Peter Hill’s admiration for the Delahaye car is infectious.
The automobile company founded by French engineer Emile Delahaye in 1894 produced some innovative designs throughout the early part of the 20th century until the company was wound up in the mid 1950s.
Due to its short life span, only a limited number of Delahaye cars were produced making them a seriously sought-after item by the rich and famous across the globe.
Peter says Delahayes are among the top three most collectible cars in the world and always attain the highest price at concours auctions.
‘‘They just never made a lot of them,’’ Peter said.
‘‘A 1939 Delahaye sold at the Amelia Island Concours auction for $6.6 million.
‘‘It rose in $500,000 bids before a Chinese buyer bought it.
‘‘Another one sold recently for $3.6 million over the reserve.
Peter said Delahaye cars were popular among celebrities, including actresses Diana Dors and Grace Kelly, and Eastern royalty such as the Aga Khan. Billionaire fashion designer Ralph Lauren reportedly paid $40 million for one.
A discovery of classic cars in a barn in the French countryside a few years ago included some rare Delahayes, which sparks Peter’s enthusiasm.
Some of the cars were owned by French actors and Egypt’s last king and sold for millions at auction.
While not dealing among those outrageous price tags, Peter was happy to snap up a rare Delahaye when he had the chance.
‘‘I’ve always bought and sold cars,’’ he said. ‘‘This is something I came across so I bought it.’’
The Delahaye is a far cry from Peter’s first car — a Ford Capri which he owned as an 18-year-old.
‘‘I’ve owned Falcons, Porsches and all sorts of cars since,’’ he said.
A panel beater by trade, Peter worked for motor racing legend Peter Brock’s Holden Dealer Team for three years.
While he has a motoring background, Peter has diversified and has been operating his storage business Border Logistics and Warehousing since 2005.
He may not have driven the 1949 Delahaye 148 drop head limousine convertible for two years, but that doesn’t mean Peter’s affection for the motoring jewel has waned.
‘‘I’ve done nothing to it,’’ he admits.
‘‘It runs fine. It goes really nice.
‘‘Back then most cars were 35 horsepower. This is a 160 horsepower engine which for the time was insane.
‘‘In 1938 the Delahaye car could hit 120mph which was like buying a Lamborghini.’’
Peter’s model has the unique Delahaye four-speed automatic transmission.
‘‘It goes just as fast in reverse as it does forward,’’ he said.
‘‘It could sit on 70mph comfortably all day.’’
It comes with factory heater demister, engine oil temperature gauges and limited-slip diff, features which Peter said were also unheard of back then, although the retractable roof is manually operated.
‘‘One thing, there’s not another car in the world that would use as much fuel,’’ Peter quipped.
WHERE DID YOUR
CAR COME FROM?
‘‘I’ve had it since 2008. It’s only had three owners,’’ Peter said.
He bought it from the family of the car’s second owner, who was quite elderly.
The origin of the car is wrapped up in the life of the post-war gentry off the rich farming lands of Victoria’s Western District.
Sir Thomas Chester Manifold, a wealthy grazier, politician, racing administrator with the Victorian Racing Club and prominent man about town, commissioned Delahaye to build the car for him.
The Manifolds were a prominent family around the Camperdown area in south-west Victoria and Chester was something of an adventurer.
He was seriously injured on the battlefields of the Western Front at Ypres in World War 1, studied at Cambridge in England where he was part of the ‘Head of the River’ rowing team in 1920 and established a successful racehorse stud back in Australia. And he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during World War II.
In 1949 a Delahaye car won the Australian Grand Prix and that was enough for Chester Manifold to embrace the French model.
‘‘The Delahayes were very competitive in Formula 1 racing and it was the only car to beat the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari at the time,’’ Peter said.
‘‘Joubert Importers and Export Company in Melbourne commissioned Delahaye in France to build the drop head limousine for Sir Chester.
‘‘Delahaye commissioned master coach builder Louis Guillore to handcraft the two-door drop head body.’’
The car was shipped to Australia and delivered to its knightly new owner in 1949, its arrival worthy of a write-up in The Argus newspaper at the time.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE
MOST ABOUT THE CAR?
‘‘Just the rarity of it,’’ Peter said.
‘‘It’s a limited opportunity. I liken it to owning a rare piece of fine art, like a Rembrandt painting.
‘‘I always appreciated the rare and exotic nature of it.
‘‘Nothing stops people in their tracks like a Delahaye.’’
The fact that the car is still in its original condition is the key to Peter’s investment.
‘‘I hope it stays that way (original) as well,’’ he said.
‘‘You can’t go and buy parts. The volume was never there to mass produce parts for it.
‘‘The Marchal headlights were specifically built for the car and you’d never replace them.’’
Another feature of the car is the grill which Delahaye replicated as the mask used in the French sport of fencing.
SO WHAT’S YOUR
‘‘I mainly drive Benzes,’’ Peter said. ‘‘I’m not fussed on cars.’’
However, he is proud of his 1988 VL Holden Calais, which he has converted to a 4WD twin turbo with a Gibson Bathurst GTR Skyline engine.
He hand built it from the chassis up with 1300 custom parts.
AND WHAT’S NEXT?
Not content with one rare Delahaye, Peter is looking to buy another one in a few weeks, a 1938-39 model.
Believe it or not, in his own words, Peter is ‘‘not so much involved in the car scene these days’’.
He’s now into restoring period windows and doors, like the one he is working on at the moment which came from an old homestead in Echuca.
He also has a 111-year-old table which was sitting in a bank in Scotland just waiting for his restorative prowess to work its magic.