Danny Weigel and Clement
The story of Talbot actually starts with the story of Clement. At the turn of the 20th century Clement cars were imported into England by Danny Weigel, whose business associate, the wealthy Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot, had ambitions to produce a quality car. Adolphe Clement was never adverse to making money, and so the Clement Talbot company was founded on October 11, 1902, and work began on a terra-cotta factory on a five-acre site in what was to become Barlby Road, Ladbroke Grove, North Kensington.
While construction of the new factory was underway, Clement cars were imported from France and sold as Clement-Talbots (in France they were now known as Clement-Bayards). By the end of 1904 the British cars were simply called Talbots. However, at the same time French built Clement-Gladiators were being imported by E. H. Lancaster, and after 1908 the Clement name appeared on cars built in the Swift factory
, fitted with radiators of similar design to the British Talbot and marketed under the slogan 'simply Clement, nothing else'. These British Clements did not survive the outbreak of war.
Meanwhile, back in Ladbroke Grove, the new factory had begun assembly and partial production of French designed cars. At the 1905 Automobile Show at the Crystal Palace from 27th January - 4th February, the 'Great National Firm' exhibited an impressive line-up of cars: four twin-cylinder models, the 7/8 HP 2V, the 8/9 HP 2VB, the 9/11 HP 2K and the 10/12 HP 20; and five four-cylinder models, 12/14hp 4V, the 12/16hp 4VB, the 16/20 HP 4K, the 24/30 HP 4X and the 35/50 HP 4Y, the latter being a 6.3-liter car retailing at UK£820 in chassis form.
The first all-British Talbot appeared in 1906, the 3780cc 20/24 HP designed by C. R. Garrard, the works manager. Both this car and the 2724cc 12/16 HP established themselves as notable performers in hill-climbs and speed trials, even as far afield as Australia where the company had early established an export market. At the 1906 Olympia Show a new British Talbot model was introduced, the 2977cc 15 HP which supplanted the 12/16, and which featured dual high-tension ignition with automatic advance.
The Invincible Talbot
During 1907, the marque recorded 109 victories in hill-climbs and speed contests, including a 'world record for efficiency' at the Caerphilly hill-climb. The 1908 range was a judicious mixture of French and English models, from a 8/10 HP 2-cylinder to a monstrous 8621cc four-cylinder 50/60 HP model with a chassis price of UK£1000; included were two un-characteristic models, a 12 HP and a 35/45 HP , both with chain drive, whereas the majority of Talbot cars had live rear axles. Also new was a 4156cc 25 HP which lasted in production until 1910. By now the marque's sporting successes had earned it the slogan of 'the Invincible Talbot'.
The 1908 models had introduced L-head cylinder blocks in place of the less efficient T -head, but these designs were not to realise their full potential until in 1911 the company acquired a new chief engineer, G. W. A. Brown, who had previously worked for Austin. Among Brown's achievements had been the development of a remarkable series of Austin racing cars called Pearley for the racing driver Percy Lambert; and now George Brown was to apply the same skill to the 25 HP Talbot engine, which had already been redesigned for 1910 to give a swept volume of 4487cc.
Wilfred Gordon Aston
Brown succeeded in doubling the power output of the Talbot engine, and a pair of ultra streamlined racing and sprint cars was built for Percy Lambert and Leslie Hands. Lambert first appeared with this car at Brooklands at Motor Show time, 1912, setting up a string of records which all but eclipsed the earlier Sunbeam victory in the Coupe de l'Auto causing the motoring journalist Wilfred Gordon Aston to comment: 'Another British firm has put up another extraordinary performance, and one that it is not too much to say has electrified the whole motor industry and left it still wondering and gaping for all the world as though a comet had suddenly flashed past its eyes ....
1914 Talbot Advertising.
Clement Talbot motor works, circa 1912.
1.5 Liter Talbot Darracqs at a race meeting held during 1926.
1930 Talbot 14 HP M75 Two-Seater Spider.
1930 Talbot M67C Coupe, powered by a 2.3 liter engine.
1935 Talbot 75, powered by a 2276cc overhead-valve six-cylinder engine.
1951 Talbot-Lago Record. It was fitted with a detuned version of the engine used in the GP car.
On 16 November, a 25 HP Talbot of standard dimensions and standard design, but of course with the modifications required for racing work, set up the following records: the half mile at 113.28mph; the mile at 111.73mph and the 2½
miles lap at 109.43 mph. It is needless to attempt to smother this performance with superlatives, for it is neither more nor less than staggering. No one need have any difficulty in predicting that these figures will stand for a very great length of time especially when one considers that they have only been beaten by cars of at least three times the engine size. Some may say, "After all, mere racing proves nothing beyond the fact that a special car can do a special performance", but past experience shows them to be utterly wrong. Racing is the one and only training school for the development and perfection of the touring car. The man who can make the fastest car is the man who can make the best car, and as far as the invincible Talbot is concerned-well, there are the figures.'
Percy Lambert's Promise
On 15th February, 1913 Percy Lambert covered 103.76 miles in an hour at Brooklands, thus becoming the first man ever to cover 100 miles in 60 minutes. Though the Talbot records were soon broken, it was by racing monsters of two and three times the engine power, whereas the Talbot was basically a standard 25 HP chassis. The company made much of Lambert's achievement: 'A car that can survive this phenomenal ordeal will take you up the stiffest hills without faltering, and reveal an enduring disregard for arduous service.' Nor was the 100 miles in the hour the sum total of the Talbot's capabilities as it was also successful in speed trials, yet was tractable enough to be driven on the public road.
Top speed of the car was over 120 mph and it may have been this speed capability which led Lambert to fit a 4½
liter engine to the car in order to recapture his record. In any case this was to be his last season of racing, as he had recently become engaged and had promised his fiancée that he would give up record breaking. His last attempt to recapture the hour's record was made on Friday, 31 October, 1913, and the Talbot was lapping at around 110 mph when a rear tire burst. The car flew out of control and crashed, killing Lambert. Five days later he was buried in Brompton Cemetery in a coffin streamlined to match his car; the remains of the Talbot were acquired by G. A. 'Tony' Vandervell, who incorporated them in a post-war Brooklands racer, while the sister car was driven in the 1920s by Malcolm Campbell.
With the outbreak of war George Brown left Talbot; he was replaced in 1916 by a young Swiss engineer named Georges Roesch, who had previously worked with Gregoire Delaunay Belleville, where he received tuition from Marius Barbaroux at Renault and at Daimler of Coventry. Roesch's brief was to develop a car for production after the Armistice and he devised a remarkable 1750cc Talbot A12 which was brimming with advanced features such as a pressed steel box under the front seats which also acted as storage for the spare wheel and tool box, as a cross member for the chassis and as running boards and attachment points for the mudguards. The two/three seat bodywork ended in a rounded stern with a luggage carrier formed between the rear dumb-irons; many of the features of this car were patented, and a prototype was built but the model was destined never to reach production status. The Earl of Shrewsbury's only son had been killed on the Western Front, and the Earl was no longer interested in the company he had founded.
The STD Combine
At that period the Societe Alexandre Darracq, a French-based, British-capitalised, company was in an expansive mood and began making overtures to Talbot, which were accepted in 1919. The ink was scarcely dry on the contract before Darracq amalgamated with Sunbeam of Wolverhampton, creating the Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq group. Heading the STD combine was the Breton engineer, Louis Coatalen. He decided to drop the Talbot A12 in favour of new designs by Owen CIegg of Darracq, but he made the somewhat strange decision to amend the Darracq name and call the cars built at the Suresnes, Paris factory, Talbot-Darracq.
After Sunbeam joined the group the Parisian cars were called simply Talbots (with a French accent); to avoid confusion between the cars from Ladbroke Grove, and those from Suresnes. The French cars were sold on the English market as Talbot-Darracqs or Darracqs. This confusion of identities became yet more complicated when the STD group began building racing cars which, depending on where they were built and raced, were variously known as Talbot, Talbot-Darracq, Talbot Special or Sunbeam
. Initially, Coatalen plans for the Talbot factory were simple; while it geared itself up to produce a new utility car, it would be occupied in building three racing cars for the STD Combine.
War-Surplus Talbot Ambulances
But this left the company up in the air with regard to producing vehicles for immediate needs; they had managed to keep a certain level of business in operation by buying back war-surplus Talbot ambulances and rebuilding them as touring cars. When the supply of ambulance chassis inevitably dried up they were forced to reintroduce their pre-war models as a stop gap until the arrival of the new small car. The first 8/18 HP Talbot was exhibited at the 1921 Motor Show, after which it went into production at Barlby Road; its 967cc push rod ohv power unit was the best part of the design, as the chassis was more suited to the long, straight Routes Nationales of France than to the rolling English road, and consequently Roesch had to redesign the car, increasing engine capacity to 1074cc and lengthening the chassis to take full four-seater coachwork.
Roesch's reconsideration of the French Talbot, was termed the 10/23. It was during this time that the 8/18 was also assembled in the old Darracq coach building works at Acton, and differed only from its English counterpart in the shape of its radiator. Roesch spent a couple of frustrating years being shunted around the design offices of the STD combine during which time Clement-Talbot Limited virtually went out of business. Coatalen, suffering from ill health and unable to redeem the situation, which had been brought on by the fact that the 10/23 HP cost twice as much as most of its rivals, telegraphed to Roesch who was then working in the Suresnes factory and asked him to return to London and take over Talbot.
The Talbot 14/45
His task was unenviable; he had to produce a new design on outmoded machinery that dated back to the foundation of the company-and he had to do it before the company's dwindling bank credit ran out, which gave him only a matter of months. Roesch's goal was to produce a car which offered the excellence of the new Rolls Royce 20, with half the engine capacity, at a quarter the price. The new Talbot 14/45 which appeared in 1926 was a refined and well engineered car at a surprisingly low price; it used many of the proven features of the over-priced Paris-designed Talbot 12/30 Six in conjunction with brilliant ideas from Roesch, including his ingenious overhead pushrod layout which utilised ultra thin pushrods (which were in fact made by a company of knitting needle manufacturers) acting on light rockers pivoting on an overhead knife edge to reduce friction and weight.
The power unit, with a 1666cc swept volume could turn at 4500 rpm, a revolution rate one third greater than its predecessor. Other advanced features of the design included a rigid, well-braced chassis and noiseless dynamotor starting (which was however to prove something of an Achilles heel on later models). Between the front and rear dumb irons were illuminated boxes incorporating directional arrow signals operated by a switch on the steering wheel, probably the first time an automatic signalling device had been incorporated in a production vehicle. 'With steering so delicate and light that two fingers on the wheel are as adequate at 60 mph as at 6 mph, a gear change which a child could operate effortlessly and noiselessly, a smooth clutch and good brakes, the longest, most difficult run is sheer pleasure from beginning to end,' enthused The Motor early in 1927, when production of the new car had already reached fifty a week.
The Talbot 70, 90 and 105
The 14/45 was a car capable of much development, and was to have the production life of almost a decade. Building on the same basic formula, Roesch introduced a new model in 1930 with a 2276cc power unit capable of far greater performance. It was available in two guises, the 70 and the 90, designations which reflected the the top speed of the vehicles. Both were of similar design, though the 90 was on a short chassis and a raised compression ratio and larger carburetter priced at £675, in standard sporting four- seater form, it offered remarkable value for money compared, for example with the contemporary z.q-Iitre Lagonda which was £945 in similar form. Its unexciting looking power unit, with its plain exterior and single carburetor was extremely reliable yet almost uncannily silent, though its competition debut in the Brooklands Double-Twelve in May 1930 was marred by a tragic crash which eliminated two of the cars and resulted in the death of a mechanic and a spectator. But a few weeks later the cars, which were raced under the control of the motor dealers Fox and Nicholl, took third and fourth places at Le Mans, winning the performance index. Then came class wins in the Irish Grand Prix, the Ulster TT and the Brooklands 500 Mile Race.
In the Spring of 1931 came a new competition version of the Talbot, the 105 with a 2969cc engine, developing 140 bhp in competition trim. However, this larger engine was almost too much for the direct drive dynamotor to cope with, and two 12-volt batteries had to be fitted for starting purposes. The potential of the new model was shown in the otherwise boring 1931 Double-Twelve, which was won on handicap by MG Midgets, for the team of Talbots covered a greater distance during the twenty-four hours than any other entrant, winning a hollow victory in the poorly contested 3-liter class. Like all Roesch cars the 105 was outstandingly versatile; in order to secure a sale, a member of the Talbot staff on the stand at the 1932 Glasgow Motor Show, beat an express train back to London, averaging over 53 mph for more than 400 miles.
Talbot 105s achieved high placings at Le Mans
and in the Alpine Trials in 1931 and 1932, as well as in the 1000 Miles Race at Brooklands (which replaced the double-twelve) and in the BRDC 500 Miles Race. But at the end of 1932, from a combination of financial and technical reasons, Clement-Talbot Limited decided to withdraw from competition and withdrew their backing from the Fox and Nicholl team. Increasing weight necessitated an ultra-low back axle ration on the 1930s developments of the old 14/45, like the 1932 Talbot 65, which won the coachwork award in the RAC Rally but needed a final drive ratio of 5.875:1 to keep its unladen weight of 26 cwt on the move. Nevertheless Talbots were still excellent value for money, and became even more so when prices were substantially reduced at the 1932 Motor Show.
The Long Wheelbase Talbot 95
A new development of the 105, the long wheelbase 95, was announced for 1933 as well as a self-changing epicyclic gearbox of Wilson type built in the Talbot factory became available as an option, adding considerably to the starting problem of the already overworked dyna-motor, so that Roesch was compelled to develop an automatic centrifugal clutch which disconnected the engine from the transmission at idling speeds. Though the other two components of the STD combine were in financial trouble, Talbot appeared both technically and commercially to be at its peak but doom was at hand, in the form of a £500,000 note falling due on 30 September 1934 without the means to meet it. The Rootes Brothers, who five years earlier had refused to save Clyno, now took an active interest in the salvation of the Sunbeam and Talbot companies (Coatalen had ensured that the French Talbot factory was free from any liability under the notes). Rootes had already acquired Humber
, and when in 1934 the STD creditors appointed a receiver, it was only a matter of months before Sunbeam and Talbot became part of the Rootes group.
The Rootes Brothers were purveyors of good looking automobiles rather than automotive engineers, and they continued the Roesch models only so long as was necessary to use up the stock of existing parts. Meanwhile Roesch was compelled to supervise the development of a depressing 'Talbot Ten' based on the Hillman Aero Minx chassis, while the larger models were redesigned to follow the appearance of the new Ten. Increasingly, the big Talbots became more and more like the contemporary Humbers and Hillmans and at the 1937 Motor Show a new 'Talbot 3-liter' was announced, which was in fact a Hillman Hawk in Talbot clothing which could hardly reach 80 mph (though the press claimed, unbelievably that it was a better car than the old 105).
The Barlby Road factory had become little more than an assembly plant for Coventry-built components and at the end of 1938 the marque was renamed Sunbeam-Talbot under which guise it produced warmed-up versions of the staider Rootes models until 1954. Manufacture ceased at Barlby Road in 1945 when the company's headquarters were moved to Ryton-on-Dunsmore ih Warwickshire. Roesch had resigned in 1938 to join the David Brown group as chief engineer of their tractor division in Huddersfield; he died in November 1969, having seen the classic Talbots revived in vintage events while the Rootes monstrosities were consigned to a well deserved historical limbo.
As for the French connection of STD, after the group receivership, it had been taken over by Major Anthony Lago who had introduced a new model with a 3-liter engine in a Delahaye chassis; he continued to build cars under the Talbot and Lago-Talbot marque
names at Suresnes until 1959 when the factory was taken over by Simca who killed off the Talbot name in 1960. So the S-T-D companies were eventually reunited under the Chrysler banner.
Also see: The History of Talbot (AUS Edition)
| The History of Lago-Talbot (AUS Edition)