Written by independent automotive journalist Rich Taylor
Content provided by Barrett-Jackson
How rare is rare? How special is special? During a decade ending in 1957, the tiny Talbot factory in the Paris suburb of Suresnes handcrafted a total of 750 T-26 chassis, with only 155 produced in 1947. Out of even that small number, only three T-26 chassis were bodied by Carrosserie Worblaufen, F. Ramseier & Co., the premier coachbuilder in Switzerland.
A brief history: One of the oldest car companies in the world, Societe A. Darracq was founded in 1896 in Suresnes by Alexandre Darracq. 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, 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 et Falaschi, Saoutchik, Franay and Pourtout ‒ with some of the sexiest 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, which were 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 1959.
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 4482cc, 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 T-26C made a competitive Formula One car. In 1947, Louis Chiron won the French Grand Prix and came second at Nimes, Louis Rosier won at Albi and the three-car team swept the podium at Comminges. The famous Talbot Grand Prix pilots included not only Chiron and Rosier, but 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 T-26 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 T-26C. Second were Pierre Meyrat and 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, 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.
Talbot T-26 luxury cars are built on chassis identical to that of the winning Grand Prix/LeMans racers. Honest. The powerful 4.5-liter Six was slightly detuned to 190hp @ 4500 rpm, and the opulent body adds some weight, but underneath, it’s the same world-class racing car. With a 0 to 60 time of 12 seconds and a top speed of well over 100 mph, the Talbot-Lago T-26 was one of the fastest of all Grand Touring cars in the 1950s. There is no other postwar passenger car you can buy that is literally constructed on a Grand Prix-winning chassis. How cool is that?
While not as well-known as some other coachbuilders, Carrosserie Worblaufen, F. Ramseier & Co. of Worblaufen bei Bern created high-quality bodies for luxury cars from 1929 until 1958, reaching its zenith in the years just before and after World War II, when Sir Fritz Ramseier, son of the founder, built some of the most luscious examples of the teardrop style. Among his triumphs are spectacular bodies on Bugatti Type 57, Bentley 4.25, Delahaye 135 and Alfa Romeo 6C2300 chassis.
The Cabriolet body on this 1947 Talbot-Lago T-26 Worblaufen Cabriolet (Lot #1383) is typical of early postwar Worblaufen style, with teardrop-shaped fenders, bold Talbot-Lago grille between high-mounted headlights and driving lights, split windshield and a very graceful side window line. The delicate trim to break up the large expanse of body is characteristic along with the streamlined hood vents and louvers. Polished external door hinges, polished knock-off wire wheels and polished rear fender splash guards harken back to the most extravagant teardrops of the 1930s. Notice the way vestigial running boards tie the whole design together. Magnificent!
Worblaufen really shines on the interior. The entire passenger compartment is upholstered in rich tan rolled and pleated leather, with matching tan cabriolet top and carpeting throughout. The instruments are grouped in the center of the body-color dash, but intricate stitching and molding transforms the door panels into works of art topped by bold polished trim. The simple Talbot-Lago four-spoke steering wheel and column shifter add a purposeful touch to an otherwise luxurious space.
The trunk, chassis and engine compartment are equally well-finished. The legendary Talbot-Lago inline-6 features polished cam covers, polished manifolds and polished intake covers for the twin carburetors. No detail has been overlooked in the restoration of this very rare and very special Swiss-bodied, Italian-engineered, French-built Grand Routier.
This Talbot-Lago T-26 Worblaufen Cabriolet (Lot #1383), VIN #100089, which will be crossing the block at the 45th Anniversary Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction in January, is totally authentic in every way. It’s accompanied by a carefully documented and detailed history of the concours restoration. The car is simply stunning. Not only is this one of a handful of Talbot-Lago T-26 cars that still exist, but also one of the last of the great French Grand Marques. It will be a spectacular addition to any collection, but also welcome at any Concours d’Elegance, tour or rally in the world. It is very rare and very special, but perhaps best of all, rewarding to both own and drive.