#0040 - Talbot-Lago T-150 C Roadster by Figoni et Falaschi, #82928, Chinetti/Dreyfus, 1937
Photographed: Saint Michaels Concours d'Elegance, 2008. Note that the registration plate has been altered as a courtesy. Owner: James A. Patterson
The Beauty of Convention: Among all Figoni et Falaschi bodied T-150 C examples, this roadster is perhaps the least iconic of that particular extravagance the French styling house was known for. In the first place it is an open-top car, of which few examples are rolling around the planet, and in the second place it eschews the motif-based ornamentation common to nearly all the remaining examples. Now this is an odd juxtaposition, because we're talking of qualities that are common to the most uncommon variety of automotive thing. But, on the whole, I mean to say this roadster is a strange concoction that sticks out. In a palatial garden of imperial roses, this is a black iris.
Morphology: And so what is conventional? As this car began life in full racing trim, (and this is unlike the Duke Phillipe de Massa T-150 C SS Coupe, which raced in its present, road-amicable form), the body conceived for road use by the firm's talented designer, Andreau, retained many of those original sporting features. The skirts, for example, keep a sharp line, trim as on a sports-racing car. There is no running gear along the flanks and, in traditional fashion, the bonnet is clean and slender, ornamented by a perfunctory set of louvres and two broad leather straps, while the doors are cut down in a style suited to any Italian or British contemporary. Moving aft to the most pleasing piece of this composition, the back is a formidable execution of what we might call a bob-tail, a shortened curve with a high arch on the profile tied up slightly in the lower arch beneath the car. The entire shape is wrapped around the sides for an elegant spherical effect that ensures proportions are perfectly sporting from any angle.
Hardly any other small roadster had this sort of outstanding elegance. Perhaps the BMW 328 comes close, but it was paneled with production in mind and falls short in imparting that feeling of being special. Likely, the Jaguar SS-90 Prototype is British counterpart to this T-150; it was so much more keen on blending the linear and the curvaceous than were the production SS-90 and SS-100 cars. And, while we're at it, we should mention the Mercedes-Benz SSK Count Trossi Roadster, often called the Black Prince, as another counterpoint of elegance.
Back to our Talbot, the other cue taken from the competition form and updated for road use in exquisite manner is the exposed exhaust. In this case, the Figoni adaptation is indeed extravagant. The external exhaust is encased in a thick, fluid channel of chrome that hugs the flank, then dives back inside the rear skirt on the driver side. The point of exit for the exhaust is low, which is beneficial for the driver as it's kept out of the way from straying elbows. At the height of the classic era, very few cars went to the trouble to make an artistic statement of external exhaust—this was much more a late twenties fascination and had been well run in America by the middle of the 1930s, the Auburn 8-851 giving it a long kiss farewell for the catechism of automotive design. But here, on the T-150 C Roadster, the idea is revised in a remarkable way.
Lastly, we note the chrome. A major part of nearly every grand classic bodied by Figoni et Falaschi, chrome on this Talbot-Lago is somewhat subdued, but nonetheless complimentary to the overall form. The most notable piece graces the rear skirt which, with its wheel cover, accents a very shallow curve on the lower edge while running straight along the top. The facing piece inside the skirt against the flank is slightly dramatic, but short, tucked into the flank with a sharp point and gentle sweep. Additionally, the front and rear skirts are tipped with rounded chrome plates. These seems as if they should have a functional task, but in the end serve a wholly aesthetic purpose: Perhaps poignant now that the car is black—a luscious black, at that, working so well with the bright leather trim and copper brake drums—the chrome plates show where the skirts end and, by mimicking their shape, indicate what degree of sharpness defines their termini. Without these indicators, the flowing lines would compound on one another and, for being drawn at various angles, become lost together. These plates are guides if you will, transferred from the draughting table to the prototype just to make sure our eyes properly digest the actual shape of the car. This is a highly unusual effect that, as mentioned, may work in more pleasing ways today than at first conception—the car was originally a light color, perhaps silver—and it is somewhat genius.
The Men and the Machine: Factory drivers for the racing season were none other than Luigi Chinetti, (see his Le Mans winning Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta) and Pierre-Louis Dreyfus, who went by the pseudonym of 'Helde.'
This particular car, chassis #82928, was featured at the 1937 Paris Salon alongside many of the more familiar Figoni et Falaschi designs. Of this style, one other T-150 C chassis originally received the same treatment, but in period it was quickly returned to racing, and thence re-bodied in the process. First to receive this completed road-going car, (though Chinetti picked it up personally from the styling house), was one Mr. B. Alsan-Finley. As reported by RM Auctions in July 2005, Alsan-Finely wrote Figoni et Falaschi, saying, "I find the body that you put on my Talbot is a real work of art. Your work will have no problems from admirers and car aficionados and I hope that this style of body will bring you success in the future."
As for the racing history, that part remains hazy, as so often happens with cars that served a dual-purpose of racing and road-going in their day. RM was confident enough to suspect, however, that this chassis may have competed in the 1937 French Grand Prix. Supporting such a lofty claim, the car itself bears a large capacity oil pan, punched handbrake lever, dual braking system, high compression motor, and the same pedal configuration used on the factory's racing cars. Regardless, this T-150 C exhibits some sort of eventful racing history that ended with the fitting of an amazing, low-volume body, just like the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900-A Mille Miglia Spyder, of which three were completed subsequent to the 1936 Mille Miglia. Cars like this are fascinating for the way they change their stripes, and for how they wear them.
Although it contains a lot of cursory history on the Talbot-Lago marque, RM Auctions's July 2005 Magazine is responsible for some of the finer details that put flesh on the body of this car's story.
Over at Coachbuild.com there's a brief description and a bunch more photographs, including some of mine.
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