Born in the Depression, Restored in a Recession, Delage D8S Gives New Meaning to Elegance
Story by Philip Powell
In perhaps the strangest paradox of the 1930s, as the worst depression the world had ever known was putting millions out of work, extraordinary design still flourished. Bauhaus architecture by the likes of Mies van der Rohe and LeCorbusier gave us functional homes described as “machines for living.” Art Deco and Arte Moderne set new standards of interior decor, then influenced everything from streamlined railway locomotives to dishware. And in the midst of that design revolution, some of the most elegant motor cars ever produced came from the genius of innovative stylists and their custom bodymakers.
For sheer glamour, few could have matched the 1933 Delage D8S Roadster with coachwork by DeVillars. Star of the 1934 Paris Auto Salon, it then went to the Delage showroom on the Champs d’Elysees where it was advertised for over 100,000 francs, an exorbitant price in those years unless the car was meant as a prototype. Coachbuilder concept drawings, still with the car, would appear to confirm that probability. Clearly Carrosserie deVillars seized a one-time opportunity to showcase their daring concept on the new D8S chassis – the most exclusive and powerful Delage had to offer. The result is a masterpiece, the finest work presented by two of the most innovative French companies of that era. Following a fresh restoration at RM’s Chatham, Ontario workshops, the exquisite Roadster is soon to grace the lush lawns of contemporary Concours d’Elegance.
Clearly owner Jim Patterson has a passion for curvaceous French automobiles, for his collection includes outstanding examples from Bugatti and Delahaye, as well as Delage. Intrigued by the restoration process, Patterson thoroughly researches each vehicle’s history, then ensures that the restoration is correct in every detail. In this instance the vehicle’s provenance is both distinguished and brief, beginning with first owner Aurelio Lerroux, the son of Alejandro Lerroux, then Prime Minister of Spain. The second owner was a Sr. Rico, friend of Aurelio Lerroux and the brother of the mayor of Madrid. The car then passed to the Gran hotel Velasquez in Madrid where, oddly, it served as VIP transportation for several years. It was later put into storage, hidden from curious eyes for some 40 years. After having had just three owners the Delage was sold by RM Auctions at Monterey in 2007.
Fortunately the car’s designers were given an outstanding platform on which to apply their artistry. The D8S was a marked improvement of Louis Delage’s D8 masterpiece, with a lightened and lowered chassis, a shorter 130″ wheelbase, and an upgrade of the D8’s inline, 4-liter pushrod overhead valve straight-eight to 145 bhp @ 4500 rpm, enough to make it quicker than a blown Bentley of the period. During the early stages of development the engineering team was also designing a new military aircraft engine. Deciding to link the two, Delage asked his staff to produce a cylinder head with specially-made short springs located next to the valves to help prevent breakage. Even the D8S carburetor was an aviation type, surrounded by heated oil to avoid icing. Interestingly the coil and distributor are from Delco-Remy rather than French supplier Marchal. The brakes are cable-operated although, unusually for the period, they’re vacuum assisted. All of these unique engineering features remain as originally installed and have now been restored to as new condition.
One of the design objectives was to make the hood as long as possible, allowing nothing to visually interfere with the unbroken sweep from radiator to windshield. Typical cowl vents would have marred the effect and so vents were slotted in under the hood, opening into the cowl area to supply fresh air to the cockpit. A fool-proof system assured that the vents aligned with the hood opening mechanism to prevent damage. As a further example of attention to detail, the jack is mounted securely to the steering box. A handy wrench is attached to the fuel pump. Even the headlamps are a work of art, with diffuser lines worked into the silver-plated bowls. However it seems likely that they succeeded in designing a car equally impressive with the top up as well as down.
Inevitably not everything is what it seems in a restoration of this kind. For example when RM’s craftsmen began they first examined a photo from the Paris show which made it apparent that the body chrome mouldings were originally concave in shape. Yet the current mouldings were convex. As the crew disassembled the car, they noted that the structural wood below the surface of the steel skin actually had cutouts and grooves placed by the coachbuilder to fit concave mouldings. RM removed several fill-in wood pieces and repaired the steel door skins to allow sufficient room, then accurately reworked the mouldings.
Patterson’s Delage D8S has now been returned to its original white colour scheme though the finish is extraordinary, even for a renowned classic. The frame is white. The brake drums, seen through the jewel-like wire wheels, are white. The four-spoke steering wheel is white. The instruments on the chrome-trimmed dashboard are white-faced. In daylight the colour offers a perfect foundation for the designer’s sculptural forms. At night it takes on a glow that’s both romantic and enticing, something you might see parked next to a moonlit Cannes marina: The ultimate in understated elegance.
The one-off 1933 Delage D8S Roadster with coachwork by DeVillars will make its post-restoration debut at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, held Sunday, August 15th, 2010 at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
Author Philip Powell is host of Marque1.com…classic cars and more.
August 15, 2010 Update: The Patterson Collection’s 1933 Delage D8S Roadster with coachwork by DeVillars was awarded Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance 2010. (See Pebble Beach Concours Best of Show).
[Source: Philip Powell; photo credit: Darin Schnabel courtesy of RM Auctions]