Voluptuous is the word that pops into mind when describing the bodywork of this deliciously decadent 1949 Delahaye and an early owner – British starlet Diana Dors – who was just 17 when she is said to have received it as a gift from a Monte Carlo-based admirer.
The 1949 Delahaye Type 175 S Roadster with its pronounced "French curves" was a product of the declining years of the extravagant "coach-built" car belle epoch and built for concours d'elegance show-and-be-seen events for the very wealthy. But it could still give just about anything on the road at the time a run for its money.
Blonde and busty Brit Diana Dors was just launching a career that would see her develop into a motion picture sex goddess who could match moves with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
Dors – the name was changed from Diana Fluck after, she said, there were concerns about bulb failures if it was put up in lights – described herself as "the only sex symbol Britain has produced since Lady Godiva."
Later a favourite target for the tabloids and notorious for her "adult parties," she kept her career alive into the 1980s before succumbing to cancer at the age of 52.
Both the Type 175 and the actress would likely have appealed to company founder French-born (in 1843) Emile Delahaye who switched from building brick kilns to stationary engines and in the mid-1890s to cars, competing at the wheel of one himself in the Paris-Marseilles-Paris open road race of 1896. Illness forced retirement to the French Riviera where he died in 1905.
The Delahaye company went on to make a name for itself primarily as a truck builder before emerging from this commercial chrysalis in the 1930s with the introduction of the Type 135, which was soon winning rallies and races including the Monte Carlo and Le Mans events. And wowing the sidewalk strollers on the Boulevard des Anglais in Nice clad in a variety of exotic body styles by the leading French automotive fashion houses of the day.
After the war, Delahaye reintroduced the Type 135 and in 1948 the Type 175, but production that year of just 573 units didn't bode well for the car side's survival. Trucks and military vehicles kept the Delahaye name alive until a 1954 takeover by Hotchkiss, which stopped car production.
But before things sputtered to a halt, the Type 175 had its butterfly-brief flutter in the sunshine as concours d'elegance events emerged from wartime gloom to provide an era-ending final fling of Art Deco meets baroque automotive design magic.
The Type 175 was built to a high mechanical specification that included a 4.5-litre, overhead-valve, inline-six rated at up to 180 hp, Dubonnet independent front and DeDion rear suspension and alloy finned brakes.
The gearbox is interesting, an electro-mechanical unit from Cotal that allows the driver to change gears with a small lever, essentially an electrical switch, that activates electromagnets to select the appropriate gears.
The chassis of the car pictured here (and sold at RM Auctions' Monterey event last year for $3.3-million) was delivered to famed coachbuilder Jacques Saouchik, a name associated with a number of stunning 1930s designs. The realization of Saouchik's styling visions, however, involved huge amounts of time and, of course, the labour of highly skilled craftsmen in arts as diverse as metal forming by hand and cabinetmaking. And that cost an increasingly prohibitive amount of cash, which was in too-short supply at the time.
Production of the Type 175 ended in 1951 after only 150 had been built, just 51 of them 175 S models.
There doesn't appear to be any record of Dors actually driving the car – she wasn't old enough to get her licence at the time – but it's on record as winning at a couple of early 1950s concours.
It arrived in North America in the 1970s, and after facing maintenance issues its owner had the front suspension and engine replaced by those from a front-drive Oldsmobile Toronado of all things.
It spent three decades in this form before the owner, apparently by then aware of its potential value, had it fully restored, with the exception of the original engine, which had disappeared (it was subsequently rediscovered and sold with the car).
When original owner Dors passed away, she left behind a ₤2-million sterling mystery. That was the amount she claimed to have squirrelled away in a number of bank accounts, access to which was contained in a code presented to her son prior to her death and to which her husband held the key. Shortly after her death, however, her husband committed suicide taking that secret, if it existed, to the grave.
The code was later partially cracked and did refer to bank records, but no money was ever discovered. Her son no doubt wishes she'd left him the Delahaye instead.
Back in 1949
Newfoundland joins Canada as the nation’s 10th province, with Joey Smallwood as its first premier.
Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific arrives on Broadway and is a smash hit, becoming their longest-running musical.
George Orwell publishes his somewhat less than upbeat book 1984.
The first Type 1 Volkswagen Beetle seen in North America is brought in by a Dutch businessman who tries to interest dealers. Nobody bites and he sells it to buy his ticket home.
In Britain, the DeHavilland Comet, which would become the first commercial jet airliner, takes flight for the first time.