GREAT RACING MARQUES.
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE.
TWENTY-TWO years ago those who visited the park at Suresnes while the cars were practising for the Coupe de l’ Auto Voiturette race, might have noticed a solitary young man, who would go every day and stand in the rain to watch the racers being tired out. This spectator was none other than M. Louis Delage, who in those days had little but his tremendous ambition to be a car manufacturer from which to start his triumphal career which by now has placed him among the most prominent French makers.
The next year the race was held at Rambouillet, and this time Delage was no longer a mere spectator, as two cars made by him figured on the entry list. Prodigies of economy had finally enabled him to get these cars built, and he had started on his career as a manufacturer. That year the Delages were not successful, but there were favourable comments in the French press on the performance of these cars of a new make, and two years later, Delage’s efforts were crowned with success. In 1908 the Grand Prix des Voiturettes was run at Dieppe on the day preceding the Grand Prix proper, and over the same course as the big race. The voiturette race was for cars of limited bore, the maximum allowed being 100 mms. for single cylinders, 78 rams. for twins and 62 mms. for 4-cylinder engines. Delage entered three cars, one with a single cylinder de Dion engine of 100 x 150 mms. bore and stroke (1178 c.c.), and the other two with 2-cylinder engines of 78 x 130 mms. bore and stroke (1240 c.c.). Both engines were supposed to develop about 18 h.p., and all the cars had cone clutches, 3-speed gear-boxes and propeller-shaft drive. In the
race, however, the single cylinder, driven by Guyot, proved itself much faster than the 2-cylinder Delages which were handled by Thomas and Lucas. Guyot was soon engaged in a terrific duel with Naudin’s Sizaire, in the course of which he covered a lap at 53.3 m.p.h., and finally finished first seven minutes ahead of the Sizaire, averaging 49.8 m.p.h. for 286.5 miles. The two twin cylinder Delages finished fifth and twelfth respectively, so that Delage had the satisfaction of seeing his team arrive complete.
For some time after this victory, Delage was fully occupied in consolidating his success, and it was not until 1911 that he returned to the Coupe des Voiturettes. By this time the rules had been considerably altered. The race was now for 4-cylinder cars only, of under 3 litres capacity, with a stroke-bore ratio not exceeding 2.1. Delage entered a team of 4 cars for this event, with bore and stroke of 80 x 149 mms., dimensions which were afterwards to become famous for” 3-litres.” Their valves were horizontal, and operated by rockers, and a distinctive Delage feature was the provision of five speeds with propellor shaft drive. The race was for 387 miles over a course near Boulogn.e, and the four Delages were driven by Ballot, Guyot, Thomas and Rigal. They soon showed themselves among the fastest cars on the course, and all the competition lay between Balot and BoiUot on the Peugeot, the former finally winning at an average of 54.8 m.p.h. Rigal in the meantime had retired as a result of his transmission brake seizing, but Thomas and Guyot finished third and fourth, and thus secured another magnificent triumph for Delage.
During 1912, Delage once more abstained trom racing, and it was not until 1913 that he decided to re-enter the lists, this time in the French Grand Prix. That year the cars in the race were limited to a fuel consumption of approximately 14 m.p.g., but there were no limitations of engine size. Delage, therefore, decided to pin, his faith to a comparatively large engine, and built a set of 4-cylinder machines for the race, with a bore and stroke of 105 x 180 rums. (6,234 c.c.) running up to 1,800 r.p.m., as against 3,000 r.p.m. attained by some of the engines in the race ; and he retained his typical features of horizontal valves and a five speed gearbox. Two cars were entered for the race, with the old time Delage drivers Guyot and Ballot as drivers. They soon showed themselves among the fastest cars in the contest, and at the end of the tenth lap, Guyot on Delage IL had got the lead. He held it until the sixteenth, and then a tyre burst, far away from the pits. The mechanic leapt out before the car had stopped and the car passed over his leg. Guyot had to change the wheel by himself, then lift his injured companion into the car, and diive him round to the pits. This incident cost 18 minutes, and the race was lost to Delage. Guyot, however, managed to finish in fifth place, with Ballot on the other Delage fourth. Though beaten in the French Grand Prix, the Delages had nevertheless proved themselves very fast, and in August they were able to take their revenge. The Grand Prix de France—as opposed to the Grand Prix de l’A.C.F. —was run that year at le Mans, and marked the return to racing of the great firm of Mercedes, which had been so much feared in earlier days. Three of the Grand Prix Delages started, while Duray joined Guyot and Ballot in the team. Ballot took the lead at the outset, and by the end of the fourth lap the three Delages were in the first three places. Four laps later, an exciting incident happened to Ballot. He stopped at his pit, and changed two wheels, and when he tried to get away again, the mechanic was unable to start the engine. A second man tried and failed ; and then Leon Molon, who had been driving a Vinot which had broken down, seized the startmg .handle, put forth a mighty effort, and swung the engine into life. Ballot finished first with Guyot second,
but two of the Mercedes managed to get past Duray, who finished fifth.
After this success, two of the Grand Prix Delages were shipped to America, and entered for the 1914 Indianapolis race, with Guyot and Thomas, who had handled one of the cars in the 1911 Voiturette race, as their drivers. The French cars dominated the Indianapolis 500 throughout, and in the end Thomas got home first at an average speed of 82.47 m.p.h., with Guyot on the other Delage third.
In 1914 the Grand Prix was for 4i-litre cars, with the result that Delage built an entirely new set of racers having as their novel features mechanically closed valves and front wheel brakes. The three cars were driven in the race by the same drivers as at le Mans in 1913, and proved themselves on a par with Peugeot, Mercedes and Sunbeam in the matter of speed. Duray proved himself the fastest by getting into third place on the first lap and staying there all the early part of the race. Finally however, he only finished eighth, while the other two cars did not complete the course. The Delage which won the Indianapolis race in 1914. had been purchased by an American enthusiast just as
it was being put on the steamer to go back to France, and it was entered in the 1915 race. As, however, the limit of engine size for this race was now 300 cub. ins. (4.9 litres), the bore of the cylinders was decreased to 91 mms., making the capacity 4886 c.c. The car started in the hands of John de Palma, a brother of Ralph, and ran well for 147 laps, when the flywheel got loose on its shaft, and the car had to be withdrawn.
After the war was over, it was not until 1923 that Louis Delage decided to return to racing. Then, however, he decided to be really original, and to enter for the 2-litre French Grand Prix with a 12-cylinder engine, this being the smallest engine which had ever been built with this number of cylinders at that time. The Delage had a bore • and stroke of 51.4 x 80 mms. (1992 c.c.), and developed 100 b.h.p. at about 5,000 r.p.m. As production began rather late only one car, driven by Rene Thomas, the old-time Delage driver, was entered. It soon showed itself to be among the leaders, but on the eighth lap a flying stone punctured the petrol tank, and it was put out of the race. Everyone received the impression, however, that more would be heard of the 2-litre Delage in the near future.
In the meantime Delage had produced another 12cylinder racing car rather at the other end of the scale. The dimensions of this engine were 90 x 140 mms. (10,688 c.c.), with push-rod operated overhead valves. This car made its first public appearance at the Gaillon hill-climb of 1923, when in the hands of Rene Thomas it averaged 72.5 m.p.h. up the hill, thus making fastest time of the day. Incidentally the two next best times were also put up by the same driver on two sports 6cylinder Delages at 65 m.p.h. and 62.8 m.p.h. In July, 1924, the big 12-cylinder was taken to Arpagon for an attack on the kilometre record, and succeeded in taking it at 143.24 m.p.h., only to lose it again to Eldridge and his big Fiat ” Mephistophlees.”
In spite of the fact that the single 12-cylinder Delage had proved itself very fast in the 1923 Grand Prix, its constructor decided to try comparative tests between it and two other engines, on e a four-cylinder and the other a supercharged eight-cylinder two-stroke built under Zoller patents. In the end, however, he came to the conclusion that an unsupercharged ” twelve ” would give the best results, and three cars of the same type which had been used in 1923 were therefore entered for the 1924 Grand Prix. These engines had dry-sump lubrication, a compression ratio of 7 to 1, and developed some 130 h.p., while transmission was by a 4-speed gearbox and an open propeller shaft.
The three cars were driven in the race at Lyons by Rene Thomas, Robert Benoist and Albert Divo, and while not so fast as the supercharged Italian and English cars, showed themselves nevertheless very dangerous by their regularity, and in the end Divo finished second, little over a minute after Carnpari on the winning AlfaRomeo. Benoist was third and Thomas sixth, and thus the Delage team gained the honour of being the only one in the race to finish complete. Four of the 2-litre cars were entered for the Grand Prix at San Sebastian later on in the year, and were driven by Thomas, Benoist, Divo and Morel. For this race Delage
returned to his old principle of 5 speeds, and on the fourth lap Benoist got the lead. Both he and Thomas, however, were unable to finish the race, and Morel and Divo finished third and fourth. The races of 1925 had taught that to compete successfully in limited capacity races, cars must be fitted with superchargers. For 1925, therefore, five new cais of the same type as before, but using forced induction, were built, and the 2-litre engine was now made to give nearly 200 h.p. on the bench, while superchargers were added to the four 1924 models, with correspondingly beneficial results., The first big race of the season was the Grand Prix d’Europe at Spa, and in this Thomas, Benoist and Torchy started on three of the 1924 racers, with Divo on the first of the 1925 models. A seiies of disasters, however, overtook the Delage team. Benoist was the first to retire with a leaky petrol tank, Torchy and Divo both went out after being unable to cure violent misfiring, while Thomas’ car caught fire, and the driver having
burnt his hand in extinguishing it, had to retire from the race.
Their revenge, however, was not long delayed. For the 1925 French Grand Prix at Montlhery, three of the new cars were entered, and were driven by Benoist, Divo and Wagner. Their chief rivals, as at Lyons were the Alfa-Romeos and for the first part of the race all the competition was between these two marques, until, on the twenty-first lap, Ascari on the leading Alfa-Romeo. overturned and was killed, and his team-mates withdrew from the race. In the meantime Divo had retired with a broken supercharger, but Benoist promptly got the lead, and finished first, with Wagner second. Thus Louis Delage had won the French Grand Prix, an honour which had been attained by only two other French manufacturers. After this success, four of the cars were entered for the Spanish Grand Prix at San Sebastian, and were driven by Thomas, Benoist, Divo and Torchy, and succeeded in gaining another great victory. Their win
was marred however by the death of Torchy, who was killed by his car skidding into a tree, but Divo, Benoist and Thomas finished first, second and third and thus gained a grand slam for Delage.
Four 2-litre Delages were entered for the 1926 Targa Florio, and were driven by Thomas, Benoist, Divo and Count Masetti. On the first lap, however, the latter overturned at a corner and was killed ; and the rest of the Delage team withdrew from the race.
With 1926 came the introduction of the 1500 c.c. limit for the Grand Prix races, and Delage therefore built an entirely new set of racers with eight cylinders in line of 55.8 x 76 mms. bore and stroke, which attained 7,500 r.p.m. Transmission was by a 5-speed gearbox and an open propeller shaft. These cars were entered for the French Grand Prix, but were not ready in time, and they made their first public appearance in the European Grand Prix at San Sebastian: Three cars started with Benoist, Bourlier and Morel as their drivers, and soon showed that they had a considerably higher speed than their only rivals the Bugattis. The drivers, however, suffered terribly from the heat and fumes of the exhaust, and although they were relieved by Wagner and Senechal, the three Delages lost so much time standmg at the pits while their drivers were being treated in the hospital, that they could only finish second, fourth and sixth.
They were, however, amply revenged in the British Grand Prix, in which three cars were entered and were driven at various times by Benoist, Wagner, Senechal and Dubonnet, and in which two of them finished first and third. Their exhaust systems, however, still gave considerable trouble to their drivers, and so for the 1927 season the exhaust pipes were moved over to the right hand side of the car.
The end of the present year is a fitting moment at which to sketch the racing history of Delage ; for during 1927 these cars have gained more honours than any one make has perhaps done in a year in the whole history of motor racing. The French Grand Prix saw three Delages start and finish in the first three places ; and this is the first time in the history of the race when one make has won a 100 ‘/?) victory, and the name of Delage is now added to those of Fiat, Mercedes and Peugeot as twice winner of this classic event. As well as this Delage has gained first and third places in. the Spanish Grand Prix ; a single car starting without team-mates has won the European Grand Prix ; and a 100’/ win has also been recorded in the British Grand Prix, which so far has been won by no one but Delage. Out of the five championship races, Delage has won all four for which he entered, and the competition for the Championship has therefore not been keen. The history of 1927 is the history of the triumph of Delage.