Decried by some as vulgar when new—the British press notably nicknamed the coachwork “Phony and Flashy”—time has been kind to Figoni’s work.

While all Teardrops were quite unique, chassis 90034 may well be the most unique of all. It is the only example built on the longer Lago Speciale chassis—some 11.8 inches longer than the SS. In the world of important French cars, provenance is second only to design, and 90034 stands as one of the best of the Teardrops, having a continuous history from new, a commendable and unique competition record, and no history of fire, accident or deterioration.

First owner Antoine Schumann was killed while serving in the French army. The next owner was Freddy Damman, who entered the Lago Speciale for the 1948 24 Hours of Spa, taking 1st in class. The Talbot remained with the Damman family until 1979. It then passed through the ownership of industrialist Michel Seydoux before being sold at auction in 1981. The purchaser was an avid motoring enthusiast who retained the Lago Speciale for 23 years. The next owner fell in love with the car at first sight. An avid collector of important cars, he intended to restore it for Pebble Beach or to display as a piece of fine art.

On a previous road test in 2005, the Talbot proved to be an absolute delight to drive. That year, 90034 joined the collection of the late Mr. John O’Quinn, who embarked on a comprehensive restoration following his successful purchase. Without argument, it truly remains one of the most stunning cars in the world today.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1938 Talbot-Lago T150-C Speciale Teardrop
Years Produced:1937-1939
Number Produced:14
Original List Price:FFr 105,000 ($2,635) for an SS chassis in 1939, plus FFr 60,000 ($1,506) for the body
SCM Valuation:$3.5m to $4.5m
Tune Up Cost:$2,000
Chassis Number Location:Plate on firewall, plus various hidden locations
Engine Number Location:Timing case on front of motor
Alternatives:1936-37 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, 1937-39 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, 1936-37 Mercedes-Benz 500/540K Special Roadster

This car, Lot 359, sold for $4,620,000 at RM’s Sporting Classics of Monterey Auction on August 14, 2010.

“Les Grands Couturiers de la Carrosserie Automobile,” translated loosely as “Great Fashion Designers of Automobile Coachwork,” is how the Parisian firm of Figoni & Falaschi promoted themselves in 1930s high society. Italian-born expatriate Giuseppe Figoni’s coachbuilding shop had humble origins in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-sur-Seine, but the proximity of the nearby Longchamp race course and an airfield brought him into contact with a wealthy clientele who were soon commissioning entire bodies rather than mere repairs.

Figoni’s stylish designs saw ever more prestigious chassis entrusted to him until Ovidio Falaschi, a wealthy Tuscan businessman with a passion for beautiful motorcars, proposed a partnership. It was 1935, and from now until the outbreak of World War II the newly formed Figoni & Falaschi would become the enfant terrible of European coachbuilding, and their distinctive triangular badge graced some of the most daring, extravagant and impractical designs ever to grace a motor car chassis.

Two of these have since entered legend. The fully spatted open Delahaye shown at the 1936 Paris Salon, also known as the Geo Ham roadster (although the artist’s claim to a hand in the design was dismissed in a 1937 court case), took inspiration from aeronautical practice, even including a vestigial fin cresting the tail.

Following this, and perhaps even more representative of Figoni’s style, came an equally dramatic and stylized coupe on a Talbot-Lago chassis: the Goutte d’Eau, or teardrop. Described by historian Richard Adatto, whom I thank for his help in researching this article, as: “A riot of curves from one end to the other, with barely a straight line in sight.” Topped off with chrome flashes and exuberant colors, Teardrop coupes invariably caused a sensation when debuting at pre-war concours d’elegance, usually paired with a glamorous model in a matching outfit for maximum effect.

Decried by some as vulgar when new—the British press notably nicknamed the coachwork “Phony and Flashy”—time has been kind to Figoni’s work. Patronized in their heyday by the likes of playboy racing driver, Olympic bobsledder and sometime Figoni agent Freddy McEvoy, a Standard Oil heiress and an Indian Maharani, the Goutte d’Eau coupes then fell into oblivion for years.

But today they’re the darlings of the car-collecting universe. Just 17 were built, three of them on the less-expensive T23 “Baby” chassis, and a further four slightly less-flamboyant interpretations are attributed to rival coachbuilder Marcel Pourtout.

It’s all about looks—and being seen

In 2010, you need to be a serious collector—read “very deep pockets”— to own an original Teardrop coupe. If any car comes close to art, this is it. Arguably none other, except perhaps Bugatti’s Type 57SC Atlantic, has such sculptural quality. Don’t ask what they’re like to drive—that’s never been the point.

What’s underneath is solidly engineered but nothing as sophisticated as, say, an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 from the same period. With Figoni’s creations, it’s the “wow” look you’re buying, a shot at Best of Show in any world-class concours and the kudos that come with owning an icon. This car is not something to throw around country lanes or alpine passes.

That tells you why these cars are so special. Now let’s translate that into hard numbers.

Fourteen Teardrop coupes were built with the big T150 (4-liter, 6-cylinder) motor, and all survive, although one was reported stolen in 2001. All, except this car, are on the shorter chassis. This shorter and sportier (and, to most people, more desirable) chassis is usually referred to as the SS, or Super Sport.

Our feature Teardrop is the only car built on the long chassis, also known as the Speciale. The car was quoted in period as having 140 horsepower compared to the SS’s 165 to 170 horsepower, which translated into a top speed of 106 mph versus 115 mph. The Speciale also weighed 638 pounds more than the SS.

The Teardrop body style varies too. Three of them, including the first one built, have an indent in the profile of the tail—a “notchback”—if you like, and were named “Jeancart” after the man who commissioned that first car. The remaining bodies are known as the “New York” style and have a smooth tail line.
A Jeancart Teardrop took Best of Show at Pebble in 1997, but the New York is arguably more striking.

A sudden spate of Teardrops

As is often the way, very few Teardrops ever appeared at auction until this car paved the way for a spate of sales when it broke cover at RM’s Monterey event in August 2005. As it had spent the past decade languishing in Geneva’s International Automobile Museum, where I’d held countless auctions in my Bonhams days, I know a little about its background.

A savvy local investor bought it in 2005 from its aging, long-term French owner. After a quick freshening, it was dispatched to RM that summer where it exceeded all expectations, selling for $3.7m to the late John O’Quinn.

To put this into context, just two days later Christie’s sold a T150C-SS short chassis, New York Teardrop—to most collectors a more desirable combination—for $3.5m at Pebble Beach. In January 2006, Gooding sold another T150C-SS New York Teardrop—this one with Le Mans history—for $3.9m (this car was also the 2010 Villa d’Este Best of Show winner).

Latecomers to the party, Bonhams offered another New York Teardrop in August 2006—it was the ex-Rob Walker, so it had a good history—but this one failed at $2.8m.

Time to pause for more buyers to appear, and when Gooding reoffered the ex-Christie’s T150C-SS (not driven since purchase in 2005) last January in Scottsdale, it sold for $3.5m, so there was no change in four years.

An artful investment?

The long chassis O’Quinn car was restored for him after purchase and shown at Pebble Beach, where it failed to win or place. Therefore—preservation advocates turn away now—it was immediately restored again at his order.

In between, Mr. O’Quinn left us, and his estate asked RM to sell the car. Love them or hate them (I’m a fan), these Teardrops are the Fabergé Eggs of car collecting. At the current time, I’d have to call this particular one well sold—but given how blue-chip collectibles as a group are doing, we may simply have seen someone making an astute buy, in the long-term perspective.

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