Sports & Classics of Monterey

12-14 August 2010

SAT

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Lot 353

1949 Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster

  • Chassis no. 815023

Sold for $3,300,000


165 bhp, 4,455 cc naturally aspirated overhead valve inline six cylinder engine, four-speed electro-mechanically actuated Cotal Preselector gearbox, Dubonnet coil spring front suspension, De Dion rear axle with semi-elliptic springs, and four-wheel hydraulic finned alloy drum brakes. Wheelbase: 116"

- Believed to have been the 1949 Paris and 1950 New York Show Car
- One of only 51 of this chassis originally built
- Now re-united with its original engine (see text)
- Amelia Island and Pebble Beach award-winner

The Delahaye Chassis

Emile Delahaye, a brilliant industrial engineer in France, built his first motor car in 1895 which was subsequently placed on display at the Paris Auto Salon. Production was on a small scale, but the cars bearing his name were soon appearing at racing events and proved both reliable and competitive. In 1901 poor health resulted in the sale of the company, which also resulted in a move to a new factory in Paris. Continually expanding, Delahaye established itself as a builder of reliable and robust trucks, fine automobiles, industrial engines and special service vehicles.

Following a relatively lackluster period from the late 1920s through the early 1930s, Delahaye saw a revival of its fortunes beginning around 1933 and continuing until the outbreak of war. Based on a new series of four- and six-cylinder cars, the new models were headed by a sporting machine designated the 135. It featured independent front suspension and a higher output engine than the normal six-cylinder car. One of these new models was sent to Montlhéry where it set a ream of new records, including seven new world records, and maintained an average speed of 110 mph.

Racing successes followed as well, including the Alpine Cup and several Grands Prix events. For 1936, a new triple-carbureted engine produced 160 bhp, and it was this car that swept second through fifth places at that year’s French Grand Prix, losing first to a Bugatti.

A Delahaye won the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally in both 1937 and 1939. The 135 was the basis of Delahaye racing cars that followed, which culminated with a victory at Le Mans in 1938.

At the same time, Delahayes were winning top awards at concours d’elegance with striking Art Deco coachwork from Europe’s most renowned craftsmen at Figoni et Falaschi, Chapron, Saoutchik, Franay, de Letourner et Marchand and other notable firms.

Prewar development continued with the design and introduction of a new V12 racing engine, followed by the Type 165, a street car based on a refined version of the racing car. Unfortunately, the clouds of war were gathering, and development of passenger cars came to a halt.

After the war, Delahaye introduced a brand-new design, the 175, a four-and-a-half liter six-cylinder design based on a new block with a seven-bearing crank. Output ranged from 140 bhp to 185 bhp for the sport models. It was Delahaye’s first left-drive chassis and was planned to compete with the Lago Record. The chassis was also state-of-the-art, featuring a Dubonnet front suspension and a De Dion rear axle with drive-shafts passing through the side rails of the frames. The brakes were hydraulic, with twin master cylinders and finned alloy drums. The gearbox was an electromechanically actuated unit by Cotal.
A longer wheelbase 180 model was offered, and although the more popular of the two Delahayes offered, it found few buyers in Europe that could afford such extravagance at this time. Production ceased in 1951 after just 150 units – a mere 51 were of the 175 S version.

Saoutchik

The renowned coachbuilding firm of Saoutchik was formed in 1906 in a Parisian suburb known as Neuilly-sur-Seine by Jacques Saoutchik, a Ukrainian-born cabinetmaker. The quality of his work was exceptional, and his coachwork was respected for its workmanship and the quality of its fittings and finishes.

However, it is not for this quality of work that he is remembered today but rather for the art and style of his designs. Where permitted by the client, his lines were daring, embellished with as much trim as possible and creating an outrageous visual effect that emphasized the lines of the coachwork. His unique ideas were the product of his fertile mind. Never accused of copying others, it was soon his competition that sought to emulate him.

Just as a lion’s natural habitat is the African Savannah, Saoutchik saw his hunting grounds as the concours d’elegance events of the time. Patronized by the wealthiest of Parisians, these events followed the annual social “season,” from the banks of the Seine in Paris to the south of France, the Bordeaux regions and back again.

Although the postwar period saw a dramatic decline in the demand for such exuberant coachwork, it was in many ways the high point of his work; for proof of this one need look no further than s/n 815023. Constructed on the magnificent 175 S chassis, the car’s svelte coachwork managed to minimize its bulk, with the result that the car looked slim and elegant while providing grand touring comfort.

The astonishing cost of such truly bespoke coachwork finally sounded the death knell for the art form. Although Jacques Saoutchik passed the torch to his son Pierre in 1952, the great firm finally closed its doors in 1955.

Of the Delahayes constructed after the war, this majestic roadster was probably the most extravagant. Built for the re-emerging concours circuit, Saoutchik was responsible for its extreme body which borrowed styling cues from many earlier cars – Saoutchik’s and others.

Using the French curves of the thirties combined with more modern baroque ornamentation, Saoutchik conveys a sense of drama and movement with this design. With four completely enclosed wheels, the car is best seen in profile where its beautiful lines can be clearly seen. On the contrary, the car’s façade is brighter and more elaborate.

Provenance: s/n 815023

One of the socialites who frequented the French Riviera in the early postwar era was an English movie star named Diana Dors. She was considered one of the blond bombshells of the period (along with the American “three Ms” – Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren and Marilyn Monroe). Her looks were most similar to Marilyn Monroe’s, and she played similar parts.

Her acting skills were well respected, although her looks seemed to relegate her to parts that played upon her other attributes – the quintessential comedic “dumb blonde.” Financially, she did extremely well, ordering this lovely Delahaye when she was just 17 years old, and at age 20, she became the youngest registered owner of a Rolls-Royce in the UK.

According to critics, her best work came in 1956 when she played a murderess in Yield to the Night. She was a regular in horror films as well, including The Amazing Mr. Blunden, The Unholy Wife, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Incidentally, a likeness of her appears on the cover of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

According to Dors, before she died, she had managed to hide away more than £2 million in various banks. Eighteen months before her death, after her diagnosis with ovarian cancer, she gave her son Mark Dawson a sheet of paper, which she told him was a code that would reveal the whereabouts of the money. At the same time, she told her son that her widower, Alan Lake, had the key that would crack the code. Sadly, Lake committed suicide only five months after Dors died, leaving Mark Dawson a code that was now evidently unsolvable.

Many doubted the story, and the code sheet certainly didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. Her son persevered and hired an expert who recognized the encryption as a form of the Vigenere cipher, which would require a ten character decryption key. Ultimately, the encryption experts were able to work out the key “DMARYFLUCK,” which stood for Diana Mary Fluck, Diana’s real name. They were then able to use the decryption key to decode the entire message. While it was clearly linked to bank statements found in Lake’s papers, no money was ever found, and to this day her encrypted fortune remains the object of many amateur cryptographers.

Presumably during Ms. Dors’ ownership, this remarkable Delahaye won top honors at the Grand Castle du Bois de Boulogne in Paris, the Monte Carlo Concours and Coup de l'Automobile in San Remo.

By the seventies, the roadster had made its way to Colorado where its owner decided that maintenance issues resulting from the race-spec engine and Dubonnet suspension had become a problem. As a result, he decided to remove the components and fit a front-wheel drive engine and drivetrain from an Oldsmobile Toronado. For nearly thirty years, the original engine and car would remain separated.

The vendor recognized the significance of the car’s original configuration and decided to commission Fran Roxas, a leading restorer, to undertake a comprehensive restoration beginning in the early 2000s. While the original suspension had been previously installed, a replacement motor was located and restored and reinstalled to perfection. The painstaking care taken during the restoration and the determination to get all the details exactly correct resulted in a process that consumed many years. Upon completion of the work in 2007, this seminal example of Saoutchik’s work was restored to its original glory. It seems fitting that the car’s first debut was at one of the world’s leading concours d’elegance events, and its return to glory was similarly prestigious – at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Just a few months later, the car, and its magnificent restoration, were honored again, winning People’s Choice at the prestigious Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance.

In spite of the completion of the restoration, the owner never forgot the issue of the non-matching engine. With only 51 cars built, it seemed likely that the original engine would someday turn up – and sure enough, it did. Several months prior to its sale at this auction, the vendor followed a lead and successfully located the original engine and acquired it in order to reunite it with the car. While neither rebuilt nor reinstalled, the engine is fairly complete and does accompany the sale.

Summary

As is the case with most landmark examples of the coachbuilder’s art, much of this Delahaye's beauty is evident in the details, such as chrome accents that highlight the curves, the embedded turn signals or the small strips which flank the sides, adding grace, length and a sense of speed while cleverly hiding the door handles. The graceful façade was inspired by the Narvals produced just a year earlier.
The astonishing interior is remarkably contemporary, incorporating a stylized eagle’s head on each door panel and bracketing an expansive dash panel that seems aircraft inspired with its rows of knobs and stunning transparent Lucite steering wheel.

With the coachbuilt era long over in the United States, and very little of it remaining in the U.K., France, and Italy, s/n 815023 represents one of the very last examples of its kind – a true coachbuilt car, designed and built to satisfy one woman’s vision. It is a one-of-a-kind example in every respect and can easily lay claim to being the most outstanding, extravagant and beautiful postwar coachbuilt car in existence.

Addendum

Please note this car was purchased new in Paris by Sir John Gaul, a good friend of Prince Rainier, who garaged the car in a mews in Mayfair, London. This was one of two cars Mr. Gaul commissioned to his own specification after WWII by Saoutchik, the other being an extravagant Rolls-Royce. He evidently had a true obsession with Lockheed's Constellation, which informed much of his input on the Delahaye. After competing with the car at various concours events, Gaul sold the car to Miss Dors after about five years of ownership. For more information about this car's provenance, please speak with an RM representative. Please note that this vehicle is titled as a 1948.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 9... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. He is a life-long automobile enthusiast and ... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Ian Kelleher

ikelleher@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts in Politica... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Jonathan Sierakowski

jonathan@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Jonathan Sierakowski developed a passion for classic cars while working at a Connecticut restoration shop as a teenager. He graduated with a... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. He att... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007 following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, where he was based out ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more