(first posted 8/31/2016. And unless an earlier post was re-run, this is T87’s first post at CC; he’s up to 609 posts now, and still going strong. Thanks for all the remarkable cars and histories you’ve contributed to CC!)
When it debuted in 1946, the 170 hp Talbot-Lago T26 Record was alleged to be the most powerful car on offer. A couple years later, a short-wheelbase 190 hp Grand Sport was added, and its top speed of 200 kph (125 mph) made it the quickest production car in the world in the late ‘40s.
This T26 Record coupé surprofilé (streamlined coupé) came out of the Suresnes factory near Paris in 1949 with this Talbot-made body, one of four factory styles available.
This was probably the best French GT of the times, with a pretty hard suspension, as befits a 65-year old sports car. The 4.5 litre six was the largest post-war French production engine, tied with the trouble-prone Delahaye 175/178.
Talbot’s clientele were pretty conservative folks who usually preferred the standard usine (factory) bodies, such as this coupé. These are very rare cars–around 500 were built from 1946 to 1955, fewer still with this specific body. The “streamlined” epithet indicates that the trunk is lowered, rounded out and integrated (sort of) in the overall design.
The coupé surprofilé’s tail is mostly occupied by a large fuel tank and a massive spare tire, leaving barely enough space for a couple magnums of Bourgogne, a camembert and a wafer-thin mint.
Like many a Continental sports car of this era (Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Lancia, etc.), Talbots were always right-hand drive. This was allegedly to help the driver keep the car away from the curb.
Talbot-Lagos were equipped with the peculiar Wilson pre-selector gearbox. These sequential four-speed transmissions work by pressing the pedal after the gear is selected using the slim, spoon-like column-mounted lever on the right of the steering wheel.
Wilson “self-changing” gearboxes were more commonly used in big cars, trucks and buses, especially BSA-Daimler products, as well as Armstrong-Siddeleys, pre-war Rileys and Maybachs. Talbot CEO Tony Lago was a former Wilson executive and collected royalties on each gearbox sold, so he naturally favored these, even for F1 cars. Though heavy and hot, the Wilson box was popular with drivers, who claimed it was useful in turns, as they could change gear by foot while keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
The T26 engine had two lateral camshafts (and OHV) and was available in various rates of tuning depending on the customer, but was essentially the same in all cars, from a limousine to a Le Mans racer. In this car, the power output was 170 hp (two carbs) @ 4200 rpm. The later T26 GSL (1953-55) had triple carbs, an alloy head and 210 hp. A thoroughbred engine if there ever was one, especially compared to Delahaye’s truck-derived 135 block.
The car’s conservative styling was mirrored by other European contemporaries (Lagonda, Mercedes-Benz, Alvis…) and suits it rather well. Indeed, when it was dropped in favor of a heavier, slab-sided design in 1951, factory-bodied saloon sales virtually stopped. Domestic prices for the T26 skyrocketed to over 3 million francs by 1955—very close, hefty import tax included, to a much better equipped and dependable Cadillac. And why even look at a Talbot when a Jaguar XK 140 can bring so much more oomph for half the money?
All factory T26 bodies were hand-made in the traditional sense, with an ash frame and steel and aluminium panels. This made the car unnecessarily heavy (over 1.5 tonnes) and thirsty. Around the top speed, these cars will need 40 litres of premium gas per 100 km (around 6 mpg).
A number of T26s were clad by various European coachbuilders, such as Figoni, Graber, Ghia, Pennock or Franay. In those days, it was still common to order a bare chassis from the factory (costing over 1 million francs in 1949) and then spend two to three times that amount again for a bespoke body. Some of the wildest, prettiest and weirdest custom-made designs of the ‘40s and ‘50s found their way on the T26 chassis.
” Monsieur does not fancy a factory body? How about something a bit more flamboyant, such as zis T26 GS by Saoutchik?… ”
” …or perhaps zis more restrained T26 Record four-seater coupé by Henri Chapron, ze most successful of ze French coachbuilders…”
” …or maybe zis Grand Sport convertible bodied in 1951 by Stabilimenti Farina, if Monsieur prefers ze more modern Italian style?”
In the end, Talbots were too old-fashioned, pricey, thirsty and heavy. In the ‘50s, Bugatti, Delahaye, Hotchkiss and Salmson all bit the dust one after the other, with Talbot-Lago barely holding out until 1960.
The Talbot T26’s domestic competition circa 1949-51, clockwise from top left: the 3 litre Delage D6, the 3.5 litre Hotchkiss 20/50, the 3.3 litre (straight 8) Bugatti 101 and the 4.5 litre Delahaye 175. Only the Hotchkiss was produced in more numbers than the T26 (about 600); fewer than ten Bugatti 101s were made. None of these were built after 1954.
French luxury car-makers were stuck in the ‘30s and never really made it past the artisan stage (unlike, say, Panhard). They were not competitive even in their home market and never managed to export the way Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz or Aston-Martin did.
The Talbot-Lago T26 was a great car, one of the last heirs to a long tradition of French GTs. A long bygone era, as the very notion of a “French GT” is completely alien nowadays.
Wow, what a beautiful car. As I was reading, my mind was drawing parallels to the high end cars of the US. This separate chassis covered with a custom body died out in the 1930s here. That kind of automobile building was simply never going to work in a postwar environment, particularly one mostly restricted to continental Europe rebuilding after the war.
Sad (but well written) story of a dying era of French cars. They could not see the new reality of a post-war world.
Beautiful, just beautiful. Some say engine and excise taxes were to blame for the demise of the great Grand Routiers. Regardless, I hope someday someone captures a daily driver Facel in the wild for CC, those seemed to be the true successor to these masterpieces.
My thought exactly–Facels were the natural evolution of this type of car, and perhaps *the* last specialty builder French GT. (Things like the SM and A310 coming from much larger manufacturers…)
This one may have been something of an anachronism, but it’s sure a lovely one.
I Like that photo of the T26 GS with Dolores Del Lago standing next to it (Bette Midler joke….)
Other than the convertible sports car, these TL’s are kind of Ho Hum…….
In their favor one should add the fact that the very left-leaning french government of the post-war era introduced a punitive taxation scheme whereby any car with an engine larger than 2.8 L was subject to ridiculously high rates. That meant that French manufacturers of cars like the Talbot-Lago could not even have the comfort of relying on funds generated on the home market. Of course, that on its own was no excuse for not having a better export dealer network (like Ferrari and Maserati) but still. Later Facel proved it was possible to exist as a French Grand Routier manufacturer, but the concept was slightly different.
Actuality I believe the punitive tax rate started with an engine of 1.5 litres. Even today 2.8 l usually get surcharged with up to 8000 Euros.
Here in Austria we pay hp tax, which is another particularly idiotic tax. My 165 hp Mazda 3 costs me €750 per year for example. There is also a kind of watershed further down the line at 120 hp which is why you find so many cars offered by different manufacturers with 120 hp in Austria…
The way around it is getting a low powered US something or another from the malaise years and then modifying it; modern test stations and government officials have no clue about those.
I don’t care if it was considered old-fashioned, that’s a gorgeous car!
A side note is the custom-built Talbo built here in the USA. It’s an interesting alternative if you can’t afford the astronomical price tags for the real thing…http://www.tlccar.com/talbo.htm … and the company is for sale if you wish to go into the custom automobile building business!
Oh man, this article is such a sugar rush. Love all the shapes here, frigging superb to see them but my favourite is actually the four door. It just needs a bit of work blending the boot to the body and that is one ace sedan shape. Great day Tatra87.
Thank you for your kind words, Don. It’s a pleasure to have pleased you and all the other folks who complemented this and the Talbot history article.
I agree with you, the berline is even better than the coupe in many ways. Proportions are just right.
Incidentally, if you or anyone else knows who made the T26 cabriolet below (shown at the 1951 Brussels salon, I believe), I’d be grateful for the info…
Could be Graber or Beuttler out of Switzerland, maybe. Just guessing. That’s purdy.
Those “double” bumpers on the ’49 Coupe scream “Jaguar” to me, but I don’t think Jaguars had double bumpers in ’49. Is this where they got the idea ?
The door on the coupe in the opening photo looks like it would bolt onto a VW Beetle. I’m sure it’s an optical illusion and the dimensions are all wrong, but now I can’t unsee that.
the very notion of a “French GT” is completely alien nowadays. Dont tell Peugeot they label some of their later efforts ‘GT’ and if you like hours of effortless driving a PSA store is the place to shop
Thanks for explaining why Ive not seen any of these Talbot Lago on the road heavy expensive thirsty and rare even new,
Wilson preselct gearboxes take some getting used to but I can see the attraction in a car I drove one in a very slow bus once.
Still here 600 posts and six years later, who’d have thunk it? Cheers for the opportunity, CC. Hope folks are reading, cause they sure don’t comment much any more…
I assure you they are. And there weren’t all that many comments here six years ago either.
I am constantly amazed at how many emails I get from loyal readers that I never knew existed. A very great number of them just never comment.
For instance, almost every COAL series in the past few years (Jim and Jason excepted) was from a regular reader that had not commented previously. Commenting in general has been in decline for years on the web.
That white convertible is soo so beautiful!!