Recently in the news when angry protestors assembled because Donald Trump was invited to dinner there, Britain’s Blenheim Palace will be attracting a different crowd at the end of this month when it hosts a Salon Privé that will feature a couple of extraordinary vehicles.
Star of the show will undoubtedly be the 1939 Mullin Delage D8-120 Cabriolet with a ‘Bustle Back’ outline by legendary French coachbuilder Henri Chapron.
It has a fascinating backstory, and will make a rare UK appearance before an appreciative audience on Thursday, August 30. Delivered new to Chapron as a rolling chassis, it was equipped with an exceptionally elegant four-seater body, complete with a three-position top. The car was reputedly commandeered by a collaborating French general of the Vichy government during World War II. In 1946, a year after the end of hostilities, he dispatched the car to California on the assumption that he would be reunited with it shortly thereafter. However, he was unable to obtain a visa to enter the USA, so he fled to Argentina instead. The general subsequently sold the Delage to RKO Pictures, one of the ‘Big Five’ studios during Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The car’s beautiful styling earned it a role in the 1951 MGM production, “An American in Paris”. It received a cosmetic makeover for its appearance on the big screen, which stretched to modifications to the taillights and a new green paintjob. In the film, star Gene Kelly is seen being chauffeured around the City of Lights alongside actress Nina Foch.
In 1955, ownership of the Delage passed to Thol ‘Si’ Simonson, a special effects expert who was part of the RKO Studios production team. He was ‘given’ the car in lieu of the pension he was owed, and Simonson drove the car around Arizona before it went under the hammer in 1987. It was acquired by its current owner who has since returned the car to its former splendour. The Delage has garnered awards at concours events stretching from Italy to India via the USA, and it is sure to impress the judging panel at Salon Privé.
It will be vying for honours alongside a remarkable coachbuilt Lancia Astura. This streamlined machine is believed to be the lone survivor of only three fourth-series Asturas bodied by Carrozzeria Boneschi during the late 1930s. The model, which features a narrow-angle, three-litre V8 engine sited in a long-wheelbase chassis, acted as a blank canvas for most of the great Italian coachbuilders of the day, and variations on the theme were used extensively by Italian government departments in period. This ultra-stylish example was originally owned by a Belgian coal-mining magnate, and it was laid-up during World War II. After this death, his widow kept the car in storage.
Save for a repaint in its original dark grey, this elegant Lancia is completely original, including its plush black leather upholstery and grey convertible roof, which is electrically-operated (highly unusual and innovative for its era).
These are just two examples of pre-war coachbuilt icons set to appear during the Salon Privé extravaganza at Blenheim Palace, which is now firmly established as one of the UK’s most exclusive automotive ‘garden parties’ and one of the longest-running and most successful motoring events in the UK.
Salon Privé showcases two Concours celebrations within the same event: the Chubb Insurance Concours d’Elégance on Thursday, August 30, followed by Concours Masters Celebrates 70 Years of Porsche on Saturday, September 1. Boodles Ladies’ Day takes place on Friday, August 31.