Automotive Haute Couture: The Mysore Maharaja Delahaye That Elton John Owned—Part 2
Images: The late Claude Figoni, Joseph Mingolla III & Sunil Bajaj
As we know from yesterday’s post, the 1949 Paris Motor Show star, the special Figoni et Falaschi-bodied Delahaye 175 was picked up by none other than the Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. The maharaja, a serious car guy, was also into music, philosophy, and philanthropy. He was also a regular visitor to the UK and Europe and whenever he was there, he would order some of his cars.
Looking at the kind of cars he acquired, one would think that he was somewhat conservative, buying low-key Bentleys and discrete Daimlers. But then he was adventurous enough to buy an Invicta Black Prince too (we will surely feature that car one day), which was then England’s most modern automobile. Perhaps it was the same sense of adventure that got him to buy the star of the 1949 Paris Salon, the Delahaye 175 Figoni et Falaschi.
On all accounts the car was used sparingly. It is possible that the complicated mechanicals, whether it be the rather fragile Dubonnet suspension or the Cotal pre-selector, may have restricted the car’s use by the maharaja. Either way, when the car was acquired by American enthusiast Joseph Mingolla in the early 1970s (either ‘72 or ‘73), it had just a few thousand kilometres on it, as confirmed by his son Joseph J. Mingolla II to yours truly.
Joseph J. Mingolla II’s father bought the car from the Pune-based collector duo of C. Ravikumar and Ramesh Thakker. As to when the latter acquired the car, likely, from the Mysore royal family directly is not known. Incidentally Joseph Mingolla paid just $4,500 or so for the Delahaye then…
Mingolla Senior was a very successful businessman who had quite a passion for collecting cars. In the 1970s, when business was good, Mingolla had built up a collection of over 50 cars, that ranged from veterans such as an early 1900s de Dion-Bouton to an AC Ace and a unique one-off Jaguar, the Pirana, designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, from 1967.
When the Mingollas bought the Delahaye it had been repainted to metallic silver and was a little rough round the edges. As the paint had faded and the chrome pitted, according to Mingolla Junior, the car was sent off to the UK to FNL Panelcraft, in Battersea, London for restoration. ‘Nobby’ Frye of FNL Panelcraft had built up a fine reputation making Aston Martin-based shooting brakes, and later, modifying Range Rovers for Arab sheikhs.
According to Mingolla II, Frye “refurbished the car, but never did any engine overhauls on it as it was unnecessary as there were so few miles on the car, and it ran like a top.”
Mingolla then went on to relate that “During the ‘70s, I would sometimes take girlfriends in the car to drive into Boston and go on dates. You can imagine how impressed my dates were at being driven around in that car! I ‘got lucky’ on numerous occasions because of that, and sometimes I got lucky in the car itself.”
In 1979, the car was sent to Amsterdam for the first Kruse automobile auction in Europe. The car did not sell as the Dutch internal revenue agents showed up in the gallery with cameras, photographing all the bidders…
As the car was already in Europe, Mingolla Junior decided to take it for a little tour to Paris and then down all the way to Biarritz, in the Southwest of France. “Once again, women were on my mind,” recounted Mingolla Junior, “and the desired effect was achieved. Had I landed by the Arc de Triomphe in an alien spaceship, it would not have attracted more attention from the French.”
Mingolla II then drove the car to the UK and left it for display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, as per the requests of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. It was there that Elton John’s agent saw the car and negotiated a sale of the Delahaye 175 to the rock star for $50,000 (Rs 41 Lakhs in today’s money), which was a very good price for the car then, in 1980.
Elton John had the car for just three years, selling it off in 1983.
The car came up for auction through Sotheby’s in 1985, when it did not sell. A short piece on the car in the January 1986 issue of British classic car magazine Classic & Sports Car had a photograph of the car still with its coupe bodywork.
It was soon after then that the sorry act of chopping the top off was carried out by British outfit Straight Eight. It’s quite possible that the change of colour to a rather bright orangish-red probably happened at the same time.
By the time the Delahaye 175 had come up for sale at the 1989 edition of the American Barrett Jackson auctions, the car had lost its top, transforming the Delahaye into something that was excessively flashy and much less classy.
In 2001, the car became a part of the Petersen Automotive Museum, when it was acquired from Tom Taffet, and since then it was, for the next two decades, one of the stars at the museum. Petersen’s curator Leslie Kendall told me during my first visit that the car was one of the more important ones in their collection.
Other than its three very illustrious owners, the car is one out of just 51 Delahaye 175s ever made, and of them only five were bodied by Figoni et Falschi, according to marque historian Jean-Paul Tissot.
Kendall also admitted that if they could, they would have loved to have taken the car back to its original coupe bodywork, “if we can find the original ‘top’.”
Mingolla Junior is decidedly more explicit: “I do not know who that Philistine was who chopped the top off and turned it into a cabriolet but whoever it was, he should take a nonstop trip to automotive hell for what he did to those exquisite goutte d’eau lines!”
Either way, the option to return the car back to its original design is now with a new owner, as Petersen Automotive Museum decided to offer that car up for auction via Bring a Trailer (BaT) in August 2020, whence this much-storied Delahaye fetched the highest ever hammer price of $350,00 (Rs 2.9 Crores) for a BaT auction.
So, what are the chances that the car will next show up at a top-level concours d’état one of these days? Hopefully, with the top back in place…
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