Irish-American Lucy Schell, the only child of an American multi-millionaire of Irish origin, Francis P O'Reilly, was most famous as the owner of the semi-works Delahaye racing team from the 1930s onwards. She lived in France where she met her husband was pre-war driver, Laury Schell. Their son Harry raced in Formula One in the 1950s.
Lucy O'Reilly-Schell died 68 years ago, she was 56
Lucy O'Reilly-Schell was the only child of an American multi-millionaire of Irish origin, Francis P O'Reilly. Francis was born in late 1848 in Reading, Pa., but lived in France from July 1894 until November 1914 and then again after 1916. He married a French woman and Lucy was born at Brunoy, just outside Paris, in 1896.
She met Laury Schell, an American who had lived in France since his early youth, some time around 1915 as they all made passport applications at the same time and have consecutive numbers. He was an ardent racing enthusiast and, after they got married and settled down in France, their names soon became familiar competitors in various rallies.
Her first major outing was the Grand Prix de la Baule in 1927, in which she came twelfth. She returned to La Baule the following year, again in a Bugatti T37A, and was eighth this time. 1928 was probably her most successful year, with a sixth place in the GP de la Marne and a superb win in the Coupe de Burgoyne voiturette race, all in the Bugatti.
1929 brought Lucy back to La Baule where she competed in the 1500cc class, but she was out of luck this time and was not classified. She turned to rallying and drove to a Coupe des Dames and excellent overall finish in the Monte Carlo rally.
Throughout the Thirties, Lucy raced sportscars and rallied various vehicles. In 1934 she became involved with Delahaye. She approached Weiffenbach at the Paris Salon with a request to have a vehicle built that could be entered in rally events. A 6 cyl engine was thus put into into the 12CV chassis producing suitable car.
Further developments led to the type 135 Sport (3.2 liter, 96 BHP), the 135 Coupe de Alps (3.2 liter, 110 BHP) and the 135 Compétition (3.6 liter, 120 BHP). Then in 1936 Lucy inherited the multi-million pound estate when her father died. Lucy wanted a special racing variant to be built, the 135 Compétition Spéciale or 135 CS. Soon she had collected orders from wealthy friends for 12 cars and suddenly to Weiffenbach's surprise Delahaye found themselves into the French sports car series with a 2 car works team and 12 privateer cars, six of them owned by Lucy Schell. The works cars were withdrawn after the accident at the 1936 Marne GP that left Delahaye privateer "Michel Paris" paralysed, but the other privateers went on racing their cars quite successfully.
For 1937 Lucy Schell wanted to enter GP racing and asked Delahaye to build a car for the new 4.5 liter formula, with her paying all the costs. The decision was taken to first build a hybrid for both Grand Prix and Sports car racing, the type 145 for 1937.
That year an organisation called the Fonds de Course announced that it would give 1 million francs to the French car that could run 200km at a speed exceeding 146.5 km/h by the widest margin on the Montlhéry track before 1 September 1937. On August 7 Dreyfus drove Delahaye and took the record. Lucy Schell ordered a white and red line to be painted in an angle over the body on all the cars to celebrate the event.
While work was progressing on the Delahaye type 155, a pure GP car, Lucy Schell's Ecurie Bleue team had to start the season with the type 145 and it was with this car that Dreyfus scored a famous victory in the Pau Grand Prix driving a Delahaye on the twisty street circuit he beat the Mercedes team fair and square. Poor Hühnlein then had the unpleasant task of having to explain to his superiors how the Germans had been beaten by a French driver with a Jewish name driving a semi-sportscar from a relatively unknown lorry factory. Dreyfus also won the Cork GP two weeks later.
A fight broke out over the "Fonds de Course" money. After winning both the Pau and Cork GPs with their old type 145, Delahaye was confident that they should get money to develop their new Type 155 GP car. To their horror, 600 000 francs went to the Talbot factory when Anthony Lago showed a couple of blueprints and a promise of a new car for the French GP. Lucy Schell threatened to boycott the French GP and after a long fight with the ACF and a considerable amount of ill-feeling, she moved her team headquarters to Monaco and no Delahayes were present at Rheims.
The Delahaye 155 was never fully developed and Ecurie Bleue bought two Maserati 8CTFs, chassis #3030 and #3031. In October 1939 her husband Laurie was killed in a road accident, Lucy was devastated but didn't give up and continued to run the team but she renamed it Ecurie Lucy O'Reilly Schell. Meanwhile war had been declared between France and Nazi Germany and fighting had already begun on the Polish Front. Lucy and Harry moved back to America to avoid the Nazi occupation.
Dreyfus was drafted into the French Army but was granted leave to compete in the 1940 Indy 500. Lucy shipped the two 8CTFs to America to race in the 'Indy 500' entered by Ecurie Lucy O'Reilly Schell.
The cars arrived a week before official qualifying, hardly ideal. Le Bègue and Dreyfus worked together to find the best race set-up. Their main aim was be one of the 33 qualifiers and with this in mind they were advised that an average speed of 118 mph should be fast enough to qualify. After their four officially timed laps, they had both provisionally qualified: Le Bègue in 31st at 118.981 mph and Dreyfus 33 and last at 118.831 mph. Unfortunately Drefus did not understand the bumping that goes on at Indy and was eliminated.
He was given permission to take out the 49 car of Le Bègue for a few laps to accustom himself to the right line through the turns and was soon lapping at 123 mph, fast enough to have qualified in the middle of the grid. Then a con-rod broke and put a leg out of bed. The block was holed in two places but with the help of a few mechanics, supplied by Augie Duesenberg, the drivers installed the engine from the 22 car and got Le Bègue ready for the start.
The two Frenchmen agreed to race for 250 miles each and thought 'to hell' with the petty rules of the Indy, after all, once they were racing the rules were the same worldwide: go as fast as you can, nurse the engine and overtake your opponents. Le Bègue started the race with Dreyfus nominated as reserve driver, taking over at half distance.
Le Bèque handed over to Dreyfus, as planned and was lying in tenth position when it started to rain. The Americans slowed down respecting the rule of no overtaking in the rain. Dreyfus, used to European rules, overtook one driver after another, wondering why it was so easy. He was black flagged, returning to the track after the rules were explained. When it stopped raining, Dreyfus put his foot down and once again found himself overtaking one car after another. He was black flagged again. This time he was asked why he had ignored the yellow traffic lights. Unfortunately he never saw them. He rejoined the race, but by now was eight laps down the winner Wilbur Shaw in the Maserati 8CTF 'Boyle Special'. After the race Lucy O'Reilly sold both cars to Lou Moore,
When Germany invaded Paris a fortnight later, Dreyfus decided to stay on and join the American Army. After the war he brought his family over and opened a famous restaurant in Manhattan, Le Chanticlair. As late as 1980 he appeared in a celebrities' race supporting the Long Beach GP and three years later published his autobiography, My two lives: Race Driver To Restaurateur. He died in 1993.
Her son Harry who was born in 1921 became well-known F1 driver and participated in 56 Grands Prix, debuting on May 21, 1950. He achieved 2 podiums, and scored a total of 32 championship points. Harry died in practice for the non-championship International Trophy event at Silverstone in 1960, when he crashed his Cooper at Abbey Curve.