he Delage D8 was a glamorous car with a very imposing radiator that had similarities to Hispano-Suiza. It was fast and had impeccable road holding. Although the Delage D8 series became one of the most desired high-performance cars in

Europe, they were quite expensive. Louis Delage was reluctant to change this image to suit the varying economic climate and after a falling-out with his co-directors, he left the company in 1935. Shortly afterward the firm merged with rival Delahaye. They retained their individuality, but became more selective with their range, and a new Delage D8-120 was introduced in 1937 incorporating hydraulic brakes, a revised Delahaye-style chassis with transverse-leaf independent front suspension and a Cotal electromagnetic gearbox. The engine was an eight-cylinder version of the existing six-cylinder Delahaye with a capacity of 4.3 liters, providing a healthy 95 bhp at 4,000 rpm in its initial form.

Starting in 1937 the D8-100 and D8-120 received several beautifully proportioned bodies by Chapron, Pourtout and Letourner et Marchand. Undoubtedly, the star of the D8-120 range was the stunning Aerosport, which was largely the work of the brilliant young son of Letourner, Marcel. Several journalists rank Marcel Letourner alongside Jean Bugatti as one of the finest young French body designers from the 1930s. The Coach Aerosport was met with huge international acclaim, and although it first appeared during the 1936-37 model year, this design was chosen to represent part of the French government’s automotive display at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York.

Although historians differ on numbers, it would appear that a maximum of fourteen Aerosports were built and just seven are thought to have survived. Chassis 51018, pictured here, is truly a superb example of the classical Aerosport and was the fourth one built, completed in March 1937. The Aerosport design was shaped by the famous aerodynamicist Andreau and many of the details are borrowed from one of the most fantastic closed racing cars of the pre-war era, the 1937 streamlined Delage Berlinette V12 built for Le Mans. The car pictured is unique and more like the racing Berlinette than the other Aerosport coupes extant. It is thought that 51018 may have been an interim/prototype model for the later series, as it displays design features unique to both the earlier and later Aerosports.

Like all Aerosports, it really needs to be inspected in person to appreciate its outstanding beauty. Classic features include the fastback roof design with a central spine and split rear window. From the side profile the windowsills drop, matching the curve of the speared side moldings. The windows themselves follow the Labourdette Vutotal design, which eliminates conventional pillars by overlapping door and rear-quarter glass. There are fender skirts for the rear wheels and four glorious chrome exhaust pipes which feed into the right fender. Luxurious flowing fender lines and subtle curvatures blend along the whole length of the Delage, producing this rakish extravaganza.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1937 Delage D8-120 Aerosport
Years Produced:1937-1939
Number Produced:Approx. 80 D8-120s
Original List Price:$18,000
Tune Up Cost:$750
Distributor Caps:$300
Chassis Number Location:Plate on firewall
Engine Number Location:Plate on left side of engine
Club Info:Delage Section of the Vintage Car Club, Peter Jacobs, Secretary, Clouds Reach, The Scop, Almondsbury, Bristol, BS12 4DU, England
Alternatives:Bugatti Type 57SC, Talbot-Lago Special, Delahaye V12

The automobile described here sold for $501,000 (including buyer’s premium) at the Christie’s Tarrytown, New York auction on April 29, 2000.

Prior to its acquisition and restoration by the French consignor, it spent many years in the posh Riviera resort city of Nice. The second owner was said to be the Viceroy of Afghanistan and in 1952 its French owner exported the car for a tour of Peru.

During its restoration it caused a great deal of excitement when it was exhibited at the 1997 French Retromobile expo in skeletal form, showing the restored body framing. It was also shown at the Bagatelle Concours in Paris in 1997, where it won the Prize of Enthusiasm and Pride by Chrysler. Then in 1999 it appeared at Pebble Beach, where it won the French Cup.

This car is utterly exquisite in every aspect and area. It has perfect door fit and the most gorgeous interior I have ever seen on a vintage car, finished in rich burgundy leather with a lovely wood-grained dashboard and rich woolen carpeting. There are more spectacular French aero designs from this period, perhaps, but none combine a thoroughbred chassis with such daring yet understated and totally elegant coachwork.

D8-120s rarely come on the market and their last two appearances at auction, according to my references, occurred in 1991 and 1992. The 1991 offering was a Chapron cabriolet, also an ex-Pebble Beach car and an excellent restoration. It was a no-sale at $393,750. The other was a 1937 Letourner et Marchand SS coupe, a unique short-chassis version described as “hard to fault” when it was offered at Christie’s Pebble Beach Auction in 1992. This car was a no-sale at $418,000.

Given that nearly eight years have passed since that figure was established, it could be argued that these cars haven’t grown that much in value: the winning bid for the car under discussion here was $450,000 before the premium was added. Plus, the car didn’t make the low catalog estimate of $500,000, but the vendor let it go anyway. A case of a oiseau in the hand being worth deux in the bush, perhaps?-Dave Brownell

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