history of Delage
with thanks to
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
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
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
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-Jilovite 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
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.
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
"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
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.