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Lot 636
1912 Delaunay-Belleville HB6 Roadster

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Selling on Saturday Evening

CHASSIS NO: 5023

• Believed to be one of only two surviving Roadster examples
• Known provenance, including ownership by George Waterman of Rhode Island
• Blue ribbon winner at Meadowbrook Concours
• A seldom seen example of early high-society French engineering


402 cid (6,585 cc) T-head inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, beam front axle with semi-elliptic springs, floating rear axles with transverse leaf spring, dual-pedal driveline brakes plus hand-operated mechanical rear brakes; wheelbase 134”


Many of the world’s first automakers came from a wide variety of other industrial pursuits; David Dunbar Buick had perfected a method to porcelainize cast iron; White Motor Corp. had been born from a sewing machine company; Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes, started building gasoline engines for watercraft. For S. A. des Automobiles Delaunay-Belleville, they could trace their roots back as one of the world's premier manufacturers of boilers and engines for steam ships and railroad locomotives. Founded by Julien Belleville in the 1850s, Louis Delaunay joined the company in 1867 as an engineer. He would eventually marry the owner’s daughter and by the 1890s had inherited and was running the company. As with many industrialists of the day, he developed a growing interest in the new motorcar trade. 1903 saw Delaunay hire Marius Barbarou from Benz and together work started on a reliable and new motorcar. Taking Julien’s last name, Delaunay-Belleville’s were originally four-cylinder models that grew to be quite well-respected. Four years later for 1908, a more powerful inline six was developed, the HB6. Among the many innovations found in the Delaunay-Belleville cars were pressure-lubricated camshafts and other features such as water-cooled brakes. These cars were marketed to customers of means with a prestigious list of customers that included kings, princes, tsars and industrial giants of the day. By 1912, the HB6 was considered the finest six-cylinder in the world, even quieter, many said, than the Silver Ghost. Using cast iron cylinders, it was fitted with side valves which allowed for excellent combustion. These heads, cast in groups of three, were then affixed to an aluminum crankcase. Pistons were connected to the lubricated crankshafts with tubular connecting rods. Like Rolls-Royce, Delaunay-Belleville customers purchased the chassis and then contracted with a coachbuilder for their custom carriage. Being a luxury brand, most buyers looked at large touring cars or enclosed limousines and while the car company never participated in motor racing, there were a few sporting customers that wanted to test their skills. One such supplier was Muhlbacher Carrossier of Paris, which created a secure seating arrangement for two passengers plus a retractable “dickey” seat to the rear for a single passenger. Featuring a circular radiator up front, this design would define the opulence of French motoring at its best.

History of this Delaunay-Belleville picks up in the 1940s when this car was acquired by pioneering automotive enthusiast George Waterman. In the 1970s, the car was purchased by Burton Upjohn who specialized in early brass era cars. When this car was acquired in the 1980s, it was described as being a very original vehicle that had been painted “barn brown.” While in the ownership of Upjohn, the Delaunay-Belleville was given a full restoration. In a 1998 letter, Michael Nash, the man who restored the car stated that the chassis was fitted with new seals, bushings and spring shackle bolts. Wheels were machined from cone-piece cast magnesium and with attaching hardware “as per original”. The engine was given new bearings, valves and cam rollers while the original aluminum pistons were fitted with new rings. Brakes were described as having “two foot pedals,” one that applied to the input shaft of the transmission and the second to the output shaft plus a hand-operated brake for the rear wheels. It was noted that both a Westinghouse starter and generator appeared to have been added during the 1910s or 1920s. For safety reasons, Mr. Nash indicated he had added rear stop and running lights that were “tucked up in the back.” All sheet metal with the exception of the top of the hood were original, while the lower section of the wagon box, which was wood, had suffered from dry rot. It wears an exacting duplicate of the original with the frame in ash and a poplar tree veneer for the skin. The caning decorative side canework is as original and has all attaching hardware. When displayed at the 1997 Meadowbrook Concours d’Elegance, it was awarded the blue ribbon for its class. The car is described to ride like a “baby buggy” with steering described as “precise and easy.” One of the stories for this unusual body is that the original owner was a hot air balloon enthusiast, and the car was used as a launching platform, thus the reason the rear seat could be folded down. Without reservation, we can say this fine automobile is sure to attract the attention of connoisseurs from around the world.

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