The Delahaye 135 is a grand representative of the hand-built luxury car for the wealthiest of patrons. Back in 1894 the Delahaye company had been one of the first to produce new-fangled automobiles, although as the business developed they specialized in trucks.
But in the mid-1930s they decided to get back into cars, with some success. Indeed, it is accepted wisdom that Delahayes from this golden era are among the most handsome cars ever built.
The 135 arrived in 1935, when custom car-body design seemed more about creating rolling sculpture than practical motor vehicles – and indeed the rich buyers of these cars often demanded the most stylish of bodies simply in order to compete successfully in the popular Concours d’Elegance contests of the day, which demanded both the most impressive of contemporary body styling and stunning interiors.
This made the 135 a rich man’s (and yes, woman’s) expensive toy, but no matter. Some brilliant coachbuilders worked their magic on a rolling 135 chassis – including Figoni & Falaschi, Letourneur & Marchand, Saoutchik, Guillore, Chapron and Franay – and it’s this fabulous selection of custom bodies that makes the Delahaye 135s so striking. But these cars weren’t just pretty faces; their performance was also electrifying.
Indeed, with funding from American heiress Lucy O’Reilly Schell, a racing version of the 135 was built, winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1937. An evolved 145 driven by Jewish driver Rene Dreyfus actually beat the fabulous race cars sponsored by Italian and German Fascist regimes, defeating a Bugatti in the 1937 ‘Million Franc Race’ and Rudolf Caracciola’s legendary Silver Arrow in the 1938 Ran Grand Prix – a victory that made Dreyfus and the Delahaye into national heroes. But that was the last hurrah, for World War II arrived to end the party.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
FIRST YEAR OF MANUFACTURE:
1935 (until 1955)
3,557 cc Straight Six
The fastest body styles were capable of 100 mph (161 km/h), with a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time of 10 secs.
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Production of Delahaye 135s continued after World War ll, eventually taking the total number produced to around the two thousand mark – but despite occasional delicious examples like the Letourneur & Marchand cabriolet of 1947, postwar models are not so highly regarded as the 1930s classics.