By on March 18, 2014

Malcolm Pray at the wheel of his “French Mistress”. Full gallery here.

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

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12 Comments on “Malcolm Pray’s “French Mistress” 1939 Delahaye 135 Roadster by Figoni et Falaschi Sets Amelia Island Auction Record: $6,600,000...”

  • avatar

    I saw a Delahaye at the Lexington Concours show in 2012. It was just magical sitting there. The one I saw was a dark red.

    Checking my photos, it was a 1937 M-135 Cabriolet. Had a cost of over $5,000 when new, and a top speed of 100mph.

    And so I do a Google Images search for the model name, and the exact car comes up, same number plate and all as my photos.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Today was already looking good but this inspirational article has made the morning much better; thank you very much.

    I especially enjoyed reading how the car was well used because of the owner’s great love for it.

  • avatar

    This is the epitome of the American promise. Work hard at something that provides real value to the economy, and then enjoy the fruits of those efforts in a palpable way. Not making boatloads of money manipulating markets, and not acquiring luxury goods just to pile them up in an effort to make your pile bigger than someone else’s pile.

  • avatar

    A lot of cars of that era had the hymenopteran bodies like this one, but that face must be unique. I’ve never seen one of these, and I’ve never seen a face that looked anything like this one. Would love to see this in person.

    That paint job is wild and squiggy.

  • avatar

    Now THAT is what a car should look like.

  • avatar

    A local collector owns this one, a ’47 135M. It’s quite stunning in person.

  • avatar

    Now this is what loving the automobile as a form is all about. Sadly, there is no contemporary match for autos of this type. The closest, I suppose, would be the Bugatti Veyron or some Ferrari’s–but they just don’t quite stack up artistically.

  • avatar

    When I was young, before the days of the internet, I saw a car at a concours that was burned into my brain. At some point I realized I could search for it even though my only clues were 1939 and Delahaye. The pictures and answer came easily, 1939 Delahaye type 165, still the most extraordinary car I have seen.

    A couple of years ago it made its way to a local concours and amongst other Delayhayes, Delages, and Bugattis, it held the center and drew the most crowds.

    It can be viewed at the Mullin Automotive museum.

  • avatar

    I saw this car up close and personal when I was a kid around 79-80 when I was at the company picnic at Pray’s estate. Admittedly I have stronger memories of his Porsche 550 Spyder and the sliding doors on the Kaiser Darrin but it did engrave the name Delahaye on my brain.

  • avatar

    I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this car a couple of times at the (now discontinued) Fairfield County Concours in Westport, CT. As stunning as the pictures are, the car is absolutely breathtaking in real life, and I hope its new owner takes it out for the occasional concours; this one makes the day of everyone who sees it. I had met Mr. Pray on a few occasions (even bought an Audi from his dealership once); this was a man with impeccable taste.

    Thanks so much for injecting a little class into my day!

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