Lotto number come up? Piggy bank fuller than expected? Bitcoin sold at the right time? It may be time to buy your first Delahaye.

All going well it’ll be delivered to your newly-acquired large, heated and secured garage. You may choose to just leave it there accumulating value, but you just might want to actually drive it. If so, this post is for you.

To begin, contemplate this image and note that unless you acquired one of the last few cars made you’ll probably be driving from the right as the good lord intended.

You’ll obviously already know that Delahaye, in common with other luxury makers of the time, didn’t make complete cars. They made a rolling chassis and you engaged your preferred coachbuilder to put a body on it. No two were quite the same then and even though the dash came with the chassis there was scope for variety there too. Here’s a typical layout, showing lots of gauges, because the more the car costs the more gauges you get. Note too that Lexus copied this layout some years ago.


Let’s have another.


You’ll see we have buttons marked S and D. So, we turn the key, press S which is the starter and then D which is Drive and we’re off.

Mais non. You do actually use them in that order but matters are not as they seem. S stands for starter which is French for a device used in starting - but it’s the choke. The French for “starter” is démarreur so that’s the D. Going back to the first image we spot a clutch pedal and what seems to be a gearlever. But still matters are not as they seem. Just to the left of the wheel you can see one of these.


It’s the gear selector for a Cotal electromagnetic semi-automatic box. Yes, it’s reversed from left to right and somewhat alarmingly none of the slots is marked R.


The procedure then is this:

Turn on ignition

Haul out S

Press clutch

Press D

All going well your sixty plus year old engine with carbs and mechanical ignition will start at the first time of asking. Assuming that it does:

Ensure that forward/reverse lever is in forward (yes, that’s the one you thought was the actual gearlever)


Release handbrake (it’s by your right knee, because why not)

Proceed with caution. This is a heavy car with cable and drum brakes. When you need to proceed with more alacrity, just flick the little lever to 2. No clutch needed. After this, you’ll need a leap of faith because you’re flicking the lever to where you would expect first. When you get to fourth, do not under any circumstances look for a fifth, because you’ll find first. This will be really, really expensive.


Need to go astern? Be very careful. Reverse, which is produced by a separate mechanical reversing unit, is much lower than forward. The combination of first gear and reverse is likely to twist the delicate output shaft from the reverser. This is expensive. Before attempting travel astern, engage third gear.

Now, just print this off and put it in a prominent place in your Delahaye. Bought a Delage instead? Same applies.