By Pete Vack
All photos are from “Talbot Lago Grand Sport” by Peter Larsen with Ben Erickson, and used for review purposes.
The job of editor (like many) demands that decisions be made, most instantly, some with forethought, all with due regard (for whatever). Making decisions should come easily, second hand.
For the third Talbot-Lago article, it was decided that I should choose my favorite of the 35 Talbot-Grand Sports presented in Volume 2 of “Talbot-Lago Grand Sport”, and write a bit about it. Presumably a snap.
But the decision-making process failed me when I was faced with this delightfully awesome cornucopia of classics. I froze.
Should it be the racy blue Motto spyder? First clothed with a Ferrari-like coupe body by Carrosserie Perret, a fire destroyed the body and it was given another shot at life with a dashing barchetta body by the Italian firm of Motto, and could pass for a 375 MM Ferrari.
I melted when faced with the deceptive notchback Dubos Coupe now owned by Peter Larsen, co-author of the book from where all these gorgeous cars can be found. But we had Peter describe it in detail last week. From old black and white photos, the car is undistinguished. In color photography, it is stunning and almost beautiful.
Looking for unrestored cars, in the pages of the Grand Sport book was a story of the unbelievable collection of the late Lindsay Locke of California. We could drool over at least three unrestored cars, one the only Figoni-bodied GS, an Antem coupe and the only Dubos convertible made, obtained in a three-sided deal with Peter Giddings and Jackson Brooks. Lindsay Locke, aka Lynn Thompson, “collected fantastic Talbots at a time when they were not much more than weird used cars bordering on junk.” Locke worked as a lab technician at UCLA and when he’d find a car it would disappear into one of his garages he would rent in the area. His widow, Betty Locke, still owns three of her late husband’s finds.
Each of the Grand Sport Talbot-Lagos is unique, but all share the same or very similar chassis and mechanicals. What makes them different is the coachwork, performed by the greatest Italian, French, Swiss and Dutch coachbuilders of the 1950s. Yet one of our very favorites sported coachwork by a total unknown. When Andre Chambas took delivery of chassis 110105, he shopped around for a coachbuilder. Saoutchik offered to do the job for a mere Frs. 2,200,000, substantially more than the 1.8 million Frs. than Chambas paid for the bare chassis. Chambas thought he could do the job better, and in 1949 contracted out a local shop by the name of Contamin-Besset to carry out his design for a lightweight Grand Touring car he could enter at Le Mans. The result was a nice, tight coupe with a bit of Jag XK 120, Alfa 2.9 Le Mans coupe, and typically French swooping fenders. Chambas went on to start in five consecutive 24 hours of Le Mans events and numerous lesser races and rallies. For several years it became a barchetta by the firm of Tunesi, and in 1954, its glory days over, Chambas re-installed the coupe body and eventually sold it. It retains the dashing coupe body to this day.
Another Grand Sport that exhibited lines much like the Jag XK 120 is a dramatic coupe by another relatively unknown coachbuilder by the name of Barou. The rear of the car, however, goes off on its own distinctly different direction. No one knows much about the early history or its owner, but a few mysterious photos of the car’s early existence indicated it was rallied in 1950 or 1951. It was found in a dance hall in Lons-le-Saunier in the 1960s and went through a series of owners, eventually ending up with an anonymous German collector. The car was given a light restoration and retains the original orange leather interior. This is perhaps one of the most dashing, rarely seen and mysterious of all the Grand Sports.
Two of the Grand Sports were not mysterious to VeloceToday reader, Jim Bandy, who at one time owned a Saoutchik coupe and a Franay convertible while stationed in Paris. The Saoutchik coupe was on my short list and the Franay convertible was on Peter Larsen’s list as the most desirable of the Grand Sports.
Russian-born Saoutchik bodied ten or eleven of the Grand Sports. Chassis 110114 was shown from 1949 to 1951 at the famous Enghien Concours, then disappeared for a few years until 1961, when Bandy traded a 1954 Buick for the Talbot. He drove it for a while and sold it to another American serviceman who shipped it to the U.S. where it languished and rotted until collector Jackson Brown rescued it from near-oblivion in 1973. Brown found that Saoutchik used a lot of wood and relatively small pieces of steel to the wood, overlapping them with steel nails. The wood rotted, the steel rusted, and there was very little left of the car. It was a massive five- year restoration after which it was sold to adventure-writer Clive Cussler, who still owns it today.
Bandy’s other Grand Sport was a Franay convertible, chassis 110121. Again, the first few years of the life of the Franay are cloudy, until Bandy bought it for $800 in 1959. Jim had some great adventures with the car in Paris and decided to ship it to the U.S. when his tour of duty was over. The Franay convertible sat for a number of years until Egon Zweimüller bought it and completed the restoration. It has since passed to an Austrian collector and was shown at Pebble Beach this year.
Another Saoutchik-bodied Grand Sport rang bells with us. Originally inspired by the huge but attractive Buick fastbacks of the 1940s, many of the Saoutchik designs came off like Buicks on LSD. But one of the last Saoutchik bodies on a Grand Sport was sedated, almost Teutonic in style; full pontoon, slab sided, no heavy chrome accents, streamlined with few embellishments; I could imagine it on the Avus Ring. Like many other of the Grand Sports, the early history is foggy, but indicates that several of the owners were, not surprisingly, German. It surfaced again in the 1990s as Peter Kaus of the Rosso Bianco Collection obtained the car and had it restored, using a purple-blue color for the lower part of the car and off white for the top. Most recently, it was repainted one color, a silver green metallic which to our eyes, works perfectly.
We end as we began. Perhaps the most bizarre of all the Grand Sports (and that is saying something!) is the Pennock-bodied coupe once owned by American collector Vojta Mashek. Chassis 110124 was purchased by a Mr. Reichmann who had the Dutch firm of Pennock don his special Grand Sport with a lightweight coupe for rallying. Pennock had been in the coach building business since 1898, and after the war was noted for creating a few conservative designs on Delahaye chassis. Then out of the blue came the striking, odd and thoroughly unconventional coupe. While the front end has elements of Vignale Ferraris and Touring Pegasos, once past the A pillar it defies comparisons, the belt line swoops down over the rear fender, culminating in small but definitive fins between which is a bulbous trunk under a three-piece rear window. 1950’s kitsch if you will, but so ugly it’s almost attractive. And different, so different. Hidden in the Mashek heated garage for decades, it was finally drawn out by Dutch dealer Tony Paalman. But he got a bit more than he bargained for. Mashek’s widow told Paalman that per his last wishes, Vojta’s ashes had been scattered over his car collection including the bizarre Pennock coupe.
We could go on. And on. The “Talbot-Lago Grand Sport” is full of such stories and histories of the 35 Grand Sport chassis. But I must leave something to your imagination.
Since the Editor is useless for making decisions, your comments and choices would be of great interest. Use the comments form below and you choose your favorite Grand Sport!