Rare Talbot Lago T23 Teardrop Coupe goes up for auction
By Mike Hanlon
May 15, 2012
It's hard not to get carried away with the superlatives when writing of the art deco wheeled sculptures of Paris-based automotive couturier Giuseppe Figoni. Figoni created this exquisite 1938 Talbot-Lago T23 'Goutte d'Eau' Coupe amongst many extraordinary works of automotive art. The Talbot Lago "teardrop" is not just a pretty face - an almost identical car finished third in the 1938 Le Mans 24 hour race ... and it's for sale. From the Paris studio's of French coachbuilder Figoni et Falaschi, Figoni's Talbot-Lago T23 is one of just four Jeancart-style machines still in existence.
Joseph Figoni was responsible for some of the world's most coveted automobiles with his body designs fitted to many Delahaye, Bugatti, Renault, Delage, Panhard, Alfa Romeo, Rolls Royce and others, which now command the world's highest prices at auction.
Figoni was obsessed with aerodynamic efficiency and just a browse through the pages of the world's automotive enthusiast publishers will yield numerous examples of his breathtaking work.
Some stand-outs include the Delahaye Type 138 18CV Speciale, that in 1934 set world endurance speed records from 12 hours to 48 hours and from 2000 miles to 10,000 kilometers at Montlhéry, and the 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 that won the Le Mans 24-hour race that year.
This extract from Coachbuild puts his work in context: "Joseph Figoni had an artist's command of color and made full use of the recent development of Nitrolac metallic paints to present his cars in dramatic two and three tone paint finishes. He loved working with the designers of high fashion, who created gowns, hats, gloves and shoes that perfectly matched the lines and colors of his cars. Ovidio Falaschi explained: 'We really were true couturiers of automotive coachwork, dressing and undressing a chassis one, two, three times and even more before arriving at the definitive line that we wanted to give to a specific chassis-coachwork ensemble.'"
RM Auctions car specialist Peter Wallman describes the 1938 Talbot-Lago T23 "Goutte d'Eau" (Teardrop) Coupe thus: "Arguably one of the world’s most stunning and chic automobiles, the 1938 Talbot-Lago T23 Teardrop Coupe is a masterpiece of French artistry and Art Deco design. Simply breathtaking, its proportions and gently sweeping curves are wonderfully representative of France’s prewar design themes."
In total, just 16 Talbot-Lago Teardrop Coupés were created by Figoni et Falaschi, along two slightly different body styles. Five were built in the “Jeancart” style (after the name of the first owner), of which just four remain.
This car was the only one of the Jeancart-style originally built upon a four-litre-engined, T23 “Baby” chassis. The other 11 Teardrop coupés were built in the “New York” style, named after the car exhibited at the 1937 New York Auto Salon.
Except for one car on a T23 chassis, these “New York” cars were all based upon the shorter T150-C chassis. One of the T150-based cars finished third outright in the 1938 Le Mans 24 hour race using the same motor.
The 1938 Talbot-Lago T23 Teardrop Coupe, chassis 93064, was delivered new in February 1938 to a French resident before being shown at the 1938 Paris Concours d’Elegance de l’Auto. Imported into the United States in the late-1940s, 93064 boasts a well-documented chain of ownership.
A former Pebble Beach "Elegance in Motion" award-winner, it was the recipient of a recent, no-expense-spared, body-off frame restoration in France by marque experts, which saw it return to its stunning Lago Blue, the same color as when it was displayed at its first concours event.
RM Auctions estimates the T23 will fetch between US$2,500,000 and $3,200,000, which sits well with the last time the car was auctioned, also by RM, in 2010, when it sold for £1,792,000 (then approximately $2,789,600).
The T23 Teardrop is powered by a 115 bhp (rated), 3,996 cc inline six-cylinder engine with hemispherical combustion chambers and twin carburettors, Wilson four-speed pre-selector gearbox, independent front suspension with transverse leaf spring, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel drum brakes.
While the identity of its first owner has been lost, records indicate that 93064 was ordered as a "Baby 4L" chassis with Style 9221 Model Jeancart coachwork, built by Figoni et Falaschi as job number FF685. Following completion, it was delivered on 21 February, 1938 to a French resident, registered as 199 ADY 75.
Predictably, its exceptional beauty made it prominent at concours events in the period, with contemporary magazines showing it in the company of a striking woman at its first showing in June 1938 at the Concours d’Elegance de l’Auto.
Chassis 93064 made its way to Southern California during the late 1940s, having likely been imported by a returning member of the American armed forces. At this time, David Radinsky, a Denver, Colorado native, acquired the Teardrop. He later sold the car to machinist Paul Major, and for many years, Major was seen driving the car in the Denver area. At this point, the headlights had been recessed into the front wings, and the taillights were now flush with the rear wings. Some time in the mid-1950s, the trafficators ceased to work, prompting Major to add turn signals at the tops of the head and taillight housings. Bumpers from a pre-war Cadillac were also fitted to the car.
Under Major’s ownership, 93064 was featured and photographed for an article in Rocky Mountain Autolife, written by Ronald C. Hill, a friend of Major’s. According to Hill, Major offered the car at auction in September 1966 at Arthur Rippey’s Veteran Car Museum, although it appears to have remained unsold. It was again offered at the same venue in November 1967, this time selling to a buyer in Atlanta, Georgia, believed to have been named Millbank.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Millbank shipped 93064 to Paris for restoration by French coachbuilder Henri Chapron, and once complete in 1974, the car made its post-restoration debut in Paris. During the restoration, the car was returned to its original colours, and several small touches were added. The headlights were modified slightly, the rear turn signals were removed, and the bumpers were changed to the more appropriate single-blade style.
At some point in the late 1980s, 93064 was purchased by a Japanese collector and remained there until its next owner, Mr. Charles Morse, returned it to America. Soon after Mr. Morse received the car, the engine and mechanicals were restored. While a body-off-frame restoration was deemed unnecessary, 93064 was nonetheless cosmetically freshened with a new paint finish and interior. In 2000, the Teardrop received the Elegance in Motion Award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Prior to selling 93064 in early 2006, Mr. Morse reported to RM Auctions that the race-bred Talbot-Lago chassis, combined with the lightweight Figoni et Falaschi Teardrop Coupé coachwork, resulted in an exquisite driving experience. He also noted that the unassisted steering was surprisingly quick and light, and that the Wilson preselector gearbox was smoother than a conventional manual gearbox, with positive coupling and quick gear changes.
In Mr. Morse’s ownership, the four-liter engine was adapted to Winfield carburettors for improved throttle response and a broader power band. Mr. Morse extensively toured the Talbot, just as it was originally intended. Following its second running on the Colorado Grand, the noted mechanic and restorer, Mr. Jim Stranberg, rebuilt the steering mechanism and the front suspension.
Shortly before its early-2006 sale, where it joined the O’Quinn Collection, a road test revealed the Talbot to have been in excellent operating order. Just prior to its 2010 sale, the Teardrop was shipped to expert restorers in France, where it received a complete, body-off-frame restoration with no expense spared.
The body’s wooden sub-structure was carefully examined and repaired, with an estimated 80 percent of the original woodwork saved and preserved. The flowing sheet metal was extensively repaired as well, with 90 per cent of the original metalwork remaining.
New front and rear bumpers were installed, as the prior units had become separated from the car at some point in time. New front lights were installed as well. The chassis and mechanical components have been fully restored, and the engine has been overhauled, retaining all original engine parts with the exception of a new set of pistons.
The interior upholstery has been completely restored to original specifications, and the stunning exterior was refinished in Lago Blue, the same colour as when it was displayed at the Concours d’Elegance de l’Auto in 1938.
Freshly restored and listed in the Registre Talbot, Chassis 93064 remains the sole Jeancart-style Teardrop Coupé built by Figoni et Falaschi on the race-bred Talbot-Lago T23 chassis.
It will go under the auctioneer's hammer at RM Auctions' Monterey sale on August 17 and 18.
Auction site: RM Auctions
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