How rare is rare? How special is special? Well, during a decade ending in 1957, the tiny Talbot factory in the Paris suburb of Suresnes handcrafted a total of 750 T26 chassis.
But out of even that small number, they assembled just 19 chassis for the ultimate version, the Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport GSL. Only 11 survive today. Compared to the 39 Ferrari GTOs derived from a long line of Ferrari 250 GTs, for example, a Talbot-Lago Grand Sport GSL is exceptionally rare and very, very special. It’s also wildly underpriced in today’s collector car market.
One of the oldest car companies in the world, Societe A. Darracq was founded in Suresnes by Alexandre Darracq in 1896. In 1920, as a result of the devastating recession that followed World War I, the British firms Sunbeam and Talbot merged with Darracq. In 1935, as a result of the Great Depression’s impact, former S.T.D. engineer Major Anthony Lago gained control of the French factory, Automobiles Talbot.
Lago and fellow Italian engineer Walter Becchia revamped the Talbot line in 1936. A 4.0 Liter Six was the premier model, and the T150, Lago Speciale and SS versions were bodied by Figoni & Falaschi, Saoutchik, Franay and Pourtout with some of the sexist bodywork ever applied to an automobile.
Today, this French teardrop style makes prewar Talbots among the most beautiful and collectible of all Classics, with prices in the multi-millions.
Talbot also built successful Grand Prix and racing sports cars, extremely competitive at LeMans and other endurance races. It was all too good to last, and World War II put an end to Talbot’s competitors, Le Grand Marques like Delahaye, Bugatti and Delage. Only Talbot survived. Thanks to Italian citizenship and a low profile throughout the German occupation, Lago retained the undamaged Suresnes factory after World War II. He kept it going in a small way until Simca bought the tired old place in 1959, a year before Lago died.
In 1947, the rules for Grand Prix racing were changed to 1.5 Liter engines, supercharged, or 4.5 Liter engines, naturally aspirated. Lago and engineer Carlo Marchetti came up with a 4,482cc, twin-cam Inline 6 that produced 280hp. This engine was slipped into a straightforward ladder frame with independent front suspension, rigid rear axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs, huge Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes, knock-off wire wheels and a 4-speed Wilson Preselector gearbox that Tony Lago had personally helped design back in 1933.
Clothed in minimal single-seat, open-wheel bodywork with a pointy tail, the French Blue T26C made a competitive Formula One car. In 1947, Louis Chiron won the French Grand Prix and placed second at Nimes, Louis Rosier won at Albi and the three-car team swept the podium at Comminges. Among the famous Talbot Grand Prix pilots were not only Chiron and Rosier, but also Raymond Sommer, Phi-Phi Etancelin, Harry Schell, Jose Froilan Gonzales, Guy Mairesse, Duncan Hamilton and a newcomer on the international scene named Juan Manuel Fangio.
The next year there were three second-place finishes; in 1949 the team won the French, Paris and Belgian GPs, plus the Coupe de Salon. In 1950 they won Albi, Zandvoort and Paris; in 1951, the Dutch and Bordeaux GPs plus four second place finishes; in 1952, the Finnish and Australian GPs. Racing his Talbot, Louis Rosier was Champion of France four years in a row.
The T26C was obviously fast but also reliable, robust, efficient and perfectly balanced. Anthony Lago took the Grand Prix chassis, clothed it in a two-seater body — French Blue, of course — and turned it into a brilliant sports car. Louis Rosier and his son Jean won the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1950 in their Talbot-Lago T26C. Second were Pierre Meyrat/Guy Mairesse. In 1951, the Talbots finished second and fourth. The next year, Pierre Levegh was in the lead in his T26C at LeMans with only half an hour to go and 25 miles ahead of the second-place Mercedes-Benz 300SLR when, foolishly trying to race the entire 24 hours without relief, in his fatigue he damaged the gearbox.
Only 19 T26 Grand Sports were built on chassis identical to those of the winning Grand Prix/ LeMans racers. Honest. The powerful 4.5 Liter Six was slightly detuned to 210hp at 4,500 rpm, and the gorgeous passenger car body added some weight, but underneath, it’s the same world-class car. In the ‘50s, the Grand Sport’s performance — 0 to 60 in 12 seconds, a top speed of 125 mph — made it one of the quickest and fastest of all passenger cars. There is no other postwar sports car you can buy that is literally constructed on a Grand Prix-winning chassis.
T26 Grand Sport serial numbers 111001 to 111019 were given a new standardized body supplied by Facel- Metallon, the company that would go on to build its own Facel models. Each Grand Sport is different in detail, but all share the distinctive new envelope body. In the early-’50s, this was very modern in design, clean and aerodynamic. It’s comparable to contemporary Ferrari and Aston Martin models, and evocative of the landmark BMW 507.
The T26 Grand Sport GSL on offer, Number 111017, is one of the best known and documented in the world. Finished in Rouge with Beige leather interior, it was delivered to Monsieur Regy on July 4, 1955. It was factory-equipped with an optional heater, and also the rare factory Competition Package, which includes Dunlop tires, Borgo sport pistons, triple Solex carburetors with low-restriction air cleaners, hotter cam, lightweight bumpers, driving lights, unique side-exit exhaust with cut-out and a quick-fill gas filler in the trunk.
In the ‘80s, Number 111017 was professionally restored and refinished in the correct Rouge exterior with Beige interior. It was redone again in 2010, with engine and mechanicals rebuilt by Bob Moser. It has just been professionally refreshed in the autumn of 2013, and is as immaculate and correct as a Grand Sport can be.
As proof of the robust and reliable nature of the T26 chassis, this car successfully completed five Colorado Grand and two Copperstate 1000 rallies without a hiccup. One of the last three GSLs built, this is also one of the last of the great French Grand Marques. Not only will it be a spectacular addition to any collection, but also a rare machine welcome at any tour or rally in the world. Even better, it will be rewarding and fun to drive, very rare and very special.