Delahaye 135MS Figoni et Falaschi: The Most Beautiful Historic Car In India?
Images: Makarand Baokar
Founded by Emile Delahaye in 1894, Delahaye found itself stronger in the truck market in the 1920s than cars. So Delahaye’s boss, Charles Weiffenbach, commissioned a 29-year-old engineer Jean Francois to design a series of sporty cars. Launched at the 1935 Salon de Paris, the six-cylinder Delahaye 135 began making headlines soon by placing second in the ’36 Monte Carlo Rally. A win at the ’36 Marseille Grand Prix, followed by a second, third, fourth and a fifth at the French Grand Prix of the same year, and an overall win at the ’37 Monte Carlo Rally sealed the reputation of the Delahaye 135 as a true sporting legend. One of the 135’s biggest assets were the low-slung chassis that made it a popular choice for the French coachbuilders to work their art on, allowing for some of the most extraordinary automotive forms ever, and making many of the Delahaye 135’s the most beautiful cars ever made.
Arguably, the most beautiful was a pale pink and orange Delahaye unveiled at the Figoni et Falaschi stand at the ’36 Salon de Paris. Based on the shorter 2.7 metres long Competition chassis, the flowing Delahaye 135 became the star of the show. Four days after the show, a 25-year-old Prince Aly Khan purchased it. Repainted a somber black and registered 1111 RK6 the car stayed on in Paris where Aly Khan had a residence. Subsequently the body of this car disappeared, though the chassis is very much extant, with American collector Peter Mullin (who also owns the Mullin Automotive Museum). Over the next year-and-a-half – till mid-1938 that is – Figoni et Falaschi had orders for seven more cars based on the same design, though no two cars were identical.
The ninth car in the series was ordered by Paul Jourde, a Frenchman with a passion for India. (Jourde was also a family friend of Joseph Figoni’s, with the latter taking refuge in Jourde’s estates Château de Branféré, in Bretagne, during the German occupation of France). Jourde ordered the first of the 135 Competition versions of the standard wheelbase (2.95 metres) chassis: painted the same red as the V12-engined Delahaye 165 that had starred at the 1938 edition of the Salon de Paris, the car (chassis # 49150) was shipped off to India. (This car, beautifully restored, is also with Peter Mullin, after being smuggled out of India in the 1980s).
The year after, in 1939, Paul Jourde bought another similar car, the tenth in the series, but it was extra special in being a 135 MS. Standing for Modifie Speciale, the 135 MS was the definitive version of Delahaye’s signature chassis. It had the potential for 160 km/h performance which made it one of the fastest cars in the world then. The Delahaye 135 MS, chassis # 60217, was also painted the very same red of the other car that Jourde had bought the year earlier, and this car too was shipped off to India. And this is the car that you see on this page.
It is not very clear who Jourde sold the car to, though it could have been the Raja of Akalkot, Vijayasinhrao Fatehsinhrao III. “It was bought new, as far as I have been told, by the Raja Saheb of Akalkot,” explains Wasif Ahmed, an enthusiast from Hyderabad, who knows the family that was very much implicated in the somewhat convoluted story of this car’s early history, “who, in turn, sold the Delahaye to the late Nawab Zaheer Yar Jung, Ameer-e-Paigah, from Hyderabad. From him, it was bought by the late Nawab Ahmed Yar Jung (my mother’s brother) also from the Paigah family, in Hyderabad.”
Apparently, it was exchanged with a 1939 Ford Woody and Rs 10,000 in cash, around 1946. As Nawab Ahmed Yar Jung and Nawab Zaheer Yar Jung were cousins anyway, the transaction was on the phone, and Zaheer Yar Jung had his driver take the car over immediately. The Delahaye then was a light turquoise blue, with a black top, and the steering wheel and the unusual gear knob on the dash were ivory coloured. The car was a show stopper right from the start, and Nawab Ahmed Yar Jung used to say, “When I went to see a movie at Plaza Cinema, the public would come out and just stare at the car”.
The car was sent for the repair of its hood’s lining to Bombay in 1948 or so. That was about the time of the ‘police action’ in Hyderabad, and the situation was very uncertain. Prince Basalath Jah, the Nizam of Hyderabad’s brother, was returning to Hyderabad with his entourage, and Nawab Ahmed Yar Jung requested him to have his Delahaye accompany him. He told the Nawab that he could only guarantee a safe passage till Sholapur, and after that anything could happen. Nawab Ahmed Yar Jung decided to let the car remain in Bombay. It was then that Maharaja Hanwant Singh of Jodhpur picked it up for a then princely sum of Rs 23,000.
Maharaja Hanwant Singh bought the car from Bachhoo Motors, where it had been left, and gifted it to his younger brother Maharaj Himmat Singh soon before he died (on January 26, 1952). In 1965, Himmat Singh exchanged cars with his younger brother Dalip Singh, with the latter getting the Delahaye in exchange for a Willys Jeep! And that’s how Maharaj Dalip Singh came to own a Delahaye 135MS Figoni et Falaschi, one of 11 ever made and one of the five that are surviving today.
More than half a century later, this magnificent Delahaye remains with Dalip Singh. By 2005 the car’s paint was fading and had started to crack too, so the Delahaye received a re-spray in the same bright red. Winning the ‘Best of Show’ award at the very first edition of the Cartier concours d’elegance, from 2008, confirmed that this Delahaye is, arguably, the most beautiful historic car in India.
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