Pierre Louis Adolphe Delage was born in 1874, in the flourishin countryside of Cognac, France. Among some of the finest vineyards in the world, this watchmakers son studied the sciences, graduating from the nearby Ecole des Arts & Métiers with an engineering degree. In 1905 he secured a financial backer and founded Delage, which would go on to excel in the world of motorsports. With a troupe of hand-built V12 powered racers, Delage would claim Grand Prix wreaths and world speed records, culminating in 1927 when his type 15 S 8 crossed four European Grand Prix chequered flags, winning his eponymous nameplate, the World Championship, and the Légion d’Honneur for his driver Robert Benoist. Unfortunately, the halcyon years did not last long.
Despite building some of the most luxurious and expensive cars the world had ever seen, the knockout combo of the Great Depression and World War Two conspired to kill the marque. After being sold to peers Delahaye in the early 50s, Delage faded to black. Until today, that is. “Because I’m French, Delage was really an obvious choice.” Laurent Tapie explains from his headquarters in Magny-Cours. Brought up by businessman and politician Bernard Tapie -best known for reviving the stagnant Adidas in the early 90s, and owning the Champions League winning Olympique de Marseille football club – Laurent had serial entrepreneurship in his blood and charged himself with resurrecting the storied marque. “Delage and Bugatti are the only brands in French history that were world champions in the Grand Prix, no one else.” he reminds us. “We set many world records of speed and won more Prix d’Elegance than any other brand in the world in the first half of the 20th Century.”
However, “No one remembers that up until the Second World War, France were the number one country for luxury cars,” he notes with a hint of exasperation. “We were selling more distinguished cars than the Italians, English, and the Germans. We were number one!” Speaking with Tapie for a brief 20 minutes, it becomes apparent soon enough that his goal is not just to return the Delage brand to the summit of global motoring, but the French flag as well. “Delage remains one of the most respected brands in history,” he champions, “we just need to remind people of it by reliving this past.”
Fortunately for Tapie, the vehicle he wants to lead this Gallic resurgence, his Delage D12, has all the attributes necessary to lead the charge. First off, the heavy artillery: powered by a massive 7.6-litre, 12-cylinder engine, developed fully in-house, unleashes 990-hp that’s coupled to an electric motor with 110-hp of its own to create a jaw-dropping 1100-hp.
Secondly, its nimble feet: the D12 has a very expensive and rare F1-style pushrod suspension, a system that really revolutionised Formula One two decades ago but he’s still so cost prohibitive that no other hypercar utilises one. Even if they could afford to, French engineer Mauro Biannchi, who holds the patent, granted Delage exclusive rights from road-legal cars. “As no one else has it on a street-legal car, it’s one of the cool things I wanted the D12 to have,” says Tapie. Finally, there’s the D12’s biggest innovation: a central seating position. “Its two seats are positioned one in front of the other, the same as a fighter jet. This geometry offers unparalleled balance and vision, separating the hypercar from everything else, except perhaps McLaren’s fabled F1.”
“My enthusiasm has been there since I was a boy because I’m truly passionate about cars,” Tapie shares, revealing how racing since the age of 20 lends him an advantage – mainly from how knowledgable he is in the competition. Despite being a longtime fan of Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche, Aston Martin, et al, Tapie knew none really appealed to him, at least not as a visionary. He credits his stratospheric standards on winning a Porsche-organised amateur race in 1996, where the first place prize was driving an actual Formula One car.
“It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life,” he recalls pensively, “and nothing I’ve driven since, even the most recent supercars that are 700 or 800-hp, can reach the feeling when I drove it’” Clearly excited by the memory, he continues, “My will to create a kind of road-legal Formula One car was born that day, though honestly, I never thought I would actually build one.” He adds that, “If you have ever driven a car from the central position, you never want to go back to a side of the car,” he promises. “The D12 has been created to be the closest street-legal car ever to a Formula One.”
Since the D12’s inception, its success depends on one single goal: setting the world record lap-time around the Nürburgring. As possibly the most coveted accolade in the automotive landscape, lapping the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife challenges a car holistically in a way that no other single metric can. Notching this record would be final proof for Tapie that his D12 is worthy of the Delage name, of its robust heritage, and of waving the French flag.
“I am extremely confident that we’re going to beat the record,” he states confidently, “and we’re going to beat it by several seconds, not just one or two.” This supreme belief is built upon some of motorsports most basic tenets, pointing out the D12 has more power than both the current and previous record holder, the Mercedes AMG GT Black Series and Lamborghini Aventador SVJ respectively. It is lighter than both as well, the prime combination of racing superiority. Then throw in the pushrods unique suspension, and the fact that it has more than doubled the downforce of its competitors.
It’s obvious that the Frenchman thinks he has all the required elements to turn this goal into reality. But raw ingredients won’t suffice; to prepare the D12 for this ultimate test, the final stage of the US$2.3 million hybrid hypercar’s development will mean handling the keys over to famed F1 Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Simply because Tapie believes only a world-class driver, not an engineer, can orchestrate the balance all these parameters into one symphonic package.
Tapie learned this lesson from a motor he says is the best street car he’s ever driven. The Ferrari F430 Scuderia. The reason behind that arguable F1 GOAT (all respect due to Lewis Hamilton) Michael Schumacher famously orchestrated the balance of that super machine, and its epiphany is the difference between a driver and an engineer led set up. “It’s difficult to explain but the Scuderia is a car that feels alive. You do one lap with it and your face has a huge smile. You have this feeling that the car and yourself are one body together,” he states. “I have never felt that in any other car, and that is what I want from the D12.
Tapie believes Villeneuve is the only driver that can get the job done, as he’s only the third driver (after legends Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti) in all motorsports history to win a F1 World Championship, the Indianapolis 500 and the CART/Indy-Car Championship. “Jacques knowledge and feeling of the cars is unparalleled,” he muses. “One of the reasons he beat Michael Schumacher to become World Champion was because he knew and understood the car, so they could be one together. This is what I want him to do with the Delage. I will be happy once he gets out of the D12 and says, Now, it feels like a Formula One.”
In August 2021 the D12 finally made its American debut at Monterey Car Week, and as expected the otherworldly hypercar left many a potential customer slack-jawed. “We received a lot more people than we expected, with an incredible enthusiasm on the design – many of them told us the D12 was the most beautiful car shown this year,” Tapie shares happily. “I was enthused to hear some visitors saying that they didn’t know about Delage but a friend had seen our car and told them they had to come by our stand.”
The completely functional D12 prototype was shown early this year, with European clients getting to test the car first, followed by America. As orders are confirmed, D12 will be configured in spring 2022 with first deliveries scheduled for Q1 of 2023. As Tapie enthuses about the reception in Monterey and the financial incentive, “importantly we pre-sold several cars – which of course was the primary objective.“
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