Europe, and particularly France, during the late 1930s was a hotbed of tremendous creativity and experimentation in coachbuilding. Firms like Hooper, Fernandez & Darrin, and Barker began to experiment with art deco style and ever more dramatic designs. But it was the French carrossiers like Chapron, Saoutchik and Figoni et Falaschi who truly embraced the high style of the Art Deco period with their sweeping, magnificent and flamboyant bodies. Of the great French design houses, it was Figoni et Falaschi that became the benchmark for the era, doing their finest and most notable work atop Talbot-Lago, Delage, Delahaye and Bugatti chassis. For collectors, the combination of Figoni et Falaschi coachwork and the race-bred Delahaye chassis is the ultimate expression of the period; a virtually unattainable piece of artwork that epitomizes the glamour of late 1930s France. For the enthusiast wishing to experience ownership of such an iconic piece of motoring history, options are limited to either being lucky enough to find one for sale and then writing a very large check, or building a car of their own inspired by these magnificent art-deco automobiles.
In the case of our featured automobile, it was a dedicated enthusiast who desired to combine the flamboyant style of 1930s French coachbuilding with the distinctly American tradition of the Hot Rod. The result is this breathtaking 2003 Delahaye USA Boattail Speedster, a fabulous tribute to the style of the iconic Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye with a modern twist courtesy of a bespoke chassis and modern power. The body styling comes courtesy of legendary hot rod stylist Chip Foose, whose impressive design incorporates a variety of themes from the era into one dramatic piece of rolling sculpture. With this car, built by Delahaye USA, Foose brilliantly incorporated numerous historical design cues but with a thoroughly modern, almost futuristic touch. The fully skirted fenders call to mind the Delahaye 165M Figoni, while the radiator shell and cut-down windscreen recall the Bugatti Type 57SC. Further inspiration comes from Alan Leamy and Gordon Buehrig’s fabulous Auburn boat tail Speedster.
The body was constructed and painted over a four year period by Brown’s Metal Mods of New York. It is finished in a striking livery using House of Kolor paints; Bloodhound Red over Jet Black. Paint quality is outstanding on the body, which is constructed from a mix of fiberglass and steel. Body moldings on the fenders were meticulously hand made by Tommy Caruso of Contour Metalshaping in Plainfield, NJ and Mark Barton of The Panel Shop in Stratford, CT. Fascinating details abound, such as the genuine Hispano Suiza stork mascot, an accurate replica Bugatti Type 57 radiator shell, and the rocket-inspired tail lights which are actually 1937 Hudson hood ornaments turned 180 degrees and illuminated with red Lucite. Eight custom tail pipes peek out from beneath the rear body, hinting at the performance potential. Used sparingly since completion, it remains in beautiful condition, and the quality of construction is first-rate.
The car rides on a 127” wheelbase chassis built by Fat Man fabrications of North Carolina. Suspension is independent up front with coil over shocks, with a custom-built Ford 9-inch axle with air-ride control shocks in the rear. The car sits impossibly low and long, with the fully skirted fenders accentuating the length. Power comes via a Ford 302 cubic inch V8 mated to a C4 automatic transmission, with power brakes and power steering standard fare, so it is an easy and enjoyable drive. The engine is finely detailed to give a 1930’s period look with minimal chrome, a custom air cleaner, fantastic bespoke finned valve covers, and black and red striped lacquered ignition leads.
The two-place cockpit is trimmed in glove-soft black leather, as artfully crafted as the rest of this breathtaking car. Craftsmanship is first rate, with leather covering the seats, door panels and cockpit rails. Beautiful wool carpets line the floors, and a spectacular, Cubist-style instrument panel (hand painted by Don "The Egyptian" Boeke, of Dayton, OH) houses an array of Omega Kustom gauges. There is even a functional folding top in Haartz Stayfast canvas, which disappears beneath a hard tonneau.
Dramatic, beautiful, and finely constructed, this 2003 Delahaye USA Speedster is a fabulous tribute to the great French Carrossiers of the 1930s while also celebrating the creativity and impeccable craftsmanship that comes from the best of today’s modern hot rodders; with styling by one of the biggest names in the business, Chip Foose. It remains in beautiful condition, having been used only sparingly since its completion. It is ready for show or to drive, and is certain to cause a sensation no matter where it goes.