Delage D8-120 Pourtout Aero Coupe (2)

The world of fashion is a constantly shifting and multi-layered form of human creativity. In its most obvious form, clothing, it comes in all guises from high-street to haute couture. Fashion also seeps into many other industries, including car design, and just as there are levels of exclusivity for clothing, trends in styling influence everything from daily drivers to the most exclusive luxury vehicles and supercars – and at the very top end there exists the truly bespoke.

Just as the most extravagant clothing is often created for models on the catwalks of Milan and Paris, the most extravagant vehicles have often been produced for the motoring equivalent: star-studded auto salons or highly prized concours events. This week’s Wednesday One-Off was designed for the latter, crafted with the vision of taking top spot among the world’s most incredible machines.

The Delage marque enjoyed an impressive reputation in the earliest stages of its history, having become well-known for craftsmanship, precision engineering, and racing prowess. However, this focus for excellence meant the Delage models were expensive, and in the midst of the Great Depression, the company struggled to maintain volumes. A substantial loan taken out by founder Louis Delage was not enough to turn the business around, and by 1935 it was in liquidation. Fortunately, the brand would rise again in the form of the ‘Societe Nouvelle des Automobiles Delage’, sharing platforms with Delahaye.

In 1936 two new models were being produced with eight-cylinder engines, named the D8-100 and D8-120 – and it was the latter that would be the basis for a new ‘Conduite Interieur Sport’ (sports sedan) prototype destined for the concours d’elegance. This new prototype would feature a low-slung chassis, an enlarged engine, and beautifully crafted bodywork.

Delage chassis’ had always attracted the very best of European coachbuilders, but Mr Delage had one particular company in mind for this important project: Carrosserie Pourtout. Following a full-scale design drawing proposal, the chassis and engine were released to Pourtout in July 1937, ready for the elegant bodywork to be completed.

The chassis itself was drilled to reduce weight and featured a 132-inch wheelbase. The width had been narrowed with 52,75-inch front and 57-inch rear tracks, the lowered suspension consisted of an independent front and solid-axle rear setup, and stopping power came courtesy of 15-inch drum brakes all-round. The engine was a 4.3-litre straight-eight, which had been bored out 84mm to give a 4.75-litre capacity, reported to deliver up to 120bhp at 4,200rpm to the rear wheels via a four-speed transmission.

The completed car that Pourtout returned to Mr Delage was a machine of undeniable beauty. The special chassis now wore a hand-formed aluminium body with steel wings, and was a study in pure elegance, dreamt up by the renowned designer Georges Paulin. At the front was a long bonnet with row upon row of louvres to aid in cooling the mighty straight-eight engine, capped with a stand-out radiator that raked backwards. To either side sat the headlights that nestled between the dramatic teardrop-shaped front wings.

These gorgeous outriding wings were echoed at the rear of the car and not only added to the aerodynamic properties of the D8-120 S Aero Coupe, but also allowed the main body to remain relatively slim while gaining the benefits of a wider track. The cabin itself was low-slung and featured a split windscreen and thin A-pillars, complemented by rear-hinged doors with narrow side windows, and a split semi-circular rear window.

Inside, the cabin was simple yet luxurious, with rich pleated blue leather upholstery and four individual armchair-like seats. Ahead of the driver was a large four-spoke steering wheel, and the dashboard featured two large main gauges and a set of five smaller gauges recessed slightly from those above.

Once completed the D8-120 S Aero Coupe was first exhibited at the 31st Salon de Paris in 1937, where it received very favourable press. The car is understood to have also attended concours d’elegance events in 1938 before being sold to a private collector. In 1953 the front end and rear window are reported to have been restyled by coachbuilder Saoutchik, and shortly afterwards the car was exported to the US. It would change hands multiple times over the next four decades before being purchased in the early 2000s by the industrial designer and inventor Sam Mann, who commissioned a full restoration to return the D8-120 S Aero Coupe to its original 1930s specifications.

Freshly restored, it was time for the D8-120 S Aero Coupe to grace a meticulously trimmed concours lawn; notably at the 2005 Pebble Beach gathering. The car was displayed as part of the Delage 100 Year Anniversary class, where it took Best in Class, and then secured the most prestigious of all awards, being celebrated as the Best in Show. It was a fitting title for a truly gorgeous automobile, which remained as utterly captivating 70 years later as it had done when first revealed to the world in 1937.

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