valve, dual-overhead-cam head; and, the V6 engine configuration. Neither invention was effectively exploited by Delahaye, and more the pity.
Both technological advancements were briefly utilized from 1911 ro 1915, when Delahaye produced its twin-cam, V6 engined, Type 44. This innovative model was produced in miniscule numbers when it ceased production due to the first World war breaking out. The Type 44 was not popular, nor a financial success. It was dropped when the French government ordered Delahaye to convert its machine-tooling to the manufacture of Enfield 303 caliber rifles; and, parts for Hispano-Suiza V8 aircraft engines.
Delahaye missed the boat when it abandonned the Tyoe 44. Today, the twin-cam V6 has long been the World's most prolific engine. Delahaye was decades ahead, but the managing director of operations, in his rather myopic view of the market, and its future potential, did not recognize or appreciate, the strategic significance of Delahaye's achievements, fathered by Amadee Varlet. Where Delahaye all but ignored its technical advancements, and did not profit from them, its competitors, and many that later followed in the future, certainly did. The year Delahaye discontinued its Type 44, Peugeot won the 1914 Indianapolis 500, with its dual-overhead-cam engine. Every current automobile manufacturer has a single or double overhead-cam V6 engine in its repertoire. Delahaye was the originator, but imaginative foresight was not one of managing director Weiffenbach's attributes.
Amadee Varlet continued in his key role, until 1932, when Madame Desmarais caused major changes in the direction of Delahaye, and its automobiles. Instead of leaving, to go into earned and deserved retirement, he was promoted to a senior managerial position. At then seventy-six years of age, well past his creative and inventive prime, he was instructed to expand the humble one-man drafting area into the new Drawing Office; hire several drafting technicians to work cohesively under his supervision and management; then set up, equip, staff, and manage, the brand new Racing Department. Both departments were entities Delahaye never previously had. Clearly, Madame Desmarais' strategy was being implemented. Very different automobiles were about to emerge from Delahaye's doors.
Weiffenbach, as ordered, sourced fresh design talent to replace Varlet at the senior engineer's drawing-board. He hired 42-year-old Jean François in 1932, as the company's chief design-engineer, and Varlet's assistant-manager for both new departments, which by then were operational.
Varlet had been instructed by a chastized and chagrinned Charles Weiffenbach, who was under strict orders from majority shareholder, and board-of-directors chair, Madame Desmarais, widow of founding partner Leon Desmarais. Weiffenbach was given no choice but to adhere to her shareholder-backed demands. Madame Desmarais had been deservedly dismayed about Weiffenbach's excessively costly and imprudent product direction, and financial decisions, that had driven her company to the brink of survival. Weiffenbach's intention was to greatly increase production volume by creating a more modest interpretation of America's General Motors,thereby ostensibly enhancing profitability. On paper, it must have looked feasible; in reality, it was anything but.
Weiffenbach orchestrated a challenging tripartite agreement in collaboration with entry-level Rosengart, that built a clone of the diminutive Austin Seven under license; and, a direct competitor, Chenard et Walcker, to manufacture their cars, along with a rationalized version of Delahaye's own, as well as its trucks and commercial vehicles in conjunction with Chenard & Walcker's UNIC truck division's. The product range was too diverse and disparate, to make practical sense. That was strange, since Charles Wieffenbach was respected as a conservative, prudently practical, pragmatist. Despite his best efforts, the endeavour was destined to fail from the outset, and, by 1931 it was dissolved.
Delahaye's major investment, and the product redesign effort required to rationalize its own and the other two companies product-lines, combined with the retooling time and attenuating costs, plus the sacrificed loss of sales from having no products to market during the transformation, was an enormous judgement error.
Charles Weiffenbach's misguided, overly ambitious, quasi mass-production strategy, destroyed his credibility in the shareholders' eyes. But until the mid nineteen-twenties, 'Monsieur Charles' could do no wrong. That changed, when Delahaye bit off more than it could hope to successfully chew in 1927. Then, when things were absolutely the toughest in Delahaye's history, the wreckage of America's Great Depression washed ashore in 1931.
Amadee Varlet was distressed by the massive compromise he was directed to make in 1927, to discontinue the production of all of the lines he had dedicated himself to conceiving, designing, engineering, and producing for nearly thirty years, only to have the rug pulled out from under him, to be usurped by a failed attempt at product rationalization. He was stuck in the quagmire of compromise. He had to make the product changes, suspend all former automobile production, and revise the machine tooling, to do so, as well as coming up with new patterns for casting-molds for feemed inferior new products. He was disappointed, and contemplated retirement, but Madame Desmarais refused to let the company's highly respected engineer go. She promoted him as the manager of the new Drawing Office, and Racing Department, both of which she authorized Varlet to set up and supervise. He was relieved from his upsetting drawing-board duties, which suited him fine.
Incoming engineer Jean Francois sat himself down in Amadee Varlet's vacated drawing-board chair, and Delahaye never looked back.
In hindsight, it is astounding to business strategists, that the shareholders could ever have been convinced to follow Weiffenbach's erroneous strategy in 1926. But, as oft has been said "desperate times call for desperate measures". Delahaye was indeed encountering desperate times by then, and something bold urgently needed to be done. Charles Weiffenbach tried going in the only direction he thought would work, but he could not have been more wrong.
It did not take long for Madame Desmarais to realize the error. She turned Delahaye's direction around, one hundred-and-eighty degrees, after everything Weiffenbach orchestrated, disintegtated in 1931. Her new direction soon resolved the disasterous matter, and very effectively. But the automobile industry is unpredictably chaotic. Hers was not destined to be a long-term solution. It worked admirably, but only until the second global conflict erupted in 1939. Delahaye had a brief five years of astounding success. It had never done so well previously, but, could not continue as well after the war. Times had changed
Through Weiffenbach's illogical rationalization program, and Varlet's concernation, Delahaye's cars lost their distinctive Gallic personna, and aesthetic appeal,to become mundanely boring, unattractive, under-powered, median-market, family-oriented conveyances that nobody particularly wanted. The upsetting already soft sales numbers plummeted even further.
Weiffenbach's perception of the Frech car market was out of focus. Buyers stayed away in droves. Instead of enhancing profits through volume production, Weiffenbach's scheme achieved the opposite. The fickle market is what determines the niche needing to be filled; not a corporate director.
The arrangement had fallen apart by 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression. The timing of Delahaye's enormous financial commitment could not have been much worse. The tripartite was dissolved, and all parties went their separate ways, reverting to what they were building in 1926. All except Delahaye, that is.
Delahaye was seriously floundering, having completely lost its way. It faced having no viable direction; no viable automobile lines; was desperately short of operating capital; and was hanging onto the edge of insolvency. Madame Desmarais' perceptive vision, and decisive direction reversal, altered Delahaye's fate for the better.
After her orders were handed down and complied with, the indefatigible 'Monsieur Charles' soon redeemed himself. Delahaye's grievous past was left in the dust of the new Type 135 that emerged in 1935.
Madame Desmarais' redirection generated entirely new, up-market, better performing, far more attractive, distinctly identifiable, totally new models, albeit in greatly reduced volume, and at considerably increased selling prices. Delahaye had gone boldly up-market. Gone forever was the company's reliance on a large volume of product-lines at median-market prices and marginal returns, intended to attract the working family-man. Instead, wealthy sportsmen and adventurous women were enticed by remarkably attractive, powerful and fast, superior handling, superb performing sportscars, and luxurious grand-touring cars. And they were reliably robust, competently engineered, dependable vehicles, with seemingly "bullet-proof" engines. Delahaye's Type 135SC sports-racing cars were winning everywhere they were entered, and the race-track grids featured Delahayes prominantly, in the first three rows of entries. The yrsr 1936 was a glorious time for Delahaye. But no company can thrive on flash-in-the-pan glory achieved in a single year. The gauntlet has flung upon the ground by the Teutonic might of Hitler's Nazi Germany, represented by Rudolph Ulenhaut's new V12 Mercedes-Benz, and Ferdinand Porsche's effort in putting Auto Union together from what was Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer. The V12 engine came into dominance, and wealthy Lucy O'Reilly Schell decided that Delahaye needed to build her a team of five V12 racecars, so that she could do with Delahaye, what Enzo Ferrari had so successfully done with Alfa Romeo. Hers was a vision based on wishful thinking. It was her focus in 1936; it came into being by 1937; created a brief stir in 1938; and then became an enormously expensive error in judgement. In 1939, she washed her hands of Delahaye, and transferred her allegiance to Maserati.
Delahaye had, thanks to Madame Demarais, in consort with Charles Weiffenbach, and the freedom both had given to Jean Francois, and financed by Lucy O'Reilly Schell, completely reversed Delahaye's future. The V12 program was perceived by the French populace, to have elevated Delahaye to the pinnacle. The shareholders intended to preserve that prestigeous perception at all costs.
Between 1934 and 1939, the new products introduced by Jean Francois drastically enhanced Delahaye's image, and re-ignited its profitability. Madame Demarais and Jean Francois had belatedly launched Delahaye into joining the "Golden Age of the automobile". Delahaye had unexpectedly, and suddenly, become a French auto-market leader, although producing its exquisite cars in exceptionally low volume.
It is estimated that only about five thousand cars were built in the company's six decades of production. The volume was so miniscule as to be all but inconsequential. Yet these are among the most exceptional motorcars the World had ever experienced. Some examples are considered by the cognescenti, to be among the most beautiful cars ever built. That is quit années accolade for such a small, obscure company to have achieved, but the credit for that perception belongs predominantly to the coachbuilders: Joseph Figoni, Jacques Saoutchik, Marcel Pourtout, Letourneur et Marchand, and Henri Chapron, whose styling and superb craftsmanship made it possible. Delahaye was all about style.
The factory-workers respectfully referred to Charles Weiffenbach, their employer, as 'Monsieur Charles'. His instructions were what set Madame Desmarais' program in motion. But he did so more than grudgingly, because he was ordered to get Delahaye back into motorsports, something it had exited, at his instigation, a quarter of a century before, right after Emile Delahaye died in 1905. Now, against his wishes, Delahaye was to be seen competing in hillclimbs, sportscar rallies, and on races. Racing is expensive, and in Weiffenbach's view, a grossly irresponsible waste of time and resources. But like Bugatti's renowned success, racing results sells motorcars. Delahaye was about to re-enter the racing game.
Upon his hiring, Jean Francous repurposed appropriate items he sourced from the company's production inventory, to initially come up with Delahaye's first, new, entry-level model: the Type 134. It was a redesigned amalgam of small truck components, with an upgraded overhead valve, four cylinder engine, of modest displacement. It was fronted, as it needed to be, with a completely new, classically shaped radiator shell and grille. It looked nothing like any model preceeding it. The Type 134 was new in every way, and is the model that commenced Delahaye's phoenix-like rise from the ashes. Suddenly snd unexpectedly, Delahaye re-emerged from the quagmire it had been bogged down in. In early 1934, the public perception of Delahaye was changed, very much for the better. The Type 134 reintroduced the classic V-shaped radiator-shell, in a freshly designed, attractive, vertical-bladed, distinctly original, heart-shaped, chrome surrounded grille. Delahaye was back, with a vengeance.
The instantly popular Type 134 was qhickly followed by the eleven International speed-record setting Type 138, in 1935. This was an inline, overhead-valve, six-cylinder engined chassis. Then, less than a year later in 1936, came the low-slung "surbaisse" deservedly famous Type 135, in its various iterations. Coachbuilders were tripping over themselves to body the new Delahaye chassis.
The Type 135SC's astounding competition successes were quickly followed the next year, by the V12 engined Types 145 and Type 155 in 1937; and the luxurious, and definitive, Type 165 in 1938. Then after invading and anexing Austria, Hitler invaded Poland, and France declared war. It was France's third military conflict with Germany in seventy years.
The Type 135 made Delahaye a household name, and the company famous, but it was the esteemed Type 165 that elevated Delahaye's prestige onto the esteemed plateau occupied by Hispano-Suiza; Isotta Fraschini; Maybach, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Duesenberg.
It was an outside investor, wealthy Irish-American-in-Paris heiress Lucy O'Reilly Schell, who instigated the V12 program, after causing the Type 135SC to be made in limited numbers. There were only sixteen Type 135SC cars built, and Lucy bought twelve of them. Only nine V12 cars were ever built, and Lucy bought five (four sports-racing Type 145s;and the one Type 155 grand prix monoposto). There were also four luxurious, grand-touring, open-bodied, Type 165s. Of these nine cars, six exist, including all four Type 145s; and two Type 165s.
These were low-volume, limited production, motorized-chassis models, particularly the V12s.
Delahaye's automobiles were bodied by competing, independent, outside coachbuilders, most located in the environs of Paris. However, coachbuilders in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, and England, bodied a few examples.
The models created by Jean Francois elevated Delahaye to the peak of the French automobile industry, prior to the second World war. The aftermath was less glorious. Jean Francois did not live to see peace return to Paris. The legendary "Golden Age of the Automobile" came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of war in 1939. The glimmering flame valiantly attempted to be reignited afterwards, but Time had marched on. The World had been changed in every respect. Delahaye belonged to an ealier epoch, being unable to adapt and modernize.
From its incorporation in 1898, Delahaye had always been a small, family-owned company. It lacked the financial strength, and facilities, to move forward into the vastly altered postwar circumstances. It did not help that France was itself in dire straits after the global conflict.
Delahaye's lesser postwar glory can be partially attributed to the untimely death of fifty-four year old Jean Francois, from a terminally diagnosed chest disease, in April 1944. There were no more new chassis-types to almost miraculously spring aftesh from his abandonned drawing board. Delahaye was stagnating. But his demise was far from the sole cause. More to blame was the distressed socio-economic situation in France, exacerbated by a devestating luxury-tax imposed on cars of over two-litres displacement. Delahaye manufactured nothing that diminutive, so the punitive tax, and never-ending currency devaluations, drove potential prospects away in droves.
The post 1934 models created by Jean Francois were what forever set Delahaye's star in the firmament, and continue to earn its surviving iconic cars their earned and deserved respect into perpetuity.
Delahaye began experimenting with belt-driven cars while manager of the Brethon Foundry and Machine-works in Tours, in 1894. These experiments encouraged an entry in the 1896 Paris–Marseille–Paris race, held between 24 September-3 October 1896, fielding one car for himself and one for sportsman Ernest Archdeacon. The winning Panhard et Levassor averaged 15.7 mph (25.3 km/h); Archdeacon came sixth, averaging 14 mph (23 km/h), while Delahaye himself was eighth, averaging 12.5 mph (20.1 km/h).
For the 1897 Paris-Dieppe race, the 6 hp (4.5 kW; 6.1 PS) four-cylinder Delahayes ran in four- and six-seater classes, with a full complement of passengers. Archdeacon was third in the four-seaters behind a De Dion-Bouton and a Panhard et Levassor, Courtois winning the six-seater class, ahead of the only other car in the class.
In March 1898, 6 hp (4.5 kW; 6.1 PS) the Delahayes of Georges Morane and Courtois came sixteenth and twenty-eighth at the Marseilles-Nice rally, while at the Course de Perigeux in May, De Solages finished sixth in a field of ten. The July Paris-Amsterdam-Paris earned a satisfying class win for Giver in his Delahaye; the overall win went to Panhard et Levassor.
Soon after the new company was formed in 1898, the firm moved its manufacturing from Tours to Paris, into its new factory (a former hydraulic machinery plant that Morane and his brother-in-law Leon Desmarais had inherited from Morane's father). Charles Weiffenbach was named Operations Manager. Delahaye would produce three models there, until the close of the 19th century: two twins, the 2.2-litre 4.5 hp (3.4 kW; 4.6 PS) Type 1 and 6 hp (4.5 kW; 6.1 PS) Type 2, and the lighter Type 0 (which proved capable of up to 22 mph (35 km/h)), with a 1.4-liter single rated between 5 and 7 hp (3.7 and 5.2 kW; 5.1 and 7.1 PS). All three had bicycle-style steering, water-cooled engines mounted in the rear, automatic valves, surface carburetors, and trembler coil ignition; drive was a combination of belt and chain, with three forward speeds and one reverse.
In 1899, Archdeacon piloted an 8 hp (6.0 kW; 8.1 PS) racer in the Nice-Castellane-Nice rally, finishing eighth, while teammate Buissot's 8 hp (6.0 kW; 8.1 PS) was twelfth.
Founder Émile Delahaye retired in 1901, leaving Desmarais and Morane in control; Weiffenbach took over from them in 1906. Delahaye's racing days were over with Émile Delahaye's death. Charles Weiffenbach had no interest in racing, and focused his production on responsible motorized automotive chassis, heavy commercial vehicles, and early firetrucks for the French government. Race cars had become a thing of the past for Delahaye, until 1933, when Madame Desmarais caused her company to change direction, and return to racing.
The new 10B debuted in 1902. It had a 2,199 cc (134.2 cu in) (100 by 140 mm (3.9 by 5.5 in)) vertical twin rated 12/14 hp by RAC, mounted in front, with removable cylinder head, steering wheel (rather than bicycle handles or tiller), and chain drive. Delahaye also entered the Paris-Vienna rally with a 16 hp (12 kW; 16 PS) four; Pirmez was thirty-seventh in the voiturette class. At the same year's Ardennes event, Perrin's 16 hp (12 kW; 16 PS) four finished tenth.
Also in 1902, the singles and twins ceased to be offered except as light vans; before production ceased in 1904, about 850 had been built.
Delahaye's first production four, the Type 13B, with 24/27 hp 4.4-litre, appeared in 1903. The model range expanded in 1904, including the 4.9-litre 28 hp (21 kW; 28 PS) four-cylinder Type 21, the mid-priced Type 16, and the two-cylinder Type 15B. These were joined in 1905 by a chain-driven 8-litre luxury model, one of which was purchased by King Alfonso XIII of Spain.
All 1907 models featured half-elliptic springs at the rear as well as transverse leaf springs, and while shaft drive appeared that year, chain drive was retained on luxury models until 1911. In 1908, the Type 32 was the company's first to offer an L-head monoblock engine.
Protos began licence production of Delahayes in Germany in 1907, while in 1909, H. M. Hobson began importing Delahayes to Britain. Also in 1909, White pirated the Delahaye design; the First World War interrupted any efforts to recover damages.
Delahaye invented and pioneered the V6 engine in 1911, with a 30° 3.2-litre twin-cam, in the Type 44; the invention is credited to Amédée Varlet, Delahaye's chief design-engineer at the time. The Type 44 was not a success and production stopped in 1914. The Type 44 was the only V6 engine ever made by Delahaye, and it was the last time the company used a twin-cam engine.
Varlet also designed the Delahaye "Titan" marine engine, an enormous cast-iron four cylinder engine that was fitted into purpose-built speedboat "La Dubonnet" which briefly held the World Speed Record on Water. With the Titan, Amédée Varlet had invented the multi-valve twin-cam engine in 1905, the same year that Émile Delahaye died.
After the war, Delahaye switched to a modest form of assembly line production, following the example of Ford, hampered by the "extensive and not particularly standardized range" of cars for Chenard et Walcker, and itself, and farm machines for the FAR Tractor Company. The collaboration with FAR Tractor Company and Chenard et Walcker did not last long. This continued until continually reduced sales volume made a change necessary, for the company to survive. It has been alleged that Monsieur Charles met with his friend, competitor Ettore Bugatti, to seek his opinion on turning Delahaye around. Whether or not this meeting actually occurred, it is on record that Madame Leon Desmarais, the majority shareholder and Leon Desmarais' widow, instructed Charles Weiffenbach to come up with a new higher quality automotive-chassis line with vastly improved horsepower, and re-establish a racing department. That pivotal decision was made in 1932, the year that Jean François was hired. By 1933, Delahaye was back in the racing game, and promptly went about winning events and setting records.
At the 1933 Paris Salon, Delahaye showed the Superluxe, with a 3.2-litre six, transverse independent front suspension, and Cotal preselector or synchromesh-equipped manual transmission. It would be accompanied in the model range by a 2,150 cc (131 cu in) four (essentially a cut-down six), and a sporting variant, the 18 Sport.
In 1934, Delahaye set eighteen class records at Montlhéry, in a specially-prepared, stripped and streamlined 18 Sport. They also introduced the 134N, a 12cv car with a 2.15-litre four-cylinder engine, and the 18cv Type 138, powered by a 3.2-litre six — both engines derived from their successful truck engines. In 1935, success in the Alpine Trial led to the introduction of the sporting Type 135 "Coupe des Alpes". By the end of 1935, Delahaye had won eighteen minor French sports car events and a number of hill-climbs, and came fifth at Le Mans.
Racing success brought success to their car business as well, enough for Delahaye to buy Delage in 1935. Delage cars continued in production from 1935 to 1951, and were finally superseded by the Type 235, a modestly updated 135. The truck business continued to thrive. Some of the great coachbuilders who provided bodies for Delahayes include Figoni et Falaschi, Chapron, Letourneur et Marchand, and Saoutchik, as well as Guilloré, Faget-Varlet, Pourtout.
Delahaye ran four 160 hp (120 kW; 160 PS) cars (based on the Type 135) in the 1936 Ulster TT, placing second to Bugatti, and entered four at the Belgian 24 Hours, finishing 2-3-4-5 behind an Alfa Romeo.
American heiress Lucy O'Reilly Schell approached the company with an offer to pay the developmental costs to build short "Competition Court" 2.70- metre wheelbase Type 135 cars to her specifications for rallying and racing. To convince managing director Weiffenbach that she was serious, she placed an order for 12 short-chassis Type 135s equipped with triple Solex carburetors. Thus was created the Type 135SC variant. Lucy sold six to her sporting friends and kept six for her newly established Ecurie Bleue racing team comprising amateur racers. Delahaye built two for its own factory racing-team, with special twelve-port cylinder-heads. Two additional chassis were built, totalling 16 in total. Joseph Figoni bodied the last two, and it was Olivier Lecanu Deschamps' small coachbuilding company Lecanu, who bodied the majority of the other 14. Lecanu was able to respond quickly, and build sportscar bodies economically, in aluminium. Only two coachbuilders in France specialized in aluminium body construction; the other being Chapron. Lecanu was favoured by Delahaye for its race-cars, but the bodystyle on the Type 135 SC cars was not exclusive to Delahaye. There were similar Talbot-Lago and Bugatti examples. All four Type 145 race-cars were bodied by Lecanu, to an aerodynamically efficient design by Delahaye chief design-engineer Jean François. Lecanu's owner both designed and built the last of the four Type 145 bodies, on chassis 48775, as was specially ordered by Lucy O'Reilly Schell.
Type 135 chassis number 47456 was built in 1937 and taken to the United Kingdom to Abbey Coachworks Ltd. by a French Count by the name of Hayden. It was registered with number plate DXE-66. This very car was featured in the December 1937 edition of Motorsport magazine. The history of this particular car takes it from England to Ireland, back to England, to France, and to Belgium. The car with numberplate DXE-66 has undergone a thorough restoration in France during the years 2018 - 2019.
In 1937, René Le Bègue and Julio Quinlin won the Monte Carlo Rally driving a Delahaye. Delahaye also ran first and second at Le Mans. Against the government-sponsored juggernauts Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, Delahaye brought out the Type 145, powered by a new, complicated 4½-liter V12 with three camshafts located in the block, with pushrod-actuated valves and four overhead rocker-shafts, dual Bosch magneto ignition, and triple Stromberg carburettors. Called "Million Franc Delahaye" after a victory in the Million Franc Race, the initial Type 145, chassis 48771, was driven by René Dreyfus to an average speed 91.07 mph (146.56 km/h) over 200 km (120 mi) at Montlhéry in 1937, earning a Fr200,000 prize from the government. Dreyfus also scored a victory in the Ecurie Bleu Type 145, again number 48771 at Pau, relying on superior fuel economy to beat the more powerful Mercedes-Benz W154, in 1938. Third place in the same race was claimed by Gianfranco Comotti, driving Delahaye Type 145 number 48775. Dreyfus brought his Type 145 number 48771 to its second Grand Prix win at Cork, Ireland, but the German teams had boycotted this event, being another between-the-houses race where they could not exploit their superior power. Type 135s also won the Paris-Nice and Monte Carlo Rallies, and Le Mans, that year, while a V12 model (Type 145 number 48773) was fourth in the Mille Miglia. These victories combined with French patriotism to create a wave of demand for Delahaye cars, up until the German occupation of France during World War II. The Type 135 'Competition Court' 2.70-metre wheelbase chassis was the platform for the Type 145, and the Type 135 was also the basis for four known grand-touring Delahaye Type 165 cars. A fifth has long been rumoured, but has yet to surface. There were only enough V12 engine-parts from the mere 12 sets made, for three operational Type 165s, and an empty engine lacking its internals in the 1939 New York World's Fair showcar. Two of the four Type 165 cars exist today, being the Figoni-built Paris and New York showcars, identically bodied as streamlined roadsters, finished in different shades of red. The other two Type 165s were bodied by Henri Chapron in his series-produced 'Dandy' designated cabriolets. Both were demolished by bombing runs during the Second World War.
In early 1940, 100 Type 134N and Type 168 chassis were built and bodied by Renault as military cars under contract for the French army. The French government had ordered all private automobile production to cease in June 1939, but small numbers of cars continued to be built for the occupying German forces until at least 1942.
After the Second World War
After World War II, the depressed French economy made life difficult for luxury car makers. General Pons's five-year reconstruction program (the Pons Plan) allocated the majority of its vehicles for export, and installed an increasingly punitive tax regime aimed at luxurious non-essential products, including cars with engines above 2 litres capacity. In 1947, 88% of Delahaye production was exported (compared to 87% of Peugeot and 80% of Talbot production), primarily to French colonies in the Orient and Africa. Nevertheless, Delahaye's meagre 573 cars in 1948 (against 34,164 by market-leader Citroën), was unsustainably low.
Production of the Type 135 and 148L was of necessity resumed in 1946, because the new Type 175 and its two longer wheelbased siblings were not ready for introduction. The new face of the postwar Delahaye was styled in-house by retained industrial designer Philippe Charbonneaux. The all-new Type 175, using a 4.5-litre inline, overhead-valve six, was introduced in 1946, on Delahaye's stand in the innaugural postwar Paris Auto Salon in October 1946. The show-unit was a fanciful version of the optional, triple carbureted, chromed wire-wheeled, white-wall tired Type 175S. But deliveries to coachbuilders were delayed until early 1948, due to continuing developmental evolution, and much needed testing, prior to achieving Weiffenbach's final manufacturing approval.
Starting the process off, when Weiffenbach ended the V12 Type 165's production in the latter half of 1938 Jean François was mandated to come up with a practical replacement for the problematical and impractical, but gloriousy prestigious V12 model, built on the outdated Type 135/148 platform. This was to be an entirely modern and cost-effective car, similarly powerful and with identical displacement. Weiffenbach relied on his design-engineer's proven capability to deliver successful new products in impressively short order. The managing director anticipated debuting the new Type 175 at the 1939 Paris Auto Salon. But the autoshow was cancelled at the last minute, due to the impending war.
The new, second-generation, large displacement prototype was under development before war erupted. But there is no extant record of its status, by or shortly before October 1939. Club Delahaye reported that the shareholders approved the prototype, in March 1944, "to be put immediately into production", but that was not possible, because the German occupational force did not unconditionally surrender until 25 August. Jean François, the engineer solely responsible for designing, developing and testing the new 4.5-liter engined new chassis, unexpectedly died in April 1944 of a chest disease. The engineer's rapid health decline occurred after he left Paris in 1939, to seek safe refuge near Guillestyre in the Southern French Alps, to complete his production engineering drawings. His demise proved problematical. Delahaye had nobody qualified to assume his crucial role.
The developmental evolution critical for production approval was dramatically reduced. As a result, the outdated pre-war models had to be re-introduced to restart cashflow. The first World War provided a profit for Delahaye; the second, much less so. Delahaye was struggling, and the French economy was in a bad state, with massive unemployment and escalating inflation, with the franc repeatedly being devalued.
The initial examples of the new chassis-series finally emerged from the factory's doors in early February 1948. (Club Delahaye president Jean-Paul Tissot reported that Type 178 #820001 departed the factory on Friday 13 February 1948, and was transported to coachbuilders Letourneur et Marchand, to be bodied as a cabriolet). That was at least two years later than when the series was supposed to enter the market.
The new, four-wheel independently suspended, semi-monocoque chassis, was very modern in 1938, but less so, nearly a decade later. Its innovative independent front suspension system, licensed from Dubonnet, was no longer leading-edge technology. Other car-makers adopted it before the war, including Alfa-Romeo, General Motors, Simca and Vauxhall. But all experienced maintenance and reliability issues, and abandoned it in favour of Cadillac's newly invented, unequal-length A-arm approach, invented by engineer Maurice Olly. Cadillac's system was adopted under license, by Rolls-Royce, for its prewar V12 Phantom III and six-cylinder Wraith. Olly's system expediently replaced Dubonnet's, but Delahaye persevered, having a licensing agreement in place, and no viable alternative, especially without its intuitive design-engineer Jean François's expertise.
It was not long before strategic suspension parts catastrophically failed. To avoid negative publicity, liability claims and litigation fees, Delahaye was obliged to buy back an undisclosed number of its expensive coachbuilt cars. Delahaye kept no record of that ever having happened. Probably around 12 cars were bought back. The likelihood is that they were repaired with new, upgraded and improved parts, and resold, to recover as much capital as possible. Charles Weiffenbach was respected as a prudently practical administrator who never knowingly wasted a franc.
Knowledge of owners' accidental issues could not be effectively circumvented. The news caused disinterest in prospective buyers. The large displacement Delahaye was unable to generate sales sufficient to recover costs and turn a profit. Based on their production numbers auto-historian and Club Delahaye president Jean-Paul Tissot reported that a grand total of 107 units were built (51 Type 175s, 815001 to 815051 inclusive; 38 Rype 178s, 820001 to 820038 inclusive; and 18 Type 180s, 825001 to 825018 inclusive). The tally includes the prototype, the show-chassis, and the other four pre-production units.
The Type 175 and the related longer wheelbased Type 178 and 180 models were unsuccessful. Buyer resistance has been put down to crucial component failures, particularly the fulcrum arms inside the horizontal cylindrical housings of the independent Dubonnet front suspension system. The rotating motion of the internal fulcrum arm actuated the coil-spring and the integral hydraulic shock-absorber. There were also failures of the splined half-shafts in the De Dion rear suspension system. The problems were caused by the inferior quality of the only available grade of important high-tensile-strength steel. The global supply for crucial hammer-forging steel needed for the most important stressed parts was entirely consumed by the maming of war material; and the steel mills were bombed. A very low volume of the superior quality steel was produced right after the war, but it was doled out in miniscule amounts by the French government.
After satisfying its objectives, Delahaye's racing department repurposed the prototype in mid 1946. It became the experimental test-mule for the second generation, naturally-aspirated, 4.5-liter racing-engine. The prototype that was referred to at the factory as '92002' retained its pioneer, early-series, Type 1AL-183 engine, that was modified to become the initial Type 175S racing-engine. By Friday 13 February 1947, the chassis and engine had been stamped with matching build numbers, and the triple Stromberg carbureted motor was detuned to as close as practical to Type 175 specification in early 1948, equipped with a standard Solex r 40AiP carburetor and coil-and-distributor ignition replacing the Vertex-Scintella magneto.
The refurbished unit left the factory as the first Type 178, recorded as production build number 820001. The prototype chassis was originally bodied for its essential high-speed performance trials at Montlhéry, from the summer of 1946 into autumn 1947. In order to do so, the racing department removed and recycled the aluminum sports-racing body obtained from Charles Pozzi's Type 145 number 48775. The test-mule was stripped bare and remanufactured in late 1947, extending into early February 1948. The reconfigured and detuned prototype left the factory as the first Type 178, to be bodied, or rather re-bodied, by Letourneur et Marchand, as a black cabriolet. It was homologation certified on 24 March 1948, and registered to the original owner, Leon Moreau, owner of the luxury auto-brokerage company 'Leon Moreau et ses Enfants'. Moreau insisted on buying the first Type 178 directly from Charles Weiffenbach, having previously missed out on the first Type 175. It was not road licensed until 1949, and was resold as company demonstrator to a buyer in England.
The second Type 175S racing-engine was given by Delahaye to Wilson Garage owner Fernand Lacour, in exchange for his tuning expertise and services rendered to the racing department, to develop the Type 175S racing-engine for sustained high speed performance. Lacour installed it in the Chabaud Special #1; a Formula-one car built from modified Type 135 chassis for Eugene Chabaud. It was first entered in Paris Grand Prix for monopostos, on 30 May 1948.
The third was installed by the racing department in Charles Pozzi's remanufacturered Type 145, number 48775, that was rebodied by Valtat to become one of the two "new" Delahaye Type 175 racecars. Pozzi won the 1949 French Grand Prix on the Comminges circuit. André Simon drove it to set the 1949 Le Mans lap record.
The fourth went into Eugene Chabaud's other Type 135SC race chassis, number 47192, that was also thoroughly remanufactured by Delahaye, and was rebodied by Valtat as the second "new" Delahaye Type 175 racecar.
The fifth engine went into Jean Trevoux's first of three lightweight Type 175S coupés, number 815042, bodied in Italy by Motto. The car finished twelfth in the inaugural Carerra Panamericana, raced in stages across Mexico.
The sixth competition prepared engine went into Trevoux's second Motto coupé, Type 175S number 815051. It was disqualified on a technicality in the second Carerra Panamericana. Trevoux won the Monte Carlo Rally in his first Motto coupé.
The seventh and last known Tyoe 175S racing-engine went into Trevoux's third Motto competition coupé, Type 175S number 815051: the final Type 175.
Production of the Types 175, 178 and 180 was discontinued in mid 1951, with a grand total of 107 examples having been built, including the prototype, the Paris show-chassis and the other four early 1946 pre-production units.
In 1953 the discontinued series was replaced by the new Type 235. Fernand Lecour, working with a small group of enthusiastic factory employees, convinced Charles Weiffenbach to introduce an updated version of the Type 135, fitted with hydraulic instead of mechanical brakes, and a triple Solex carbureted version of the 3.6-litre Type 135 engine, which produced 152 hp (113 kW; 154 PS). This power was roughly equal to that of the previous series.
Only 84 examples of the type 235 were built before the company closed forever. The majority of those cars was bodied by Chapron. Until early 1951, continuing demand from the French army for its Light Reconnaissance Vehicles (VLR) enabled the company to operate at a deemed reasonable, albeit low volume. A small demand for the Type 163 trucks ensured production volume sufficient to keep the business afloat.
A 1-ton capacity light truck, sharing its 3.5-litre six-cylinder overhead-valve engine with the company's Type 235 luxury cars (albeit with lowered compression ratio and reduced power output), made its debut at the 1949 Paris Motor Show as the Type 171. During the next twelve months the Type 171 spawned several brake-bodied versions, including ambulance and 9-seater familiale variants. The vehicle's large wheels and high ground clearance suggest it was targeted at markets where many roads were largely dust and mud, and the 171, like the contemporary Renault Colorale, was intended for use in France's African colonies. The vehicle also enjoyed some export success in Brazil and, by 1952, the Type 171 was being produced at the rate of approximately 30 per month.
As passenger car sales slowed further, the last entirely new model, a 2-litre Jeep-like vehicle known as VLRD (Véhicule L��ger de Reconnaissance (Delahaye)) (sometimes known as the VRD or VLR), was released in 1951. The French army believed that this vehicle offered a number of advantages over the traditional American-built Jeep of the period. During 1953, the company built 1,847 VRDs, as well as 537 "special" military vehicles. In that year no more than 36 Delahaye or Delage-badged passenger cars were registered.
Delahaye's main competitor, Hotchkiss, managed to negotiate a licensing agreement with Kaiser-Willys Motors, and obtained sanction to manufacture its Willys MB Jeep in France. The French army had learned to appreciate the simpler machine, available at a much lower price, and cancelled Delahaye's contract for the more sophisticated VLR reconnaissance vehicle, dealing a heavy blow to Delahaye. In August 1953, the company laid off more than 200 employees.
Delahaye's management discussed some sort of merger with Hotchkiss, that was struggling with similar problems, and the two businesses hoped to prove more resilient together than separate. On 19 March 1954, an agreement was signed by the two company presidents, Pierre Peigney for Delahaye and Paul Richard for Hotchkiss. Less than three months later, on 9 June, Delahaye shareholders accepted a takeover of Delahaye by Hotchkiss, after which Hotchkiss shut down Delahaye car production. By the end of 1954, after a brief period selling trucks with the Hotchkiss-Delahaye nameplate, the combined firm was itself taken over by Brandt and by 1955 both Delahaye and Hotchkiss were out of the automotive chassis business altogether, having their facilities absorbed by Brandt. By 1956, the brands Delahaye, Delage, and Hotchkiss had disappeared forever.
- Delahaye 134 - 1933-40
- Delahaye 135 - 1935-54
- Delahaye 138
- Delahaye 148
- Delahaye 168 - 1938-40
- Delahaye 175 - 1948-51
- Delahaye 178
- Delahaye 180
- Delahaye 235 - 1951-54
Delahaye 175S Roadster (1949) with coachwork by Saoutchik
Delahaye 165 Figoni et Falaschi (1939)
Delahaye 178 Drophead Coupé (1949), once owned by Elton John
- "Bonhams : c.1906 Delahaye 10/12 CV Type 28 Roi-des-Belges 2062". www.bonhams.com. Retrieved 2016-11-03.
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- book "Delahaye - La belle carrosserie française", written by Jean-Paul Tissot ISBN 978-2-7268-8697-7, page 240
- Club Delahaye archive, and quarterly journal
- "Automobilia". Toutes les voitures françaises 1948 (salon Paris oct 1947). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 7: 26. 1998.
- "Automobilia". Toutes les voitures françaises 1953 (salon Paris oct 1952). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 19: 23. 2000.
- "Automobilia". Toutes les voitures françaises 1954 (salon [Oct] 1953). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 24: 24. 2002.
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