1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Cabriolet in the style of Saoutchik
$1,700,000 - $2,100,000
- Extremely rare and desirable SWB GP-derived chassis
- Recent 10,000-hour restoration; exceedingly accurate and never shown
- Documented by Talbot-Lago and Saoutchik authority Peter M. Larsen
190 bhp, 4,482 cc OHV inline six-cylinder engine with three Zenith-Stromberg carburetors, four-speed Wilson pre-selector transmission, independent front suspension with transverse leaf springs, live rear axle with leaf springs, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 104.33 in.
The T26 Grand Sport was developed during the war as a sporting chassis by Anthony Lago. It was a direct descendant of the legendary pre-war T150C SS and had virtually identical specifications, including a shortened wheelbase chassis and independent front suspension by transverse leaf springs, as well as considerably more power from a new twin-cam 4.5-liter engine fed by three large carburetors. It was a refined automobile destined for the grand cru sportsman and chic Parisian society in equal measure. It was a grand gesture, the final flowering in France of the great tradition of the truly custom motor car, as the chassis was built to carry coachwork that was the last expression, anywhere in the world, of high style and luxury.
The concept was outrageously exclusive and something for the very few—not only because of its price, which was stratospheric, or its limited practicality, which was irrelevant. It was a car that was chic, ritzy, aristocratic, and sharp as a knife, all at once. It was also very rare, even when new. Only 29 were built on the short-wheelbase chassis, of which 26 exist today, all of them with individually coachbuilt bodies.
CHASSIS NUMBER 110110: ALL THAT GLITTERS
The car offered here, chassis number 110110, is arresting to say the least. It is not the largest convertible built by Saoutchik after the war, but it is likely the most massively scalloped and ornamented post-war body ever to emerge from the famed carrosserie. By that token, it is also one of the most decorated and embellished automobiles of all time. The swoopy lines are nothing less than incredible, and just contemplating this car at rest produces almost a physical rush.
The cascading design was topped off with a pastel blue paint scheme, incorporating a broad cream-colored accent running down the side of the front fender and along the sill to the beginning of the rear fender, which repeats the theme. Combined with the massive chrome scallops, the tri-tone effect is absolutely stunning.
Upon its completion, chassis number 110110 was shown at the Geneva Motor Show in late 1949. It was then acquired later that year by the dapper and flamboyant New York furrier Louis Ritter, a connoisseur of Saoutchik’s extroverted coachwork, with the assistance of legendary Hollywood sports car dealer Roger Barlow. Ritter had traveled to Paris to attend the 1949 Salon, as well as to monitor the construction of a Saoutchik-bodied Cadillac that he had commissioned through Barlow. It was there that he saw chassis number 110110, immediately fell in love, and bought the car.
Barlow and his wife, Louise, collected both cars in New York in December 1949 and drove them tandem, cross-country, back to California. Not surprisingly, the eye-popping caravan drew much attention. In Louise Barlow’s words, “Whether in New York City, in Midland, Texas, or in Hollywood, the Saoutchik caused a small riot wherever it was parked, and on the highway many curious drivers gave chase.” According to Barlow, Ritter, as was typical, played with his new toys in Beverly Hills for a month or so before giving them back to the dealer to sell, clearing his garage for Saoutchik’s next efforts.
Barlow was always a skilled promoter and succeeded in having the car featured on the cover of the March 1950 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, in which the cost of the car was quoted as $17,500, a massive figure for the time. Over the next two years, he would sell the car three times: first to Louis Wasmer, a radio tycoon and car fancier from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; then to Harold McLean, a retired businessman who had also purchased the ex-Ritter Cadillac; and finally to Walter L. Burghard, a bus fleet operator from Mansfield, Ohio.
In 1953, Burghard had Earl Wiener, of Galion, Ohio, remove the Saoutchik body and mount it on a Mercury chassis fitted with a Lincoln overhead-valve V-8 engine. This unusual “special” was photographed at Watkins Glen in 1957, was last seen in Ohio in 1970, having since vanished without a trace. Meanwhile, the original Talbot-Lago chassis, sans body, remained with Mr. Wiener in Galion, Ohio, waiting for the future.
RACING AND RESURRECTION
In February 1975, Mrs. Wiener, now a widow, advertised the Talbot-Lago chassis in Hemmings Motor News. It was purchased by Jerry Sherman, of Malvern, Pennsylvania, who had been competing in local races with his Talbot-Lago racing car. Sherman allied himself with Tony Carroll, the leading Talbot-Lago expert in the United States, and after much soul-searching, they decided to design a body for the chassis such as Major Lago might have mounted for an amateur racing customer in 1948 or 1949.
The car was finally completed in its racing form around 1987 and, during the following few years, was campaigned and raced actively in many VSCCA events. Unfortunately, it was damaged in a fire at Sherman’s farm in 1990 and laid up until after its owner’s passing in early 1991. Mr. Carroll then proceeded alone with a fresh restoration, taking over 10 years to complete. In Pennsylvania, Ralph Steinberg’s Cloverleaf Restorations began the metal-testing, repair, and fabrication work on the major chassis parts. The engine was rebuilt by a specialist in Philadelphia in 1996, and the body was built by Eno DePasquale, of New Hampshire, replicating a period T26 Grand Sport racing body by Tunesi. Final mechanical assembly and preparation was entrusted to Ben Bragg, a Bugatti mechanic in Massachusetts.
At last completed in 2009, the Talbot-Lago was delivered to Mr. Carroll, who used it sparingly over the next two years. Failing health then forced him to put the car up for sale, and it was acquired by a French enthusiast, next passing to its present owner and consignor.
The owner elected then to have the original and now lost Saoutchik coachwork recreated on the chassis. This work was performed by Patrick Delâge, of the prestigious French restoration company Auto Classique Touraine, under whose guidance the unbelievably complex curves of the original Saoutchik body were recreated with an equally unbelievable and painstaking attention to correct detail. The only extant Saoutchik Grand Sport Cabriolet, chassis number 110120, which is an unrestored and highly original car, was used as a template to ensure the correctness of the body shape to the last centimeter.
ACCURACY AND AUTHENTICITY
The history of chassis number 110110 is described in great detail in the book Talbot-Lago Grand Sport: The Car from Paris by Peter M. Larsen and Ben Erickson, while the merit of the design is the subject of lengthy discussion in the book Jacques Saoutchik, Maître Carrossier, by the same authors.
Towards the end of the project, Mr. Larsen was asked to review the correctness of the efforts of Auto Classique Touraine, and he concluded that the chassis and mechanical components of the car are original and that the result, as achieved by Patrick Delâge and his team, was amazingly correct and precisely as Saoutchik would have built it.
It is not an overstatement to claim that the Saoutchik design on chassis number 110110 is an expression of modern art from the point of view of the automobile. Jacques Saoutchik and his son Pierre were the artists, and the rarefied T26 Grand Sport chassis was the canvas. On this, they sculpted and painted a carrosserie, as a masterful deconstruction of conventional notions of proportion, shape, appearance, and contour.
Over the last two years, more than 10,000 hours were spent recreating this lost masterpiece of the French coachbuilder’s art on its original chassis. The seminal, unforgettable result has never before been shown. Its display here marks an opportunity to acquire a piece of rolling sculpture—an opportunity that will mostly like be unrepeatable.