CCCA Museum's 1939 Delahaye Restoration

by Brad Janousek

This 1939 Delahaye was generously donated to the CCCA Museum by Robert Atwell, Jr in 1985 and had been displayed in the Museum until 2015 when after extensive research, it was discovered that the car was not bodied by Chapron as tagged, but by Tuscher of Switzerland making it a very rare car.

In addition, the lengthy process of determining a period correct color scheme that would accent the lines of the car began with help from Roy Margenau, Al Kroemer, and color renderings from D & D Classic Auto Restoration in Covington.

In order to get the body stripped to bare metal, the body and interior were disassembled. I handed the exterior chrome off to Dan Sommer for re-plating and placed an order for new chrome wheels. The initial plan was to leave the chassis and engine alone, but plans quickly changed. During disassembly I found plenty of rotten wood around the back of the convertible top well. Once the wood was repaired and replaced, it was time to strip the paint from the body.

At first, I intended to sand the paint down to bare metal. I didn’t want to media blast with the engine still in the car, but ran into areas that couldn’t be de-rusted to my liking without media blasting. This meant wrapping the engine/transmission and blasting the body properly to white metal. A lot of metal work was required to bring the body back. Some rocker rust out and poor repairs performed in the past had taken their toll. The doors had to be stripped and repaired at the same time to ensure proper fit. Tuscher craftsmen originally leaded and shaped the body A-pillar to the front of the door and the B-pillar shaped to the back of the door. Much of this lead had to be replaced and shaped to the doors. The doors were in good shape with the exception of replacing the inner door bottoms. Edges of the spears needed to be leaded and shaped to match the body. The lower rocker bottoms were both replaced due to rust damage. Overall, this was the most labor intensive part of the restoration.

While working to restore the bare metal, I uncovered that Tuscher must have had a left and right team each building their respective side of the car. The final results are much the same, but the construction between each side was surprisingly different. Each door was constructed differently; the welded seams were in different locations between sides; the handwork of the fenders left different finishes. It appeared as if one team used a power hammer for construction while the other crew used an English wheel. It was comparable to working on two different cars at the same time.

The front and rear fenders were in very good shape with the exception of a few extra holes added along the way. Originally, very heavy gauge metal was used to build all four fenders. Stripping these fenders quickly meant media blasting the existing tan top coat from the fenders. The next step required use of 40 and 80 grit 8” sanding discs to remove the fillers and primers. Lacquer topcoats plug these discs quickly therefore, this is why the topcoat is media blasted first. Due to the fact that the media blasting doesn’t efficiently remove fillers, I use a combination of the two techniques. Once down to mostly metal, I will media blast them once more to white metal. These fenders, like the rest of the car, had an excessive amount of filler and primer from the previous restoration to smooth out the jaw marks from the power hammer. Nothing that a little hammer and dolly work followed up with a shrink disc couldn’t smooth out. All of the fenders fit well and used fender weldt so no extra fitting was required.

Keep in mind that there are no bumpers to protect it so the trunk lid had seen better days. This piece didn’t have any rust but it did have dents from years of backing into objects. Following the same procedure as the fenders, it also needed a stud gun and shrink disc to make an acceptable foundation for epoxy primer. It also needed to be fitted to the body.

The Delahaye is rolling at this point. The aluminum hood sides were stripped and fitted to the car. Some work had to be done on the corners of the hoods where the aluminum was worn thin from hood lace. While we were in there, it was time to remove the radiator and send it out to be re-cored, a few gaskets replaced, and new hoses.

Fit issues and body work have been addressed so this is where it goes from being a simple strip and paint. After sitting for such a long period of time, there are mechanical issues that had to be addressed while the front sheet metal was off the car. The Solex carburetors were rebuilt with new accelerator pumps to replace the mummified rubber. New fuel lines were ran back to the tank in order to clean up some prehistoric braided fuel line that crunched like glass when flexed. A new exhaust system was built and installed during this stage. I also dropped the oil pan to ensure there were not going to be any surprises when starting the car. I couldn’t believe that it didn’t have an inch of sludge like most old cars.

In order to prevent a French bon fire, it was imperative to build and install a new wiring harness. I had to expand my nonexistent French vocabulary during this process in order for the proper switches to activate the desired function. Once I was able to button up all the mechanicals and verify that the car did in fact run, it was time to install the assembled doors and trunk lid. By this time the body, doors, and fenders had been color sanded and buffed. The car was then sent to Andrew Larder for upholstery. During the previous restoration, the convertible top had been made stationary. Andrew put a lot of time and effort into making the top as functional as a European convertible top can be.

Once back from upholstery, the front sheet metal and hoods were hung. At this point, it was only a matter of the finishing touches. This past July, the Delahaye made its debut at the Grand Classic in Dearborn where it won first place in the Primary Division. Later in the month, it won the “Best Reflective” special award in the Pre-War European class at the Concours of the Americas.