Sunday, January 31, 2016
With the global economic depression barely over, Delahaye ventured into new, more exclusive grounds in 1934. The plan was to relive the glory years of the teens and twenties and to shed the dependable and somewhat boring image built up in the early 1930s. A first major step in that direction was the introduction of the six cylinder engined Type 138 in 1934, which was considerably more luxurious than the Delahayes offered in the previous years. More important for the company's legacy was the launch a year later of the Type 135 Sport that shared the six cylinder engine with the 138, but featured a much sportier chassis.
One of the 135's biggest assets was the relatively low-slung chassis, which made it a popular choice for custom coachbuilders, but naturally also improved the car's handling characteristics. Although not quite under-slung, the use of independent front suspension and arched frame members at the rear contributed to the car's low stance. Displacing just over 3.2 litre, the reverse-flow six cylinder engine was available with one or three Solex Carburetors, producing 95 or 113 bhp respectively. With no synchromesh on first and second the four speed gearbox was the weakest link of the drivetrain. This was relatively easily solved by having a Cotal preselector gearbox installed.
Another major contribution to the success was the 'Ecurie Bleue' racing team founded by American Lucy Schell. In short she desired to be the 'Scuderia Ferrari' of France, with Delahayes instead of Alfa Romeos. The team campaigned a specially prepared version of the three 'carb' 135 throughout the 1935 season with considerable success. The highlight was a victory in the Coupe des Alpes rally, which resulted in the high performance version receiving this model name to distinguish it from the base model. The good results encouraged Delahaye to develop a more powerful, larger version of the six cylinder engine and a shorter, more agile chassis.
By increasing the bore by four millimetres, the engine's displacement grew to nearly 3.6 litre and with it the output to 120 bhp with three carbs. The competition version with a high compression head produced 152 bhp. This engine was installed in a shorter and even lower chassis to form the 135 Special racing car. The 120 bhp engine was available in the road going 135 Competition and 135 Competition Court, which as the name suggests sports the short wheelbase chassis of the racer. This compact road car was particularly popular with the French coach builders and in 1936 Joseph Figoni debuted the first of his legendary 'teardrop' designs on this chassis.
Both in the salesroom and on the racing track the various types of the Delahaye 135 were very successful. Its competition highlight came at Le Mans in 1938 when Delahaye recorded a one-two victory against often faster, but less reliable competition. That year also saw a change in the road car line-up with the two top 3.6 litre models being replaced by the 135 M Competition powered by a one or three carb version of the large engine and the 135 MS fitted with the high compression competition engine. Soon after the War ended, production of the 135 continued. It was finally replaced some seventeen years after its introduction, in 1952.