Motorsport: The 'Million-Franc' Delahaye That Took On Mercedes, Auto Union And Alfa Is To Lead This Year’s Salon Privé Concours

The ‘Million-Franc’ Delahaye That Took On Mercedes, Auto Union And Alfa Is To Lead This Year’s Salon Privé Concours

By News Desk
June 13, 2019

The ‘Million-Franc’ Delahaye that took on and beat the mighty pre-war Mercedes, Auto Unions and Alfa Romeos, with it becoming one of the most significant cars of its age, will lead the line-up at this year’s Salon Privé Concours d’Elégance, on September 5 near Oxford in the UK.

Some 50 noteworthy cars will battle for Best of Show at this year’s Salon Privé event, which takes place in a garden party atmosphere within the grounds of Blenheim Palace. And the cars competing for the Competition Class are led by the famous and remarkable 1937 ‘Million-Franc’ Delahaye 145, the first of four 4.5-liter V12 race cars built for the Écurie Bleue Racing Team owned by Americans, Laury and Lucy Schell. After months of tuning, this very Schell Delahaye Type 145 took on a grand automotive engineering challenge set by the French government: the Million Franc Prize. This was that the government wanted to incentivize French manufacturers to take on the likes of Mercedes, Auto Union and Alfa, that dominated grand prix racing at the time. So in 1936 it offered a million francs—a vast sum, especially for the age—to any French car that could drive 200km at an average speed of 146.508kph, a speed set by Alfa in 1934, or better before the end of August 1937.

Days before the deadline, on August 27 1937, legendary driver René Dreyfus with this Delahaye Type 145 met the challenge, pipping the mark with an average speed of 146.7kph, on the banked Montlhéry motor circuit, south of Paris. After its Montlhéry feat, the Delahaye won the Grand Prix de Pau in 1938, beating Mercedes, won the Grand Prix de Cork, then finished fourth in the Mille Miglia. Post-war, this significant Delahaye traded hands, lost part of its original body, and for a time there was mystery around the fate of the million franc-winning machine. But recent research revealed this to be the very one.

It will be joined in the Salon Privé Competition Class by an ultra-rare Ferrari 500 TRC. It is considered one of the most beautiful racing cars ever built by Ferrari and only 19 Lampredi-engined 500 TRC models were built, all for privateers. The car presented at Salon Privé is the very last one. This chassis was originally finished in red from the factory and sent to John Von Neumann, the first Ferrari dealer in California, in September 1957. Von Neumann painted all his cars silver, the racing color of Germany, with a red stripe added in homage to Ferrari. The car got its first owner in August 1958, when it was sold to Jack Nethercult. And while it missed most of the ’58 racing season, Nethercult made up for lost time by running it in at least thirteen West Coast races during ’59, and with success.

“We are delighted and very excited to include these notable competition cars of their day, and the inclusion of these important Delahaye and Ferrari models highlight the global reputation and status of our spectacular and exclusive Salon Privé Concours celebrations at Blenheim Palace,” said Salon Privé’s Concours chairman, Andrew Bagley.

Images courtesy of Salon Privé

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