The Talbot-Lago T150C SS presented here, chassis 90107, is widely regarded as the most beautiful and unique of the Figoni-bodied Teardrops.
Of the precious few Figoni et Falaschi Teardrops built, 90107 is the only original-bodied example of the definitive Modéle New York design with fully enveloping front fenders. A prizewinner at the 1938 Concours d’Elegance Fémina, this marvelous machine has been owned by a limited roster of caretakers since its arrival on U.S. soil in 1939. Remarkably, this European classic spent nearly eight decades in Southern California, the locus of American car culture, where it led a fantastic existence — raced by the legendary Tommy Lee on the dry lake beds of the Mojave Desert, hidden away for decades by pioneering French-car collector Lindley Locke, and then rediscovered and restored to its original splendor by The Nethercutt Collection.
Following its restoration, this Talbot-Lago was debuted at the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, earning a well-deserved First in Class trophy. This victory was followed by a string of Best of Show awards, including its outing at the 2007 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. The current owner, a private collector with a passion for fine art and Art Deco automobiles, has continued to preserve the Teardrop in pristine condition. He has not exhibited it publicly, giving its next caretaker the distinct pleasure of returning it to the show field.
|Vehicle:||1937 Talbot-Lago T150C SS Teardrop Coupe|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,500|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on firewall|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped on timing case|
|Club Info:||Club Talbot France|
|Alternatives:||1934 Voisin C27 Aerosport, 1936 Delahaye 135M Figoni et Falaschi Competition coupe, 1937 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atalante|
This car, Lot 54, sold for $13,425,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction on March 4, 2022.
In the mid-1930s, America was in the midst of the Great Depression and Europe was doing little better. This was not the time to launch a new luxury car, but three audacious Italian expats living in France decided to do just that. In the few short years leading up to the war, they produced some of the most beautiful automobiles ever seen — either before or since.
Three Italians and a dream
Antonio Lago, born in Venice, was a highly competent engineer and a great administrator. In the early 1930s he was a director of the English owned company STD, which owned the Sunbeam, British Talbot and the French Talbot-Darracq marques. The three manufacturers operated independently and by 1934 all three were hemorrhaging money. The parent company decided to close down Talbot France but Lago persuaded them to let him have a go at saving it and he moved to Paris. In 1935, STD could no longer survive financially, and Antonio Lago became the owner of Talbot France. He found financial backing and set about revitalizing the company. Within a short time, the feat was accomplished.
Giuseppe Figoni was born in northern Italy, but at four years old, he and his family moved to Paris. By his early teens, now feeling more French than Italian, he changed his first name to Joseph. After learning the trade with various French coachbuilders, he opened his own workshop in 1923. For the next 12 years he produced well-made but generally unexciting bodies. The talent and imagination was there — all he needed was financial help to take the next step.
Ovidio Falaschi was born in Tuscany and became a successful businessman. In 1935 he became partners with Joseph Figoni, and Figoni et Falaschi was created. Falaschi supplied the money for Figoni to realize his dreams, at the same time taking over the administration of the new company and leaving Figoni to concentrate on new designs.
Let’s go racing
Antonio Lago was lucky in inheriting a recently designed chassis with independent front suspension. This would go on to be the basis for all future Talbots, whether road or race. Lago fully understood the benefits of racing — the resultant technology improves the breed across the board, and winning races sells road cars. He immediately set about designing a race engine that would be called the T150C, the C standing for “Corse” (competition). The inline 6 had an aluminum hemispherical head with special cams and pistons, and a higher compression ratio.
Designed for both race and high-speed road use, the first few cars were built to the 3.0-liter formula, but international racing regulations quickly changed, so the following cars were made with 4.0-liter engines.
Most road cars were made on the 116-inch wheelbase chassis, while race cars sat on a shorter 104-inch version. Race cars were produced in either single- or 2-seat versions, and although they could not compete with the might of Mercedes’ government-sponsored cars, they often brought home laurels.
Some road cars were made on the short chassis, and these were designated T150C SS, the SS for “Super Sport.” They used a slightly detuned version of the race engine but were still good for a top speed of 125 mph.
Perfect automotive art
Most Talbots produced at this time sported bodies made by the factory. They all had a certain elegance and ranged from utilitarian to extremely attractive. The later examples are generally considered to be Figoni designs. However, for the small number of road cars made on the Super Sport chassis, Lago and his customers turned to such prestigious coachbuilders as Pourtout and especially Figoni.
The Figoni Teardrop epitomized late-1930s streamlined design. There were two versions, initially with a smooth notchback, then the purer fastback. The majority of about 13 cars made on the Super Sport chassis were the fastback “New York” design, plus a few on the longer chassis. The moniker derives from the car that wooed visitors to the New York Salon.
Most beautiful cars have a flaw somewhere, but this one is simply perfect. The curves hide myriad intricacies; there are no straight lines. It is master coachbuilding at its very best, a timeless jewel.
Our subject is one of only two New York cars made with enveloping front fenders and is the only survivor with its original body. After a brief sojourn in France, 90107 was exported to California in 1939, where it spent the majority of its life. Unquestionably this car is the most desirable Teardrop, and consequently one of the most valuable pre-war cars extant.
Gooding was unsure how much this unique car would make. But it did know the bidding would be “in excess of $10,000,000,” and stated so in its catalog, rather than “refer to department.”
Of the two available body styles, an earlier “notchback” could be expected to make around $10m, similar to a Bugatti Type 57 SC Atalante. But the history, intrinsic originality and the coveted faired-in front fenders make this a truly special car. In a market where pre-war cars have generally lost their flavor, exceptions are made for the rarest and most beautiful. There is no denying that is what we have here.
This is not simply an automobile. It is rolling art, and its place should be with other great sculptures by the world’s greatest artists. Most art collectors haven’t yet figured this out. When they do, in the not-too-distant future, this car will be deemed to have sold cheaply. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Co.)