A racer at heart, Louis Delage was forced to take a step back at the end of the Great War. Designed by the talented Arthur Michelat, the very powerful Delage racers were highly competitive on both sides of the Atlantic on both sides of the Atlantic. Michelat's talents were also noticed by the French government and he was enlisted to improve the country's military vehicles. His place at the head of the Delage design department was taken by Louis Delage's cousin Charles Planchon, but in a destructed world, motor racing was not on the top of anybody's priority list.
Eventually it was the persistence of one of Delage's ace drivers, Rene Thomas, that persuaded Louis Delage to take up manufacturing racing cars once again. The French company did not return to top level motor racing right away and first constructed a one-off special for Thomas based on their latest production car. Best known as 'La Torpille', it was highly successful in hillclimbs and also broke its fair share of world records. After the international motorsport's governing body announced new regulations for the 1923 season, Delage had Planchon design a brand new Grand Prix car.
Delage's goal was to have the new Grand Prix machine, dubbed the 2LCV, ready for the obviously very important French Grand Prix at Tours. This gave Planchon little over three months to complete the design and construction of the engine. It did not help that he had come up with a rather complicated V12 engine, displacing just under two litres as per the new regulations. This layout is today commonly accepted in racing car circles, but in those days in-line engines were the norm. To add to the complexity, Planchon also fitted his new engine with twin overhead camshafts.
Beautifully finished, the V12 engine was a true work of art. It was installed in a conventional ladder frame chassis with live axles on both ends. A somewhat unusual feature was the double friction dampers on each of the four corners. The engine's 95 bhp was fed to the rear wheels through a four speed gearbox. Despite the tight schedule, Planchon managed to get one 2LCV ready for the French GP, but only barely and without proper practice. Of course Rene Thomas was on hand to drive the new GP racer, but it was a very poor showing with the car breaking down in only the sixth lap of the race.
Probably not completely justified, but Planchon was blamed for the failure and was replaced by his right hand man Albert Lory. He set about modifying Planchon's design, but only in detail. The biggest change was to invert the flow through the engine with the intakes now on the outside and the exhaust coming out in-between the banks. He also modified the lubrication system by adding two more oil pumps. Lory's changes boosted the power to around 120 bhp and with the entire year to test, he also ensured the performance was backed up with sufficient reliability.
Three more cars were constructed and with the original 2LCV upgraded, Delage had a four car team for the 1924 European Grand Prix at Lyon. It was quite a momentous occasion with the Bugatti Type 35 also making its debut alongside the new for 1924 Alfa Romeo P2. After its disastrous debut, the 2LCV performed much better at its second outing, with two cars finishing on the podium behind the victorious Alfa Romeo P2. Alfa Romeo's team manager, Enzo Ferrari, was so impressed with the Delage and its engine that it is generally accepted that it was at here that his affection for the V12 engine started.
After a third and fourth in the San Sebastian Grand Prix late in 1924, Lory returned to the factory to further modify the 2LCV. Following the example set by the supercharged Alfa Romeo P2, he added a forced induction system to the V12 engine. This consisted of two Roots-Type Superchargers that literally boosted the power to a staggering 205 bhp. The third version of the 2LCV debuted at the 1925 Spa Grand Prix, but the modifications clearly had not improvement the reliability with all four cars forced to retire. It all came together at the French Grand Prix at Monthlery when the supercharged 2LCVs finished first and second.
After just three years the two litre formula was abandoned and from the 1926 season onwards the displacement limit was set at a mere 1.5 litres. This gave Lory the opportunity to design a new car from the ground up and after some problems in its debut season, it all came together for the Delage 15 S8, which brought the World Championship to the French manufacturer. While not very successful, the Delage 2LCV was no doubt instrumental in the successes scored by the team in the championship winning 1927 season.
Only five examples of the 2LCV were constructed and updated to the latest spec throughout the car's three seasons of racing. Constructed new in 1924 and raced that year by Rene Thomas, the featured example never received the Supercharger upgrade and as such remains in the 1924 specification. After its racing career, the car disappeared and only resurfaced many decades later in South America. It was sold to the American collector Bob Sutherland and it eventually returned to Europe in 1999.
In Europe, the Delage racer received a five year restoration that was needless to say highly complex. Eventually Sean Danahar pulled it off and for the first time in many, many years the 2LCV was fully operational again. The rare surviving Delage 2LCV is seen here on the stand of Swiss dealer Lukas Huni during the 2007 Retromobile show in Paris and in action during the Goodwood Festival of Speed later that year.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on November 03, 2008
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