Art of the Automobile

21 November 2013

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Lot 117

1936 Delahaye Type 135 Competition Court Teardrop Coupé by Carrosserie Figoni et Falaschi

  • Chassis no. 47242
  • Body no. 609

Sold for $2,420,000


  • A masterpiece of the “French curve”
  • One of three surviving Figoni short-chassis coupes
  • A singular example that is equipped with highly desirable integrated headlights
  • Unique styling features and competition-specification chassis
  • Retained by the factory upon completion


A straight line will lead the eye, but it takes a curve to keep the eyes excited. Joseph Figoni defined the automobile as a moving curve; his brilliant mind and pen expressed it as a cohesively fluid shape, likes drops of dense liquid that were held in place around an engine, wheels, and two passengers, who were lucky to be in such company. The result was this car, the Delahaye Type 135 Competition Court Teardrop Coupé. It was the ultimate showcase for passionate, hot French curves: it was full, rounded, flowing, and gorgeous. Few artists before or since have been able to work such out-and-out sex appeal into metal.



The ultimate embodiment of Figoni’s automotive sensuality is chassis number 47242, with Figoni et Falaschi body number 609; it is the last of six coupes built by the firm in 1936 on the short 2.65-meter Delahaye Type 135 chassis, and it is one of three to survive today. This chassis, known as the Competition Court, was described by Delahaye: Le Grand Livre as having “a cocktail of parts from the series three Type 135 chassis and the Specials,” as well as some specially made components. It was an “under the counter,” unavailable-to-mere-mortals homologation special—a pre-war 288 GTO for Lost Generation playboys who were friends of the house. This was the ultimate Type 135.



Chassis number 47242 was delivered to Figoni bare of coachwork in early September 1936, according to an analysis of other cars bodied by the coachbuilder around this time. The chassis displayed numerous competition engineering features, including a rare, competition four-speed manual transmission, outside-mounted rear springs, a low-mounted engine, an oil cooler mounted below the radiator, and a racing-style fuel tank with dual fillers.



Figoni et Falaschi’s coupe bodywork is unique from the other five examples, as it has a slightly different bonnet and features a single row of hood louvers. This is also the only known Type 135 with headlamps faired into the front fenders, which is a nod to the styling trend for the following year of 1937. This feature is not only highly desirable from a stylistic standpoint, as having the headlights positioned lower affords the driver a greater view of the road, but it also increases safety and competitiveness. Signature Figoni styling features include the central tail fin, twin rear windows, rear wheel “spats” matched by small vestigial fins on the rear fenders, and a pronounced molding that flows down the hood and the doors, to finish over the rear fender.



Interestingly, although these cars were all special commissions, the Figoni book specifically notes that chassis number 47242 was delivered to the Delahaye factory. Given this special treatment, it is likely that the car was flaunted at early concours d’elegance events, or it was used as a demonstrator.



The Delahaye was hidden away during World War II, and it resurfaced in the early 1950s. Whether by coincidence or due to its special status, chassis number 47242 came into the possession of Jean-Pierre Bernard, the sales manager for Delahaye and eventual founder and president of Club Delahaye, who recalled selling it in the Picardie area, near the city of Laon, around 1951 or 1952.



It has been verified that chassis number 47242 was registered in the Picardie area on May 28, 1952, with plate number 633 AN 60, which corroborates with Bernard’s recollections. After a stay with an owner in the Burgundy area, the Delahaye was sold to the Southwest of France, and it was registered with Emile Landais, of Gouex in Vienne, near Poitiers, on May 17, 1955, with plate number 916 BE 86.



On November 26, 1956, the Delahaye was registered in Paris, with plate number 3384 FN 75, under the name of Jean Escribe, a garage owner at 33 Raynouard Street Paris XVI. Most interestingly, the next owner, Daniel Roy Johnson, was a 40-year-old American from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He gave his address as Hotel Montalembert, on 3rd Montalembet Street Paris VII, and purchased the car on April 23, 1959. Mr. Johnson’s activities at that time are not known, but it is believed that the car stayed with him during his time in Europe, and it did not travel to the United States.



After Johnson, 47242 crossed over the French-Italian border and became the proverbial sleeping beauty, where it lay dormant for the next 40 years, reportedly near Lake Garda in Italy. In the late 1990s, chassis 47242 reemerged from its slumber, and news of its survival was announced when it was purchased by Christoph Grohe, of Geneva, from its caretaker, a garage owner in Brescia. Still largely complete, its sunroof had been closed over, but the mechanism for it remained under the sheet metal, and the original chassis plate, showing 47242, was still properly affixed to the firewall.



After finding a new owner here in the United States, the car was fully restored for concours display. Soon after its discovery, the car had been fitted with a post-war engine. As part of providing the Delahaye with the restoration it deserved, a correct, original, competition-specification engine was sourced and installed. The extremely rare engine reportedly came from within a few kilometers of the location where the car had lain for so many decades. Given this geographic proximity, its rarity, and the fact that the block has the correct date code for 1936, along with the special Solex carburetors, it is believed that this may, in fact, be the original unit.



All other mechanicals were fully rebuilt, the wooden skeleton was repaired in keeping with the level of craftsmanship displayed by Figoni et Falaschi, and the body was carefully prepped and painted to display the incredibly lustrous black finish found today. The interior was similarly restored, and it includes a racing-type tachometer and other blue-faced gauges, which are mounted in the beautifully engine-turned dash. The feature of the interior is the rich, red leather upholstery, which is inset with ostrich and surrounded by ornately carved polished wood trim.



The completed car debuted at the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it garnered a class award. It has since been carefully maintained and admired in a collection with other exceptional motor cars of this caliber. In May 2013, the car reappeared on the show field and was awarded with the coveted Best of Show awards at the Concours d’ Elegance of Texas and the Celebration of Automobiles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; both awards were amazingly achieved within one week of each other. Documentation for this car includes a copy of a 1998 letter from Claude Figoni, in which he authenticates the body and provides the original delivery information, as well as photos of the car in its original “as-found” condition, proving the authenticity of its racing features.



Here is offered the best in 1930s competition engineering that has been transformed by Joseph Figoni’s sensitive eyes and artist hands into a voluptuous sculpture of leather, aluminum, and steel, with each element poised with the tense, shimmering excitement of a suspended teardrop.

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

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... 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