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Lot 40 1935 Delahaye 135M Competition Drophead Coupe
Selling on Wednesday
One-Off Coachwork by Figoni
CHASSIS NO: 135M46060
• Figoni Car #566 debuted at the 1935 Paris Motor Show • Figoni et Falaschi's public auto show premier; accurately presented in their desired visually stunning colors • 1 of only 4 Delahayes built by Figoni in 1935 and the only known survivor • Last known Delahaye to be built solely by Figoni before partnering with Falaschi later in the year • Result of a five-year research and restoration effort including many of the greatest French authorities on Delahaye • The first Delahaye featuring Figoni's patented disappearing top • A faithful testament to accuracy, detail and quality of the restoration • Exhibited at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance • Certified by Club Delahaye of France; As depicted in the Delahaye Figoni book by Jean-Paul Tissot
This near mythical Delahaye Type 135M Competition Drophead Coupe is the last surviving 1935 of the marque penned by unrivaled coachbuilder, Figoni. Of the four Figoni built in that year, this is the only example known to survive – and what a survivor. This one-of-a-kind masterwork, Body 566, debuted on stage at the 1935 Paris Motor Show and was well-documented before Delahaye historians lost track of its whereabouts. It has been the source of a riveting five-year research effort, helmed by its owner Sally Perkins, and undertaken by many of the greatest living Delahaye historians and experts in France. Dela, as Mrs. Perkins affectionately calls her French automobile, was the recipient of a thorough and painstakingly correct restoration by Monsieur Bonnefoy, one of the most trusted Delahaye specialists in France. For Delahaye and Figoni enthusiasts alike, it doesn’t get more exciting than this splendid and important piece of automobile history.
The illustrious French marque began with Émile Delahaye who began his career as an engineer with an innate understanding of then cutting-edge mechanics. He personally developed his first combustion engine for the shipping industry then soon applied that knowledge to automobiles. In 1894, he debuted his first car at the impromptu, inaugural Paris Motor Show before it was even called the Paris Motor Show, or Mondial de l’automobile. To promote his feat of engineering and muster up some business, Émile began racing his cars to showcase his talents. The tactic worked and he quickly secured partners in George Morane as well as his brother-in-law, Leon Desmarais. They owned a factory in Paris, so Delahaye moved his operation from his hometown of Tours, in the Loire Valley, to the city. Poor health would force Delahaye to retire early; Émile Delahaye died soon thereafter and would never witness the zenith of the company he created. He passed away in 1905 with a great legacy still ahead of him. Following Émile’s departure, Delahaye produced myriad industrial vehicles including trucks, fire trucks, boats, and run-of-the-mill, reliable cars. The company rolled along with a lack of identity for over three decades until around 1932.
The operations manager for Delahaye, Charles Weiffenbach had teamed up with a tractor company and other manufacturers to produce a higher number of vehicles in an assembly line. This turned out to be a be an ill-timed investment and Madame Desmarais took the reins. She ordered Weiffenbach to shift focus onto a limited number of prestige automobile chassis for the high-end market and directed chief engineer, Amédée Varlet, to hire a brilliant young design engineer, Jean François, to return to Delahaye’s roots and institute a competitive racing program. The Delahaye team pulled focus on luxury and racing and, within the year, the company had found its wheelhouse. The racing line would soon fan the checkered flag at races all over France, including Le Mans, and the luxury department inevitably produced an exclusive line that would cement Delahaye as one of the most desirable automobiles marques France ever produced.
As was de rigueur with European prestige automobiles of the era, coachbuilders were commissioned to design bodies for manufacturers’ chassis. Few European cars were actually bodied in-house until unibody cars came along. This was truly a golden era for design in automobiles and lent itself to creative freedom and innovation with regard to automobile aesthetics. Although the term, “bespoke,” is thrown around quite liberally today, these cars truly were bespoke by definition; they were couture, handmade-to-order. Even the rare supercars today cannot match their level of singular exclusivity. Not surprisingly, France, with its innate love for art and culture, would lead the world in the artistic design of coachbuilding. Among La Belle France’s celebrated coachbuilders was Figoni and his work is all the more sought-after today. With a definitive style that captured Art Deco’s Streamline Moderne movement at its pinnacle, Guiseppe Figoni was directly inspired by aerodynamics and aesthetics of aircraft design of his time, revealing voluptuous curves, dramatically tapered angles, and flush rivets in all their smooth, sensual glory.
Although he is one of the most important names in French automobile history, Giuseppe Figoni was actually born in Italy and immigrated to France as a young boy. By the age of 14, he was already an apprentice to a carriage builder. He served in World War I then began his own small firm, Carrosserie Automobile, where his repair work evolved into custom coachbuilding of his own. By 1925, he had designed a variety of luxury bodies for Bugatti and Delage chassis. Consequently, the well-healed were taking notice and his acumen and style were in high demand, but every car was custom and formed by his hand. In other words, a painfully small number of Figoni-bodied automobiles were produced and even fewer survive today. Over the years his style became more distinctive and avionic as Figoni refined his inimitable focus. By 1935, when this stunning example of his work was produced, Figoni had caught the eye of Italian businessman, Ovidio Falaschi. They established the now legendary firm, Figoni et Falaschi, which enabled Figoni the artistical and financial freedom to focus solely on his craft while his skilled business partner adroitly managed the running of the company. Falaschi once described the firm’s work as, “true couturiers of automobile coachwork, dressing and undressing a chassis one, two, three times and even more before arriving at the definitive lines that we wanted to give to a specific chassis-coachwork ensemble.” Figoni captured the complete symbiosis of form and function, aerodynamic performance with très magnifique streamline moderne design. This one-of-a-kind 1935 Delahaye Type 135M Competition represents the apex of Figoni’s solo career as it is the last car he crafted before partnering with Falaschi later in the year, encapsulating both an important piece of history for Figoni as well as Delahaye. But this is only the beginning of the car’s distinguished history.
Before the ink on Figoni et Falaschi’s partnership was even dry, the duo would debut their new firm at the 1935 Paris Motor Show where this car, Body 566, would be featured on stage for its first public appearance. Of the four 1935 Delahaye 135 types that Figoni produced, this is the only survivor known to still exist. Any prewar Delahaye is a remarkable survivor considering the history that was soon to follow their production. France was a country where the world’s greatest winemakers were building false walls, complete with spiders, in their cellars and swapping Grand Cru labels with Village to dupe the Nazis. French luxury automobiles were taken apart and hidden piece by piece or were bombed in remote barns. Each enduring French automobile of this time is something of a miracle, but 566 is even more so. Not only did it debut at the 1935 Paris Motor Show, but it is also the last Delahaye Figoni built as a solo carrossier. It’s a story to send chills down the spine. This is something truly quite special.
Nevertheless, Body 566 was long thought to have been lost. When Sally Perkins brought Dela home from California over twenty years ago, she was unaware of the staggering historical significance surrounding her newly acquired French automobile. Over a history that honestly became stranger than fiction, the provenance of this car was hidden until Mrs. Perkins undertook a research project that would reveal quite a remarkable legacy. Life started out well for the star of the 1935 Paris Motor Show. First placed in the care of Marseilles Delahaye agent, Raymond Mesure, the car was registered to its first owner, Madame Levy-Wolf. She brought her new Figoni Delahaye to the 1936 Concours d’Elegance at the Hippodrome of Paris’s Bois de Boulogne where it garnered first place.
Things took an interesting turn in 1946 though when British owner, Mr. Bouvey, opted to place the historic Figoni body and Delahaye powertrain onto a Bugatti chassis. It would then come to spend nearly 40 years in the United States passing through a number of owners including Richard Paine of the Seal Cove Auto Museum. A Mr. Henry Posner would return the car to England and, by 1985, found its way to Lord Rendlesham, a Delahaye Agent. It would then come into the care of his son-in-law, Kier Helberg of London who noticed the Figoni tag numbered 566. He owned a 1937 Delahaye chassis and determined it should carry 566. By some miracle, Body 566 retained its original engine. It wasn’t until the thoughtful restoration commissioned by Mrs. Sally Perkins and undertaken by Monsieur Jean-Luc Bonnefoy that the car’s true identity was revealed, and the iconic Figoni body was returned to a properly sourced and correct 1935 Delahaye chassis, which was personally assigned and certified by Club Delahaye of France President, Jean-Paul Tissot.
Mrs. Perkins acquired #566 over 20 years ago. After some time, she was determined to learn anything and everything about this special car and, over the course of five years, Mrs. Perkins’ passion project attracted an assembly of gentlemen who represent the deepest knowledge of this esoteric, yet splendid, French marque including the President of the Delahaye Club of France, Jean-Paul Tissot, long-time Delahaye archivist and author, Andre Vaucourt, noted engineer and designer, Bernard Brule and Delahaye aficionado and collector, Roger Tainguy, who would inevitably introduce Sally to the car's future restoration specialist, Jean-Luc Bonnefoy. Vaucourt described the extensive research project as, “one of the most interesting and complex histories I have ever worked with.” There was an immense amount of research and speculation surrounding the car’s provenance and history, but it wasn’t until Monsieur Bonnefoy began disassembling the car for its nut-and-bolt restoration that the final piece of the puzzle was revealed. Long hidden inside the driver’s door panel was the original trunk key, which was stamped with, “566 - Figoni - 14 Rue le Moine.” The key fit into the trunk and the identity of the missing body 566 was confirmed with Claude Figoni’s meticulously kept records. Further evidence of the car’s identity would be found etched in wooden framework and inside the original aluminum door panels. Vaucourt and Tissot worked tirelessly to follow every paper trail they could uncover. Inevitably, 566 is pictured in the Delahaye Figoni book written by Jean-Paul Tissot. In fact, it was Tissot that matched the Paris Concours photograph from 1936 with the body number and the registration number that was issued to Madame Levy-Wolf. When the unprecedented forum researching this car finally knew what they had, the next step was a painstakingly faithful restoration endeavor.
Experts across every aspect of this automobile were brought on board to get this car absolutely correct. Certain parts, like the correct hoses for the engine, took up to two years to find. In the end, the engine was quite a darling with the 2016 judges at Pebble Beach’s Concours for its accuracy and perfection. It was also discovered that the disappearing convertible top, complete with Figoni’s patent paperwork of his invention, was the first of the invention he ever completed. When it came to the body’s repaint, the exact nitrocellulose lacquer, in the correct colors, that Figoni once used were procured from Dupont, who bought the original paint company and to this day has maintained Figoni’s old paint records. In total, this historic object-d’art-on-wheels presents just as she would have on stage at the 1935 Paris Motor Show - a faithful testament to the accuracy, detail and quality of the restoration and a realization of the visual impact Figoni et Falaschi desired at their public premier.
Complete with the original 3.2-litre overhead-valve, straight-six-cylinder engine with four-bearing crankshaft, which breathes through triple Solex carburetors, the powertrain delivers 110 horsepower. Adjacent to the steering wheel is the elegant control for the four-speed Cotal pre-selector transmission. The 116-inch wheelbase chassis is equipped with leaf-spring front suspension with a live rear axle and cable-operated Bendix brakes. When Dela returned home in 2016, the Classic Car Club, which once boasted Sally Perkins as its president, featured an article by George M. Maley, which was quite aptly titled, “The Phoenix Rises out of the Ashes.” That summer, Sally and her husband, Gene, had the car transported to Pebble Beach’s Concours d’Elegance for a spin across the 18th green. Since then, she has only been driven for the purposes of pampered maintenance and has known far less than 100 miles since the thorough restoration.
Boasting the superb original paint combination, offset by gleaming brightwork, this one-of-a-kind Figoni is as elegant inside as she is a striking Art Deco masterpiece on the outside. With a soft, creamy yellow upholstery enhanced by the rich woodgrain of the dash and the authentic black and white dials, the cockpit of this dream car is every inch as marvelous as its incredible pedigree. This remarkable 1935 Delahaye Type 135M, body by Figoni and foundational component of Figoni et Falaschi, is accompanied by a tome of documentation including certification by the Delahaye Club of France. Thanks to the tenacity and unceasing passion of Sally Perkins, this rolling piece of art and history has been preserved for future generations. The time has come for this extraordinary car to find its next caretaker. The point of this labor of love was not to hold on to the car forever, but to save her and reveal her remarkable heritage - what a treasure. One of the finest, correct examples in existence, Figoni's #566 is ready to dazzle on the concours circuit where it's sure to receive many invitations and awards both domestically and abroad.