history of Delahaye
Emile Delahaye was born in Tours in 1843. He studied
in Angers, and became an engineer in applied arts and crafts in 1869.
After having worked at Cail's in Brussels, he came back to the town where
he was born, and got married in 1873. Six years after, in 1879, he
took over Julien Bréthon's business specialising in manufacturing
equipment and kilns for ceramists.
He soon made changes, and steered the firm
towards mechanical appliances, mostly manufacturing pumps and
engines. Although he had studied above all steam technology, he
found himself tempted by the latest inventions of his time, such as
gas engines. He developed this technology and had several patents
In 1888, he designed an internal
combustion engine for the shipping industry and in 1894 made his first
car, which he showed to the public the same year at the first
Motor Show in Paris, inside the Cycle Show. At this time, there were
75 workers in the Delahaye workshop 34, rue du Gazomètre in TOURS.
With a view to promote the name Delahaye, Emile Delahaye
decided to enter for famous motor races
like Paris-Marseilles in 1896, with he himself behind the wheel of
The quality and results of his cars convinced numerous and often
prestigious customers, so by 1897,
it was clear that his firm was not big enough to meet the demand of its
One of his customers, Georges Morane, who raced his own Delahaye had just inherited an
engineering company located in Paris, 10, rue du Banquier, 13ème from
his father and father-in-law Paul Morane. The company was looking for
A deal was soon struck, and the firm moved to Paris in 1898, where it
rapidly grew and developed. At first, Emile Delahaye worked alongside Léon Desmarais and Georges Morane, but
he retired soon afterwards and moved to the French Riviera, where he died in 1905.
Until 1933, the Delahaye Cars Company (Société des Automobiles Delahaye)
produced cars which were reputed for their solidity and stamina. Trucks, engines for industrial purposes and competition
(several speed world records with boats) were also built.
The company also specialised in manufacturing fire fighting equipment,
and it even manufactured a huge agricultural machine, which was called
From 1927 to 1933, Delahaye -in collaboration with Chenard & Walker-
produced medium-class cars in small numbers, with a great reputation for
being robust and sturdy. In 1933, Delahaye took over the car
1933 was a turning point in the make's history. From that year on, the
Morane family directed Delahaye towards the manufacturing of prestige
cars and the participation in famous motor racing events, while
maintaining the production of commercial vehicles and of fire fighting
equipment. The takeover of the marque Delage in 1935 helped raise the
profile of the company.
Throughout its history, from 1898 to 1954, the
firm was directed by the Morane family : Léon Desmarais and
Georges Morane first, then François Desmarais (Léon's son) and
Pierre Peigney (Léon Desmarais and Georges Morane's nephew). But
the make owes a great deal of its success to Amédée Varlet and
Jean François, the designers of the successive Delahaye studies
and models, and also to the untiring Charles Weiffenbach, the
so-called "Monsieur Charles", director of manufactures and in
charge of competition schemes.
The model that made the greatest contribution to the
reputation of the marque was to be the famous type 135 (and all the
related versions). Designed in 1934, the type 135 won renown through the
results it obtained in every motor racing event that occurred before World
War 2 : victories were had at the le Man 24 hour race, the Monte-Carlo Rally, the
Paris-Saint-Raphaël motor race etc.
fitted with bodies designed by the greatest coachbuilders of the
won numerous contests of beautiful cars. Now known in the
Delahaye became the provider of many kings and of
show-business people very much in the public eye.
Another important victory that contributed to
the make's reputation
is that of the Delahaye 12 cylinders in "the
Million" event in 1937.
After the Second World War when economic
conditions were difficult for luxury
cars manufacturers, the firm managed to survive mainly thanks to the
commercial and fire fighting vehicles it sold, but also thanks to the
reconnaissance light vehicles (in French VLR) it sold to the Army. The
type 135 and the models that stemmed from the type 135, were still sought
after and were featured each year at the Grand Palais Motor show, on the
Delahaye's stand. The type 175, despite being the winner of the ACF Grand Prix in Compiègne in 1949 and of the Monte-Carlo
Rally did not achieve the same success.
In a last burst of energy, Delahaye released the
type 235 in 1951. The car was a development of the pre-war
type 135 and was too expensive, and with a technology that was
already dated. However,
the Delahaye 235 had its hour of glory in 1953 when it set a record for
the crossing of the African Continent from Cape Town to Algiers.
Delahaye could not escape the difficulties that put an end to the French
luxury cars makers in the fifties. In 1954, the negotiations that had
opened with the Hotchkiss Cars Company (Société des Automobiles Hotchkiss)
concerning manufacturing agreements resulted in a merger, and eventually
resulted in the creation of the Hotchkiss-Delahaye Company (Société Hotchkiss-Delahaye).
The latter in turn stopped producing private cars in 1955.
Where you could find the Delahaye workshops now stands the Paris National
School for Biology and Chemistry. In 1981, the Delahaye Club affixed a
plaque with the text below:
" Here stood, from 1898 to
Workshops, world-wide famous.
With its record of motor racing achievements,
To the prestige of the French Automobile."
20 June 1981