Gregor Fisken is a British specialist that handles some of the most impressive sporting and historic automobiles that come on the market at his central London showrooms and headquarters. We caught a glimpse of the Bequet Delage on Fisken’s stand at the recent Retromobile Salon in Paris and wanted to learn more about it.
Today thanks to Fiskens we have all the details, photos by Matt Howell, and a video of the Delage to share with you. Just as the World War I Hispano-Suiza V-8 aircraft engine was used in racing cars here in America, one was installed in the Delage by Maurice Béquet with the help of the Hispano factory. Learn the story below.
The legendary French manufacturer Delage had a fabulous series of racing cars between 1923-28. The first of that exotic dynasty was the unique 2LCV that debuted at the French Grand Prix.
Designed by Louis Delage’s talented chief engineer Charles Planchon with his protégé and successor Albert Lory, this beautifully built 2-litre double overhead camshaft jewel was the talk of the Tours GP paddock when it arrived late to battle the foremost designs from Italy and Great Britain.
At the wheel was René Thomas, France’s fastest ace whose impressive racing success included victory at the 1914 Indianapolis 500 and a Land Speed Record. While the maverick new designs from Bugatti and Voisin proved uncompetitive, the sleek 112mph Delage was a favorite with the huge crowd. From the start at 8am the blue beauty rasped into the lead from the front row, and was chased by the leading Fiat and Sunbeam until overheating forced its retirement on lap seven.
Designed and built in just three months, the unsorted Delage was a bold, beautifully built forerunner of great things from Delage’s Courbevoie workshops near Paris.
After the event the 2LCV was pushed to a corner of the factory while Delage focused on its ultra-fast sprint cars, and a 10.5 -litre V12 to reclaim the Land Speed Record for France. What happened to that first 2-litre engine isn’t known, but the tool room-built chassis was eventually gifted to Maurice Béquet, a famous French aviator with close links to the Hispano-Suiza factory.
Having finished third in the 1922 Targa Florio, Béquet knew a great handling chassis when he saw one, and hatched the idea of turning the advanced, lightweight 11-litre Hispano V8 aero engine from an ex-French airforce World War I fighter, the SPAD, to power the GP Delage. With an inner cradle to hold the spectacular, flame-shooting V8, few modifications were needed to the famous car. The factory even helped Béquet by making a one-off gearbox to cope with the enormous torque and power, and Delage’s only stipulation was that his famous blue badge be removed from the spectacular machine.
It’s possible that Béquet actually built the Formula Libre racer for wealthy perfumer, Roland Coty, and on occasions it was entered as the Le Coty Speciale.
Always spectacularly fast, the Béquet caused a sensation at the 1926 Grand Prix de la Baule, the fashionable beach race that also attracted a works Delage 2LCV for Louis Wagner. Thousands turned out at the Atlantic resort event but frustratingly Coty was delayed at the start. From four laps behind he gunned the aero-engined racer after the pack to finish an impressive third, just behind the latest Delage.
In 1926 the Béquet was invited to the new Montlhéry circuit for a match race with the quickest titans of the day. With GP Delage body refitted, Christian d’Auvergne braved the wheel around the banking and proved very competitive until heavy rain disrupted the event. During the early ’30s the Béquet was the talk of hill climb events where it regularly set top times, including FTD at Gometz-le-Chatel.
Through World War II the old Grand Prix Delage was hidden away from the hostilities, but after the conflict Jean Salis, a historic aircraft specialist who needed an engine for his SPAD fighter restoration, discovered it. The automotive conversion had involved cutting off the propeller boss and, in frustration, Salis abandoned the Béquet at La Ferte Alais airfield.
During the 1970s Swiss Bugatti authority Hans Matti saved the complete chassis with axles, brakes, steering and radiator, and eventually agreed to swap it with his English friend and Delage connoisseur Nigel Arnold-Forster.
Meticulously restored with rebuilt 200 h.p. Hispano V8 in 1980, the spectacularly fast vintage racer became a highlight wherever it competed in Nigel’s hands. Memorable moments for the present owner have included a return to Tours for the anniversary of the 1923 Grand Prix, and often beating much younger machinery at historic race meetings including the Goodwood Revival.