At the New York World’s Fair in 1939, eleven year old Malcolm Pray Jr. came down to the city from Grenewich, Connecticut to attend the fair. At the French pavilion, a Delahaye 135 Roadster with a body by Figoni et Falaschi, one of twelve made, caught the boy’s attention and he admired it so much that he made a sketch of its lines and kept the sketch, never forgetting the car. He went on to graduate from the University of Virginia and did a stint in the U.S. Air Force before moving back to Greenwich where he got a job selling Volkswagens for Morlee Motors on West Putnam Avenue, the same street where he would eventually operate a group of foreign car dealerships.
Morlee changed hands, becoming Blanchard Automobile and Pray became general manager. When Harry Blanchard died, Pray acquired the dealership and in 1963 it was renamed Pray Automobile Corp. The VW store was eventually joined by franchises for Saab, Porsche/Audi, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Infiniti, with Pray becoming an important voice in the foreign car dealer community. He was one of the founders of AIADA (American International Automobile Dealers Association) and served as chairman of the national Volkswagen and Porsche-Audi dealer councils.
In his capacity as the principal of a car dealership, Pray would often attend a used car dealer’s bazaar on Jerome Ave in the Bronx. In July of 1964, at the saw the same Delahaye that he had seen 25 years earlier, then painted red with black accents, remembered the car and his sketch of it, so he bought it. It remained in his collection until his passing last year. That collection would eventually include many top-shelf collectors cas including a1937 Cord 812 Sportsman Convertible, a 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, a 1939 Lagonda Rapide V-12 and 1930 Duesenberg Dual-Cowl Phaetom. Any of those would be the centerpiece of a fine collection, but Pray’s stated favorite was his “French Mistress” as his wife called it.
Five years later he had the car refurbished by Vintage Auto Restorations, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, which included a respray in the car’s current colors of cream and blue Monaco. For two decades Pray used the car as a weekend driver to enjoy with his children, but in general it didn’t leave his estate until he decided to start showing it in 1994 at the Meadow Brook Concours. The following year, he and his new wife Natalie took the car on a tour of Europe where they showed the car at the Paris Concours d’Elegance and drove it in the Bordeaux-to-Paris Rallye.
Mrs. Pray recalled, “Driving through the French countryside on the rallye, Malcolm beamed with pride when bystanders along the road waved and shouted, ‘Belle voiture!’ His rapport with the car was palpable. He had the utmost confidence it would obey him, and it did. No trailer queen, the Delahaye went to Palm Beach in the winter, where Malcolm dashed along the ocean, top down. This timeless beauty was the jewel of Malcolm’s collection, which he showed and rallied at approximately 50 events. The Delahaye has many trophies, but none can measure the passion and joy Malcolm felt for his ‘French Mistress.’”
Pray established the Pray Achievement Center, which housed his collection, to encourage school children to be successful. He regularly invited children to come view the collection as a way to encourage them to set big goals and work toward them, Natalie Pray said. “It was a way of saying, `I made it, I built this collection. If you work hard and are honest, you can do this too,’ ” she said. Pray was not ashamed of his success – the Achievement Center website has a page titled How to Become A Millionaire.
Pray passed away last August at the age of 84 and his estate has put many of his cars up for sale including the Delahaye. At the RM Auction recently held in conjunction with the Amelia Island concours, that car sold for $6.6 million, the top seller of the auction and a record price for Amelia Island.
Two years ago, Malcolm Pray brought the car back to Detroit for the Concours of America at St. John’s (it moved from Meadow Brook). He was clearly proud of the Delahaye as he drove it up to the reviewing stand. The Concours has an event called Mode du Concours, where models supplied by Margery Krevsky’s Production Plus agency ride along as cars are driven to the judges’ stand. The models wear clothing picked specifically to go with that car from Krevsky’s collection of auto show couture. Riding with Pray was a model that I’ve gotten to know from working the auto shows, Renee, a stunning brunette wearing a gold dress. Pray himself was a very distinguished looking gentleman and his blue blazer went well with the car. As attractive a couple as they made, the Delahaye was clearly the star.
Pray’s 1939 Delahaye 135 Competition Court Torpedo Roadster by Figoni et Falaschi was well known before he bought it, having been used as a show car by Delahaye in Europe before shipping it to New York for the World’s Fair. Noted car enthusiast, photographer Bob Grier, bought the car and after it spent the duration of WWII in storage, Grier and the Delahaye competed in a number of hill climbs that were covered by Motor Trend and other publications. You can read the full history of the car at RM Auctions.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS