1951 Delahaye 135M Cabriolet

Based initially at Tours — and from 1906 in Paris —Delahaye built its first automobile in 1894 and soon diversified into commercial vehicle manufacture. Its early products tended to be rather lackluster, but then in 1935 came the first of a new generation that would change the marque’s image forever: the T135 Coupe Des Alpes. A fine sporting car, the T135 was powered by an engine which, although designed for car use, had first appeared in a Delahaye commercial vehicle. The 3.2-liter, 6-cylinder, overhead-valve unit produced 110 horsepower on triple Solex carburetors, while the chassis featured transverse-leaf independent front suspension, 4-speed synchromesh or Cotal gearboxes, center-lock wire wheels and Bendix brakes.

Delahaye improved on the formula the following year with the 3.6-liter, 120/130 horsepower T135MS, and the sports version was soon making a name for itself in competitions, taking 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places in the run-to-sportscar-regulations 1936 French Grand Prix and winning the Monte Carlo Rally and Le Mans outright in 1937 and 1938 respectively.

The model reappeared post-World War II as the 135M with the 3.6-liter engine, and it lasted in production until 1951. By this time Delahaye was in serious financial difficulty as a result of the French government’s taxation policies, which heavily penalized cars of over 3.0 liters. In 1954, Hotchkiss took over the company. Delahaye had no in-house coachworks, so all its chassis were bodied by independents, which created some of their most attractive designs on the Type 135. It was a most fortuitous partnership, resulting in memorable automotive sculpture from the likes of Saoutchik, Chapron, Franay, Graber, Pennock and Figoni et Falaschi.

This car features handsome cabriolet coachwork by the influential Parisian carrossier Henri Chapron. Indeed, this car is the only Delahaye 135M known to exist with a hydraulic/electric power-operated convertible top. It also has a radio and heater. The car was restored some years ago and formed part of the enormous private collection belonging to the late John O’Quinn, who acquired it in 2005. Purchased at auction by the vendor when the O’Quinn Collection was dispersed in 2010, it has seldom been used while in his extensive collection and remains in generally very good condition.