The Story Behind the “Million Franc” Delahaye
Photos courtesy of the Hotchkis Family
The “Million Franc” Delahaye has one of the most fascinating stories of any car on Earth. Its a story that involves international intrigue, world war, Nazis, speed records, being lost and then found, and a restoration. You couldn’t make it up. Now, the “Million Franc” Delahaye resides in the excellent Mullin Museum collection but it is taken out to the track semi-regularly and allowed to stretch its legs. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can even see it on a public road. Such was the case in Monterey during Car Week this year.
The “Million Franc” Delahaye got its name thanks to a prize offered by the Auto Club of France. The world speed records had long been held by the Germans and Italians and our Gallic friends had simply had enough of this. They offered a prize of one million Francs to whomever was able to beat the fascists and famous French race car driver Rene Dreyfus answered the call. The car he used was a 1937 Delahaye Type 145 V12 Grand Prix. This car was incredibly advanced for its age with a magnesium V12 engine and an exceedingly slippery body, it was able to slice through the wind at Montlhéry Autodrome.
Mr. Dreyfus and his Delahaye were able to complete the requisite 16 laps in 1 hour 21 minutes at an average speed of 91.3 miles per hour (or for our more metrically inclined friends 146 kph). The sense of national pride that Rene Dreyfus and Delahaye gave to the people of France couldn’t be understated. His defeat of Mercedes and their Silver Arrows in the lead up to WW2 incensed Hitler. He made an attempt to hire Dreyfus only to be told that Dreyfus was Jewish. After the start of WW2, Rene fled to the US, the car and its engine were hidden away from the Nazis and eventually the car was lost to history.
Four decades later, renowned French car collector and enthusiast Peter Mullin found the car and all of its scattered pieces. He then set about doing an exacting restoration including reuniting it with its original motor, something that hadn’t been done since before the Nazis invaded France. He also carefully documented the car’s provenance along the way. The Mullin Museum made this incredible video of the “Million Franc” Delahaye driving around on public roads during Car Week this year. It’s a pretty incredible sight and the sound that the Delahaye makes is almost without equal. Check it out.