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268: 1927 Delage 15-S-8 Grand Prix Car
From the Brazilian Collector Mr. Abraham Kogan
170 bhp at 8,000 rpm, 1,488cc supercharged inline eight-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, beam axle front suspension with
semi-elliptical leaf springs, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 98.5in. (2,500mm).
170 bhp at 8,000 rpm, 1,488cc supercharged inline eight-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, beam axle front suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 98.5in. (2,500mm).
During the decades before and after World War II, Delage produced a series of excellent grandes routières. Part of the French GFA combine along with Delahaye, the marque brought credit to the concept of luxurious, comfortable, high performance.
Through this period, however, the name Automobiles Delage had a halo of respect far out of proportion to the performance of its cars, even with performances in the 24 Heures du Mans in the years bracketing the war that were much more than merely respectable. An aura of instant admiration surrounds Louis Delage's marque; the name carries immediate respect that borders on awe.
The reason is the car offered here, one of four Delage 15-S-8 Grand Prix single-seaters that swept the 1927 World Championship.
Meticulously engineered, finely crafted, and driven by undeniable talent, the Delage 15-S-8 represented a breakthrough in engine design and performance. The most knowledgeable, informed, thoughtful, thorough, and respected experts have without exception or reservation recited the praises of the 1927 Delage Grand Prix cars. From the perspective of years – and even generations – of hindsight, writers as diverse as Laurence Pomeroy, Griffith Borgeson, Denis Jenkinson, William Court, and Karl Ludvigsen have heaped superlatives on the Delage 15-S-8.
Four team cars were built, plus a later chassis created as a spare for Prince Chula, and all have survived to this day. Each of them was raced well into the fifties then moved instantly into important collections, where they have only rarely changed hands in ensuing years.
The story of the 1927 Delage 15-S-8 Grand Prix single-seaters is one of the most intriguing in all of racing, or motor car, history.
Louis Delage was a trained engineer who began his automotive career in 1903 with Peugeot, launching his own company two years later using the ubiquitous deDion Bouton engines. Like most of his contemporaries in France and elsewhere, Delage raced both for the experience it gave him and his factory and for the visibility it brought the marque. He came second in the Coupe des Voiturettes de l'Auto in 1906 and won the Grand Prix des Voiturettes de l'ACF at Dieppe in 1908. In 1911 Delage moved up in size to the Coupe des Voitures Légères de l'Auto and nearly swept the board, finishing first, third, and fourth.
In 1913 Delage again moved up, this time to the top of the scale, the Grand Prix de l'ACF, where his Type Y four-cylinder racers were extremely successful, including finishing first and third in the Indianapolis 500 in 1914 driven by René Thomas and Albert Guyot. The next generation 1914 Delage Type S engines had four valves per cylinder, dual overhead camshafts, dual carburettors and ingenious fully desmodromic valve actuation. Barney Oldfield drove one of them to fifth in the 1916 Indianapolis 500.
Delage's designer since 1910, Arthur Léon Michelat, moved on to the aircraft industry during World War I and was succeeded by Charles Planchon, to whom Louis Delage entrusted the design of a championship calibre Grand Prix engine for the 1923 season. Designated the 2LCV, Planchon's masterpiece was a tiny 2-litre V-12 with dual overhead camshafts on each bank. This diminutive masterpiece was supercharged for the 1925 season, developing some 205 brake horsepower, and was modestly successful while providing the most consistent competition for the legendary Alfa Romeo P2 during the 2-litre formula.
Delage had dismissed Planchon (cousin or not – the 2LCV's initial problems were unacceptable to the meticulous Delage) and turned to Planchon's assistant, Albert Lory, for the continued development of the 2LCV. The performance of Lory, who had received his early experience at Salmson, was apparently satisfactory to Delage, who entrusted him with design and development of the successor to the complicated 2LCV for the 1926–1927 Grand Prix championship formula, which stipulated 1,500cc engine capacity, single-seat bodies with 80cm minimum width and a minimum weight of 600kg for 1926 and 700kg for 1927. Lory created the 1.5_-litre supercharged inline eight-cylinder 15-S-8, the masterpiece of Grand Prix engines of its era and an engine that could – and did – hold its own with the specialized creations of Harry Miller and Fred Duesenberg at Indianapolis.
The Delage 15-S-8 Grand Prix car
In The Classic Twin-Cam Engine Griffith Borgeson calls the Delage 15-S-8 'a consummate masterpiece in every sense', and observes that '[t]he preciousness of these cars has always been self-evident'. In The Grand Prix Car 1906–1939 Laurence Pomeroy writes, 'The Delage engine literally represents a technical tour de force both in design and construction.' Denis Jenkinson in Directory of Historic Racing Cars says, 'the 8-cylinder Delage 1,500 cc became a land mark in Grand Prix design'. Looking back from the perspective of three-quarters of a century, Karl Ludvigsen in Classic Racing Engines writes, 'Size for size this was the finest racing car yet seen'; 'the 15-S-8 Delage was Europe's finest 1.5 litre racing car'; and 'They were the crowning glories in the career of Louis Delage, who would never again attempt to build racing cars of such sublime extravagance.'
'Sublimely extravagant' or not, the Delage 15-S-8, when introduced in 1926, immediately suffered from an unforeseen flaw: the chassis was designed with the engine offset slightly to the left and the single driver's seat dropped down alongside the driveline to the right. Twin superchargers were located in the middle of the engine on the left with the large single exhaust pipe running down the right side of the body. The red-hot pipe roasted the drivers and the body's aerodynamics sucked the exhaust gases back into the cockpit, bringing even the most determined and heroic drivers back into the pits for relief in a matter of minutes. The Delage's performance, however, was so superior that even with repeated pit stops to douse the drivers with water, give them a chance to catch a few breaths of fresh air, or eventually to seek relief drivers to take over, the Delage 15-S-8 won the British Grand Prix at Brooklands and finished second in the European Grand Prix at San Sebastian in Spain.
The definitive Delage 15-S-8 was re-designed by Lory for 1927. It proved to be invincible, sweeping the season's four Grands Prix and capturing the European Championship, a feat that Louis Delage claimed cost his company the equivalent of $210,000, a massive sum for the time.
The 1927 Delage 15-S-8 retained the exquisite detail design, castings, machining, and fabrication of the 1926 engine, including a billet crankshaft running in a complement of nine roller or ball bearings, roller rod bearings, and a gear drive to the dual overhead camshafts that involved, along with various accessory drives, something like 20 meticulously cut close tolerance gears, each with its own roller bearing. Pomeroy counted 62 roller or ball bearings in the engine that Reg Parnell supplied to him for analysis. The two valves per cylinder were located at a very wide 100 degree included angle and were actuated by small finger followers to absorb the camshafts' side thrust. The head was actually inclined slightly (less than 3 degrees) towards the intake side, making the camshaft drive gear train asymmetrical and even more sophisticated.
The most visible change for 1927 relocated the exhaust to the left side of the engine. This also entailed moving the supercharger. The block and auxiliary drive layout placed the ignition magneto on the right side, so instead of two smaller blowers on the engine's left side Lory placed a larger blower at the front drawing the air/fuel (a mixture of 40 per cent benzene, 40 per cent petrol, and 20 per cent alcohol) through a horizontal Cozette carburettor and then running down the right side of the engine through an intake manifold of gradually decreasing cross-section to individual intake ports. Boost pressure was only 7_ psi, a modest figure even at the time.
Dry sump lubrication was provided with feeds at very low pressure, 1–2 psi, throughout the engine. Vast quantities of lubricating oil were supplied by three pumps, one scavenge pump in the sump and individual pressure pumps for the crankshaft and another just for the auxiliaries and valve gear. Planchon's employment with Delage had ended after the weaknesses of the somewhat complicated design of the 2-litre V-12 2LCV were revealed. Lory ensured his employment by making reliability a primary objective of the 15-S-8 design. His skill was borne out in competition where in seven races during 1926–7 involving 20 starts they won five, swept the top three places on two occasions, and retired due to engine maladies only three times.
The Delage 15-S-8 chassis broke no new ground (although the execution of the mechanically-actuated drum brakes was brilliantly refined). The gearbox had five speeds with overdrive in fifth. The engine's flexibility and capability of revving to 8,000 rpm gave drivers the choice of up-shifting for reliability or winding out the roller bearing engine to its maximum to suit circuit configurations.
The one shortcoming of the 15-S-8 was the rigidity of its frame. The long engine, supercharger, and transmission assembly precluded cross bracing the front of the channel section frame from the front axle back to the driver. Even in an era when frame flex was accepted as part of the suspension, the twist in the eight-cylinder Delage GP's frame was notable, causing it to wander on straights and be less than precise in corners. On the other hand, it was such an exhilarating racing car that none of its competitive drivers seems to have seen fit to complain about vague handling.
Delage 15-S-8 Chassis No. 4
The history of the chassis offered here illustrates the brilliance of Lory's design, which after winning the 1927 GP Championship remained competitive in voiturette racing through the thirties and still held its own on track with the eventually all-conquering Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta after the war. As one of only four team cars it was certainly actively campaigned but no individual chassis records or photographic evidence exists to identify specific chassis to drivers and races.
Delage withdrew from Grand Prix competition after the 1927 season and chassis number 4 was sold to Louis Chiron who took it to Indianapolis for the 1929 500 mile race. There, in a Grand Prix car that was designed for road racing and was already in its third season, he finished seventh on the highly specialized Indy oval. His was the only car to finish (and one of only two to qualify for) 'the show' in 1929 that was not of either Miller or Duesenberg origin. Not long after the race, Chiron brought the car back to France, selling it to Robert Senéchal.
In 1930 and 1931 Robert Senéchal raced it in the French Grand Prix finishing sixth (at Pau in 1930) and fifth (at Montlhéry in 1931) as well as racing in the 1931 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. It was acquired by Earl Howe in 1932 to replace the 15-S-8 Delage he bent around a tree at Monza. Howe raced it at Avus and Dieppe in 1933 and again at Avus in 1934 (now fitted with an ENV pre-selector gearbox and 16 inch brakes). At Donington in 1934 Howe finished fourth in the Nuffield Trophy and third at the Circuit des Planques at Albi. A third place in the Grand Prix de Berne in Switzerland in 1935 marked the end of Howe's ownership.
The next owner, in 1935, was a young Richard Seaman. By now the voiturette formula was 1,500cc and Seaman engaged Giulio Ramponi to make the Delage a voiturette champion. Ramponi's work included converting the brakes to hydraulic operation, extensive lightening, relocating the front springs outboard, increasing the supercharger boost, and revising the valve timing. The preparation and Seaman's driving were successful, with Seaman making a mockery out of the 1936 season voiturette competition throughout the UK and Europe. At one point Seaman and his 1927 Delage won the voiturette races at Pescara, Italy, Berne, Switzerland, and Donington Park, England, on successive weekends, a 16-day period where Seaman claimed he did no work at all on the car to win highly competitive races in three separate countries. The 1936 season in this car brought Dick Seaman to the attention of Alfred Neubauer at Mercedes-Benz and earned Seaman his ride in the Mercedes Silver Arrows in 1937, with its eventual brilliant success and terrible tragedy.
Prince Chula Chakrabongse acquired Seaman's highly successful Delage for his cousin Prince Bira to drive, and with Rubery Owen they embarked upon a programme to update the car with a new independent front suspension chassis frame designed by Albert Lory. Chula's preparation included building a duplicate independent front suspension chassis frame.
Denis Jenkinson recorded the subsequent history in his 1987 book Directory of Historic Racing Cars, an indispensable but frequently overlooked reference work: 'When the war came everything Delage was sold to Reg Parnell, and this included the new car [with I.F.S], the spare I.F.S. chassis frame, the two 1927 chassis frames, one original [the ex-Malcolm Campbell, W. B. Scott, Captain Davis car] and the other with the Seaman modifications, and all the engines, gearboxes, etc. After the war Parnell assembled three cars from the vast array of parts, and individual cars lost their identity. The result was three Delage cars, two with the 1937 I.F.S. [Chula] chassis frames, and one with the Seaman-modified chassis frame.
Jenkinson continued, 'These three Delage "entities" were used extensively in immediate post-war racing … The "Seaman" car has been preserved, owned for many years by Rob Walker, but now sold to a French enthusiast. While it is legitimately accepted as being the Seaman-Delage, it is not strictly true, for some of the parts came from the other Delage cars, or the spares pool, and some of the parts that really were on the Seaman car got put on to the others during Parnell's time.
However, the modified chassis frame and axles undoubtedly are traceable back to 1936 [making it] satisfactorily "Authentic"', which in Jenkinson's carefully refined and defined hierarchy of old race cars is about as good as it gets. Only the ex-Briggs Cunningham Delage now in the Collier Collection ranks as better, earning Jenks's rare accolade of 'Genuine'.
From Reg Parnell, the ex-Delage team, Louis Chiron, Robert Senéchal, Earl Howe, Richard Seaman, Prince Chula Delage 15-S-8 was sold, equipped with a pre-selector gearbox and engine crankcase numbered '3' from the Delage written off by Earl Howe at Monza in 1932, to David Hampshire, who passed it along to the great enthusiast, driver, Grand Prix team owner, and timber merchant R. R. C. Walker some time in the period 1948–50. It remained in Walker's collection until 1968 when a garage fire damaged the body. A period photograph shows the chassis and engine essentially undamaged and complete. Rob Walker then undertook a complete restoration with John Chisman, including creating a new body to the 1936 Seaman configuration.
The car was acquired by the vendor, Abba Kogan, at auction some years ago and recent work has included a careful re-restoration to return it to its condition when raced in 1936 by Dick Seaman in voiturette competition. Work has included re-creating the five-speed overdrive gearbox from the original drawings and patterns.
It is now ready for any event or historic race for which its age and single-seat configuration makes it eligible. Its history, the aura of the legendary Delage 1926–7 Grand Prix cars, a succession of championship-calibre drivers and its decades-long record of competitive racing in Grand Prix and voiturette competition make it one of the few cars that is welcome literally any- and everywhere. Its long, cherished, and uninterrupted history with the finest, most perceptive collectors has imbued it with unparalleled provenance.
In addition to a restoration movie, the file with this Delage 15-S-8 includes pre- and post-Walker fire photos, a 1936 letter from Automobiles Delage to Richard Seaman with tuning and timing details, a letter from Louis Chiron to Alan Burnard (owner of one of the other ex-Parnell Delage 15-S-8s), various historical photographs, and Alan Burnard's history of this chassis (including its extraordinary racing record) and the other Delage 15-S-8 chassis.
All four of the original 1927 Delage 15-S-8 Grand Prix cars survive today, each with individually unblemished history and provenance and each carefully ensconced in the stratosphere of collections. Only one of them is going to come on the market any time soon, much less be publicly available. It is this car, ex-Delage, Chiron/Indianapolis, Senéchal, Howe, Seaman, Chula/Bira, Parnell and Rob Walker, which is arguably the most important and significant of the 1927 Delage 15-S-8 Grand Prix cars.