Delage book review: Marque of distinction

An impressive work conveying the story of a fine French make’s return to competition success on European hills and race tracks

Robert Benoist at 1924 French Grand Prix

Robert Benoist in the complex 2-litre Delage V12 in the French GP at Lyons, 1924

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Daniel Cabart already has an impressive track record with Delage – in 2017 he was awarded the RAC Specialist Book of the Year for his volume on the marque’s 1926- 27 grand prix successes, so his scholarly thoroughness is not in doubt. This wider-ranging book on the company’s competition efforts covers the four years before that, including that supremely delicate 2-litre V12, the 2CLV. It’s daunting in size, but Cabart and co-author Sébastien Faurès Fustel de Coulanges have added a note at the start saying there’s a conclusion at the end you can consult as a summary. How very thoughtful of them.

The book sets out with a short history and tales of the significant figures, devoting a good deal of time naturally to René Thomas, who was involved in the first mid-air collision in 1910 yet lasted long enough to be pictured riding with Graham Hill and returning to Indianapolis in 1973. Thomas’s detailed memoirs are a vital source for Cabart’s researches and he quotes extensively throughout this book as Delage returns to competition after an 11-year layoff.

Boasting very high-quality reproduction, considering most of the photos are 100 years old, it includes some lovely reproductions of period artwork such as from Geo Ham.

Starting with descriptive tales of the firm’s forays into sprints and hillclimbs (Cabart says they just concentrated on the ones they found interesting “but the rest are all in the appendix”) the book gives a supremely thorough description of gearing up for grand prix events through various glories on the way with many models, notably Thomas’s 1924 land speed record with the 10½-litre V12. There’s even a report of the Banville hillclimb up the external spiral ramps to the multi-storey garage in Paris, where the penalty for leaving the course was a 50ft fall to the street below.

Numerous technical drawings support the descriptions, for instance of the influences from Sunbeam and FIAT, backed by nicely chosen adverts and magazine extracts, all generously laid out. Cabart’s range of sources is huge –a Swiss motor sport newspaper, club newsletters, correspondence with principals, including a letter from Louis Delage to Ettore Bugatti assuring him that their rivalry was entirely amicable, and he’s just as thorough with the blind alleys such as a supercharged two-stroke with 12 cylinders in U formation. I’d love to have heard that on song.

Although this requires dedication to absorb, it’s a virtuoso piece of research.

Delage — Records & Grand Prix

Daniel Cabart, Sébastien Faurès Fustel de Coulanges

OREP Editions

ISBN 9782815106115


October 2021 book reviews in brief

Sam’s scrapbook
Sam Posey with John Posey

I never heard of learning racing lines by pulling model cars on strings but that was Sam Posey’s school room – followed by buying a 300SL, aged 14. Typical of the unexpected tales he throws up in this scrapbook of short, snappy stories, told with the same crisp frankness whether it’s flops or fanfares. From the glamour of Can-Am and Le Mans and Penske Ferraris to sitting in a truck full of turtles or being attacked by Peter Revson, Posey is matter of fact about all of it, including the Parkinsons that stopped him racing. A refreshing change from lengthy, completist biographies. GC

EVRO, £30
ISBN 9781910505656

Porsche 928
David Hemmings

Compact and concise, this is more a reference work than anything, with much detail on mechanics, model changes and year improvements. Well illustrated, including specials such as cabriolets and the truly hideous 1980s Strosek body kit.

Amberley, £15.99
ISBN 9781398106680

Original Jaguar E-type
Malcolm McKay

If you want to know when they changed the E-type’s fluid reservoirs, walk this way… A vast book of super-detailed facts with an almost Haynes Manual level of illustration but without the ‘how to’ element. Possibly the last word in E info. Useful for restorers and obsessive concours types but not a bedside read, and oddly punctuated with adverts.

Porter, £65
ISBN 9781907085932

Tipping point
Andy Plumb

Plumb’s subtitle is Designing a Great British Underdog, and he enjoys telling us why among the Reliant Robin jokes (he makes plenty, too) we should respect the firm’s achievements – clever moulding tech, that all-alloy engine and more. Once the firm’s designer, he has lots to show – proposals galore, many a lost model and dozens of cars you didn’t know they’d built. And yes, he drives one.

TW8, £44.99
ISBN 9781527256194