Based initially at Tours and from 1906 in Paris, Delahaye built its first automobile in 1894 and soon branched out into commercial vehicle manufacture. Founder Emile Delahaye designed the cars and drove them in competitions during the firm’s formative years before retiring in 1901 when Charles Weiffenbach – ‘Monsieur Charles’ – took over as Director.
Amédée Varlet served as Delahaye’s chief designer from then onwards, being responsible for its marine engines as well as those intended for road use. At this time the name of Delahaye was as renowned on water as on land. The sport of motor boat racing was dominated by Delahaye-powered craft, one of which established a new World Speed Record of 54.50km/h (33.84mph). There proved to be little profit in this enterprise however, and the firm redirected its attention exclusively to road transport, greatly expanding its range of commercial vehicle types. Under Varlet’s direction, Delahaye produced a succession of rugged, dependable vehicles with an enviable reputation for for reliability.
Indeed, Prince Sixte de Bourbon crossed the Sahara desert in several directions at the wheel of a Delahaye Type 104 in 1929 without once breaking down. Up to the mid-1930s Delahaye’s products tended to be rather lacklustre, but then in 1935 came the first of a new generation that would change the marque’s image forever – the T135 Coupe Des Alpes.
Designed by Varlet’s successor Jean François, the T135 was a fine sporting car, albeit one which, somewhat paradoxically, borrowed its engine from one of its maker’s trucks. The 3.2-liter, six-cylinder, overhead-valve unit produced 110bhp on triple Solex carburetors while the under-slung chassis featured transverse leaf independent front suspension, four-speed synchromesh or Cotal gearboxes, centre-lock wire wheels and large Bendix brakes. Delahaye improved on the formula the following year with the 3.6-liter, 120/130bhp T135MS, and the sports version was soon making a name for itself in competitions, taking 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places in the run-to-sportscar-regulations 1936 French Grand Prix and winning the Monte Carlo Rally and Le Mans 24-Hour Race outright in 1937 and 1938 respectively.
In England, Prince Bira contested the 1938 Donington 12-Hour Sports Car Race in Prince Chula’s example, winning the event and going on to take victory in Brooklands’ ‘fastest road car in England’ race against some formidable opposition. The model reappeared post-WW2 as the 135M with the 3.6-liter engine and lasted in production until superseded by the 235 in 1951. Relatively few Delahayes were sold after WW2, the result of France’s punitive taxation rates for large cars. By 1954 the situation had become untenable and Delahaye merged with Hotchkiss, producing nothing but trucks thereafter. Without doubt, the 135 transformed Delahaye’s image from that of staid dependability to stylish high performance, banishing the saying ‘solide comme un Delahaye’, although the firm’s products remained as well engineered as ever. The 135 attracted the attention of France’s finest coachbuilders, and many of their works on this chassis are among the most striking examples of automotive art of the period.
Production records were lost during WW2 but it is believed that only 2,000-or-so examples of the 135/235 family were made, the greater majority during the late 1930s. The right-hand drive Delahaye 135M offered here wears custom cabriolet coachwork by Carrossier A. Guilloré of Courbevoie, France, typical of the period in its adoption of the more enclosed, streamlined style inspired by an increasing understanding of the importance of aerodynamics. This wonderful tourer enjoyed an extremely comprehensive restoration in the 1980s, later benefiting from a cosmetic refresh in the form of a repaint and interior re-trim in wine red leather.
Since then the car formed part of a collection at the renowned Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Pennsylvania, United States, later being sold via Mark Hyman to a Dutch collector in the mid 2000s. Offered with Dutch papers, this rare and truly exquisite Delahaye 135M is reported to be in excellent running condition, ready to be enjoyed as a touring car or concours participant.