Adolphe Clement had realized early on that exporting his vehicles, particularly to the more affluent and therefore more lucrative UK market, would help ensure his companies success - and so he soon became associated with the the Earl of Shrewsbury & Talbot who was also keen to import French cars to the UK.
The Earl set up an assembly plant in London in 1904, and the imported/locally assembled cars were naturally enough called "Clement-Talbots". The cars would prove successful and, in 1912, their reputation was bolstered by Percy Lambert who would become the first ever driver to achieve 100 miles-in-an-hour at Brooklands
In 1919 the Earl of Shrewsbury would sell his business to Darracq
, an English owned company building its cars at Suresnes, who then went on to form the first major international alliance when they merged with Sunbeam and set up the S-T-D (Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq) combine in 1920.
Things became confusing in 1921 when the French arm of the company started to sell its cars as Talbot-Darracq, then from 1923 they were badged as Talbot
in France, and rebadged as Darracq
if exported to Great Britain and some other countries; meanwhile the British arm continued to produce Talbots in London and Sunbeam cars in Wolverhampton until they in turn were both taken over, after the liquidation, by Rootes
Anthony "Tony" Lago
Anthony Lago was an Italian who had been a Major in the Italian Air Force in the First World War. He fell out with Mussolini's Fascists and moved to London in the early 1920s, after travelling via Paris and the USA. He changed his name from Antonio to Anthony and became the agent for Isotta Fraschini.
In the mid 1920s he became involved with the Wilson pre-selector gearbox which he fitted to many cars including Isottas
. Lago also acquired the rights to the Wilson patents for use outside the UK. Many French buses were fitted with Wilson boxes.
In 1933 Lago, by then an STD director, went to Paris in an attempt to turn round the fortunes of that loss-making arm of STD. He had in his pocket an option to purchase the Suresnes plant at its 1933 valuation. In 1935 when STD failed, he exercised this option, and with financial backing from London, bought Suresnes from under the noses of the Rootes brothers
The Baby, The Major and The Master
Lago immediately set about rationalising and restyling the range of six-cylinder cars. The six cylinder engines retained overhead valves and had capacities of 1830cc, 2504cc and 2996cc. A 3996cc six with 7 main bearings was introduced in 1937. These were fitted in a range of three chassis: the Baby with a 2.95m wheelbase, the Major with a 3.20m wheelbase and the Master with a 3.45m wheelbase. Only the smallest and cheapest variants had normal gearboxes, all others were fitted with Wilson pre-selectors.
The T150 variant initially was based on the 3 litre with a hemispherical cylinder head
featuring inclined valves operated by asymmetric rockers actuated by pushrods from a single camshaft in the block. This was increased to 4 litres in 1936 and in the special sports racing version with a 2.65m wheelbase, produced some 165bhp and was good for a top speed in excess of 110mph (177kmh). This car proved successful in competitions, taking out the first three places at the 1937 Montlhery sports car Grand Prix and the Tourist Trophy race at Donington Park.
Styled by Figoni
Figoni provided styling input for the "works" bodies from 1934 on, as well as building bodies to order on bare chassis such as the famous "teardrop" T150s. Lago continued to refine the wonderful 4 litre engine, and in 1938 for competition the size was increased to 4.5 litres; racing successes for the Lago Special would continue with a win in that year's Paris 12 hour race.
Great things were promised for 1939 when a 3 litre V16 engine was announced, but with the imminent outbreak of war such plans were quickly shelved and, unfortunately, were never resurrected. After the war Talbot-Lago resumed car manufacture, releasing a totally new 4.5 litre car, the T26 Record in 1947.
The Talbot Lago T26C
But it was the production of the single-seater 4.5 litre un-supercharged T26C Grand Prix car that was to bring well deserved kudos to the company. This used an all alloy version of the 7 bearing T26 Record engine with hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined valves operated by cross-over pushrods and twin camshafts high in the block, as pioneered in GB by Riley.
Fighting in the same league as the 1.5 litre supercharged cars, the Talbot Lagos were successful due in the main to their miserly fuel consumption; while their competition were forced to make mid-race fuel stops the Talbot Lago remained on the track. The Lago Talbot road car of 1947 used a 170bhp engine, with the bodies for the short chassis "Grand Sport" being supplied by specialist coachbuilders in a wide variety of styles - but mostly very traditional for the day.
That year Rosier
won the "Albi" race while Chiron
won the French GP, and at Comminges the big Talbot Lagos came in first, second and third places! The other manufacturers started to take note of the success of the marque, and quickly determined that the reliability afforded when entering a non-supercharged car in a race sometimes outweighed the advantages of the supercharged car.
While it may have been rare for a Talbot-Lago to beat a supercharged Alfa Romeo
could see the benefit of ditching the supercharger
and gaining reliability, a method they would employ with great success from 1950
onward. The T26C was developed to eventually produce approaching 280bhp, and from 1949 there was the "T15 Lago Baby" which had a 118bhp 2.7 litre four cylinder engine incorporating the same cross-pushrod valve gear, this being available as a drophead coupe or a saloon.
The Talbot Lago company would enjoy its postwar peak production figures ever in 1950
, with some 433 cars being manufactured in total. To top off a successful year, Rosier
used a two-seater sports version of the T26C racing car to win the 1950 Le Mans
race. Pierre Levegh would come ever so close to making it back to back Le Mans victories for the marque in 1951; driving single handed for more than 22 hours, it was unfortunate and somewhat unexpected (given the engines prior reputation for reliability) that Levegh's engine would blow. How quickly the fortunes of the company would change, with 1951
production figures falling to a mere 80!
The French Luxury Car Tax
Like many of the French marques listed in the "Lost Marques" section of this site, financial constraints, including the punitive tax regime imposed on luxury cars in France, inhibited the company's ability to develop better engines and more competitive cars - and so it came as no surprise that 1953
offered no race track success. This was no doubt very disappointing for the engineers, for despite the financial constraints they had not only developed a new lightweight car, into which, as a last throw of the dice in 1956
, they had fitted Maserati
engines to the two last Le Mans entries!
production concentrated on the new 2476cc four-cylinder T14LS, with a conventional 4 speed gear box, in a wonderful new sports coupe body. Thoroughly modern looking, the new car was good for 115bhp and a top speed of 120mph (193kmh). But this was the last to use a Talbot engine design, and only 70 cars were produced. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so the company decided to cease development of its own engines and instead source them from BMW
The Talbot Lago America
Their new model "America" retained the lovely GT coupe style, and used the 2580cc alloy BMW
V8 engine. It was the first Talbot to be built as a left hand drive car. The naming of the car was certainly an indication of the market the company were now relying upon to arrest their waning fortunes. Designed by Carlo Delaisse, the "America" offered some 10% more power than the previous Talbot engined model, and was now good for a top speed of 124mph (199.5kmh). Naturally enough the car was only manufactured as a left-hand-drive, but after having only manufactured a paltry 12 the company was forced into liquidation.
In 1958 Tony Lago was forced to sell-out to Simca, the few last cars using the America chassis and body being fitted with a Ford side-valve V8 as used on the Simca Vedette. Anthony Lago would die the following year, and inevitably the heritage of Talbot-Lago would diminish over the following years as Simca was purchased by Chrysler who in turn absorbed the Rootes group, thus re-uniting the French and English Talbot heritages, before being finally sold to Peugeot.