home
French thoroughbreds
history of Delage
Delage D8
Delage photo album
Delage posters
 


history of Delage
with thanks to Delage World

Louis Delage had previously worked at Peugeot with Augustin Legros and the company they started, in a barn on the outskirts of Paris in 1905, was an assembler of parts. With a steel chassis from Malicet et Blin and an engine supplied by De Dion-Bouton their first two cars were voiturettes.

They were shown at the Paris Salon in 1905 with two engine sizes, a three-speed gearbox and shaft drive to the rear axle. It seems the engines they chose to show were either too large at 1,059cc or too small at 496cc. Fortunately De Dion-Bouton had an engine of 697cc already in production and so there was a quick switch made during the show and the car reappeared as a 6½-hp runabout. This resulted in several orders and an unexpected offer of a loan of 150,000 francs from a wealthy enthusiast on the condition that they employed his son.

In order to publicise the cars, which were otherwise rather uninteresting, Louis Delage decided to enter them for races. A year later when they were rewarded with a second place in the Coupes des Voiturettes, only being beaten by a Sizaire-Naudin of twice the engine capacity, and were able to exploit this to the full at the 1906 Paris Salon.


1909
Winner of Coupe de l'Auto race in car with unique engine design by N. Causan

Orders for the cars were such that a larger factory became a priority and by the following Spring the company had moved. The demand for Delage cars continued to grow and by the beginning of 1908 it became necessary to extend the factory. By this time Malicet et Blin were supplying chassis, axles and gearboxes and in order to protect their connection they invested in the Delage company and Henri Davene de Roberval joined the board, a position he held until 1935.

Motor racing continued to feature in the company's advertising campaign and they entered three cars in the Coupe des Voiturettes in 1908, two with twin cylinder De Dion engines and the winning car with a new single cylinder engine, developing 28bhp, designed by Nemorin Causan whose business was also based in Levallois. Although the Causan engined car won the race the credit went to De Dion as Delage needed the bonus that De Dion offered, to pay his expenses. The twin cylinder De Dion engined cars finished 5th and 12th and so Delage also won the team prize. The production cars, meanwhile, continued to use the De Dion-Bouton engines but there were now 2 and 4-cylinder options. The single cylinder cars of 6½, 8 and 9hp continued to be listed until 1910. Some cars were fitted also with Chapuis-Dornier engines in the 1909-1910 period.

Delage was now in a position to make enough cars to justify the appointment of agents across France and his first agent in London. Charles Friswell & Co imported the 6½-hp car and it was sold as a "Baby Friswell". The new twin cylinder car had an engine capacity of 1,206cc and was designated the Type G while the 4-cylinder car of 1,767cc was the Type H.

By 1909 Delage had designed their own engines and negotiated a deal with Ballot to supply these in addition to those they built themselves. Bodies were contracted out to Francois Repusseau. The 12hp 4-cylinder car of 1909 had a 1.4-litre monoblock engine and was capable of carrying a 4-seat body with the fuel tank faired into the body. It was a popular car and was sold as the 8CV in France and was priced at £230 in the UK. It continued to be developed up to 1914 with pressure lubrication to the crankshaft being introduced in 1910, it was designated the Type AI.

The bigger 16CV engine, designed by Arthur-Louis Michelat, was available from 1912. This was a 6-cylinder of 2,566cc which turned out 30bhp and was made in the Delage factory. It was capable of carrying much larger coachwork and an 11ft. long wheelbase chassis was listed, on which "Town Carriages" could be built. The developments of this Type AH included a 4-speed gearbox, foot pedal operation of the rear brakes and by 1914, electric lighting and starting.

Further expansion led to another move to a new factory at Courbevoie and Delage remained on this site until the factory closed in 1935.

Spurred on by his successes in racing Louis Delage entered a team of 3-litre cars in the 1911 Coupe de L'Auto race driven by Bablot, Thomas, Guyot and Rigal. The 4-cylinder engine had horizontal valves and was mated to a 5-speed gearbox with an overdrive 5th gear. Bablot won the race outright and the other cars were placed 3rd and 4th. One of these cars has survived in the UK.

The racing Delages for 1913 were similar in design to the previous model but the engines were over twice the size, at 6,234cc, and developed 130bhp. Bablot won the Grand Prix du Mans in 1913 with Guyot second, and Guyot was leading the French Grand Prix when he had a tyre burst, but he finished 5th behind Bablot who was 4th. Two of these cars were taken to race at the Indianapolis 500 in 1914 by W F Bradley and were rewarded with a win for René Thomas at an average speed of 82.47mph.

The 1914 Grand Prix cars of 4.5-litres were very much more advanced, with double overhead camshafts, desmodromic valves and four-wheel brakes but were not as successful.


Winner of Lyon Grand Prix with 4 litre desmodromic ohv engined car

Delage was another motor manufacturer who had a "good war". The military contracts awarded to the company made him very wealthy. He and Augustine Legros were planning their return to motor production before the war ended and had jointly agreed on a one-model policy.

The chosen model was to be a 3-litre four, which had become a fixe head 4.5-litre side valve 6-cylinder by the time production started towards the end of 1919. The anticipated volume of 3,000 cars a year for the "CO" model was wildly optimistic for the austere post-war period and only about 1,400 cars were sold in the whole period up to 1921.

During the war period there were changes to the design team and Michelat left and was replaced by Lovera from Fiat, but he only remained with the company for about two years. In 1919 the role of chief engineer went to Charles Planchon, a cousin of Louis Delage, who turned out to be an excellent choice. One of his first tasks was to design a replacement for the CO model.

The new Delage announced in 1921 was the "DE" model with a 4-cylinder side valve engine of 2,117cc, a 4-speed gearbox and 4-wheel brakes. This was a sound and practical touring car without any sporting pretensions. For the more enthusiastic customers there was the overhead valve 2,121cc engine in the "DI" and the "DIS". The most sporting being the "DISS" with underslung chassis frame and an engine fitted with aluminium pistons. These were popular in the UK as they were competitively priced at £475 and quite fast.

By then the "CO" engine had been developed with overhead valves, twin ignition by dual magnetos and 88bhp and it was listed as the "GS" in 1921-1923 and finally as the "CO2" and in this form about 300 were made.

The "D" model remained in production until 1928 by which time there had been 14,309 cars sold.

 

On the competition front Delage restricted their immediate post-war activities to sprints and hillclimbs with an overhead valve 5,136cc 6-cylinder racing car for René Thomas to drive. He broke the record at Mont Ventoux in 1922 and 1923 and at La Turbie in 1923 and 1924.

Thomas also made fastest time of the day at Breslav-Jilovište in Czechoslovakia in 1924. This same car came to the UK in 1928 and became known as Delage I. There was also double overhead camshaft 6-litre car built in 1925 to publicise the new luxury "GL" model and it also made fastest time of the day at La Turbie and Mont Ventoux this car was known as Delage II. This car has also survived in the UK. The biggest Delage racing car was the 10,688cc V-12 with push rod operated valves built in 1923. It briefly held the World Land Speed Record in July 1924 when René Thomas was timed at 143.29mph at Arpajon. The same combination of car and driver also broke the record at Gaillon in 1925. In 1929 the car was imported into the UK and was very successful at Brooklands driven by John Cobb and Oliver Bertram holding the outer circuit record at 135.34mph. Kay Petre was the fastest British women driver with a lap at 134.75mph. The car was retired from racing in 1935 but remained in the UK and has now been restored to full racing condition.

For the 2-litre Grand Prix formula of 1923 Planchon designed a compicated V-12 with four overhead camshafts giving 105bhp unsupercharged. Their first outing resulted in a retirement for René Thomas in the French Grand Prix. In 1924 Divo finished 2nd and Benoist was 3rd running unsupercharged again, in spite of experiments with twin blowers. They were 3rd and 4th in the Spanish Grand Prix driven by Morel and Divo. For 1925 the superchargers were re-fitted and the engines now produced 190bhp and the cars were a match for the Alfa Romeos although their 1-2-3 victory in the Spanish Grand Prix was non-contest as Alfa did not enter. Alfa withdrew in the from the French Grand Prix at Montlhéry after Ascari's fatal crash giving victory to Divo/Benoist with Wagner second. Delage did not appear at Monza and so the race went to Alfa Romeo.

For 1926 the formula was for 1.5-litre cars and Delage produced some beautiful straight-8 twin overhead camshaft engined cars designed by Albert Lory, with twin Rootes-type superchargers, dry sump oiling system and 5-speed overdrive gearboxes. The engines delivered about 165bhp but the cars were very uncomfortable to drive as the cockpit became far too hot. I spite of this they won the British Grand Prix in the hands of Wagner/Sénéchal at an average speed of 71.61mph with the Bourlier/Dubonnet car finishing third.

By 1927 the problems had been resolved and the cars, with sloping radiators, dominated the Grand Prix with Benoist winning the Grand Prix de l'Ouverture at Montlhéry followed by 1-2-3 in the French Grand Prix driven by Benoist, Bourlier and Morel. Benoist won the British Grand Prix against the Bugatti opposition and followed this with wins in the Spanish and Italian Grand Prix.



 

Delage then withdrew from racing from 1928 but these splendid cars continued to feature in the hands of famous drivers like Malcolm Campbell and Earl Howe. The most amazing feat was the success of the 1.5-litre car, fitted with hydraulic brakes, in the hands of Dick Seaman when it was 10 years old and dominated the 1,500cc class in 1936.

As with so many other manufacturers Delage was seduced by the idea of producing a luxury car to rival makes such as Hispano-Suiza and Rolls-Royce. He therefore established a separate design office for this project and installed Maurice Sainturat from Delaunay-Belleville with "carte blanche" to develop the huge 6-litre "GL" model (for Grande Luxe). The grand design was built on a substantial cross braced chassis frame with conventional suspension but featured servo assisted hydraulic brakes. The engine was a 5,954cc single overhead camshaft design with clutch driven fan, twin oil pumps and in standard tune gave 100bhp. The chassis price in the UK was a substantial £1,650 and they were made in three lengths, the shortest of which 20 were built being the most sporting and was fitted with an engine tuned to give 130bhp. The "GL" project was a financial disaster and with only 100 cars sold it was abandoned in 1927.

The return of Maurice Gaultier to the design team, following a spell in prison for making sub-standard munitions during the war, resulted in the "D" series of 6-cylinder cars which were much smaller. The "DM" had an overhead valve engine of 3.2-litres and the rather less successful "DR" series with side valve engine sizes of 2.2-litre and 2.5-litre. The most successful car in this new range was the "D8" announced at the Paris Salon in 1929. This was, as the name implies, a straight-8 of 4,061cc with the composite Nelson-Bohnalite pistons, which had cast iron skirts and aluminium crowns. The long stroke crankshaft ran in 5 main bearings and the valves were overhead operated by pushrods with additional springs on the rockers to eliminate valve bounce and in standard form it delivered 120bhp, but could be tuned with a special camshaft to give 145bhp. The short chassis "D8SS" version with the tuned engine was capable of a top speed of 100mph.


D 8

This chassis in particular attracted the work of the finest French coachbuilders such as Chapron, Fernandez et Darrin and Letourneur et Marchand. Some of these stylish cars won awards at the fashionable Concours D'Elegance held in Paris and the smart seaside resorts.

"Bunty" Scott-Moncrieff the well known historian, and vintage car enthusiast, was quoted as saying that "one drives an Alfa Romeo, is driven in a Rolls-Royce and buys a Delage for the mistress".

The problem was that, although the cars were relatively inexpensive, the Depression hit this end of the car market very hard and even in France the mistress became an expensive luxury even for Louis Delage. Between 1928 and 1930 sales of Delage cars almost halved from 3,600 to 2,000 in spite of introducing the smaller "DS" with 2,517cc engine and the "D6" which was a "D8" with only six cylinders. In 1933 there was a new range of short stroke engines starting with the "D6-II" a 6-cylinder with a capacity of 2,001cc and followed by the 2,668cc "D8-15" an 8-cylinder with the same bore and stroke dimensions of 75mm x 75.5mm in 1934. There was also a small 4-cylinder version with a capacity of 1,481cc. These short stroke engines used the same valve gear as the "D8", which was still in production. These later cars had pressed steel saloon bodies and independent front suspension by the transverse leaf system so popular on the European continent at the time. In an attempt to rationalise the range of models there were many shared components which resulted in some being over engineered and some under so that reliability or performance were compromised.

As sales fell and staff left, the company was forced to sell it's headquarters in the fashionable Champs-Élysée but Michelat was encouraged to return to design three additional new models for 1935. These were the 2,678cc 6-cylinder "D6-75" and the 3,570cc 8-cylinder "D8-85" and "D8-105" Sport. Hydraulic brakes and synchromesh gearboxes were now fitted and although there was favourable comment on this wide range of cars the company could no longer sustain the losses.

 

By April 1935 the company was in the hands of the liquidators who sold it to Autex,whose proprietor was Walter Watney the Paris Delage agent, for 2million francs. It did not take him long to discover that the undertaking was outside his financial capability and so after abortive discussions with Unic a deal was struck with Delahaye. All future Dalage cars were assembled in the Delahaye factory.

The Delage D6-60 engine survived until 1953 but the other Delage cars were Delahayes with Delage radiators and badges. There was a 4-cylinder 2.2-litre "D1-12" with mechanical brakes but this disappeared in 1936. There were plans to make Delage in the UK in 1937 but this did not proceed.

The last Delages made before the Second World war were the 6-cylinder 2.7-litre "D6-70 and the 8-cylinder 4.3-litre "D8-100" and in 1938 the 4,744cc "D8-120" all with independent front suspension hydraulic brakes and Cotal electric gearboxes. The "D6-70" was no mean performer and was made into an attractive sports racing car, in which form it won the Tourist Trophy at Donington in 1938 driven by Louis Gérard and he and Monneret finished 2nd at Le Mans in 1939 in streamlined version.

After the war the Delage badge was available in 1946 on the 3-litre "D6" which was based on the "D6-75" of 1939 with the engine bored out to 2,984cc. A prototype "D-180" was was made with the 4,553cc Delahaye engine but never saw production. Only about 120 cars were made post-war and production ceased in 1953. The company was absorbed into Hotckiss in 1954 along with Delahaye.

There were six sports racing Delage cars built in 1945 which had some minor successes and they contested Le Mans in 1949 with Louveau and Jover driving into 2nd place and in 1950 Gérard was 2nd in the Grand Prix de Paris.