Emile Delahaye was born in 1843 at Tours in the Loire valley.
He qualified as a mechanical engineer and worked for industrial
enterprises in France and Belgium. Returning to the city of his
birth when aged thirty he became a partner in a foundry that made
machinery for the brick and ceramic trades.
Delahaye bought the enterprise in 1879 and soon the firm expanded
into making stationary petrol engines, an example being exhibited
at the Grande Exposition in 1889. The first Delahaye car was completed
in 1895 and shown in the automobile section of the Salon du Cycle
in Paris. Thus Delahaye was among the first of the French provincial
Until the turn of the century all Delahaye cars followed the
basic design of the original, having a rear-mounted horizontal
two-cylinder engine with electric ignition, primary drive by belts,
and final drive by side chains. The chassis was tubular and comparatively
low slung with a wide track and a long wheelbase and the cars
rapidly gained a reputation for stability and durability. This
latter feature was undoubtedly aided by adequate water-cooling
of the engine, utilising a water pump and a front-mounted horizontal
radiator. The cars were not fast, but they took part in most of
the early town-to-town races, generally winning the 'six seats
With his health beginning to fail, Delahaye sold his business
in a most amicable manner to two Parisian industrialists: the
brothers-in-law Leon Desmarais and Georges Morane. They gradually
moved production from Tours to Paris during 1898, and two key
members of staff were engaged: Amedee Varlet who became chief
designer when Delahaye retired in 1901; and Charles Weiffenbach
as works manager. Despite the ongoing presence of Desmarais and
Morane it was Weiffenbach who came to be known as 'Mister Delahaye'
and remained with the company until it merged with Hotchkiss in
After some 375 vehicles of the original pattern had been made,
Varlet was responsible for the design of the first front-engined
cars, still with horizontal cylinders and belt driven, these appearing
in 1901. The following year he introduced vertical engines and
soon took Delahaye into other areas, notably marine engines, lorry
manufacture, and established the firm's reputation for its fire-engines.
Never aimed at the mass market, Delahaye vehicles were always
recognised for their quality and when the superb Type 135 was
introduced in the 1930's it joined the exclusive few who were
known as the Grande Marques of the French motor industry.