Delage's engines ran like clockwork

As long as I’ve known anything about ‘proper’ racing cars I’ve been a confirmed Delage fan. My one-time editor on Motor Racing magazine – 1966-68 – was the great Cyril Posthumus, a wonderful man, a fine historian and one who could always offer intriguing snippets to paint in personality and character as much as mechanical intricacy. That Delage had it all was confirmed to me one day in our London editorial office at St Andrew’s Hill, close by St Paul’s, when Cyril waved a stack of 1927-28 straight-eight Delage pictures at me, and airily explained, “Of course Doug, you’ve got to appreciate that Louis Delage was a flasher!”.

Cyril’s point was that the great man evidently extended any such exhibitionist tendencies to the presentation of his exquisitely crafted racing cars. They cost his youthful company dear indeed, firstly with such designs as the 10.66-litre V12 sprint and Land Speed Record car, then the 2-litre V12 Grand Prix cars of 1923-25, and the 1500cc supercharged straight-eights which dominated GP racing in 1926-27. Initially the cars’ shapely body panels were presented in hand-turned whorl finish, simply protected from dulling corrosion by coats of translucent blue-tinged lacquer. Louis Delage’s philosophy was to demonstrate the coach-built finish available on his most exclusive production models.

Use – and perhaps a low personal attention threshold – quickly saw such aesthetic standards slip. But technically the works cars remained extraordinary. Both the GP V12s and straight-8s with their all-roller-bearing internals became a byword in Swiss watch-like sophistication. Apart from the liberal quantity of cam cover fixings their internal intricacies were seldom seen. But then the Siamese Prince Chula bought Dick Seaman’s heavily developed eight-cylinder car for ‘Bira’ to drive in 1937. They installed what turned out to be an ill-advised independent front suspension system and effectively ruined the car. But Chula’s multi-talented factotum Alexander ‘Shura’ de Rahm was a meticulous amateur photographer, and he recorded the Delage’s camshaft drive gear cascade while it was being stripped in their White Mouse Garage workshop in Dalling Road, Hammersmith, in London.

David Weguelin of ERA book and Motorfilms Quarterly fame preserves ‘Shura’s negs today, and the methodical Russian-born Swiss noted not only location and date (June 6, 1937) but also the fact he took the shots “on Leica with Hektor 73mm lens, Kodak Panchromatic Film”. To my mind the best of them shows the cam-drive gear cascade, multiple bearings all a’rolling, pure-bred engineering sculpture… lovely stuff. It typifies Delage at its intricate best.