The French Beauty That Wowed Leyburn

June 10,  2024

Competition cars were in short supply when Australian motor-racing was still recovering after World War. Along with pre-war cars dragged out of storage, many cars were backyard-built using mixtures of parts from wrecked or retired vehicles. But one French beauty swept all aside at Leyburn.

Sydney driver John Crouch entered a magnificent Delahaye 135CS, a rare and thoroughbred car even then. It’s thought fewer than 25 were built and only seven survive today – including Crouch’s Leyburn Australian Grand Prix winner.

This 1936 Delahaye, painted in traditional French blue, had been imported by another Sydneysider, John Snow, after it had won the 1938 Le Mans 24 Hours. Crouch bought it after the war and used it to great effect in various races before the Leyburn grand prix, where its 200 km/h top speed, refined handling and powerful brakes made it the class of the 28-car field.

Described by one expert as “a work of art”, the Delahaye 135CS featured a two-seat sports car body wrapping a 3.6 litre, six-cylinder engine. For racing, Crouch removed the roadgoing mudguards windscreen and folding roof to lighten its weight and improve its air penetration.

The Delahaye changed hands again and after the 1951 Australian Grand Prix it caught fire on its trailer and burnt virtually to the chassis. Many years later, it was restored, moved to England, restored again and eventually sold in 1999 to Californian businessman Peter Mullin, a world-renowned collector of fine French cars. We “discovered” it in the Mullin Automotive Museum in full view, just before the 2023 Sprints.

Sadly, Mullin died last year and his collection is to be dispersed. The fate of the Crouch Delahaye 135CS is currently unknown, but having found it once we won’t let it disappear again!

Note: There’s virtually no chance of an Australian collector digging deep to bring the Delahaye home, but if you fancy owning a memento of the 1949 Australian Grand Prix a good-quality 1:43 scale model can be found online.