Cars To Dream About

No. 3: The Delahaye 135M (1936)

Delahaye 135M Image

Delahaye was another of those car manufacturers that should still be extremely successful, but disappeared ages ago.

The company, founded by Emile Delahaye first saw the light of day in 1894 in Tours in France. His first products were very successful on the racetrack but after his death the company concentrated on commercial vehicles and racing was forgotten about. All that changed in 1932, when declining sales forced a change of direction and a racing department was set up. By 1933 their cars were winning races, and setting new records again.

The beautiful 135 was introduced in 1936 in sporting, tourer and race form. A tuned up version of it won the Alpine Rally that same year. This confirmed the belief that the future of the company lay with sports cars, rather than buses, firetrucks and even marine engines, and the company made every effort to go back to its founding principles and recapture the image that the public had of it around the turn of the 20th century.

The decision was made to create an even sportier version of the 135, to be named the 135M. This was shorter, with a low-slung chassis and a more powerful engine; and it was found that increasing the number of carburettors could increase the power of this engine quite substantially. It was therefore available with a choice of one, two or three carbs. Success on the track continued; a Delahaye was first to cross the line in the 1937 Monte Carlo Rally, and in 1938 at Le Mans pepped-up versions of the 135 took both first and second place.

In 1939 the French government banned the manufacture of private cars because of the war effort. A few 135s were manufactured during the war for the use of the German occupying force and production was resumed after the war, with most of it allocated for export. However in those austere days the demand for an expensive car, no matter how beautiful and successful it was on the race track, was low and shortage of high quality steel after the destruction wreaked by the World War led to huge production difficulties. The company limped on, sustained by government contracts for military vehicles and chassis, and production of the 135 continued right up to 1954, but a major competitor, Hotchkiss, was successfully competing in the same markets that Delahaye were struggling in. Hotchkiss took over Delahaye, and stopped car production under the Delahaye name. The combined company was soon taken over itself by a home appliance company, and car and motor manufacture ceased completely. Thus yet another illustrious marque passed into history.

A total of around 2000 135s were built and many of them are still in existence; ample testimony to their quality and longevity.

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