Talbot Lago

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Talbot Lago SS
After Tony Lago purchased Darracq the “Lago Special” would bring the company to the public’s attention...

Talbot Lago SS
The SS (Special Sports) racing version featured a 165bhp engine and was good for a top speed in excess of 110mph (177kmh)...

Talbot Lago Grand Sport
The Talbot Lago Grans Sport looked anything but average...

Talbot Lago 4.5 Litre
Rosier would use a two-seater sports version of the racing car to win the 1950 Le Mans race...

Talbot Lago America
The new model “America” was a lovely GT coupe style, and used the 2580cc alloy BMW V8 engine...

Talbot Lago America
The naming of the car was certainly an indication of the market the company were now relying upon to arrest their waning fortunes...

Major Tony Lago created the Talbot-Lago marque in 1935 when he purchased the French branch of the bankrupted Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq combine. However many contest that the story really began at the end of the 19th century when Adolphe Clement, a French industrialist, began to manufacture cars.

Clement had realized early on that exporting his vehicles, particularly to the more affluent and therefore more lucrative UK market, would help ensure his companies success – and so he soon became associated with the the Earl of Shrewsbury & Talbot who was also keen to import French cars to the UK.

The Earl set up an assembly plant in London in 1904, and the imported/locally assembled cars were naturally enough called “Clement-Talbots”. The cars would prove successful and, in 1912, their reputation was bolstered by the Percy Lambert who would become the first ever driver to achieve 100 miles-in-an-hour at Brooklands.

In 1919 the Earl of Shrewsbury would sell his business to Darracq, who then went on to form the first major international alliance when they teamed with Sunbeam and set up the S-T-D (Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq) combine in 1920.

Things became increasingly confusing in 1922 when the French arm of the company started to sell its own cars as Talbot-Darracq’s, and then as Talbot’s; meanwhile the British arm continued to produce Talbot and Sunbeam cars at separate factories until they in turn were both taken over, after the liquidation, by Rootes in 1935.

It was following the Rootes buy-out that Tony Lago decided to purchase Darracq, and immediately set about introducing a new range of six-cylinder cars. His new engines featured overhead valves and, at 3996cc, were dubbed the “Baby 4 liter”, but it was the “Lago Special” that would bring the company to the public’s attention.

This special sports racing version featured a 165bhp engine and was good for a top speed in excess of 110mph (177kmh) and would prove immediately successful in competitions, taking out the first three places at the 1937 Montlhery sports car Grand Prix and the Tourist Trophy race at Donington Park.

But despite the touring cars being well matched to the specialist body styles of the period, strangely they were considered by most to not be as ‘chic’ as the Delahayes. Undeterred, Tony Lago would continue to refine the wonderful 4 liter engine, and in 1938 the size was increased to 4.5 liters; racing successes for the Lago Special would continue with a win in that years Paris 12 hour race.

Great things were promised for 1939 when a 3 liter V16 engine was announced, but with the imminent outbreak of war such plans were quickly shelved and, unfortunately, were never resurrected. After the war Talbot-Lago would return to car manufacture, releasing a slightly modified and improved 4.6 liter sedan in 1947.

But it was the production of a single-seater 4.5 liter un-supercharged Grand Prix car that was to bring well deserved kudos to the company. Fighting in the same league as the 1.5 liter supercharged cars, the Talbot Lago’s were successful due in the main because of their miserly fuel consumption; while their competition were forced to make mid-race fuel stops the Talbot Lago remained on the track.

The Lago Talbot road car of 1947 used a 170bhp engine, with the bodies usually being supplied by specialist coachbuilders in a wide variety of styles – but mostly very traditional for the day. That year Rosier won the “Albi” race while Chiron won the French GP, and at Comminges the big Talbot Lago’s came in first, second and third places!

The other manufacturers started to take note of the fledgling marque, and quickly determined that the reliability afforded when entering a non-supercharged car in a race sometimes outweighed the advantages of the supercharged car. While it may have been rare for a Talbot-Lago to beat a supercharged Alfa Romeo, Ferrari could see the benefit of ditching the supercharger and gaining reliability, a method they would employ with great success from 1950 onward.

In 1948 a new engine with twin “high” (but not overhead) camshafts was introduced, power rising from 180bhp to 280bhp, and from 1949 there was the Talbot “Baby” which had a 118bhp 2.7 liter four cylinder engine incorporating cross-pushrod valve gear, this being available as a head coupe or a saloon. The company would enjoy its peak production figures ever in 1950, with some 433 cars being manufactured in total.

To top off a successful year, Rosier would use a two-seater sports version of the racing car to win the 1950 Le Mans race. Pierre Levegh would come ever so close to making it back to back Le Mans victories for the marque in 1951; driving single handed for more than 22 hours, it was unfortunate and somewhat unexpected (given the engines prior reputation for reliability) that Levegh’s engine would blow. How quickly the fortunes of the company would change, with 1951 production figures falling to a mere 80!

Like so many of the marques listed in the “Lost Marques” section of this site, financial constraints would continually inhibit the companies ability to develop better engines and more competitive cars – and so it came as no surprise that 1953 offered no race track success.

This was no doubt very disappointing for the engineers, for despite their financial constraints they had not only developed a new lightweight car, they had fitted Maserati engine!

In 1954 production concentrated on a new 2476cc four-cylinder car in a wonderful new sports coupe body. Thoroughly modern looking, the new car was good for 115bhp and a top speed of 120mph (193kmh). But this was the last to use a Talbot engine design, and only 70 cars were produced. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so the company decided to cease development of its own engines and instead source them from BMW.

Their new model “America” was a lovely GT coupe style, and used the 2580cc alloy BMW V8 engine. The naming of the car was certainly an indication of the market the company were now relying upon to arrest their waning fortunes.

Designed by Carlo Delaisse, the “America” offered some 10% more power than the previous Talbot engined model, and was now good for a top speed of 124mph (199.5kmh). Naturally enough the car was also manufactured as a left-hand-drive, but after having only manufactured a paltry 12 the company was forced into liquidation.

In 1958 Tony Lago reluctantly allowed his company to be absorbed by Simca, the last cars to have any resemblance to the marque using a Ford side-valve V8 as used on the Simca Vedette. Tony Lago would die the following year, and inevitably the heritage of Talbot-Lago would diminish over the following years as Simca was purchased by Chrysler and that in turn by the Rootes group.

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