Buying a Delage

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In case any members of the Delage section of the VSCC should start to scan this column, I hasten to say that it is not about the acquisition, alas, of a magnificent Gran Sport or D8. It concerns a very scruffy 12hp Type A1 two-seater of about 1913 vintage, in the days just prior to the outbreak of Hitlerism in 1939 when such cars were to be had for insignificant sums of money or even free, if unearthed from barns or derelict sheds. As the story of Holland Birkett buying a Bugatti seems to have been well received, here is how I bought a Delage… We had heard of it being in a Worthing breaker’s yard. Wanting to own an Edwardian, I went with Tom Lush to look at it. For the proverbial fiver, it seemed a restorable proposition, so it was duly put on a tow rope behind his A7 Ruby.

Getting it back to Farnborough, where I was then stationed, hardly daunted us until we came to a steep hill. Clearly, the A7 would refuse to get the quite substantial Delage to the top of it. Then it was that the miracle happened. There was a picturesque lake in the village which would provide water for the ancient automobile, if its engine would run, after it had been idle in the open for 20 or more years. However, Lush was a strong chap and, after a modest draught of rationed petrol had been put in the scuttle tank of the rusty, cobwebby car, he wound its starting handle and, incredibly, it burst into new life.

The ploy now was to let the Delage drive up the hill with the new tow rope slack, so that, if a curious policeman should appear, it could be switched off and we would say it was being towed up by the A7. Those were the days, remember, when you could tow legally with just the number of the towing car up behind, no tax disc or insurance for the towed vehicle being necessary and MoTs unheard of. Thus we got our Edwardian home. It was obviously a desirable motor car. The lubrication system was a bit of a mystery but for a shilling or two The Autocar found us the issue in which was a full description of the car, with an oiling diagram. Work on this little car had to be postponed while the war raged, and was in fact never undertaken, because Peter Hampton made an offer for it; all we had to do was to accept it and leave the car in a London cinema car park, from where his man would collect it. It seemed sensible to take this line of action and this Delage later became one of Peter’s immaculately restored collection.

Before this, one odd episode. One pouring wet evening a policeman arrived at my war-time lodgings to ask about a car I had bought, for which I had applied for a log-book, saying “It appears to have been stolen”. “Why?” “Well sir, you say it is a Delage, but it is registered as a Singer.”

He insisted on being taken to see it. He had a waterproof cape; I hadn’t. But the law being the law, off we trekked to the barn in Cove where we kept our odd assortment of old cars. After expressing surprise at the decrepit vehicle he had come to inspect, the man shone his lantern on its radiator, which revealed the oval blue badge inscribed “Delage”. After which he cycled away and I went back to get dry. I never heard another word.

I also knew of another almost exactly similar Delage in the same sorry condition in an Essex breaker’s yard. Useful for spares, we thought, and paid another fiver for it, intending to go back with tyre pump and tools. But the war dispersed us and we never did. I wonder what became of those two unexpected finds?

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