Historic French Delahaye Race Car To Appear In May At IMS

Historic French Delahaye Race Car To Appear In May At IMS

A history-making 1937 Delahaye Type 145 V-12 Grand Prix car owned by Peter Mullin of Oxnard, Calif., will appear at the third annual Celebration of Automobiles, scheduled for Saturday, May 11 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Vintage car owners and automotive enthusiasts from around North America have flocked to IMS the last two years for the event, which pays tribute to the rich heritage of automotive development at the track for more than 100 years.

Mullin’s Delahaye Type 145 was one of four race cars built by the Ecurie Bleue Racing Team seeking to win a 1-million Franc prize offered in 1937 by the French government to encourage the nation’s automobile manufacturers to defeat the German teams that dominated European racing.

Featuring a 4.5-liter V-12 engine with four-wheel hydraulically-operated ventilated drum brakes, the Delahaye chassis No. 48771 was driven by Rene Dreyfus, who set a record with an average speed of 91.2 mph over 16 laps Aug. 27, 1937 at the Autodrome de Montlhery near Paris. Dreyfus, who had a successful career in Europe, co-drove a Maserati with Rene LeBegue and finished 10th in the 1940 Indianapolis 500 won by three-time ‘500’ winner Wilbur Shaw.

The Delahaye went on to defeat the Mercedes Silver Arrows by winning the 1938 Grand Prix de Pau, and it also won that year’s Grand Prix de Cork before Europe was engulfed by World War II and automobile racing ceased.

The car changed owners numerous times before being purchased 40 years ago by Mullin, a well-known 1930s French classic car enthusiast and preservationist and owner of the highly regarded Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, Calif., home to many of the finest historic French automobiles from the 1930s.

“I’ve always been a car lover from the time I was a kid,” Mullin said. “About 35 years ago, a friend called me wanting to use the backdrop of our home for a car calendar. I agreed that that was fine, and when I came home I saw a car in the driveway that was the most beautiful car I’d ever seen in my life. I had no idea what it was or anything about it, but it turns out it was a Delahaye, and I was completely stunned at how sculpturally beautiful it was. So I started quizzing my friend about Delahayes and that kind of got me started on French automobiles, particularly pre-war cars from the mid- to late-30s where the French excelled.

“It was probably the apex in history of the automobile combination of design, engineering and performance, and an interest led to a commitment and commitment led to a passion, and passion led to a museum, so it’s a spiraling effect of things that you love and cherish.”

Of all the magnificent French cars that Mullin owns, one of his favorites is the 1937 Delahaye V-12 cylinder race car.

“It is unquestionably the most famous racing Delahaye,” Mullin said. “Driven by Rene Dreyfus, who I think was if not the best, was certainly one of the two or three best race drivers in French history. The car defeated Germany’s Mercedes Silver Arrows, which completely freaked out Hitler, who didn’t think anybody should be able to beat his vaunted Silver Arrows. When war broke out, the German troops were told to go find the car and destroy it. So it was hidden in the side of a hill in northern France during most of the war and then brought back out after the war was over, so it has a tremendous history of intrigue, design and accomplishment.”

Mullin realized when he purchased the car that the restoration to return it to its former glory, featuring the classic French blue racing colors with the red-and-white stripes, would be a gargantuan undertaking.

“We took the car to Crosthwaite & Gardiner, which is a restoration shop in southern England,” Mullin said. “They were experts on these cars and on the very complicated V-12 engine, which there’s only probably five or maybe six of them in the world. So it’s not exactly like taking your Chevy in to be rebuilt.

“The chassis, the engine and the drivetrain was all there. The body was mostly destroyed, only the back tail of the body was there, but the fact that it had been hidden away during the war and not destroyed, found and brought back out again and able to be acquired and restored back to its original glory, was a pretty heady experience for me, and something I had a tough time turning down.”

Mullin, who has attended the Indianapolis 500, will enter a car in the Celebration of Automobiles for the first time.

“I’ve heard good things about it, and a friend of mine that has been involved there has been very encouraging,” Mullin said. “We’re very much looking forward to it.”

A Vintage and Classic Car Show on Saturday, May 11, featuring 200 of the most beautiful and rare cars from 1910-70, again will be the focal point of the 2013 Celebration of Automobiles. New additions to the show are the inclusion of categories for open-wheel race cars from 1910-70, Indy 500 pace cars and unrestored cars.

1969 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1978 Formula One World Champion Mario Andretti will serve as the honorary head judge.

One other exciting addition to the Celebration of Automobiles is a round-trip Scenic Driving Tour for COA participants to Terre Haute, Ind., on Friday, May 10.

Participants will enjoy Celebration of Automobiles activities from Thursday, May 9 through Saturday, May 11 at IMS, while fans can look at the beautiful cars and participate in other activities Saturday, May 11 – the first day of practice for the 97th Indianapolis 500.