Grand prix racing had been around for nearly half a century before the arrival of Formula 1. The inaugural world championship in 1950 is often used as a starting point, but there had been plenty of brilliant machines and epic races already.
The rules were modified regularly from the inaugural French GP in 1906 to the outbreak of the Second World War. It was a period of huge change and innovation, creating a wide variety of eclectic machines – and some milestone ones.
For this list, we’ve considered the success of each car that competed in major GP events between 1906 and 1939, and the impact they had on motorsport.
10. Delage Type 15 S8
The Delage was a strong car against weak opposition
Photo by: GPL
Major success: 1927 world title
Key driver: Robert Benoist
There were various regulations prior to the arrival of the famous 750kg weight formula in 1934 and one of those was a 1500cc engine limit for 1926-27. Albert Lory’s exquisite Delage straight-eight Type 15 was undoubtedly the car of the era, but minimal opposition means it can’t climb higher on this list.
Teething problems, including extreme cockpit heat, were addressed following outings in 1926 and the Type 15 was ready for the following season. Delage’s lead driver Robert Benoist won four of the five qualifying races for the short-lived World Manufacturers’ Championship, including the French GP, easily giving the financially troubled firm the 1927 title.
Key to the car’s success was its expensive powerplant, which featured a nickel-chromium crankshaft and nine roller bearings, producing 170bhp at 8000rpm, a high engine speed for the time. “The Delages were masterpieces of design and construction,” wrote George Monkhouse in his 1950 book Grand Prix Racing. “They were extremely reliable and ran like sewing machines.”
Although not strictly top-level GP events, the 1936 Voiturette successes scored by Richard Seaman in his modified and lightened 1927 Delage – against strong, newer ERA and Maserati opposition – underlined the design’s quality and helped launch the Briton’s GP career.
9. Fiat 804-404
The Fiat 804 set a template for future race cars
Photo by: GPL
Major success: 1922 French GP
Key driver: Felice Nazzaro
Fiat was one of the major players in the early days of GP racing and the 804-404 was the best car at the start of the new two-litre regulations in 1922.
It won the all-important French GP and the Italian GP….
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