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“La Belle Voiture Française”

Delage – France's Finest Car... the title was well earned. During the company's near half-century of existence, Delage cars took top honours in just about every field of motoring – grands prix, land speed records, hillclimbs, concours d'elegance and endurance runs, even the Indianapolis 500. It was a record of success no other make could equal.

Technically complex cars built for the fleeting hours of success on the racetrack amply demonstrated the company's capabilities, but in his quest for the perfect road car,  Louis Delâge's vision was clear: “Keep it simple, make it strong”. In the pursuit of reliability, “Monsieur Louis” would take the prototype of each new model and subject it to  a marathon road test, sometimes covering over 500 miles in a 15-hour day to seek out any weak points in its design. The resulting cars were fast, safe and pleasing to drive; they were also good to look on.

It had all started with one man's ambition:  31 year-old engineer Louis Delâge had given up a senior job with Peugeot to found his company in  August 1905 with the aim of building a simple, robust voiturette to meet the growing market for light cars. He realised that the quickest way to capture the public imagination was success in competition, and in 1906 a Delage finished a close second in the popular Coupe des Voiturettes race. Soon after  a sporting “Type Course” model was added to the Delage range.

Headline success came in 1908 with victory in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes. As with subsequent Delage racers, the winning car had a technically-advanced power unit that had no production counterpart. Nevertheless, it sprinkled magic stardust on the company's excellent roadgoing models.

The Delages built before the Great War were solidly reliable; the great days lay ahead. Delage was one of the first makes to standardise four-wheel brakes post-war, first with the luxury Type CO six-cylinder, then the four-cylinder DE, comfortable, economical and robust.

Alongside its road cars, Delage enjoyed sporting success with specially-built racers for Grands Prix, speed records and hill climbs, culminating in the remarkable 15 S 8 1500cc grand prix racer, undisputed world champion of 1927 and still winning major races well over ten years later.

Mainstay of the 1920s range was the four-cylinder 2.1-litre Type DI, owners of whose sporting DIS and DISS versions were counted fortunate indeed.

Then for 1930 came the D8 luxury 4-litre straight-eight. Again, there was a sporting version, the D8 Super Sports, one of the few road cars of the day capable of a genuine 100 mph.

Financial troubles in the mid-1930s saw Delage merge with another prestige marque, Delahaye, but if some components were shared between the two, Delage still retained its distinct identity.

Reconstruction of the French motor industry after the war saw a government plan that had little time for luxury cars, and – even though a Delage was chosen as the official car of the President of the Republic – the last Delages left the factory in 1953. A magnificent venture was ended – but the wonderful cars live on!

DB-W