Courtesy of Bonhams
Simply the best. No other phrase better sums up BGH 23. In its day, this was the outstanding British sports touring car. Georges Roesch’s long line of “Invincible Talbots” needs little introduction to the discerning car connoisseur, and only a combination of poor luck and poor timing meant they never achieved the big-race overall victory which would have made the Talbots from Barlby Road, London, W10, much more widely appreciated. Talbot competed so widely within their period that BGH 23, as offered here, is eligible for all of the great historic rallies and major-circuit events, such as the Mille Miglia Retrospective, the Le Mans Classic, the Endurance Rally Association’s Alpine Tour and Flying Scotsman, and of course the Goodwood Revival Meeting — in all of which Talbots in recent years, as in period, have proved extremely capable and competitive. This imposing car is the ultimate Talbot development of the company’s Swiss-born chief engineer, Georges Roesch, and of all the Works and Works-supported team sports cars that he conceived and developed to perfection, BGH 23 is the only one which raced with the much more potent 3.3-liter 110 6-cylinder engine fitted by the factory in period. Therefore, BGH 23 can be described as being the ultimate expression of the big, four-seat, British sports-racing car. The car is from a sporting tradition founded in British Racing Green by Bentley and carried on — in varying liveries — by both Lagonda and, quite hyperactively, by Talbot.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1934 Talbot AV105 Alpine racer
Years Produced:1931–35
Number Produced:Road cars, 330; team cars, three
Original List Price:N/A
SCM Valuation:$1,700,000–$2,200,000
Chassis Number Location:Plate riveted to firewall
Engine Number Location:Stamped on flange at front of the block
Club Info:Talbot Owners Club
Alternatives:1934–35 Lagonda 4.5-liter M45, 1931–34 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, 1931–35 Bugatti Type 55
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 19, sold for $2,164,630 at Bonhams’ Bond Street auction in London, England, on November 30, 2014.

Talbot may well be the Rodney Dangerfield of British performance cars. It’s not so much a matter of respect; it’s that few people really know anything about them. If they do, they tend to think of Talbot-Lago, the French marque that picked up the flag when British Talbot failed.

It’s a bit of a pity, because for a short, difficult period during the mid-1930s, Talbot was a serious contender for the production supercar of its time. The relative obscurity that history bestowed on Talbot has not diminished the qualities of the machines themselves, but it has limited the market’s awareness of them, which in turn presents the astute collector with opportunities. Let’s follow this.

A race history

Talbot was formed in 1903 to sell French-built cars in the U.K. It quickly evolved into designing and building its own cars, hiring a Swiss-born engineer named Georges Roesch to be their chief technical guy in 1916. Roesch proved to be an excellent, forward-looking engineer who was particularly interested in designing engines that were more efficient by increasing the safe rpm that could be used (3,000 rpm was a lot for a late-1920s Mercedes or Bentley, so there was plenty of room for improvement). The resulting Talbot engine attracted the interest of a British firm, Fox & Nicholls, which wanted a car to go racing. They approached Roesch about modifying an existing car to be a better racer, and the development process was on. The 2.3-liter Talbot 90 proved to be very competitive with Bentley and Mercedes in multiple venues, taking 3rd and 4th overall in the 1930 Le Mans race.

For the 1931 season, the Talbot 105 was introduced, with the engine enlarged to 3 liters — and equipped with a seven-main bearing crankshaft and chromed camshaft lobes to allow much higher engine speeds.

The 105 was immediately successful, placing 3rd at Le Mans in 1931 and doing very well at Brooklands, the main British venue. The road version did at least as well, selling over 330 examples over a number of years and allowing Talbot to be profitable during the very difficult Great Depression.

Mike Couper and his gang

It’s time to introduce Mike Couper, a high-end automobile dealer and very competitive racer. Bentley lore is filled with stories of the “Bentley Boys” who built the racing legend of Bentley. Mike Couper led a similar group of Talbot enthusiasts who accomplished for Talbot in the 1930s what the Bentley Boys did for Bentley in the late 1920s: win impressively.

During the mid-1930s, probably the most demanding open-road test of machinery in the world was an event called the Alpine Trial, a six-day, 3,600-mile timed rally through central Europe that included racing over virtually every serious pass in the Alps — along with flat-out Autostrada runs and pothole-filled roads in Yugoslavia.

Couper and his friends had done well as privateers driving his Talbot AW90 in 1933, so it seemed like a good idea to approach the factory about a team effort in 1934.

Three special AV105 cars

Although money was tight, a Talbot distributor was persuaded to fund the effort, and the factory happily agreed to build three very special (although still technically production specification) AV105 cars for the purpose.

In August the three cars were driven to Nice, Italy, for the start. Couper drove our subject car, BGH 23. The team ended up sharing the victory in Class II with Adler, with not so much as a spark plug changed or a tappet adjusted on any of the three cars. They were immediately driven back from Munich to London, where the cars went their separate ways.

Couper got Talbot’s permission to race BGH 23 at Brooklands over the next four years (this was still a factory demonstrator, technically, and was needed in street trim during the week for its day job) with consistent and very impressive results. During the 1935 One-Hour High Speed Trial, he set a fastest lap of 103 mph and went 99.6 miles in the allocated hour, almost becoming the first 100-mph sports car in Brooklands history.

Upgraded and changed in period

Georges Roesch and Talbot management happily did what they could to keep things going well, and they continually upgraded BGH 23 to the newest specifications.

In the spring of 1936, Roesch improved the block-casting process to allow the engines to be bored out to 3.3 liters, which dramatically improved the horsepower output, and the Talbot model AV110 was born. BGH 23 immediately got a special version of the new engine, which it retains to the present.

The car remained a factory demonstrator and had to be instantly convertible to catalog-specification road trim for the purpose, but by 1937 it was lapping the Brooklands outer circuit at over 130 mph on the weekends. Within the constraints of being a production road car, there was simply nothing faster than BGH 23.

Decades in the wilderness

In the late fall of 1938, Talbot finally collapsed, and Mike Couper bought BGH 23 for himself. Over the next 36 years it suffered many of the depredations that old racing cars — even famous ones — endure. It was rebodied, with the original body mounted on a Bentley. The car saw extensive use without much maintenance, but it did retain all of its original components. In 1974, it got its original body back and was restored to 1938 specifications, and has been enthusiastically kept to the present.

Rare, fun and eligible

The collector market for sporting pre-war cars, particularly those from the 1930s, continues to be very strong. This is understandable for a number of reasons: They are much easier to drive than the earlier cars, not to mention both faster and much safer at speed than their predecessors, but they are still easy to keep and maintain.

There are plenty of high-status and tremendously fun events available to anyone who owns one and wants to play, and there is an exclusivity to them that adds value.

The 1930s were a terrible time for auto manufacturers in general and particularly for the carriage-trade sporting ones, with the result that few were built and fewer remain. In looking for comparable cars, Alfa Romeo’s 6C and 8C models come to mind, along with various Bugattis. There were few English options: Lagonda and a few Aston Martins were the only truly sporting cars available; Bentley had become a rebadged Rolls-Royce.

In terms of market value, this is an expensive group of cars to buy, and even if the appreciation for the Talbot marque is well below Alfas or Bugattis, its importance and value are very real. This was an extremely significant racing car of its time, and it remains a very enjoyable car as well. It sold for half to one-third of what a comparable Alfa or Bugatti would bring, and it will easily run against or show with any of them. I would say well bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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