Auctions and Brokerage
Coachwork by Henri Chapron
Formerly the Property of Alfredo Brener
The Delage “La belle voiture française” – That’s how the elegant coachbuilt Delage automobiles of the late 1930s have been described. British Delage enthusiast Col. J.R. Buckley declared in his Profile Publications appreciation that the Delage D8s of the 1930s are “unquestionably amongst the best-looking motor cars of an era which produced some of the most handsome cars of all time.”
Louis Delage constructed his first voiturette in 1906. By 1908, his light cars were winning races, and by 1914 had adopted such advanced technology as four-wheel brakes and twin-overhead camshaft engines. By the early 1920s, Delage was producing beautifully engineered passenger cars for the wealthy, having built his reputation with racers that swept the French Grand Prix in 1914 and won at Indianapolis the same year. Delage would also win the World Grand Prix Championship in 1927 with the legendary 1 1/2-Liter Grand Prix.
As the 1930s rolled to a close, the luxury automobile market had been crippled by the worldwide Great Depression and Delage had been forced out of his own firm. The D8 was the last series bearing his name produced after the company’s merger with Delahaye. The D8-120, in turn, was the last of that line, appearing in 1937. Approximately 74 of this type were constructed. Built on a boxed steel frame with an 133.2" wheelbase, D8-120s were offered with custom coachwork from Figoni & Falaschi, Saoutchik, Chapron, Pourtout, Letourneur et Marchand, Fernandez et Darrin, Franay, de Villars, and others. The Delage Club in the UK estimates that only 1,200 Delage automobiles survive, among them 58 D8-120s; a small fraction of those are by Chapron.
This Car 51629 is clothed in elegant two-door Deltasport four-seat aluminum coachwork by Carrosserie Henri Chapron of Paris. This body is accentuated by a long, classically proportioned hood with outside flexible stainless exhaust covers, and a three-position fabric top. It is powered by a straight-eight Delahaye-derived engine that delivers 140 hp through a Cotal electromagnetic four-speed transmission.
This rare Delage, 51629, was sold new to Argentine businessman Fritz Mandl, who had emigrated from his native Austria with his wife, Hedwig “Hedy” Kiesler. After their divorce in 1937, Hedy moved to the US, caught the attention of movie executives in Los Angeles, and soon rose to stardom as actress Hedy Lamarr. Mandl remained in Argentina, becoming a popular member of Buenos Aires society. Records at the Delage Club in the UK suggest that a G. Sesa was the next owner following Mandl’s death; and the car was subsequently acquired by Héctor Alberto Podestá Lando, a Buenos Aires collector and broker. While in Podestá’s care, 51629 received cosmetic attention and the bodywork was resprayed an attractive cream with contrasting dark green fenders, wheels, and spare wheel cover.
American enthusiasts Manny and George Dragone of Dragone Classic Motorcars in Westport, Connecticut – along with their West Coast partner, B. Paul “Ben” Moser – arranged to purchase the car from Podestá in early 1990. Subsequently, noted collector Alfredo Brener of Houston, Texas, bought the Delage. Brener sent 51629 to Paul J. Batista at Batista Restorations in Ontario, California, where it arrived on May 8, 1990, for a detailed inspection and photographic documentation. Although the owner still planned to undertake further restoration, the Delage was displayed at Pebble Beach that August. Although it was not judged, it attracted a great deal of attention.
From early February through late September of 1991, the Delage was on display at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California. On its return to Batista’s shop, a thorough restoration began. Over a one-year period, the wood framing of the quarter-panels was replaced; the panels, doors, and fenders repaired and repainted; the seats rebuilt; and the instrument panel, steering wheel, and various controls rebuilt, refinished, or replated as needed. The shop also fabricated new stainless steel flexible exhaust pipe covers that exit through the side panels of the hood and pass through the frame aprons, similar to the Mercedes-Benz, Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg designs of the same period. The seats were covered with new green leather, and new carpeting and a top boot was installed. Batista also undertook work on the engine; special attention was paid to the cooling system, as well as the complicated Cotal gear-shifting mechanism, the electrical and lighting systems, instruments, steering, and brakes. In the mid-1990s, Brener traded the Delage back to Dragone; it then came into the care of the current owner and consignor.
This Delage also passed through Phil Reilly’s shop, where new brake drums and brakes were fitted, new internals were installed in the water pump, the exhaust system was restored, and a two-barrel Stromberg carburetor with more modern accelerator pumps installed to improve drivability. The original carburetor is included with the car.
Earlier this year, the Delage was delivered to Scott Sargent at Sargent Metalworks in Fairlee, Vermont, for a thorough freshening. The body was repainted a period-correct black with green highlights. A new black top was installed, which nicely complements the fresh paintwork and green leather interior. The extensive chrome plating was also addressed. This car is described by the consignor as being extremely well-sorted, and runs and drives beautifully.
This magnificent Delage D8-120 Chapron Deltasport is supplied with a binder of historical articles, detailed letters from Sr. Podestá, and comprehensive receipts in excess of $111,000 (1980s dollars!) from Batista Restorations. 51629 offers a combination of rarity, classic pre-war elegance, notable history, and comfortable touring to the discerning collector. It is indeed “La belle voiture française,” and promises to thrill collectors seeking a beautifully restored and stunning example of the period.