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Car Tales: A pre-WW2 1939 Delahaye 135M Cabriolet!

‘You cannot believe how excited I am. Out of the blue I located an extremely rare French motoring masterpiece. Not only that but I have managed to purchase it and now it is in my Los Angeles dealership.
‘Utterly unique and literally a one-off, this pre-World War 2 1939 Delahaye 135M Cabriolet is one of only two examples of this classic model, with its body-work designed by Letourneur et Marchand, the legendary Parisian body specialists. With the other of the two examples lost in time and space, this Delahaye 135M Cabriolet is a historical piece of art.
‘Founded by Emile Delahaye in 1894, Delahaye was a pioneering French automaker, based in Tours in western France, and later in Paris. Although Emile Delahaye retired seven years later, his partners expanded the business; in addition to automobiles, Delahaye manufactured trucks and buses, which became the mainstay of their business, including producing all of France’s firetrucks.
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‘As legend would have it, the revered motor manufacturer Ettore Bugatti, a close friend, had a word in the ear of the Delahaye management; he told them that their cars lacked speed and were as heavy as the fire-trucks they also made. You need to aim higher, Bugatti advised them.
‘Inspired, in 1932 they brought in the young engineer Jean Francois. Francois designed the Delahaye 135, produced from 1935 to 1954 in many different body styles. At a time when the highest-end American automobiles cost no more than $700, Delahaye 135s ranged between $5000 and $7000, the customers choosing to have their bodies customized by a number of top coachbuilders, including Figoni and Falaschi, Guillore, Henri Chapron, Marcel Pourtout, Freres Dubois, and – as in the case of this vehicle – Letourneur et Marchand. When they built you a car you would be sat down and they would sketch the vehicle you asked for and then it would be constructed.
‘A far sportier model than any previous Delahaye vehicles, the 135 was often nicknamed the Coupe Des Alpes, following its success in the Alpine Rally. This was not the only racing success for these durable and efficient motoring machines: the 135 won the 1937 Monte Carlo rally and 1938s 24-hour Le Mans race, with two more Delahaye 135s crossing the Le Mans finishing line that year at second and fourth. The 1949 Australian Grand Prix was won by a Delahaye 135MS, driven by John Crouch.
‘Any similarly illustrious history for our own Delahaye 135M is unfortunately unknown. Unusually, we do know that the Letourneur et Marchand bodywork design for this and its missing-in-action sister car was ordered by the manufacturer itself. Although delivered to its new owner in the months immediately preceding the outbreak of World War 2 in September 1939, nothing is known of its life until 1960 when it was purchased by a buyer in Connecticut.

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‘Then, it seems, the car simply went into storage, the owner apparently something of a hoarder of antiques, not merely automobiles.
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‘This four-seater passenger vehicle has optional Rudge knock-off wire wheels, providing a more sporty look and an optional Cotal Preselector transmission. It is also a single carburetor car. And by being the only known survivor of that pair of Letourneur et Marchand Delahaye 135M Cabriolet automobiles, it is distinctively original.
‘This archetypal classic car still has its original engine, with matching number and the engine turning freely.
‘Understandably, after sitting for 62 years the engine was indeed stuck.  Using a Boroscope, it was discovered that the cylinders were still shining.  They were then assiduously sprayed with penetrating oil. The oilpan was removed, all the connecting rods were loosened, and each rod given a gentle nudge.  All six pistons moved easily up into their bores, as none of them had rusted solid. At first, the crankshaft would still not break free. However, with diligent work, it started to move freely and it was then that the connecting rods were re-tightened. Before progressing any further, all 153 individual valve train parts were removed and meticulously cleaned, lubricated and re-installed. After the oil-pan had been cleaned and re-installed, with fresh oil added, the engine was then spun with its own starter, producing 20 pounds of oil pressure while cranking and 60-80 psi of compression in each cylinder.  The decision initially was made to not start it but indications are, it most likely will start with little effort.
‘This historical Delahaye 135M gives you an appreciation for the fine innovations employed in its construction. For example, the Delahaye Crankshaft is supported by four main bearings; a V8 Ford of the same era would only have three. Accordingly, Delahaye 135M’s engine has far more support. It also has a full pressure oiling system and a roller timing-chain: today, all high-performance cars would have those. The conclusion you come to is that this vehicle was very sensibly constructed, built for durability and was also simple to service.

‘This 1939 Delahaye 135M comes with confirming documentation from the world-renowned Delahaye expert Jean-Paul Tissot, the president of the Associ Expert Societe des Automobiles Delahaye, attesting to the provenance of the vehicle. Clearly, our Delahaye 135M is a restoration project. Yet you may rest assured: quite evidently no one else on this planet is working on such a vehicle.
‘As we said, it is utterly unique. Why I am so excited!
-Alex Manos, Beverly Hills Car Club Owner

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