#0035 - Talbot-Lago T-150 C SS Coupe by Figoni et Falaschi, #90112, 1937
Photographed: Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, 2009. Owner: As of May, 2011, #90112 was sold at Villa d'Este for a sum approaching 4.4 million dollars. This same month she also showed up in Octane.
A Bit More on the Bobtail: If you've read through the appraisal of the Duke Phillipe de Massa T-150 C then you know that particular example carries a longer, flat tail. This chassis, however, with its beautiful two-tone silver coachwork, has the more typical up-turn at the tail. The rear skirts indicate this turn with their chrome plates gently swept up like a cutlass, and the terminus of the slant-back body is slightly higher than on the Duke's competition ready car. Of further note, this T-150 C Goutte d'Eau Coupe rides with a typical road car ground clearance, giving it a more sprightly stance that is in many ways more appealing than the low slung attitude of the competition variant.
To dive more deeply into the history of the Goutte d'Eau design, please see the Duke Phillipe de Massa T-150 C feature, as it works through differences between this New York design, which remains the popular icon of Figoni et Falaschi, and the lesser known (and rarer) Jeancarte version.
Metallique: Capturing a silver car on a grey day is havoc, and all the more so with these hues because the flaking in the Tablot Lago's paint is very fine. Nevertheless, the effect of the livery is of a pewter form, with the lovely rounded features of the car made solid in its steely cladding. It is possible this example could be an unrestored, original car, though the criteria for restoration is much higher than that of nicely maintained, and does not eschew significant fettling to keep the car in order. Often is the case in which a show presents a car as original, apart from its inclusion in a preservation class, and it turns out the car has been restored, at least by any practical definition. This happened with a 1906 Pierce Great Arrow we caught at Radnor Hunt. The car was presented as "mildly refurbished, not restored" in the show literature, but conversation with a previous owner suggested the extent of the work might be enough to warrant the term 'restoration.' Perhaps in this instance, the operative term slides on a scale from superb quality re-build to complete working order, the latter being too far from perfection to call the finished article a 'restored car.'
Whatever the case, it is likely this Talbot-Lago received a re-spray in its lifetime, (not a bare metal refurbishing). And the motor certainly looks the best for three-quarter's century wear. The broad valve cover is spotless, and all related pieces from the oil cap (read: 'huile' en francais) to the springs clamping down on the plugs seem detailed to a high degree. The carberutors look factory fresh, and the exhaust headers must have been reconditioned. In any case—let's not be too judgmental of passing claims—the composition is a beautiful one.
Technically: This motor is an overhead valve set-up with pushrod actuation, hence the big valve cover. Displacement is a stout 3,996cc, a full litre bigger than Alfa Romeo's 8C 2900, but output from the inline 6-cylinder is held to just 140 brake horsepower at 4,200 rpm for lack of twin overhead cam engineering and forced induction. Neither of those advances was the Talbot-Lago's suit, however, and the platform would come good in the early post-War era thanks to its reliability, (and particularly when in bored-out competition guise, nearing 4.5 litres). For comparison, the 2.9 litre Alfa Romeo straight 8-cylinder pushed about 220 brake horsepower in its 'A' Specification of the same year.
There's also the matter of the Wilson preselector gearbox, which some competition drivers saw fit to dispose of. For the gentleman driver, however, the preselector was a luxury item, or at worst an expensive novelty. Britain's Walter Gordon Wilson devised a system of planetary gears that had the ability to transmit great loads of torque based on minimal input forces. After some decades use in heavy equipment—tanks and the like—the system was adapted for automobiles. Many Talbot-Lago cars bear this familiar selector mechanism on the steering wheel, giving a visual cue to the transmission's operation. Once a gear is selected with the diminutive hand toggle, depressing the gear change pedal on the floor engages it, doing so with minimal lag and minimal loss of drive given that all gears in the box turn synchronously in their planetary arrangement.
One of the more interesting points of the Wilson preselector is the starting off process, which on many Talbot-Lago cars involves setting a gear but leaving the car disengaged even if the gear change pedal is acted upon. Instead, pressing the accelerator gets the car underway using a hydraulic mechanism, providing a clutchless take-off experience.
Motor Racing: In any case, the big Talbot-Lago cars were best from 1947 to 1950, before the Italians geared up with higher-reving motors in lighter tubular chassis. As it goes, the bulk of armchair motoring buffs tend to clip the classic era at 1939, remembering the great Figoni et Falaschi designed cars of Talbot-Lago, but then pick up post-War motoring in 1950 with Farina's Formula 1 Championship, and on the endurance side Ferrari's 166 MM Barchetta. Talbot-Lago do not hold much sway in this version of post-War racing history, unfortunately nailing down their best years in that transition period before cars really changed into the modern contraptions we've grown accustomed to in Europe and the United States.
1952 might have changed that, as Pierre Levegh squandered a chance at Le Mans victory in the 24th hour having become a mindless automaton after trying to drive the entire race himself. His T-26 GS recorded a dnf down to a misplaced shift into too low a gear coming out of Arnage, subsequently breaking a connecting rod and ending his monumental run. In his stead, Mercerdes-Benz took victory with the 300-SL W-194 filling both top spots. Levegh would go on to further infamy in the Le Mans disaster of 1955, which in retrospect makes his near-victory in 1952 that much more disappointing.
Closing Down: Time and time again I try to downplay the T-150 C SS Goutte d'Eau Coupe. From certain angles, the constantly undulating coachwork can appear scrunched, or even bubbly. There's a bias toward the frontal aspect in the New York style. From the rear, the curvaceous slant-back is bulbous, appearing too wide across the rear guard. Meanwhile, the narrow bonnet tucks too far into the body to offset this extra girth. Seen from ahead, or even in profile, the car is remarkably lithe, but the effect diminishes as you move aft.
So there—that's my attempt at disuading the casual reader from loving this design. Hopefully a Jeancart example will come along and grace us with some better sense of proportion. Or better yet, the gorgeous burgundy Delahaye 135 MS Coupe of comparable form—that's one I'm hoping to find at some point, and hopefully on a nice day for photos.
Automobile Quarterly's World of Cars, Lago-Talbot, adapted from "The Cars of Tony Lago" by Beverly Rae Kimes, Automobile Quarterly, New York, NY, c. 1971, page 168-173
Supercars.net with a good feature on the T-150 C SS Goutte d'Eau Coupe
"It's Systematic, It's Hydra-Matic: The First Automatic Transmission" notes the Wilson preselector in its history of the Hydra-Matic transmission.
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