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The million franc racer with Cork connection will star at Salon Privé

Wednesday, 3rd July, 2019 3:59pm

A revolutionary French racing car which once won the Cork Grand Prix, and which took the fight to Nazi-funded German racing teams in the thirties, will go on display at the exclusive Salon Privé classic car event in July.

The Delahaye 145 was the result of the French government putting up a 1 million franc prize to the company that could build a racing car to compete with the all-conquering Silver Arrows Grand Prix racers of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. The two German teams, replete with development cash from the Nazi government, dominated the big races of the thirties, something that French officials could no longer tolerate.

The Delahaye 145 was developed for the 1937 Grand Prix season, when engine sizes were allowed to stretch to 4.5 litres. The French government’s prize committee stipulated that the winning car would have to at least as quick as the race-winning Alfa Romeos of 1934 to bag the prize fund.

Backed by millionaire heiress Lucy Schell, Delahaye actually set about using a wind-tunnel to help design its car, hence the odd-looking, blunt-nosed shape with its over-wrought wheelarches.

The unusual design would horrify its first driver, a man who would add another element to the potent political mix.

He was René Deryfus, Already a Grand Prix winner, Dreyfus was Jewish, and had been blacklisted by the German teams because of the Nazi Party’s anti-Semitic policies. Even so, he would describe the Delahaye as “the most awful-looking car I ever saw”.

It may have been ugly, but it was fast — fast enough to set a record 146km/h average speed over 200km of the Montlhéry race track just outside Paris, and take the million franc prize.

Dreyfus would take the ungainly Delahaye to victory over the Germans, vanquishing the famed Rufolf Caracciola and his Mercedes at the Pau Grand Prix in France in 1938.

Dreyfus would then bring the car to Ireland, for the Cork Grand Prix, the only race ever held in Ireland to those 4.5 litre Grand Prix regulations.

Mercedes and Auto Union baulked at attending the Cork event, saying that it came too soon after Pau to allow them to be properly organised. Dreyfus duly took the victory, ahead of Prince Bira in a Maserati 8CM and Louis Gerard third in a Delage.

Incidentally, you can still drive on almost all of the original Cork Grand Prix circuit, made up of public roads just to the west of the city. Just follow a counter-clockwise loop starting at Victoria Cross, along the Carrigrohane Road, out to Poulavone, and back via Dennehy’s Cross.

The Delahaye was hidden during the war, in part to hide the clever design of its magnesium engine parts, and the original body was lost. The engine and chassis were recovered, though, by American collector Peter Mullin, who restored the car in 1987.

It now lives in the Mullin Automotive Museum in California.

It will be on display at Salon Privé, an exclusive classic car event which takes place at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, on 5 September this year.

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