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1950 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

The Talbot line of racecars had quite a storied racing history, despite the fact that they were constantly out-powered by the likes of Maserati , Mercedes-Benz , and Alfa Romeo . Talbot always relied on its impeccable fuel mileage and extreme durability to conquest these giants of the race world in endurance racing, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

By far, Talbot’s biggest achievement was its 1-2 finish in the 1950 24Hours of Le Mans, using T26 Grand Sport and a Talbot-Lago Monopasto. The chassis that was originally scheduled to run in the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans, chassis No. 110057, but hit a few snags and was not quite ready for the race. Following the victory, the driver of its replacement in the Le Mans purchased it and began its racing history.

Unfortunately, this 1950 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport had none of the success that its replacement had, as it had a long string of did-not-finish results stretching from 1951 through 1953. The curse of 110057 came to a head when Guy Mairesse was tragically killed in it when he crashed this T26 during testing at Coupe de Paris at Montlhèry.

After that tragedy, its owner at the time, Georges Grignard, parked it in its transporter and laid little more than an eye on it for four years until a savvy T26 enthusiasts, and its current owner, caught wind that one was sitting unused at Grignard’s house. The purchase almost never happened, as it was reported that Grignard wanted an unreasonably high price for this crashed racer, but apparently the two eventually came to terms.

If you have ever wanted to own a piece of Le Mans history, this is the time, as RM Auctions is offering chassis 110057 up for auction on May 12, 2012. Despite its cursed past, this is a rare model that is sure to fetch a premium and will only continue to go up in value.

Click past the jump to read our full review

Exterior

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

Between its purchase in 1958 and its return to racing in 1961, this vehicle was repaired and restored to its original closed-wheel racing form, not the open-wheel form it debuted as. After pulling the 110057 chassis from racing, due to it not being competitive any more, the owner decided it was time to switch it back to its truly original open-wheel form.

Robert Peel was responsible for re-skinning the original body with brand new aluminum and getting it as close to its original form as possible. In 1968 the car was just about completed, as it made its debut bearing an unpainted body. Unfortunately, the mud guards on the newly restored body were not quite accurate to the car’s originals, but this was rectified in 1988.

In 1989, engine issues marred this Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport, so a near-compete disassembly was required and this is when the car was completely brought back to its all-original condition. Unfortunately, there is no date given on the paintjob, but we could imagine that the beautiful medium-blue paint that we see today was laid on during its 1989 redo.

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

The body of this T26 Grand Sport is nothing like you will ever see again. In those days, the idea was to make your car look as much like a rocket as possible, and that’s what Talbot Talbot did. The entire body is modeled almost after a jetliner’s fuselage, as it has a rounded nose and the entire body is almost cylindrical. Up front, you get four headlights – two upper and two lower. There is a wire grille that acts as the entryway for engine-cooling air. The top and sides of the hood area are covered with heat extractors to try and keep this engine as cool as possible. The front mudguards are simply curved aluminum attached to the body via a pair of rods.

After its extremely long hood you run into the fender mounted spare tire with the same wire wheel and center spinner that is on each of the four corners. Blocking the wind is a rather petite windscreen, which looks to be pretty useless for anyone over about 6 feet tall. Just under the windshield is a white number plate, but there is no number on there. What is in the number plate is the signature of the late Louis Rosier, who oddly enough died in 1956 in an accident on the same track that his former teammate Mairesse did.

On the backside you get a tapered body, much like the rear of an airplane tapers, with three taillight. This is not a street-legal ride, so there are no turn signals or reverse lights, of course. On the left side of the rear end you will see the single exhaust pipe, which actually protrudes out from the front, left fender and travels down the left side of the car before exiting out the back. You also get a slick locking aluminum gas cap.
Overall, the exterior is a little weathered, but not too badly. The emblems show a little chipping, cracking and fading, but that’s to be expected. This car is certainly no trailer diva that sees no action. It is obvious that its current owner was proud to have this car and proud to run it in vintage races.

Interior

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

The inside is very much a race car and really shows some use, but not excessive use. This simply looks like a car that the owner was not shy about throwing on the track once in a while, and we commend him for that.

You get a single vinyl sear that looks rather inviting, for a racing seat, and a massive four-post steering wheel. The steering wheel posts are aluminum while the hub and grip are black. The instrument panel looks to be made up of aluminum sheet metal, which would make sense, as steel would likely get extremely rusty over time.

The gear shifter is a lever to the right of the steering wheel and shows off some character, as hand written on the lever’s guide is “MA|PN|1|2|3,” which obviously are to indicate the gear. You also get some very basic instrumentation, including water temperature, amps, oil pressure, a tachometer and another gauge that is too obstructed to see what it is. Notice there is no speedometer. That’s because all that matters in endurance races is that you are faster than the guy behind you and gaining on the one in front.

The rest of the interior is just like sitting in a tin can, just like a true racecar should be. An interesting thing is the ignition system, as it appears as if you insert the ignition key, then turn over a lever to start this 1950s racer. Oh, and there is an oddly placed lightning bolt sticker just next to the tachometer. We don’t know what that’s all about, but it’s there.

Engine and Drivetrain

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

Okay, enough about the stuff that doesn’t interest 90 percent of those looking to buy a racecar, let’s talk about what powers this aging beast.

Under that extremely large hood is a 4,482 cc (4.5-liter) inline six-cylinder engine that RM Auctions claims pushes out 200+ horsepower. According to multiple sources in the industry, however, this 4.5-liter cranked out 190 horsepower at 4,200 rpm. Sitting on the right side of this long six-cylinder engine are three Zenith-Stromberg carburetors.

The cylinder head was a dual-ignition style. This means that every single cylinder had two of each major ignition component, including things like spark plugs, magnetos, wires, etc. This first off increases the Talbot’s fuel mileage, something it was well known for, and also gave it a redundancy in case one component failed, it could limp back into the pits on the second component.

Connecting the engine to the rear axle is a four-speed Wilson pre-selector gearbox. This is an extremely interesting gearbox, for those that are unaware of what it actually was. With this gearbox, you simply place the shifter in the gear you want to shift to next, then once the vehicle reaches the correct speed, it automatically shifts to that gear. Though many pre-selector transmissions required a clutch to initiate the gear change, the Wilson design did not use a clutch.

Despite the fact that this engine only pushes out about 200 ponies and it only hit 125 mph, it is extremely modern and we love how Talbot thought outside of the box with its design. Instead of trying to play to its competitors’ strengths, they exposed their weaknesses by increasing reliability and fuel economy, so while a Mercedes-Benz is getting fuel or repairs, the Talbot is slowly pulling away from it, absolutely brilliant in our minds. This truly shows how racing used to be a sport based on science, ingenuity and driving skill, too bad those days are gone.

Suspension and Braking

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

The front suspension is fully independent with two wishbones on each side, which is unusual for a 1950s racer. A transverse-mounted leaf spring helps keep the left and right sides of the car tied together, while allowing some flex, similar to anti-roll bars on today’s cars. The rear suspension is your standard semi-elliptical leaf spring design.

Stopping this machine can prove a little tricky with its four-wheel Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes. Don’t let the “Lockheed” names memorize you, as that’s simply what we know today as drum brakes. They use the term Lockheed because there were several styles of drum brakes in the `50s and the Lockheed – yes, the same as today’s Lockheed Martin – hydraulic design was the best.

The front suspension system gets a huge thumbs up, but the rear suspension is kind of "blah" to us. The four-wheel hydraulic drums were awesome in their day, but are sorely outdated today. Then again, with this machine likely doesn’t weight too much, so they may work just fine.

Price

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

Okay, the love affair stops here, as RM Auctions anticipates a hefty €1,150,000 ($1,490,514) to €1,500,000 ($1,944,149) final auction price. Phew, that’s a lot of dough for a very much used racecar that doesn’t have too much history behind it. Then again, there are only a few examples of it in the world, so it’ll get whatever the market will bear at the time.

Don’t be shocked to see this car go for a fraction of this estimated bid, as we just don’t see a good reason for buying it at that price.

Competition

There is no real competition for this 1950s racer, unfortunately. Unless, of course, you can dig up another Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport for sale at a better price.

Conclusion

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport

Look, we love this car, we really do. However, that price tag is really out there and there is really no reason for it to be. The car hasn’t been sold since the 1950s, so there is little record of what the true market value may be. If you are looking to vacation in Monaco around May 12th, and want to give bidding on this car a try, you may get lucky and find out that the market only bears about half of the anticipated gavel price.

If you can get it for about half of the anticipated price, you have yourself a good deal on your hands. Short of that, this is a very risky purchase, so tread carefully.

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport
LOVE IT
  • Looks absolutely awesome
  • Ingenious engine design for the `50s
  • Very rare
LEAVE IT
  • $2 million anticipated price tag is nuts
  • Has been raced regularly
  • Starting to show signs of aging since its last restoration

Press Release

Chassis No.
110057
Estimate:
€1.150.000-€1.500.000
AUCTION DATE:
To be auctioned on
Saturday, May 12, 2012
200+ bhp, 4,482 cc OHV aluminium inline six-cylinder engine with dry-sump lubrication, triple Zenith carburettors, twin-ignition cylinder head, Wilson four-speed pre-selector gearbox, independent front suspension with wishbones and transverse leaf spring, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and Lockheed four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2,500 mm (98.4")

• Only three owners from new; complete with stellar period and vintage-racing history
• Co-driven at the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans by Juan-Manuel Fangio and Louis Rosier
• Single ownership since 1958; restored, maintained and raced ever since

When engineer Antonio Lago arrived at Talbot’s Suresnes, France plant in 1934 with orders to restore its operations to health, he immediately injected a renewed focus on performance and racing to generate sales. New 2.7- and 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines, followed by a 4.0-litre unit for the Speciale, were soon developed to carry the wide range of luxurious cars demanded by Talbot’s discerning clientele. Entries at Le Mans in 1937 were followed by a focus on Grand Prix competition, with the four-litre’s reliability and fuel economy often providing the winning edge over the far more powerful competition from Alfa Romeo, Auto Union, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz.

The GP cars and sports racers of Talbot-Lago were quite closely based upon the marque’s production-car designs and this philosophy continued after World War II. With the help of Walter Becchia and Carlo Marchetti, the Talbot-Lago ‘six’ was increased in displacement to 4.5 litres and fitted with a new hemispherical combustion-chamber head, with the valve train actuated by dual camshafts with pushrods, similar to the Riley design. The long crankshaft was capably supported by seven main bearings, and this engine proved highly reliable and successful in competition.

Despite a horsepower disadvantage to the competition, a race-tuned version of the 4.5-litre Talbot-Lago six-cylinder engine powered the company’s two entries at Le Mans in 1950. There, a T26 Grand Sport was driven by Louis Rosier and his son, Jean-Louis (car number 5), and a Talbot-Lago monoposto (car number 7) was piloted by Pierre Meyrat and Guy Mairesse. Whilst both were considered underdogs, their durability and reliability provided the winning edge during the gruelling event, and they ultimately triumphed, outlasting the favoured Ferrari entries and achieving a stunning 1-2 finish, marking perhaps the company’s greatest racing victory. Mirroring the durability 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 struck a wayward owl at night!

1950 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Chassis 110057

Originally built as a cycle-winged sports racing car, T26 Grand Sport Chassis 110057, the example offered here, was originally intended for the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it was not completed in time for the event and was subsequently purchased by 1950 Le Mans champion Louis Rosier, who entered it into the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans. Race-numbered 6 and co-driven by Rosier and 1950 Formula One World Champion Juan-Manuel Fangio, the car retired from the race after 92 laps due to an oil-tank failure, where extremely hot motor oil spilled onto Fangio and caused him great pain.

Next, 110057 was rebodied under Rosier in 1952 by Italy’s Carrozzeria Motto to carry closed-wheel sportscar bodywork in compliance with new Le Mans regulations. Whilst Mr. Rosier had by then switched his racing focus to the Grand Prix with his single-seater, he continued to campaign his ‘motto barquette’ nonetheless. Following the 1952 Monaco Grand Prix, where the car, numbered 64 and with Louis Rosier and Maurice Trintignant driving, retired after 37 laps. At the 1952 Grand Prix de Reims, 110057 was numbered 42 and driven by Eugène Chaboud, who qualified 5th but did not finish.

In 1953, 110057 was sold to Georges Grignard and entered into the 1953 Coupé du Salon at Montlhéry, where it was numbered 4 and qualified 2nd but failed to finish, with Mr Grignard driving solo. That December, at the 12 Hours de Casablanca, 110057 was co-driven by Georges Grignard and “pay-to-drive” co-driver Lino Fayen, who unfortunately ignored repeated signals to stop for fuel, including a crewmember waving a massive fuel funnel at him in the middle of the track!

Following the 1951, 1952 and 1953 race seasons, 110057 was entered into the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans and was to be driven by Georges Grignard and Guy Mairesse but was involved in a tragic accident on 25 April 1954 at the Coupe de Paris at Montlhéry. There, Mairesse was killed in practice when he struck a wall whilst attempting to avoid another car that had stopped on the racing line. It was subsequently locked away in the garage of Grignard, where it remained virtually untouched, still sitting on its transporter. In 1958, the present owner purchased 110057 and restored it, racing it for a number of seasons prior to returning the car to its original cycle-wing body style, in order to be eligible for participation in both historic GP and sportscar races. The car was UK-registered WXE68 and retains this number today.

As extensively documented within Pierre Abeillon’s definitive two-volume Talbot-Lago de Course, published in 1992, the current owner of 110057 visited the Talbot factory in 1958 in search of spare parts for his father’s T26 Record (chassis 101051), and whilst there, he enquired as to the availability of a single-seat T26C Grand Prix car. Even though they had been out of use for some time and none were believed available, Tony Lago suggested a visit to Georges Grignard in nearby Puteaux, France, who owned such a car, chassis 110057. Behind a dusty window of a nearby shed, this T26 Grand Sport was sighted. However, Mr Grignard’s asking price was quite high, and he clearly did not wish to sell.

Although the front of its “envelope” bodywork was damaged from the 1954 crash at Montlhéry, the car remained mechanically sound. A deal was struck to purchase the car, and in order to avoid the possible complications involved with trying to export the car to the UK, onsite repairs were completed by the new owner, with the help of his father and one of Grignard’s men, to allow the car to be driven for its shipment to England. In fact, just one front wheel and the radiator needed replacement.

Once in the UK and fully repaired, 110057 returned to the track by 1961 with the repaired Motto bodywork still in place, but after two seasons, the car was no longer competitive and was better suited for historic events.

The car returned for the 1968 season, but having decided that the closed-wheel body style was not optimal, the owner commissioned Robert Peel to re-skin the original open-wheel, cycle-winged coachwork of 110057 as closely as possible, a task made easier by virtue of the fact that the Motto “envelope” body was simply attached to the car’s chassis by outriggers. Still in bare aluminium, 110057 was unveiled for the opening of the Totnes Motor Museum in Devon, UK. In 1988, exact period-correct mudguard mountings were fitted to 110057 and after experiencing some engine issues in 1989, much of the car was dismantled, presenting an excellent opportunity to perfect the car and reconfigure the front of it exactly as original.

Offered from the collection of the current long-term caretaker of the past 54 years, who is a true purist and highly active gentleman racer, 110057 has been a virtual fixture in historic-racing circles for practically every season since 1961. Carefully maintained and perfected throughout the intervening decades, 110057 has been a consistent class winner in historic racing for many years through to 2011, including a Grand Prix class win that year at Spa-Francorchamps, and participation at the Goodwood Revival Meeting in the Juan-Manuel Fangio tribute race. In fact, this highly competitive car has never been beaten by another Talbot-Lago, including all-out Grand Prix-specification single-seaters.

It is wonderfully presented at auction with just three owners from new and complete racing history, having been driven competitively by the current owner and its early roster, including Georges Grignard, Guy Mairesse, 1950 Le Mans champion Louis Rosier, Maurice Trintignant and El Maestro, five-time Formula One World Champion Juan-Mauel Fangio, at such legendary circuits as Le Mans, Montlhéry, Monaco and more. Currently fitted with the engine from 110055, the Pierre Levegh car, accompanied at auction by its matching numbers engine, the T26 Grand Sport, is sold with many spares, which are documented on a list, and photographs for reference. A true “dual-purpose” car capable of competing either as a sports racer with its mudguards and lights or as a vintage GP car without them, 110057 offers its next caretaker a true myriad of possibilities.




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