The Delahaye 135M "Competition"

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In 1935 the Delahaye and Delage firms amalgamated and from being rather dull touring cars Delahaye took on a new lease of life with a very sporting flair. In 1936 there appeared a competition version of the production 135M, built specifically for sports car racing, and the French organisers supported this move by changing all their Grand Prix races into sports car races. This also suited Talbot-Darracq and Bugatti, who had long since been left behind in the Grand Prix stakes, so sports car racing was very strong in France in the years 1936-39.

The competition version of the 135M Delahaye was a very exciting looking car, and still is today, and at the time it fired my schoolboy imagination the way D-type Jaguars and Porsche 917s did for schoolboys of later eras. We first saw them in Great Britain when six of them ran in the Tourist Trophy in Ulster at the end of 1936, and in the following three years Competition Delahayes appeared regularly at British events, mostly brought over by French drivers for the occasion. One car resided permanently in Great Britain, and was registered DUV 870. It was written up in great detail in Motor Sport in May 1975, and is still owned by Rob Walker. I cannot say for sure how many competition models were built by the Delahaye factory, but I would doubt if it was more than a dozen, for these shorter, lighter and narrower versions of the production 135M were essentially built for racing rather than road use. Certainly there are not many about today, but are a car that a lot of people would like to own, and I know I would like to own one. Due to this shortage a number of individuals have made copies, ostensibly for their own use, using production Delahaye components. 

It is not very difficult to find a production Delahaye chassis and shorten it and modify to “Competition” specification and to alter axle and suspension components, for the competition cars were all built from production components. Bodywork and wings are no problem to a competent “tin-basher”, but the gearbox is a problem, for the competition cars used a special close-ratio “crash” gearbox and there are none about. The production 135M could be had with a Cotal electro-magnetic gearbox, and this box was an option in the “Competition” model. Walker’s car actually has such a gearbox in it at present, calling for a battery of “juggernaut” proportions.

The first fake “Competition” Delahaye to appear was some years ago when Michael Scott, of the Vintage Insurance world, had one made for his own pleasure. It was not done very well as many of the major components were unmodified, though from the far end of the Silverstone paddock you could have been forgiven for thinking it was a genuine “Competition” 135M especially as it was painted French racing blue and had the right shape of body. Close inspection soon revealed its short-comings, but no matter, Scott merely wanted a typical car to use on the road. It was not long before it appeared in an auction sale at Beaulieu and was bought by John Coombes, the Jaguar dealer in Guildford and it has been in his showrooms ever since. 

After this Count Donhof, the German museum owner, produced a half completed car that was said to have been found in Czechoslovakia! He shipped this over to Tony Merrick, of White Waltham, with the request for him to complete the car. The chassis had been shortened rather badly and Merrick really had to start all over again. He borrowed Rob Walker’s car to use as a pattern, even though the radiator grille, the rear mudguards and the tail are all wrong on that car, and as far as I know fake number 2 is in Donhof’s museum, or collection, in Germany.

More or less concurrent with this project Nick Jarvis of Bracknell built fake number 3 and this was a much more workman-like job, being almost faultless. This seems to have passed into the dealer/auction circuit. A fourth fake is very near completion at the Jarvis works and looks remarkably genuine, with a lot of pains being taken to get details right, while a fifth fake is under construction in Hampshire using much of the Jarvis know-how and patterns for various cornponents. Certain unobtainable parts are being made though gearboxes still present a problem.

There is nothing wrong with all these people making themselves, or having made, Delahaye specials, and the “Competition” 135M is a splendid car to copy, but if anyone is thinking of busing a “Competition” Delahaye in the next decade, either from an Auction Sale or from a dealer, they would be well advised to enquire closely into its parentage. — D.S.J.