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Coachwork by Franay
The Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport
Having been completely revitalized by Anthony Lago, who plucked Automobiles Talbot from the ashes of the floundering Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq company in 1935, the newly renamed Talbot-Lago began shifting its competition efforts to single-seat Grand Prix cars and a new racing engine. Following the end of the war, Lago revised his engine with the help of Carlo Marchetti, increasing displacement to 4.5 liters and adding a new dual overhead cam cylinder head with efficient hemispherical combustion chambers. The long crankshaft was well supported by an engine block with seven main bearings, endowing the new engine with excellent reliability.
Despite a significant horsepower disadvantage that favored the competition, a race-tuned version of the 4.5-liter Talbot-Lago six-cylinder engine powered the company’s two entries into the 1950 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While considered underdogs, their staying power provided the winning edge during the grueling event, with Talbot-Lago ultimately triumphing over the favored Ferraris to achieve a stunning 1-2 finish, marking the company’s greatest racing victory. Mirroring the reliability of his Talbot-Lago, winning driver Louis Rosier drove all but two laps of the race, adjusted his valve train in the pits, and even suffered a black eye when he hit an owl at night.
This smooth, reliable, and race-proven 4.5-liter engine also produced excellent torque output, ideal for Talbot-Lago’s road-going grand touring models, the Record and its successor, the Grand Sport, which carried a number of beautiful and luxurious custom coachbuilt bodies. The T26 Grand Sport was certainly the grand routier of the Talbot-Lago model line and with its three carburetors, produced nearly 200 hp. As one of the most powerful automobiles of the era, the Grand Sport was capable of top speeds well in excess of 110 mph. In addition, the T26 chassis, with its independent front suspension and large drum brakes at all four corners, provided road-holding and stopping power commensurate with its strong performance capabilities.
Intended for the wealthiest and most discerning buyers, the T26 Grand Sport was never produced in large numbers, with some sources citing total production of only 30 units. Of these, just eight–including the car offered here, numbered 110123–were based upon the short 2,650-millimeter chassis, the same length as Talbot-Lago’s winning Grand Prix cars of the era. This example is rarer still as one of just three, including one cabriolet (110121) and two coupes (110113 and 110123), originally fitted with striking bodywork by Franay of Paris. Furthermore, this coupe is particularly rare as the sole Franay-built example originally fitted with a sunroof.
Documented in the book Talbot-Lago Grand Sport: The Car from Paris by Peter M. Larsen with Ben Erickson, T26 Grand Sport chassis 110123 was completed by the factory on April 3, 1950, just three weeks before 110122, the last of the Saoutchik-bodied fastback coupes. According to its production record card, 110123 was delivered to Franay as a chassis nu, or bare chassis. Accordingly, it was the second of the two Franay-bodied Grand Sport coupes, with 110113 being the first, having been delivered in November 1948. Once completed, 110123 was sold to its first owner, Mr. Vandendriessche. During 1950, 110123 and 110122 took part in the nighttime Festival d’Elegance on the Place Vendôme in Paris, an exclusive invitation-only event combining the finest bespoke automobiles with the latest in high fashion, with the beautifully dressed fashion models posing atop the cars on display. A photograph documents this appearance. Another photograph dated summer 1950 documents another concours appearance for 110123, possibly at Enghien or the Bois de Boulogne.
For the next 25 years, very little is known of the car’s history, other than handwritten notes on the production card listing a series of four owners, beginning with Baillon, a known French collector, who was known to have typically acquired cars in nonrunning order and then garaging them. Details are not available for subsequent owners Lalanne and Conte. During the 1970s, 110123 was sold at auction and is reported to have been complete and retaining its original paint. The successful bidder remains unknown, but the Talbot-Lago is known to have received its first sympathetic cosmetic and mechanical restoration thereafter in France, as confirmed by images published in Alain Spitz’s Talbot book from 1983. In early 1984, the Grand Sport was acquired by Charles Crail of Santa Barbara, California, and shipped to the US. Subsequently, Craig Davis of the UK acquired 110123 and the Grand Sport was restored with the body refinished in blue during the 1990s, before being displayed at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. In February 2008, 110123 was sold to Mr. J.A. Ribbons of Almelo, Holland, and refinished in silver. In 2010, the Grand Sport was shown by Mr. Paalman at the Concours Paleis Loo. In 2011, the Grand Sport returned to the US.
Under the ownership of the consignor, a collector of prestigious marques, 110123 has just received a complete body-off restoration, which was a combined effort by Alan Taylor, RMB, and Gold Country with over $300,000 in receipts accompanying the sale of the car. While accepted for entry into the 2013 edition of the storied Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the restoration was not completed in time. With its wonderful styling, rarity, and mechanical specifications derived from Talbot-Lago’s Grand Prix-winning cars, this Franay-bodied T26 Grand Sport Coupe represents a unique opportunity for astute collectors of the finest coachbuilt cars.
Above all, this Talbot-Lago is the only remaining Franay-bodied T26 Grand Sport with its original radiator grille and frontal bodywork. It also retains its matching DOHC 4.5-liter triple-carbureted engine.
In keeping with Talbot-Lago’s rich history, the Grand Sport will provide a fitting and welcome entry to some of the world’s most prestigious and glamorous classic rally and concours events.