Model history: At a time when the German and to a lesser extent the Italian governments pretty much bankrolled the (Grand Prix) racing operation in their respective countries, the French found a different way to motivate the local racing car manufacturers. It must have stung so badly that an Italian car held the speed record over 200 km on the high speed Monthelery race track that the French national racing club raised 400,000 Francs from their members as prize money for the first French manufacturer to beat it before March 31st of 1937. One of the conditions was that the record breaking car should comply with the revised regulations for Grand Prix cars, which kicked in on January 1st of 1938. This meant the engine displacement was limited to 4.5 litres for a Naturally Aspirated engine or 3 litres with forced induction. They did allow for a tolerance of 10%. Sadly no manufacturer was up to the challenge. A conglomorate of French alloy producers were inspired by this effort and upped the ante to one million Francs and stretched the deadline to August 31st. They did require strict uphelding of the new regulations, so the potential record breaker could also represent France in international racing the following seasons. This time round it worked.
With this much money at stake quite a few French manufacturers were willing to take a gamble and the likes of Bugatti, Talbot Lago and Delahaye started to work on their record breakers. Talbot Lago bailed out relatively early and Bugatti worked on modifying an existing engine to meet the requirements. Delahaye, on the other hand, saw the bigger picture and decided to go all out and build a completely new engine from scratch. At that time their line-up of road and racing cars all shared a 3.5 litre six cylinder engine, which was not a likely base for a Grand Prix engine in that highly competitive era. The tubular ladder frame chassis, however, was well up to the task and served as a basis for the new racing car. The rules clearly favoured supercharged engines, but the company's lack of experience with forced induction pretty much ruled that out, especially considering the time restraints. No matter how advanced the new power-plant would be, it was highly unlikely it would produce as much power as the supercharged engines, so much attention was paid to saving throughout the design of the racer.
Possibly with help from the same companies that initiated the competition, Delahaye used lightweight alloys extensively in both the engine block and heads of their new V12. In an age when cast-iron engines were the norm, the use of aluminium alloy for the heads and magnesium alloy for the engine block was quite a daring move. It did not stop there though as the engineers came up with an interesting valvetrain as well. They employed the basic design used previously by Riley, which featured a camshaft on each side of the block actuating the intake and exhaust valves separately through push-rods and rockers. Three camshafts were used in the V12; a central camshaft inside the V for the intake valves and one on either side of the block for the exhaust valves. Breathing through three Stromberg carburettors, the compact and light V12 produced between 220 and 240 bhp depending on the fuel mixture used. In good French tradition, it was mated to a four-speed Cotal preselector gearbox. The Delahaye 135 derived chassis featured wishbones with transverse friction dampers at the front and an old fashioned live axle at the rear.
With just four days to go until the second deadline would expire, Rene Dreyfuss arrived at Monthelery with the new Delahaye 145. It would not be a surprise if the barely finished, unpainted and above all very ugly racer was received very skeptically by the gathered crowd. Once it got going the skepticism turned into admiration as Dreyfus started to get well up to speed and at the end of the day was just fast enough to beat the record and claim the prize money. The gamble had paid off and Delahaye was one million Francs and a brand new Grand Prix racer richer. In fact the car was designed in such a way that it would also be eligible for Le Mans, so the ploy to get France back on the international racing map had really worked. To celebrate this major achievement the Delahaye was painted blue with a red and white banner running down each side of the car from the radiator cap. Now that there was some more time for details, the body was slightly revised and especially in sports trim with its large swooping fenders the 145 did not look too bad. Along the same lines four more examples of the V12 racers were constructed.
Thanks to its head-start, the Delahaye 145 was the only car ready in time for the 1938 season. Dreyfus profited from the problems the other teams had coming to grips with the engine displacement limitations by winning the Pau and Cork Grand Prix. Once the three litre supercharged Mercedes-Benz was ready there was little the French could do; it was almost twice as powerful. There was more success though for Delahaye that season when a six cylinder 135 took the marque's first overall win at Le Mans. The 145s were fielded there and other endurance races like the Mille Miglia as well, but the V12 engine proved too fragile. A fully single seater version of the V12, dubbed the 155, was constructed as a last, but unfruitful attempt to regain competitiveness. War fell over Europe and the racing cars were disassembled and carefully hidden. When the hostilities were over at least three 145s were re-assembled, fitted with new bodies and detuned engines, and sold as road cars. Delahaye's racing days were over.
Originally built as one of the Type 145 racing cars, chassis 48772 was raced by Ecurie Bleu with little success in 1938 and 1939. The potent machine was acquired by Chapron, who, on behalf of a customer, fitted it with a spectacular coupe body. Interrupted by the War, the work was not completed until 1947. Briefly owned by a French enthusiast, it quickly made its way across the Atlantic. Between 1972 and 2004, the V12-engined Delahaye was owned by Count Hubertus von Donhoff. Since 2004, it is part of the Mullin Collection and today is on permanent display in the Mullin Automotive Museum.
In 1947, Henri Chapron acquired his second Type 145 chassis and like he did with 48772, fitted it with a stylish coupe body. Although very elegant, the understated lines did a very good job of hiding the Grand Prix chassis underneath, making this pair true wolves in sheep clothing. The first owner, Robert Cury, clearly knew what he had and raced the car in this guise with considerable success. It caught the attention of the Schlumpf brothers and they added it to their rapidly growing collection. Chassis 48773 was subsequently sold to the United Stated and today it is part of the Mullin Automotive Museum collection.
This 'race' was a comlete joke, like the racing Cars, who participated.
Tony Lago, promised a 3-litre supercharched V16 Car. Walter Becchia designed the Engine and because Talbot-Darracq had no money, the Fonds de Course gave Lago, 200000 Francs, to build this Car, which never happened.
Ettore Bugatti promised a new 4.5-litre Grand Prix car, he got an anticipation of 400000 Francs and he delivered a Type 59, with an Type 50 alloy Engine. This car was never able, to do more than 2 Laps, before it braking down.
Lucy Shell paid for an Gran Prix Racer and became a Sports car.
It's sad to see, that France had in the 20th great Constructors, who build the leading Racing cars and 10 years later, none was able, to produce a decent car.
Louis Chiron won the 1934 GP de France, with an Alfa Romeo, Tipo B. Montlhery had for safety reasons, two Chicanes, to slow the cars down.
The Fonds de Course took his fastest time and offered one Million Francs to the Contender, who did a faster Lap, but without a single Chicane.
Type 145 corrections
Wouter, you mixed the chassisnumbers, of both cars. 48772 is the silver car, which was with Doenhoff and is now with Mullin.
To get these cars complete, 48774 was rebodied as Franay Roadster, now it has an GP Body and 48775 was rebodied by Lecanu and now with an GP Body. All cars are in the US.
Your Story about the Type 145 Racing cars, is quite wrong and you forgot the most important thing. It was Lucy Schell, who went to Charles Weiffenbach and offered him, to construct and develop a racing car, for her Team, Ecurie Bleue. She offered, to pay all expenses and that's, what she did. The cars were allways her property and Delahaye had to borrow them, for the Million Race. When the Fonds de Course, refused to pay her the Million, the money went to Delahaye, who split the money with her and she gave half of her part, to Rene Dreyfus, she took the cars out of France.