GREAT RACING MARQUES
By ” BALADEUR “
Some years ago there appeared in this paper a series of articles under the title of “Great Racing Marques” outlining the careers of the most famous names in the racing world. This series only came to an end because the author had more or less exhausted the list of candidates worthy of inclusion. The return to racing this year of one of its earliest participants, however, seems an event which is due for some sort of celebration, even if the career of Delahaye in the racing field has not been so continuous as that of most of the marques which have figured hitherto in this series. The name, however, is one of the oldest
in the French motor industry. M. Delahaye, of Tours, began, in fact, to make motor-cars as early as 1894. I do not know whether his first efforts were inspired by the first automobile competition, the Paris-Rouen run, which took place in that year. It is at least on record that he wanted to enter a car for the first motor-race of all, from Paris to Bordeaux and back, which took place in 1895. M. Delahaye, however. was not ready in time, and he had to wait until 1896 to make his racing debut.
The Automobile Club de Prance had been founded in November 1895 and the next year’s race was to be the first run under its organisation. The course chosen was even more ambitious than the road from Paris to Bordeaux and back which had been used in 1895. The cars were now to go from Paris to Marseilles and back, a total distance of 1,063 miles, and in order to make the race a greater test of the cars and a less severe strain on the drivers, it was divided into ten daily stages. For this event two Delahaye cars were entered, and it was soon apparent that the newcomer was by no means lacking in mechanical novelty. The engine, which was rated at h.p., was a horizontal two-cylinder unit placed at the back of the chassis, with the axes of the cylinders longitudinal to the car, and the cylinder heads pointing forwards. The cranks were arranged at 180° and the exhaust valves were at right-angles to the axis of the cylinder, operated by a very long rocker from a cam in the crankcase. Ignition was electric, a point which is well worthy of notice when it is remembered that Panhard et Levasson, the leading marque at this time, did not adopt it on their racing-cars until 1900; and in the history of the nineteenth century motor car four years is a long span. A ” bubbling carburetter was used—the type in which air bubbles through liquid petrol and carries off with it the gas from the latter—and was entirely automatic. with no control. Air for the carburetter was drawn from a ‘jacket surrounding part of the cylinders. There was no governor, engine speed being determined
purely by the ignition timing. The ” normal ‘ speed was said to be 450 r.p.m. and I suspect that the variation possible was not very large.
A centrifugal pump circulated the cooling water, which after leaving the jackets passed through a series of horizontal tubes hung at the front of the car. This does not sound particularly exciting, but in fact it seems that it was the first
radiator ever fitted to a car. Hitherto water had merely been pumped to and from a tank, and M. Delahaye’s invention greatly reduced the quantity of water which had to be carried. It was not until the next year that Girardot, the famous Panhard driver, improved on Delahaye’s idea by having constructed a gilled instead of plain tube radiator, which he hung at the back of his car for the first time in the Paris-Dieppe race of 1897. Soon after that radiators were fairly generally adopted on racing-cars. The crankshaft was arranged with its axis across the car, and carried on. one end two different sized pulleys from which two belts drove forward to the counter shaft. These fast and loose pulleys gave two speeds, and in addition there was a two-speed and reverse pinion gearbox on the countershaft,whence the drive was taken to the back wheels by Side
chains. The frame was made of steel tubes, in which matter Delahaye followed the lead of Peugeot. The cars which appeared at the start of Paris-Marseilles, however, showed one other great innovation—they were fitted with pneumatic tyres. It was only a year before that the brothers Michelin had driven their first pneumatic tyres car in the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race, trying to pick their way between the sharp stones even when travelling downhill at 40 m.p.h ! Their tyres in that race scarcely lasted ioo miles, and when they had to be changed the Michelins had to tackle 20 security bolts to each wheel. By 1896 they had so far improved that M. Archdeacon, one of the Delahaye drivers, was still able to speak enthusiastically of
them after the race. Discussing the question of dogs—one of which incidentally was responsible for the fatal accident to M. Levasson in this race—Archdeacon said .—” In the course of the race I had on my conscience ten or so dogs, and—an extraordinary thing—one pigeon. But let sensitive people be reassured. I am convinced that not one of these dogs was killed, thanks to my
blessed pneumatics. I would venture to say, on the other hand, that these quadrupeds would have been in a sorry state after the passage over their spines of some of the competitors fitted with solid tyres.” He did not say whether his ” blessed pneumatics” saved the life of the pigeon. The second Delahaye car was driven by M. Delahaye himself, and with thirty other competitors, they were sent off from Versailles on 24th September 1896 on the first stage of the race which consisted of the 111 miles to Auxerre. Archdeacon’s Delahaye soon showed its paces and over the first stage was the fastest of the real cars, being beaten only by a De Dion tricycle and a couple of
Leon Boll& cycle-cars. His stability according to a contemporary description was greatly helped by his car’s long wheelbase. ” This ” says the commentator sagely “is of great importance when the vehicle runs on rough macadam or uneven paving. If the axles are too close to each other the car will rock forward and backward or race (sic) and the speed will have to be reduced for fear of serious damage. The larger the wheelbase, the greater the stability of the car.” During the night when the competitors were at Auxerre, however, a slightly delayed equinoctial gale of terrific force sprang up, and continued to rage all next day. Palling trees were responsible for putting several competitors out of the race, and M. Delahaye found the road entirely blocked by one. His only course
was to saw it up into three portions and cart away the middle bit in order to drive through. As a result by the time Dijon was reached he had fallen to sixteenth place while Archdeacon was now sixth.
With other competitors falling out of the race each day, the two Delahayes kept steadily on, and when Paris was at last regained Archdeacon was placed seventh, having averaged 14 m,p.h., compared with the winning Panhard’s 15.7 m.p.h., while Delahaye himself was tenth at 12.5 m.p.h. Of the thirty-two competitors who left Paris only fourteen returned, including both the Delahayes. It was :a racing debut with which the firm might well be satisfied.
In 1897. there was no race worthy to rank with the great events of the two preceding years. But the official contest of the season was held on 24th July from Paris to Dieppe, a distance of 106 miles only. M. Delahaye himself decided not to drive again, but he entered two ears, which were driven by Archdeacon and Courtois. They were of the same type as had taken part in the Paris-MarseillesParis, but in so short a race their reliability was of less importance than the speed Of some of their competitors. They were in consequence unable to keep up with the leaders, but in this race there were classes for two-seater, four-seater and sixseater cars. Courtois, with his capacious dog-cart, had the satisfaction of winning the last-named class at 17.8 m.p.h., while Archdeacon was third among the fourseaters at 18.7 m.p.h.
The racing season of 1898 opened with the Marseilles-Nice race on ath and 7th March. The course was over a distance of 141 miles, and two Delahayes started, one driven by Courtois, the other driven by Morane, who was to succeed M. Delahaye in the direction of the company. Unfortunately, however, the race was run in extremely bad weather, and the Delahayes, in common with all the other belt-driveii cars, suffered from stretched belts as a result of the rain. Both finished, but neither was near the head of affairs, Morane being sixteenth at 13.5
and Courtois twenty-eighth at 10.5 m.p.h. A couple of months later de Sol ages took part in the Course de Perigueux, run over a circular course of ninety miles starting and finishing at that town, and finished sixth of the cars at 1(5.7 m.p.h. The next year, 1899. Archdeacon and Buissot appeared in the Nice-CastellaneNice race on Delahaves of which the power had been increased to 8 h.p., the ” normal ” speed of the engine being now 750 r.p.m, The race was over a distance of seventy-live miles and the Delahayes acquitted themselves creditably. Archdeacon finished eighth at 20.4 m.p.h., and Buissot twelfth at 18.7 m.p.h. Already, however, a difficulty was be ginning to make itself apparent. The balanced twin Delahaye engine had proved itself very free from vibration and very reliable ; but it was obviously impossible to increase its size and power beyond
a certain point. The great race of the year 1899 was the Tour de France, and in this the winning Panhard et Levasson had a 1′, mr-cylinder engine rated at 16 h.p. with a bore and stroke of 100 x 140 mm. (4, too c.c.). For the full distance of ,350 miles covered in this race, de Knyff averaged over :30 m.p.h. With such power and speed Delahaye could not compete, and for some years the cars from Tours were not seen in the great races. By 1902, however, the firm had decided to haw to the inevitable and started to build cars on conventional lines, with a four-cylinder vertical engine in front, a conventional gear-box and final drive by side-chains. Three such cars, rated at 16 h.p., were entered that year for the Paris-Vienna race, and were driven by Varlet, the firm’s chief engineer, Pirmez and Perrin. They were entered in the light-car class, which actually provided the winner of the race as A whole in the
person of Marcel Renault. Varlet’s Delahaye, after starting off at great speed, fell out on the first day before reaching Belfort, but the two other cars duly reached Vienna, being placed nineteenth and twenty-fourth in their class.
Two of these cars appeared again later in the year in the first Circuit des Ardennes race. One of them was again driven by Perrin, the other by the Comte de Langril, and both finished the race, being placed tenth and twelfth respectively in their class. After that there is a long gap, during which the name of Delahaye disappears front the racing entry-lists. In the meantime a new name, that of Louis. Delage, had made its appearance, and had finished up by becoming that of the great French champion. Many years after the first Circuit des Ardennes had been run the firms of Delage and Delahaye were combined, and it was decided that in the 1936 season a team of cars bearing the latter name should be entered in the ” touring car races. The cars used were, of course, the well
known 31-litre 6-cylinder type. Their performance this year is too fresh in the memory to need to be enlarged upon. The second, third, fourth and fifth places in the French Grand .Pri x ; victory in the unsupercharged class of the Belgian 24-hour race at Spa ; and a new laprecord for the Tourist Trophy class is not a bad record for a first season’s return to racing, forty years after Delahaye’s first appearance in classic events.