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The Fire-Breathing 1924 Bequet Delage

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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16 responses to “The Fire-Breathing 1924 Bequet Delage

  1. What a gorgeous power mill! That the French combined such fabulous form with overwhelming function made the period Delage and Delahaye pure rolling art, second to no one, and the Bequet is exemplary. Even the control linkages seem delicately fashioned to complement the overall design.

    I just found my new fire breathing desktop wallpaper image. Thanx David!

  2. You mention that Enzo Ferrari’s inspiration for V12 power may have been Delage and its series of racing cars from 1923-28. However from 1926-28 Delage did not use V12s, preferring eight cylinder engines instead, which were far more successful.

  3. Oh, the irony! David, I’ve been working in relocating and classifying our club’s library the past few weeks. While sorting books into categories to be repaired and catalogued, today I found a 1917 copy of “Instructions For the Care and Operation Of Hispano-Suiza Aeronautical Engines” by Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation. This particular manual was owned at one time by a Mr. “Ralph W. Cedill, 252nd Aero Squadron, Ellington Field, Texas.”

    In addition to it’s text, it has 6 foldout diagrams of it’s 360° Timing Sequence, its Zenith Carburetor, Physical Dimensions of the V-8 engine, Cutaway illustration of the oiling system, an 18 panel foldout frontal cross section with all part numbers shown, and a 24 panel foldout longitudinal cross section with all part numbers shown. The book is crispy, but in amazing shape. Having been in Florida, it’s hosted some roaches on page edges, but surprisingly few. The Title page reads “Hispano-Suiza Simplex Aeronautical Engines, BIRKIGT Patents Instruction Book, December, 1917, Series No. 3A, and the first page describes it as a “Model A, 150 H.P.” It also contains a complete listing of all parts by number corresponding with the foldouts and a pretty comprehensive Theory of Operation and Maintenance Schedule.

    The photographs and illustrations sure look like the engine in the Bequet-Delage.

    • More irony! I once had a copy of the book you refer to, although I was thinking the one I had was for 1919. It was a neat little book with fold-outs, which I sold for $40 to someone in So. Cal. That was a very good price for the time, as I recall (mid-70s). It was for radial engines.
      Perry

    • I am pretty certain that I referred to the same manual to tear down, inspect, reassemble with new gaskets a 150hp Hispano; this was ca. 1995.
      One of the tasks was to verify hydraulic integrity of the cylinder blocks, another was to make new gaskets for the carburettor. The engine had been pickled, probably in the 1920s. They are just as gorgeous inside as they are outside.

  4. Just to complete a little bit the story of this car…
    In fact it was initially built for the 1922 ACF Grand Prix. It was then powered by a 2-litre four-cylinder, and it featured a kind of Frontenac-style windshield on its radiator. Unfortunately the engine blew-up during testing before the Grand Prix. So no Delage appeared at the start of the 1922 Grand Prix. When the latter was won by Fiat, Charles Planchon designed a brand new engine to be installed in the existing chassis: a V12 inspired by the technical layout of the Fiat (roller bearings for the crankshaft and the connecting rods, only two valves per cylinder, very wide valve angle at 100°, three closure springs per valve etc.). Only to say that when Becquet installed his Hispano V8 (which he had previously installed in a 1914 Grand Prix Alda châssis) in the Delage châssis, it was the third engine in the same châssis!
    At last, Charles Planchon and Louis Delâge argued several times after the Grand Prix, and at the end in August 1923 Planchon was fired. He would not design any racing car again. His assistant Albert Lory took over the racing car design office but all his designs, including the 1926-27 straight eight, were very much based on Planchon’s technology, itself influenced by Fiat!

  5. WOW ! What a magnificent motor car. Once again you have made my old heart tingle. All I ask is that you keep up your efforts to find the ‘unfindable’ and delight all your readers wherever they may be. All I can say is well done.

  6. David
    Just came across this: as a postscript, Bequet had originally installed the Hispano V8 in a 1914 Grand Prix Alda (“Ah! La Delicieuse Automobile”) but it obviously wasn’t satisfactory, hence the Delage installation…
    Best
    David

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