Watching Johnty Williamson driving the venerable 1923 10 1/2-litre V12 Delage in the Itala Trophy scratch race at this year’s first VSCC Silverstone Meeting, when it took the Lanchester Trophy, finishing ahead of 17 other cars all younger than itself, made me realise what a privilege it is to see such historic cars in action. All too many have become static pawns in the auction rooms.
The history of this famous Delage has been told previously in MOTOR SPORT. How it was built to establish hillclimb records, which it did, Louis Delage obviously not afraid to use a big car for the job — there is no substitute for litres ‘How it put the LSR to 143.31 mph in 1924, driven by René Thomas on the narrow Arpajon road near Paris. How it came to Brooklands, and was an outstanding performer in the hands of drivers such as John Cobb, Oliver Bertram and Mrs K Petre, lifting the Class A lap record to 133.88 mph by 1932 and the Ladies’ lap record to 134.75 mph by 1935.
That great believer in large Edwardian motor cars, Cecil Clutton, laid down the old Delage when it came on the market in 1940, for use after the war, buying it from Street & Duller for £30.00, with a truck load of spares. He ran it in post-war VSCC events until it caught fire coming down to Woodcote Corner in a race at Silverstone, considerably damaging itself, and Clutton, after he had been thrown off it as it hit the bank. Jack Williamson was so kind to Sam while he was in hospital that he gave him the Delage, and after Hoffman and Burton had repaired the accident damage, he, and more recently his son Johnty, continued to run it quite frequently in VSCC races and sprints, as they still do. Nor did Clutton lose touch with it, being invited to drive it again on one or two occasions.
The old Delage looks original and is very original. It is very satisfactory to know that little about it has been changed. This applied during its resuscitation for Clutton after the war and the later repairs, although the twelve separate cylinders having succumbed to anno domini, had to be replaced by monobloc banks of six. As a hillclimb car, which implies twisting courses, the Delage has always had four-wheel brakes. It was indeed fortunate that Clufton decided to buy the car because after old racing cars were banned from Brooklands a Mr J Eisner apparently became interested in it and around 1938/39 proposed to turn it into a road car to rival the capabilities of Forrest Lycett’s formidable 8-litre Bentley and the sole remaining Leyland Eight of Sir Lionel Phillips, Bt.
What this gentleman proposed to do, with the help of Giulio Ramponi of High Speed Motors, was to use a new chassis incorporating independent suspension front and back and better brakes. The output was to be increased by using twin Powerplus superchargers, and a road two-seater body fitted. A top speed of 170 mph was forecast and the conversion was expected to occupy six to nine months. Fortunately nothing more was heard of these plans so the story had a happy ending indeed and is a continuing one. But does anyone know if Mr. Eisner satisfied his urge to own a superfast vintage based road car, and if so how? WB