Nazis to Targa, this car has seen a lot of the world

John Lawson, of Melbourne, and his son, Paul, with the 1936 French Delage that was commandeered by the SS during World War II.
John Lawson, of Melbourne, and his son, Paul, with the 1936 French Delage that was commandeered by the SS during World War II.

THERE are stories behind many old cars but few would top that of John Lawson's 1936 Delage, which survived France's occupation by Germany in World War II.

Mr Lawson, of Melbourne, said that his car had been owned and raced by a prominent Parisian businessman before the war.

Mr Lawson said that this particular Delage was just one of the cars commandeered by Hitler's Waffen SS troops, who had a reputation for taking the flashiest cars for their fleet and painting them a distinctive grey.

The identification plate in the motor bay of the Melbourne resident's now blue Delage still wears that paint.

Mr Lawson was last month in Tasmania to compete in his 10th Targa rally with son, Paul.

This was his first rally in the Delage.

Mr Lawson said that the French sports car was built by Delage and Delahaye, which combined after the Great Depression.

"They built these sports cars to run in events like Le Mans and even the French Grand Prix, which, in 1938, was for sports cars," he said.

Mr Lawson said that it was probably only because it had been commandeered by the SS that the Delage survived the war.

"It was sold to an Australian grazier in 1946 who took it to England where it was restored by Bill Summers, a well- known Alfa Romeo man," he said.

"John Fitzpatrick bought it about 30 years ago and used the car in Europe and in Targa Tasmania in the 1990s and up to 2001."

Mr Lawson said that he "came by the Delage through an unusual circumstance".

"I had my 1933 Alfa Romeo at the Malaysian GP, but had trouble with the fuel there and later at the 2008 historic events associated with the Australian GP.

"The Delage was parked opposite me - a car I've always admired.

"It's owner came over to me and asked if I'd consider a straight swap of his Delage for one of my other cars, an Italian- made OM sports car that finished sixth in the Italian Targa Florio in 1930.

"I looked him in the eye, and immediately said: `I've considered it, accepted your offer, bring the papers tomorrow night and I'll drive it home.'

"He asked whether I wanted more time to consider the offer, not knowing I'd been considering the Delage for years."

Mr Lawson said that he enjoyed driving the Delage because it was "a bit more reliable" than his Alfa.

But while the Alfa would easily exceed 200kmh, the Delage needed a long road to wind it up to 180kmh.