The ex-Pierre Boncompagni 'Pagnibon,' Ecurie Nice
1939 Talbot-Lago T150 C SS
Coachwork by M. Pourtout, Design by Georges Paulin
Chassis no. 90120
Engine no. 17318-C
There were four Talbot-Lago T150 C SSs with Pourtout Aerocoupé bodies made. 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, and is the perfect storm of exceptional provenance. Begun as war clouds gathered in 1939, it was not seen complete until the conflagration was over. It was built to plans drawn by a legendary designer, and assembled by one of Frances 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.
The story of this Talbot-Lago T150 C SS begins with the birth of Antonio Franco Lago in Venice in 1893. The family moved to Bergamo, where Lagos father managed the municipal theatre. Lago grew up in a home full of actors, musicians and impresarios and government officials. Young Tony was bright and personable and as he grew older, he got to know a range of important people, developing friendships with both Mussolini and Pope John IV before they achieved prominence. Lago became disillusioned with fascism early and said so. Knowing he was under threat, he always carried a hand grenade with him. Three black shirts from the fascist youth corps came into a trattoria after him, but shot the owner first. Tony pulled the pin, threw the hand grenade and ran out the back door. When he heard that one of his assailants had died, Lago fled to Paris in 1919. Remarkably, he and Mussolini were still in touch, years later.
Picking up engineering degrees along the way, he worked for Pratt and Whitney as far afield as Southern California, before settling in England in the 1920s. Lagos ambition seemed boundless considering his resources, but he was always able to find investors to help realize his dreams. The fact that he had achieved the rank of Major in the French Army during the war swayed the undecided.
By the early 1930s, Lago had negotiated the rights to market the Wilson pre-selector 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. It was typical of Lagos business practices that years after he was selling the gearboxes, the countries Lago had the rights to market in were still under negotiation.
In the course of trying to find a factory in France, Lago entered into discussions with the Anglo-French automobile company, Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq. The Talbot factory in Paris was laboring under a huge debt after overspending on Grand Prix racing in the 1920s. It had a muddled line of cars, with few selling and an antiquated plant. Lago made a deal with the British parent of STD whereby he would be paid a salary to turn the French side of the company around and share in any profits upon sale. Armed with the transmission license and another license for a front suspension system he had designed, Lago moved to France in 1933.
In 1934, he tasked his engineer, Walter Brecchia, to upgrade the existing model Talbot T120 to the T150, by designing a new hemispherical combustion chamber cylinder head for the three-liter engine. To accommodate the new engine, Lago built three new cars and entered them in Concours dElegance in the Bois de Boulogne in June 1934. Tonys theatrical background was evident. The three cars, painted in the red, white and blue of the French tricolor, were accompanied by three well-known female racing drivers, all in elegantly tailored outfits the color of their cars, topped off with berets. Under the hood lurked the old T120 engine, the new head not yet being ready. The following weekend, Tonys sideshow was presented to the elite of the French motoring industry at an affair at the Prince of Wales hotel, after which the three ladies again paraded their cars in another concours sponsored by a Paris newspaper.
Lago ultimately got his revised cylinder head and continued to try and give his Talbots a performance image despite slow sales. A privateer entered an ungainly three-liter T150 sedan at Le Mans in 1935 and ran as high as 11th before retiring. The next year French authorities changed the class displacement limits for sports car racing with breaks at 2 and 4 liters. Lago responded with a 4-liter version of the T150, but 1936 was neither successful in racing nor sales, as the recession in France deepened. Lagos flair for showmanship was not to be denied, even under the circumstances. In the fall, he arranged for a new hemi-head T150 to attempt to pack 100 miles into an hour on the banked portion of the Montlhèry course. The foray was successful and Talbot-Lagos stature grew in the sporting community.
After staving off bankruptcy, it all came right in 1937, with a new, lightweight T150 C. The lightweight and the older 4-liter both began winning and 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 these successes, Tony Lago introduced his masterpiece in August, at the Paris-Nice Criterium de Tourisme. It was a touring version of the open T150 Cs that he had been racing. Designated the T150 C SS, it had a 4-liter, six-cylinder overhead valve engine with triple Zenith-Stromberg carburetors, just like the sports racing car. As would be expected, power was through a version of the Wilson pre-selector gearbox. Output was 140 horsepower, allowing the car to cruise the poplar-lined autoroutes at near 100 miles per hour. The body was a stunning coupé by Paris coachbuilder, Figoni and Falaschi, nicknamed the Goutte dEau. The literal translation is drop of water, but in English, the design is usually referred to as a Teardrop. It was an ebullient series of repeating ovoid shapes fenders, greenhouse, bonnet and hood, accentuated by sweeping chrome filets, ending in a magnificent fastback barely pierced by a small backlight.
That the Talbot SS was elegant was unquestioned, but it could also show an impressive turn of speed. In 1938 a standard touring version placed 3rd at Le Mans and repeated that result in the Coupé de Paris at Montlhèry, a race won by a Talbot T26 sports racer with a similar engine. These two third places were akin to taking a new Ferrari 599 GTB off the showroom floor and finishing 3rd at Le Mans today.
Less than thirty T150 C SSs were made, and today they are in the car collectors pantheon. The majority were bodied by Figoni and Falaschi, but a series of just four Pourtout Aerocoupés was also completed.
Marcel Pourtout began his Paris carrosserie in the mid-twenties with his wife keeping the books. He built a following of the rich and famous and used the prestige chassis of the day, including Delahaye, Delage, Bentley, Peugeot, Lancia and, ultimately, Talbot. In the early 1930s, Pourtout met Georges Paulin. Paulin came from a steveadore family and at his fathers urging, became a dentist. His father served in World War I, during which his mother was killed in a Paris street by a 2000 pound shell fired by a German artillery device called Big Bertha, which had a nine mile range and was named after a member of the Krupp armaments family. Despite an early career making dentures in Paris and Nice, Paulins real interest was innovative automobile design and aerodynamics. He returned to Paris where he designed and patented a retractable steel top, which was used by Peugeot on some memorable Pourtout bodies. Pourtout also did work for Paris Peugeot dealer, Emile Darlmat. The Peugeot connection brought the three men together and Paulin became Pourtouts designer.
From the mid to late 1930s, Paulin penned some of the worlds greatest designs that were executed by Pourtout. Three that became classics of the era were the Embiricos Bentley, the Peugeot Darlmat and the first Delage D-8 120. Paris-based Greek banker, André Embiricos, commissioned the Bentley. It was a coupé so advanced that it finished 5th at Le Mans ten years after it was built. The Darlmats were a series of small-displacement, Peugeot-based aerodynamic coupés and roadsters, one of which won the two-liter class at Le Mans in 1938, resulting in a production run of street versions. The Delage was a one-off aero coupé ordered by Louis Delage to introduce the new model at the Paris Auto Show. It still turns heads to the point of winning the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours dElegance.
Near the end of the run of the Talbot T150 C SS, Pourtout built four Aerocoupés to Paulins design. They were similar to the Figoni and Falaschi design, but more aerodynamic, with a less studied look.
The war brought Talbot production to an end. Paulin became an agent of the British Secret Service, working with the Alibi network of the French Resistance. He was captured and executed by the Nazis in 1942. When his belongings were returned to his wife, she found a note. It was simple and to the point, I love you do not avenge me.
The war ended with Tony Lago still in control of Talbot. He persevered with his racing, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, occasionally winning a Grand Prix in the 1940s and 50s and finally winning Le Mans in 1950 with his T26, with an updated version of the T150 engine. The French government ultimately awarded him the Legion dHonneur for the glory he brought France on the race course, despite having been in receivership four times. He reluctantly merged his company into Simca in 1958 and died the next year.
The offered car, Talbot-Lago T150 C SS 90120, emerged as a complete car after the war and for a time 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 Talbots racing history, Boncompagni died behind the wheel of a Ferrari at a race in Hyères in 1953.
His Talbot surfaced in the United States with James R Stannard Jr in Long Beach. Lindsey Locke of Southern California bought it in the early 1960s. Locke was a Talbot enthusiast and owned four Talbot-Lagos, two T150 C SS coupés and a postwar coupé and cabriolet. Lockes other T150 C SS is now in the Nethercutt Museum. The subject car has not changed hands since Lockes purchase.
This Talbot T150 C SS represents an extraordinary opportunity seldom seen in todays market. It is redolent of the golden age of French custom coachbuilding and the great later 1930s legacy of French racing sports cars when French cars won the last three Le Mans races before the war. Whereas there are over 16 Figoni and Falaschi T150s, there are only three of Georges Paulins streamlined coupés, as executed by Marcel Pourtout. Further, the other two are in long-term collections.
The subject car is unrestored in a period that recognizes the value of such condition. Cars can be restored many times, but they are only original once. As the era of the so-called trailer queen is ending, the most prestigious Concours dElegance like Pebble Beach now mark cars down for over over-restoration and have classes for unrestored cars.
Like all great hand-made artworks, this Talbot-Lago is unique. While it conforms to Paulins design, it has features that distinguish it from its brethren, such as the subtle ridgeline descending down the rear from the divided backlight, ending in a miniscule raised fin. The grille shape and the aluminum-bordered engine compartment wire mesh grilles are also singular to this car. The Talbot also shows its racing heritage in the drilling and lightening that can be found throughout. Like an archeological dig, one can discern details of the cars life from its modifications. There are crudely welded metal pieces, obviously placed to direct airflow to the radiator, leading the historian to discern that at one point in its career, the car overheated. Such in-period appendages are almost always lost in a complete restoration.
The new owner will not ride alone. This elegant warrior from another age will always be accompanied by the spirits of Tony Lago, Georges Paulin, Marcel Pourtout and Pierre Boncompagni.