17-18 August 2007
1933 Delage D8S Coupe Roadster by deVillars
Sold for $3,740,000
120 bhp 4,050cc overhead valve inline eight cylinder engine with four speed gearbox, solid axle and semi-elliptic leaf spring front suspension, live axle and
semi-elliptic leaf spring rear axle, front and rear Andre Hartford
Tele-Hydraulic shock absorbers, four wheel hydraulically actuated drum brakes and 18”
Rudge-Whitworth center lock wire wheels. Wheelbase: 130"
D8 - La Belle Voiture Française
The D8 was Louis Delage’s ultimate statement of the luxury, sophistication and refinement of the marque that bore his name. Racing cars bearing the Delage name were among the most successful in Europe. Innovative and streamlined, they challenged the best from Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Alfa Romeo, Sunbeam and Maserati. The D8 would bring Delage’s standing among road automobile builders into line with its vaunted reputation in racing and its expensive victory in the 1927 European world championship with the jewel-like 1500cc dual overhead camshaft eight-cylinder Grand Prix.
The Delage D8 was designed by Maurice Gaultier, who had come to Delage in 1910 to run the drive train department, left to work for Georges Irat, then returned in 1925 as chief engineer. Its 4-liter pushrod overhead valve straight eight with five main bearings made 105 bhp and was possessed of a smoothness and silence that put it in Hispano territory.
The D8 made its debut at the October 1929 Paris Salon. Its reception was ecstatic. It was a car designed and intended to be the ideal basis for bespoke coachwork and D8s became very popular on the European concours circuit, bearing bodies from all the renowned coachbuilders. Delage proudly boasted “At the Concours d’Elegance held during 1930 in the principal cities of Europe, Delage Straight Eights received more awards than any other car.” It was, to quote another company mantra, “La Belle Voiture Française” – the beautiful French automobile.
D8S – The True Achievement
In 1930, Delage added a sports version to its D8 range. Available only on the short 130-inch wheelbase chassis, the new car was not just a shortened D8 but quite a different car. In fact, about the same time the Delage engineering team was designing a new engine to be installed in a military aircraft. Louis Delage, always keen to produce impeccable motor cars, decided to link the two, and asked his staff to produce a brand new head with specially-made short springs located next to the valve to avoid any breakage. The carburetor, too, made especially by Delage for the D8S, was of aviation type. The sump, a piece of artistry by itself, was cast with six longitudinal tubes through it to let for air-cooling. Altogether, the engine produced no less than 120 bhp and a great deal of torque.
The chassis was lowered, the suspension revised and even the back axle and differential were particular to the S series. Externally, to make the S more aerodynamic, a new type of radiator shell was employed, which required a special hood and firewall that made the D8S even more visually distinctive.
The Autocar tested one to 99 mph, then demonstrated a zero-to-sixty time of 15 seconds, a remarkable feat and better than a supercharged Bentley. A lightweight roadster model set a record average speed of 109.619 mph over 24 hours at Montlhéry, a mark bettered by Britons George Eyston and Kaye Don in a similar car in 1932. Alas, the Depression was reaching Europe, and only 99 D8Ss were sold.
As seen in a period advertisement of “A.J. Miranda, Sole USA concessionaires for Delage Automobiles, Park Avenue NY,” the price of a standard-bodied D8S was about $8,000 in 1931, delivered in New York City - surely not a price many could afford at a time when the world’s financial markets had dropped by more than fifty percent in two years’ time.
Carrosserie de Villars
Few coachbuilding companies have been created from scratch just for the purpose of working on both the owner’s and his friends’ cars but that is exactly the motivation behind “la Carrosserie de Villars.”
Like many rich Americans, Frank Jay Gould, son of the railroad magnate Jay Gould, left America in his youth to enjoy “la grande vie a Paris.” Unlike most of them, he had no intentions of becoming a gentleman of leisure. Starting in 1910, he built a business enterprise including four casinos, palatial hotels like the Provençal in Juan les Pins and Le Palais de la Mediterranée in Nice, a chocolate factory and a paper mill. He and his wife Florence surrounded themselves with beauty and luxury, amassing one of the world’s most celebrated collections of oil paintings and fine furniture. They were true patrons of the arts for more than fifty years, associating with personalities ranging from Douglas Fairbanks to Mistinguett, from Picasso to Paul Klee.
Among his other enterprises Gould maintained a workshop to repair the coachwork of his and his friends’ automobiles. At some point Frank Jay Gould decided not only to repair, but also to create his own style of coachwork. When his daughter, Dorothy, married a Swiss gentleman named Baron Roland de Graffenried de Villars, an expert polo player and playboy well-placed in the French aristocracy, Gould named his newly created company with the patronyme of his son-in-law, “De Villars.” Success followed swiftly. Thanks to a very strict boss –Gould himself – who said “there was no friendship in business,” the company gained a solid reputation and was acclaimed by l’Auto Carrosserie in 1932 as a place where perfectionism reigned.
Standards were high and precision and craftsmanship were part of every step in the building process. With no more than 25 bodies produced a year, the company was focused on style and perfection and had the time to achieve it. To cite the well-known French historian Alain Dollfus, “some people said that de Villars did Figoni [style] with the seriousness of Franay.”
Of course, since Frank Jay and Florence Gould were well established among the most renowned personalities of France and Europe, their clients came from the same mold. From the Princess de Faucigny-Lucinges to Prince Ali Khan, and from the Duchess of Montesquiou to Mrs. Louis Arpels of the jewelry firm Van Cleef and Arpels, all were members of high society.
Although most of the prestigious chassis found their way to the suburban Parisian premises of Carrosserie de Villars, their associations with Hispano-Suiza and Delage are best remembered. The company’s low annual production enabled it to remain profitable until WWII. The price for exclusivity was paid right at de Villars, with limited production each coachbuilt design was expensive and allowed them to remain independent until it was sold in 1945 to Jean Daninos, founder of Facel.
Time hasn’t erased the magnificence of de Villars’ most impressive creations, with Pebble Beach awarding the collaboration of the pair of de Villars and Delage at least once in 1996.
Chassis no. 38021
This lovely sporting Delage D8S with de Villars Coupe Roadster coachwork graced the 1933 Salon de Paris at the Grand Palais. Built to showcase both the superlative engineering of the Delage chassis and the lovely lines of de Villars coachwork, the car succeeded on both accounts. By itself it was enough for any car lover to make the pilgrimage to the Salon.
The press was equally impressed, with laudatory commentaries published with two photographs in L’Auto-Carrosserie and a coachbuilder’s sketch in the equally important revue La Carrosserie.
In the fall of 1934, the D8S car was honored in Vu, one of France’s most prestigious magazines, with a beautiful image of the Delage depicting it as “triumphant in any concours d’elegance” which tells much about its successes during the summer season. To perfect the scoring board it was also featured in the Delage catalog for the year.
Chassis no. 38021 was truly a tour de force for de Villars. With its very long, low hood that stretched unbroken from the grille almost to the base of the low, raked windshield, its frame rendered in body color for maximum effect, sweeping skirted fenders and the beautiful contours make the de Villars Coupe Roadster looks like it is going a hundred miles an hour even while aiming down the promenade. Pleasing, subtle shapes and details reward the contemplative onlooker.
Originally finished in white, the lovely Delage’s chassis is also white – and the contrast between the sparkle of the wire wheels against the soft glowing white of the brake drums and chassis gives a crisp and clean appearance to the car. The compact and sleek white top looks as good erected as it does stowed away – flush with the tops of the body sides. The interior is as refined as the exterior, particularly the large white steering wheel, matching the exterior, and a lavish and intricate display of instruments.
Following the Salon de Paris, the de Villars was sent to the main Delage showrooms on the exclusive Champs Elysees. Priced at well over 100,000 French francs, it was nothing more than a fantasy for most of the people who saw it there. While there were many enthusiasts for the car, its first owner would have to be someone of exceptional taste and wealth.
That would be Sr. Aurelio Lerroux, the son of Sr. Alejandro Lerroux, who was, at the time, the Prime Minister of Spain. Lerroux kept the car registered in France as he most likely spent the 1934 season in one of the fashionable spots of the Riviera. The next owner of record, Sr. Rico, a friend of Aurelio Lerroux and the brother of the mayor of Madrid, had the car delivered to Spain in April 1935.
Beginning in the early 1940s, the lovely Delage – her lines still both graceful and contemporary – was often seen with Rosalia Gullon as its driver, a lovely woman whose film career had made her a star even as she prepared to launch what would become one of the most successful fashion companies of the period. She may well have bought the car, but it may also have been a gift from a gentleman admirer. After all, as Peter Ustinov once said, “One drives, of course, an Alfa Romeo; one is driven in a Rolls-Royce, but one gives only a Delage to one’s favorite mistress.”
In 1950, records show that 38021 had a most unusual owner – the “Gran Hotel Velasquez”, Madrid. The Delage was a most unlikely choice for a hotel shuttle; it seems more likely to have been engaged providing elegant personal transportation for an important hotel guest. It was in vogue at the time for the wealthy to take up residence in a personal suite within an elegant hotel – and there is no doubt that the de Villars Delage would have been utterly perfect to be placed at the disposal of a discreet, valued client.
By the late 1950s, the de Villars Delage had entered a graceful retirement, (as pictured here in the layout) but, like an aging screen or stage star, more accustomed to the limelight than the wings, she awaited the chance to resume her career on the concours d’elegance circuit. Stored like a time capsule, it was forgotten by most – but still known by a few – for some 40 years until the aged de Villars Coupe Roadster, now painted red, emerged from retirement to hit the road again. All of it was there; not a single piece was missing. With only three owners over the last 40 years, it had largely remained stored, untouched and never driven for the bulk of its life.
Today, The de Villars condition is exemplary It has benefited from a thorough, body off restoration several years ago while in the care of its current owner executed by marque specialists. The paintwork shows very well, as does the extensive brightwork throughout the coachwork of the car.
The engine and bay are clean, well detailed and very correct while the underbody shows virtually no wear from use. The interior of the Delage is equally impressive, as the green leather piped with cream as intended by de Villars shows handsomely and complements the exterior color scheme and white steering wheel exquisitely The owner relates that the gearbox and engine remain fresh from the restoration and are still in virtually like new condition. Notably, the exhaust note gives off a fantastic and highly memorable sound.
This is the first time that the Delage has been seen in public for at least the last 50 years; it is indeed a pleasure to rediscover the magnificence of such a master work and it is an event within itself. Despite being hidden away for so long, one can anticipate that its next public viewing will most certainly be on the greens of Pebble Beach.
In the world of automobiles, some are valued for their exceptional engineering; others for the beauty of their coachwork. Some are prized for their rarity, while others have noteworthy historical importance. It is only when all these things combine that an individual motor car becomes a treasure to be revered for generations.
RM Auctions is delighted to present the magnum opus of Delage and the D8S.
In this very clear and crisp photograph, the D8S is pictured in the early 1950s still in Portugal. One can see that the car remains in very good, complete original condition. Additionally, the brightwork on the fenders is visible however it appears to have been painted over, the headlamps also appear to have been changed as well. Perhaps what is most important though is that the Delage's coachwork has not been disturbed throughout as the raked windshield, long hood and disappearing top remain just as they did when new and today. Photo Courtesy of Laurent Friry.
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