By Dennis Gray and Peter Giddings | Photos by Dennis Gray
This 1926 Delage Grand Prix 15-S-8, better known as Dick Seaman’s “Black Delage”, is now garaged in California, having been recently rebuilt to period specifications.
As a ten-year-old Grand Prix car the Delage, chassis #4, was driven to victory by Richard “Dick” Seaman in the 1936 Isle of Man race against a number of newer and more advanced racing cars, including ten of the new 1.5-litre ERAs. Seaman’s other successes with the Delage include three straight weekend in mid-1937 when he drove the car to a win at the Junior Coppa Acerbo, followed by a win at the Prix de Berne, and finally a win at the 200-mile Donington Park J.C.C. race. The car was reportedly untouched over the course of all three race weekends, a remarkable testament to the stamina of the Black Delage.
Back to the beginning. In 1926 Louis Delage gave his young engineer designer, Albert Lory, free rein to develop a chassis and engine to meet the new 1500cc GP European championship. While Lory utilized some features from the previous 1925 V12 Delage, this 8-cylinder engine was in all ways a new design. Dual overhead camshafts with two valves per cylinder working together with (in 1926) twin Rootes-type superchargers, producing 160 bhp at 7,500 rpm. The cylinder head was integral with the cast iron block, while the crankcase was aluminum. The billet steel crankshaft was supported by nine ball bearings, together with eight roller bearing rods. A single Bosch magneto supplied juice to eight spark plugs.
Lory installed the 1.5-litre engine in an extremely flexible 98.5-inch wheelbase chassis with 53 inch track; the Delage standing at a mere 35.5 inches to the top of the cowl, its highest point.
Lory had made one major mistake in his design. While the car was fast, the right side exhaust proved capable of roasting the driver. In preseason testing in and around Courbevoie-sur-Seine drivers were already complaining of blisters on legs, feet and hands.
In its first race, the 1926 San Sebastian GP, only one Delage finished (third place) using up 7 drivers in all. The car was then disqualified for using an excess of relief drivers!
At succeeding 1926 races, French fans would come out of the stands to volunteer to drive the cars, when all the team drivers were heat exhausted or roasted and unable to continue. There are stories of the drivers submerging their hot feet/shoes into buckets of cold champagne, which then hissed, bubbled and steamed until everything had cooled down. What a way to get your first Grand Prix drive!
The following month, during the Donington Park British Grand Prix, one car had its instrument panel burst into flames. Another Delage driven by Robert Senechal and Louis Wagner finished first. At the finish, both drivers are reported to have soaked their feet in buckets of iced champagne. Unfortunately, the British Grand Prix was the only highlight of the season for Louis Delage, Albert Lory and their cars.
For 1927 Lory changed the cylinder head to left hand exhaust, and away from the cut-down driver’s side. The second mechanic’s seat was also discarded. The drive now ran down the left side of the chassis positioning the driver even lower. With the new cylinder head design, the twin superchargers could no longer be accommodated, due to the existing steering box. Thus, Lory designed a single Rootes-type supercharger driven off the front of the timing tower. The revised red line was now an amazing 8,000 rpm.
In 1927 the Delage works team was crowned European champion. At one point the car, driven by Benoist (who also won the European driver’s championship), completed over 1,400 miles in competition with — it is claimed — never having to raise its hood.
In 1929 Louis Chiron drove this same Delage in the Indianapolis 500 mile race, painted French racing blue. Chiron qualified 14th at 107.351 mph, finishing seventh with an average of 87.728 mph. The Delage was the only entrant to finish that was not based on a Miller or Duesenberg.