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Gallic Classic


The 1939 Talbot-Lago T150C SS Aerocoupe is a very rare and expensive example of the beauty of pre-war French cars

There were four Talbot-Lago T150C SSs made with Pourtout Aerocoupe bodies. Two are in private collections, and there are shadowy rumors of another in pieces, although no one has seen so much as a picture. The last is offered here, with exceptional provenance. Begun as war clouds gathered in 1939, it was not seen complete until the late 1940s.

It was built to plans drawn by legendary designer Georges Paulin, and assembled by one of France's premier coachbuilders. After the war, the Talbot was owned by a wealthy gentleman driver who drove it to many victories on the road courses of France. It remains in original condition, showing the makeshift field modifications that racing sometimes demands.

By the early 1930s, Anthony Lago had negotiated the rights to the Wilson preselector gearbox, a breakthrough invention that allowed one to select a gear with a lever in advance of its need—the gear would not engage until the clutch was operated.

In the course of trying to find a factory in France in 1933, Lago entered into discussions with Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq. Lago made a deal with the British parent whereby he would be paid a salary to turn the French side of the company around and share in any profits.

After staving off bankruptcy, it all came right in 1937, with a new, lightweight T150C. The lightweight and the preceding 4-liter racked up successes at Marseilles, where they finished 1-2-3-5, Tunisia, Montlhèry (1-2-3) and the British Tourist Trophy.

In the midst of this, Tony Lago introduced his masterpiece in August at the Paris-Nice Criterium de Tourisme. It was a touring version of the open T150C that he had been racing. Designated the T150C SS, it had a 4-liter, 6-cylinder overhead-valve engine with triple Zenith-Stromberg carburetors. Output was 140 horsepower, allowing the car to cruise the poplar-lined autoroutes at nearly 100 mph.

The body was a stunning coupe by Paris coachbuilder Figoni et Falaschi, nicknamed the Goutte d'Eau. The literal translation is drop of water, but in English, the design is usually referred to as a teardrop.

Less than 30 T150C SSs were made, and today they are in the car collector's pantheon. The majority were bodied by Figoni et Falaschi, but a series of four Pourtout Aerocoupés was also completed.

The car offered here, Talbot-Lago T150C SS 90120, was owned by the wealthy amateur sportsman Pierre Boncompagni, who used the nom de course, "Pagnibon." In 1950 and 1951, racing the Talbot under the flag of Ecurie Nice, he won overall or in his class at such evocative venues as Nice, Orléans, the Circuit de Bressuire, Agen, and the Mount Ventoux Hillclimb, a 13-mile uphill dash. After adding his pages to Talbot's racing history, Boncompagni died behind the wheel of a Ferrari at a race in Hyères in 1953.

This car sold for $4,847,000 at the Bonhams & Butterfields Quail Lodge sale in Carmel Valley, California, on August 15, 2008.

The growing awareness of the importance and charm of untouched cars has resulted in the acquisition of unrestored cars by more and more sophisticated collectors. Indeed, I believe it is fair to say that this Talbot will be joining a wonderful collection of cars as that collector's first unrestored vehicle.

As such, it took a bit of study and commitment to make that first plunge. Not everyone wants the concatenation of patina and constraints attendant to owning such a car. And make no mistake; unrestored cars are very different in the benefits they offer, as well as the restrictions their fragile originality demands.

Unrestored cars present complex issues

First, these objects present much more complex issues to their owners with respect to conservation and the level of intervention that is appropriate when compared to the "tear it apart and make it perfect" ideology that so many complete restorations involve. Further, while unrestored cars can be restored to good, usable operating condition without visible intervention, they can't be used with the confident abandon that a complete remanufacture confers.

All decisions regarding care for the "original" car are complex, subtle, and, given the newness of the field, rather fraught with opportunities to do real harm to the car, to one's pocket book, and to history. Conserving an unrestored car is an art best mastered through lots of experience; unrestored cars aren't for everyone.

There are three primary factors that led to this impressive sales price—good unrestored condition, an exciting competition car identity, and immaculate provenance. As far as condition goes, the new buyer really has something to work with here. Unlike some other unrestored cars, this car is in fine, unmolested condition, given its age and history.

While minor bits of bright trim, some interior pieces and other non-critical components are missing, the car is essentially complete. Further, its condition leads me to think that the vehicle can be brought back to a highly attractive appearance through careful and diligent cleaning, corrosion inhibition, and judicious in-painting with reversible materials, much as museums restore paintings or other works of art.

Reversible finishes allow in-painting

Indeed, our shop here in Florida has begun experimenting with reversible automotive finishes with highly satisfactory results. This material allows areas to be in-painted rather than wholly refinished with destructive permanent techniques, and further, to be refinished with materials that, should the decision be made to return the car to untouched condition, can just be washed off, leaving every bit of its original condition intact.

Additionally, missing minor components can be recreated, "softened" to blend with the car as a whole and thereby restore a complete look. It is all to the good that this car sat through the war years and was then vigorously raced, as the original look of the car in period would already have been somewhat used and patinated, as careful analysis of the period photographs show.

The car's competition history demands a rougher look than would a swoopy Figoni Goutte d'Eau Talbot boulevardier. I am always struck by the visual dissonance over-restored competition cars create with their fussy, too refined finishes of what, in the day, was an entirely disposable competition weapon that had only a small chance of finishing the season intact.

While M. Boncompagni campaigned his car largely in regional races within France, it comes to us with excellent history from the underappreciated postwar years, when motorsport was being revived. Its physical evidence, the provenance impounded in its very fabric, speaks to us of the drama of racing, showing as it does "makeshift field modifications that racing sometimes demands." These often hasty and crude modifications become a palimpsest of the car's history and speak eloquently of its reality in ways that are irredeemably erased once the restorer is put to work.

Finally, the car's provenance is immaculate, without holes in its chronology. And this car proclaims its authenticity with every blemish and ding; as the catalog entry says, "There are crudely welded metal pieces…leading the historian to discern that at one point…the car overheated." Once subject to detailed examination and sympathetic rehabilitation, who knows what secrets will emerge? And there you have the romance of a great unrestored automobile, the ability to commune with the past. To be for a moment back in 1950, with the smell of hot oil and the tick of cooling metal…Fairly bought.

The SCM Analysis

Details

Years Produced: 1937-39

Number Produced: 4

Original List Price: $5,500 (chassis only); add $2,000-$3,000 for body

SCM Valuation: $3,000,000-$5,000,000

Tune-up Cost: $400-$600

Distributor Caps: $250-$300

Chassis # Location: Plate on passenger side firewall; chassis stamping may be obscured by bodywork

Engine # Location: Near right rear engine mount

Club Info: Vintage European Automobiles

CP 212, succ B

Montreal, Quebec, H3B 3J7

Canada

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1936-38 Bugatti T57S Atalante, 1935-39 Delahaye 135MS, 1949-53 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Villa d'Este coupe

Investment Grade: A


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