THE world recession may be lifting according to some observers, but most markets for motor vehicles remain stubbornly flat. Classic cars that were changing hands for huge sums in the boom years of the late 1980s plummeted in value in the early 1990s and the demand for the very best motor cars is still slow. Many classic car dealers have turned to Hongkong as one of the few buoyant economies in the world where people are still prepared to pay high prices for quality goods. During the boom years, classic cars - especially those with a racing pedigree - were seen as better investments than stocks and bonds. Prices rose in leaps and bounds, fuelled by speculators and sharp-dealing traders. But the crash came and the price of classics has now dropped to within reasonable levels. Cars that would formerly have been snapped up by Japanese collectors or been passed between wealthy European and American enthusiasts, are on offer to buyers in the territory. A 1953 Delahaye 235 MS Cabriolet by coach-builder Henri Chapron, and a 1939 Delage D6 70B Pillarless Coupe by coach-builders Letoureur et Marchand, are the latest cars to be offered in Hongkong. The French cars represent the cream of the European coach-building industry. Coach-builders performed a service similar to bespoke tailors; wealthy customers could have a chassis from their chosen car-maker clothed in a hand-made body in an exclusive style. The bodies were usually of aluminium, beaten to shape over wooden styling bucks, with variations incorporated to suit the taste of the customer often making a particular car unique. The Delahaye is a late example of the coach-builders' craft, while the Delage was built just as the volume European car manufacturers, such as Citroen and Peugeot, were gaining ground. Starting in 1937, Delage motor cars received several beautifully proportioned bodies by Chapron, Binder, Pourtout, and Letourneur et Marchand. The company had been rescued from financial disaster in 1935 by Walter Watney, a successful Parisian concessionaire. The new body styles were meant to capitalise on the strengths of the marque, emphasising the stately appeal of the Delage car. The flat-fronted radiator shell, raked slightly back from the vertical, remained a styling trademark. The headlight, set neatly into the front wing valleys, and the lack of running boards, made this 1939 Delage a modern design for the time. Both the Delahaye and the Delage are in fine original condition and the owners are asking US$200,000 and US$100,000 respectively. For more information, contact Bruce Baron on 982-0001.