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1938 Talbot-Lago T 150 C SS "Goutte d'Eau" Coupe

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

After discovering a true treasure, and years of dedication, Charles Bronson's team at Boulevard Motorcar Company have brought back to life one of the most beautiful automobiles ever made.

When Figoni & Falaschi unveiled the first Talbot-Lago T 150 C SS with Joseph Figoni's streamlined coupe coachwork at the 1937 Paris Salon, onlookers were take aback by its beauty. The press, tasked with describing this symphony of curves and subtle embellishment in words, called it goute d'eau, a drop of water. It was a perfect choice, at once both illustrative of the design and suggestive other emotion it engendered. The English among them pickup on the expression but translated it 'teardrop.'

Goutte d'eau is one of the few terms in auto design that derive wholly from the automobile's history. Cabriolet, spyder, coupe and sedan all have their origins in the era when the horse really did come before the cart. Goutte d'eau was new, an acknowledgment that the automobile's speed had crossed an invisible line where aerodynamic drag and stability began to influence performance as much as weight and power.

Aerodynamic design was popular in France from shortly after World War I, reaching its highest development in the Paris carrosserie of Marcel Pourtout and Joseph Figoni on the great French chassis of Delahaye, Delage and Talbot-Lago. The goutte d'eau style reach its zenith in the work of Joseph Figoni on the sporting Talbot-Lago T 150 C SS chassis. There is an apocryphal story that, upon seeing the Figoni & Falaschi teardrop, Jaguars William Lyons remarked, 'That car is positively indecent.'

Decency aside, its influence is evident in the lines and detailes of postwar Jaguars, particularly in the oval grille, rounded hood and sweeping fenders of the XK120. A Figoni & Falaschi-bodied Talbot-Lago T23 goutte d'eau coupe was chosen by New York's Museum of Modern Art for its 1951 exhibit of landmark examples of automotive design, 'Eight Great Automobiles.' Yet, for all its effect and influence, very few examples were built. They are justifiably among the most important and valuable automobiles of the '30s.

Antonio Lago, 5th from the left.

Talbot-Lago Born in Venice, Antonio Lago was trained as an engineer at Milan Polytechnic. He became a major in the Italian army during the Great War, then worked for Isotta Fraschini, becoming its representative in England in the '20s. His talents took him to L.A.P. Engineering as technical director, then to Wilson Self-Changing Gear Co., to join another major, W.G. Wilson, in developing the preselecting epicyclic gearbox. Lago's marketing skill convinced a string of manufactures of the benefits of the Wilson gearbox, not least Sunbeam Talbot Darracq. Lago eventually joined STD and, when closing the French Talbot factory at Suresnes was being planned, convinced STD management to let him try to resuscitate it.

1938 Talbot-Lago T 150 C SS interior featuring the Wilson Self-Changing Gear Co.'s preselecting epicyclic gearbox that Antonio Lago helped develop.

Lago arrived in Suresnes in 1933, at the pit of the Depression. He found a large organization and production facility but a dated product line and a dispirited staff. He proceeded to give Talbot new direction and when Rootes acquired STD in 1934, Lago had the necessary financial backing in France to acquire Talbot. He affixed his own name to the respected Talbot marque to cement his commitment to the company and its products.

Lago proposed three measures to turn Talbot around: reduce expenses; build lighter, more sporting cars; and use racing for development and publicity. Lago's measures were at least partially dictated by the necessity for stretching the company's limited resources as far as possible, which may also have dictated Lago's insistence that the cars raced by closed related to Talbot-Lago's production models.

To put 'sporting' back into the cars, Lago turned to Talbot's number-two engineer, Walter Becchia, to redesign Talbot's engines with hemispherical combustion chambers and overhead valves operated from a single overhead valve operated from a single camshaft with pushrods and rocket arms, an imaginative and cost-effective solution to improving the existing engine's breathing without a complete redesign. 1935 brought the Automobile Club of France's decision to host the French GP for sports cars, and Talbot-Lago responded by creating the 4-liter T150 C, still relying on the effective and proven single-cam, hemispherical combustion-chamber cylinder head.

The Talbot-Lago T150 C SS that Jean Prenant and Andre Morel drove to third place at Le Mans in 1938 was a "Goutte d'Eau" coupe, the combined handiwork of Tony Lago's Talbot, Joseph Figoni's Figoni & Falaschi and Luigi Chinetti.

The T150 C SS The Talbot-Lago T150 C started its life as a pure racing car, the 'C' in its designation signifying 'Corse.' Tuned by Lucien Girard, its output in racing trim was a strong 155 horsepower while the long 104.5 mm stroke engine and inherent smoothness of the inline six-cylinder layout gave it healthy torque across a broad rev range and good fuel economy, which frequently aided Talbot-Lago's competition results. The Talbot-Lago T150 C achieved some success, winning the Tunis GP, the top two positions in the Tourist Trophy and sweeping all three top places at the French GP in 1937.

The Talbot-Lago T150 C's chassis also contributed to its success. Thoughtfully designed by Chief Engineer Vincenzo Bertarione and Becchia, its transverse leaf spring independent front suspension and semi-elliptical leaf spring live rear axle broke no new ground but was robust, reliable and predictable. The T150 C recorded further success at Le Mans in 1938 when Jean Prenant and Andre Morel averaged 123.3 km per hour, finishing in third place in one of four Talbot-Lagos entered in the Sarthe classic by Luigi Chinetti. Chinetti, the Le Mans-winning Alfa Romeo driver, was Talbot-Lago's agent in Paris involved in the sale of Talbot-Lago automobiles both in Europe and for export. Among Chinetti's other contacts in Paris was the Figoni & Falaschi coachworks, where Chinetti's 1932 and 1934 Le Mans-winning Alfa Romeo 8C 2300s were bodied with a distinctive long, tapered tail and innovative streamlined wheel fairings.

Giuseppe Figoni

Figoni & Falaschi Giuseppe Figoni was an artist in metal, a three-dimensional talent whose unique flowing coachwork made the automobile a pearl shaped by invisible forces.

The wind was Giuseppe Figoni's enemy. It fought him with drag and swirls that sapped his cars' power. The automobile's Archilles heel was its wheels and tires, interrupting air flow and creating the drag that challenged Figoni. His accomplishment in making enclosure of wheels and tires an important design element foreshadowed the work of his contemporaries and successors by years. Figoni complemented his voluptuous shapes with a creative and original palette.

This automotive sculptor was born in 1894 in Piacenza, in Italy's Emilia region, and emigrated with his family as a boy to Paris where had apprenticed in a classic coach works. It eventually became Carrosserie Automobilie in Boulogne-sur-Seine near Paris's famous Longchamp race course, a mecca for the Parisian carriage trade. Figoni's creativity wasn't limited to sculpting beautiful and efficient coachworks, however. He also created and patented designs for disappearing soft tops and even a disappearing sunroof. Figoni developed a following early on, and what could be more understandable than that Tony Lago, attempting to revivify Talbot, should likewise establish a relationship with him.

In 1935 Figoni acquired a partner, businessman Ovidio Flaschi, who also hailed from Italy, creating Figoni & Falaschi. On a personal basis the creative Figoni meshed well with Falaschi, whose capital and management skills allowed Figoni to concentrate on his designs which became even more creative and stylish after Falschi's arrival. Figoni was an early adopter of the brilliant paint colors and metallic finished being developed n the mid-'30s and understood the value of stunning presentations. He was famous for his cooperation with the couturiers of Paris to create gowns in styles and colors that matched Figoni & Falaschi's cars in shows and concours d'elegance.

Figoni's automobile designs were flamboyant, graceful and gorgeous, carefully sculpted with the eye of an artist with an inherent appreciation for air flow. Like dunes wind-shaped around the obstacles of rocks and structures, the goutte d'eau coupes of Joseph Figoni accepted the influence of wheels, wind shields, engines and passengers, expressing an intrinsic purity and simplicity that was revolutionary and stunningly beautiful to behold.

Along with similar designs from Figoni's Parisian colleague and competitor Marcel Pourtout, the goutte d'eau sprang upon the automotive world in 1935. Its applications were both extravagant show cars and practical applications that improved the efficiency and performance of competition cars like Tony Lago's T150 C.

Only 16 Talbot-Lago T150 C chassis were bodied by Figoni & Falschi in the goutte d'eau coupe style. All shared Figoni's signature teardrop fenders, steeply raked windshield, flush door handles, chrome accents and sloping fastback. Five were subtly notchbacked, known today as the 'Jeancart' style after the buyer of the first example. The remaining 11 were, with one exception, built on the sporting short-chassis T150 C SS and are today known as the Model New York style (Figoni & Falschi's style number 9220.) The first was built for socialite Freddy McEvoy (who acted as the agent for Figoni & Falaschi and Talbot-Lago in several Teardrop sales) and debuted at the New York Auto Show in 1937.

Characterized by a radiator shrouded in a rounded, streamlined shell, and a vertical oval grille, Figoni & Falschi's 'Model New York' coupes are the ultimate expression of the goutte d'eau style. Each is subtly different in concept and details, reflecting the desires of their individual clients and the application for which they were intended.

Delahaye, Delage, Peugeot, Bugatti and even Bentley employed the goutte d'eau style, but it is the few, spectacular and individualistic Talbot-Lago T150 C SS Teardrop coupes of Figoni & Falaschi that have captured the imaginations of collectors, leaving an enduring and unmatched impression of excellent.

Talbot-Lago 150 C SS (chassis 90117) spinning out during the 1939 Le Mans 24 Hours

This Car Talbot-Lago T150 C SS number 90117 was ordered in 1938 by the Duke Philippe de Massa specifically to race in the 1939 Le Mans 24 Hours. It was bodied in aluminum with steel fenders for lightness and features both Joseph Figoni's signature flush-fitting sunroof and a one-piece rear window which is hinged at the top and opens for cockpit ventilation in competition, the only Teardrop coupe with this feature. According to Claude Figoni, the coachwork is 2 inches lower and 4 inches longer than the other T150 C SS goutte d'eau coupes for reduced frontal area and lower drag. Additional competition features include the quick-release external fuel filler cap and large-capacity fuel tank fitted below the trunk, which is full-sized to contain the spare tire required by sports-car racing regulations, a body-colored mesh grille for additional cooling below the chrome radiator grille and added bracing for the front end. The headlights are completely faired into the low catwalks between the body and the teardrop front fenders and covered by vertical grilles that complement the radiator grille.

Prospects of competition did not, however, preclude the Duke from including the Teardrop's comfortable appointments and the chic chrome trim and details that accented its flowing lines. In fact, the Duke's Teardrop is a symphony of delightful details, with fully skirted rear wheels, organic oval side window opening with subtly devilled glass edges, a row of curved hood-side louvers accented by thin chrome moldings, chrome rear deck center spline, thin blade bumpers and subtle chrome trim under the doors in a thin, reverse fishtail shape that flows into the chrome accents along with the lower edges of the rear fenders. The interior was upholstered in leather, accented by finely carved wood trim around the windows and dashboard and cloth-covered interior panels, although the driver's seat is a semi-bucket configuration also specified for participation at Le Mans, as is the 250 kph speedometer.

The Duke de Massa and his co-driver Norbert Mahe cut a fine figure at the Le Mans 2 Hours race in 1939, even as the clouds that would rain the destruction of World War II upon Europe were gathering. Their Talbot-Lago was entered by TASO Mathieson, historian, racer and frequent entrant of important race cars. Race preparation included fitting a special hood with open sides for better cooling and a filler cap access with engine-oil filler extension, and removal of the bumpers. De Massa and Mahe had their Talbot-Lago T150 C SS in a strong ninth position when they were forced to retire on the 88th lap, just beyond one-third distance, when the car was spun on oil on the track and traveled some distance in the wrong direction, resulting in a disqualification.

Other than an appearance in a French concours following Le Mans, the subsequent history of this Talbot-Lago T150 CC SS is unknown until it turned up in the ownership of Mr. A. Becker in Rangsdorf, East Germany, in largely complete, original, yet neglected condition. It was next acquired by Peter Schmitz in West Germany in November 1989, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, who began a restoration which remained unfinished at the time it was sold to the Deventer Motor Museum in the Netherlands in 1995.

When found in East Germany, the Talbot-Lago's engine was missing, however it was known that both this car and the ex-Chiron Talbot-Lago had been stored together in the Reims area before WWII. The Chiron Talbot had been acquired by Ron Smith in England with a spare engine that proved to be the original T150 C SS engine from the Duke de Massa's 1939 Le Mans Teardrop, and the engine was acquired and reunited with its original chassis and body. The valve cover still displays a large welded-in plug, exactly where the extended filler would have projected through Figoni & Falaschi's racing hood.

1938 Talbot-Lago 150 C SS (chassis 90117) being loaded for transportation to the port and then to America in 1996.

Now lustrously restored and presented in deep Aubergine with rich Pigskin leather upholstery and tan cloth interior trim, it has been painstakingly restored, even to the extent of constructing fitted luggage. The color selection was carefully considered and involved the acquisition of several ripe eggplants from a farmer's market, which were then carefully polished with Meguiar's products until the desired deep, rich color was achieved and matched by the paint supplier.


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