Factory archives note this to be a T26 with the potent Grand Sport 4.5-liter power unit, and specifically the more-desirable aluminum-head version, of which a mere three dozen were equipped. Talbot-Lago’s designation for these was T26 Record Sport.
Figoni’s production record states that they received the Record Sport chassis from Talbot-Lago on January 29, 1948. They proceeded to clothe the chassis with a Cabriolet Décapotable, one of only four ever to have been completed this way, of which just this and another survive today.
|Vehicle:||1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Record Sport Cabriolet|
|Number Produced:||400 (estimated), 4 with this body style|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,000|
|Chassis Number Location:||Firewall ID plate|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped right rear of engine block|
|Club Info:||Club Talbot France|
|Alternatives:||1947–48 Delahaye 135 Narval, 1937–40 Delage D8-120, 1936–39 Talbot-Lago T150-C SS|
This car, Lot 49, sold for $1,875,000, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge auction on August 13, 2021.
At the end of the First World War, contrary to what one may expect, most automobile manufacturers were in a relatively good financial state. Their factories had been transformed to make military vehicles and planes, and they had been paid.
In 1920, a British consortium grouped three such companies, Talbot and Sunbeam in the U.K., and Darracq in France. Unusually, it was decided to let the three sister firms produce their own cars with no interchangeable parts. Darracq was renamed Talbot-Darracq, but in the coming years, Darracq would be dropped. This left the confusing situation of two completely different carmakers, in two different countries, using the same name.
Talbot France produced high-quality automobiles for the middle-aged middle-class. It did this well, but was as dull as its owners. By the early 1930s, the American Great Depression was having a knock-on effect in Europe, and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Lago takes over
Antony Lago was born and educated in Italy, an accomplished engineer who designed the Wilson pre-selector gearbox. He was also a very good administrator, working for Sunbeam Talbot in England. In 1934, the group asked him to go to Paris and try to save the French arm of the business. But the English side was also in trouble and had no money available to help Talbot France.
Within one year, Talbot decided to throw in the towel, and Antony Lago became sole owner of the French company. Lago had investors and he knew what he had to do: make his cars more attractive and more sporting. He firmly believed that racing improves the breed, in two respects — the free advertising that went with a winning car and the resultant technology being incorporated in road cars. He quickly produced successful race cars, and the factory team self-financed with the sale of identical cars for gentlemen racers. Now all he had to do was make the cars look sexier.
Italians in Paris
Joseph Figoni, another Italian, had established his coachbuilding workshop in Paris in 1923. Like Talbot, his creations were of high quality, but apart from an occasional flash of brilliance, not exceptional. In 1935 he teamed up with Ovidio Falaschi, an Italian investor. Figoni et Falaschi now had the wherewithal to indulge in the production of bodies for many of the world’s most outstanding automobiles.
It would be easy to imagine the three Italians sitting in a café on the Boulevard Saint Germain, discussing their dreams and ambitions. Lago wanted to make sporting cars. Figoni, exceptional clothing for the chassis. Falaschi was happy to bankroll the initial operation. It was a marriage made in heaven (although Figoni did not work exclusively for Talbot) with astounding results. The era of exotic “streamliners” was born, resulting in what is arguably the most beautiful automobile in history: the Talbot T150-C SS Teardrop.
A new chapter
Then, war struck again. Once more, automobile manufacturers were taken over to produce implements of destruction, but this time, the occupying Germans were not filling up their coffers.
Lago did not hide meekly in a corner of his workshop. As early as 1942, he started design on a new engine, a 6-cylinder displacing 4.5 liters. Visually, it appeared to have twin-overhead cams, but the camshafts were actually in the block, actuating the banks of overhead valves.
Just prior to the war, a new formula for Grand Prix cars was devised, with a maximum engine capacity of 4.5 liters, or 1.5 with a supercharger fitted. Lago correctly assumed this decision would be carried over when normality returned. All he had to do was wait for the allocation of scarce post-war materials to build his new car, which he gained in 1946 on the condition that all production was initially exported.
The engine produced 170 hp in standard form, and in racing trim in excess of 200. This made the T26 one of the fastest road cars at the time. For the first time, these new cars were officially called Talbot-Lago.
Flamboyant and well-sold
Our subject T26 was specified with a Grand Sport engine, normally reserved for the short-chassis version. Figoni clothed it as a 2-seat cabriolet with disappearing top, and it was delivered to a Parisian client. Found in the mid-1960s resting in a scrap yard, the car was saved.
Over 20 years later and still needing restoration, it was sold to a French dealer before being restored and sold to the Rosso Bianco Museum in Germany. Subsequently, the T26 was sold by Bonhams at Monterey in 2006 (SCM# 42604) and purchased by noted collector John O’Quinn for $375,500. He owned a huge number of classics, including many great French cars. At some point it was determined that the car’s chassis number came from another car with saloon bodywork.
With the older restoration showing its age, O’Quinn elected to send the car back to France to be re-restored. He unfortunately died when work had only just begun, and the car was sold to a new owner who decided to finish the work at the same shop. Peter Larsen, a Talbot historian, sorted out the chassis-number problem with the help of the Figoni archives.
This is not one of Figoni’s greatest creations. Flamboyant and in-your-face, this imposing automobile is not to everyone’s taste. But it will get you noticed. It is doubtful that the French restoration will get you a first in class, but a little more work might suffice.
The chassis-number problem will have restrained potential buyers in 2006, but Talbot did not stamp numbers onto the frame. It’s not unusual for cars to get plates swapped for a variety of reasons. Larsen discreetly offered the car for sale early this year, but there were no takers. The sale price of $1.875m was certainly more than the owner expected but reflects the current market optimism at this year’s Monterey sales. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)