Model history: For a very brief period, the form of racing cars was as important as the function. Yes, there were many beautiful racers before and there have been many more after, but only in the second half of the 1930s did the function not dictate the form. Particularly in France did the gentleman racers order a competition chassis and then had a coachbuilder fit a body light and slippery enough to win races and beautiful enough to win the numerous concours d'elegance. Partly responsible for this unusual trend was the rise to fame of designer/coachbuilder Joseph Figoni and the introduction of a new generation, lower chassis. The first signs of the great things to come were a Delahaye and Delage bodied in 1936 by Figoni & Falaschi with remarkable curvaceous designs. It was obvious to all that the body was no longer just there to protect the mechanical bits and the passengers. The period already hit its peak a year later when the Figoni & Falaschi design was combined with the latest Talbot Lago chassis to create some of the most evocative cars ever produced.
Joseph Figoni was born in Italy, but moved to France when he was but a few years old. After the Great War, he started a small shop in which he first only did body repair work, but soon took up improving designs, followed not long after by the design and construction of complete bodies. Compared to his later work, his first designs were very conventional, although he did already take up an interest in racing car bodies. The first major success for the young coachbuilder was the back to back win for a Figoni bodied Alfa Romeo in the 1933 and 1934 24 Hours of Le Mans races. This must have grabbed the attention of Italian businessman Ovidio Falaschi and the two joined forces in 1935 to create the coachbuilder Figoni & Falaschi; the former was responsible for the creative and the latter for the business side. It is generally assumed that the introduction to the work French artist Geo Ham inspired Figoni to take his designs into a new, bolder direction. This was particularly appreciated by Anthony Lago, who was in the process of revamping the Talbot brand. For 1937 the two companies agreed to work together exclusively.
A wild mix of a large number of brands and headquarters in both England and France did not do the Talbot company much good and the once dominant racing car manufacturer was on the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1930s. Italian born Anthony Lago still saw a future for Talbot and the desperate shareholders put him in charge of the French arm of the ailing company. Soon after taking control, he hired the talented engineer Walter Becchia to develop the first Talbot Lago. He had very big shoes to fill as he was forced to take over where legendary designer Louis Coatalen had left off. The first model was a very sensible three litre sportscar, but things got really interesting when Becchia was given carte blanche to design a four litre version of the straight six engine. Not only did he increase the engine size, he also fitted a cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers. Breathing through two Stromberg carburetors this engine was good for around 140 bhp while the three carb competition engine produced over 170 bhp. The new engine was mated to a preselector four speed gearbox, produced by Wilson, a company also owned by Lago. Holding it all together was a ladder frame suspended by wishbones at the front and a live axle at the rear. The independent front suspension made the chassis considerably lower than its predecessors. Dubbed the Talbot Lago T150C (for competition), the new top model was available as the Super Sport (SS) version and as the slightly longer Speciale. With a wheelbase of 265 cm and 295 cm respectively both models were still short in comparison to the competition.
Figoni & Falaschi bodied most of the T150Cs intended for competition with a purposeful two seater roadster design, but in addition he created a coupe version for the richest of customers. Clearly continuing where he had left off with the Delahaye and Delage designs, the coupe shape did not feature a single straight line. Not only did the design look exquisite from any angle, it also helped to propel the four litre Talbot to an impressive top speed; by no means a wasted luxury on the long straights of the Le Mans track. Soon after the first completed car was shown to the public at the 1937 Paris Motorshow, it was given the nickname 'Goutte d'Eau', literally meaning water drop, but in English the name Teardrop stuck. Two different versions of the Teardrop can be distinguished; the first notchback coupe named 'Jeancart' after the commissioner of the first car and the second 'New York' style, which was first unveiled in that city in 1937. In total only five of the Jeancart style cars were built and subsequently another eleven with the New York bodystyle and every single one differed in detail as all were built to the specific demands of the customers. Regular concours winners then and now, several of the Teardrops were built specifically for racing. Among the many fine results, a third place finish behind two Delahayes in the 1938 24 Hours of Le Mans is an obvious highlight. One example was even raced successfully after the Second World War and Rob Walker used his Teardrop for practice runs before the first post-War Le Mans race and figured he was faster than any of the British cars entered. For the race he used a Delahaye similar to the 1938 winner.
Not long after custom coach building reached its peak, it was all over; simpler monocoque chassis took over after the War, leaving little for people like Joseph Figoni to work with. Some survived as independent design houses, but many 'carrossiers' including Figoni & Falashi were forced to shut down their business. Ovidio Falaschi returned to Italy to run a hotel and Joseph Figoni spent the second half of his life in charge of a successful garage business. In the short time the two men worked together, they produced some of the most desirable coachwork ever fitted to a rolling chassis. The Teardrop Talbot Lago is no doubt the duo's highlight and can be considered the fitting finale of four decades of highly individual custom designed coachwork. For the last sixty years, the curvaceous Talbots have been among the world's most desirable motor cars. A total of 17 Talbot Lago chassis have been fitted with the Teardrop body, including three examples on the slightly different T23 chassis, which features a more conventional OHV version of the six cylinder engine. The surviving cars (only two Jeancart style cars are unaccounted for) have a very big chance of scoring the much coveted 'best in show' at all the major concours d'elegance. This was underlined in 1998 when chassis 90104 was awarded 'Best in Show' at 'Pebble Beach,'
Shown at the 1937 New York Auto Show, this is the first 'Teardrop' by Figoni & Falaschi using the fabulous fastback style. It is one of three using an alloy body and it is also fitted with a steel sliding roof. It was sold new to a member of the 1936 Australian Olympic bobsled team, who had become a socialite in Hollywood. After the War, the front was mildly modified with the concealed headlights replaced by brighter external ones. It returned to Europe and passed through various hands and during the 1990s was extensively campaigned in historic events. The current owner acquired the car during the 2000 Monterey Historic Races and handed it to model expert David Carte for a full restoration to its original configuration. The spectacular result was first shown to the world during the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
The second 'Teardrop' built with the 'New York' style, chassis 90104 was delivered new to prominent orange plantation owner Dr. Fernand Masquefa, who resided both in Algeria and Morocco. He was a great enthusiast and retained the Figoni & Falaschi clothed machine for over forty years, frequently using it in local events. In the early 1980s, he finally sold the car and eventually it was completely restored for its new, Swiss owner. He showed the car at various events in the early 1990s before it was acquired by the current custodian. He had it restored once again and entered it in the 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it won the prestigious 'Best of Show' award. Only rarely shown since, it is seen here during the 2011 Quail, a Motorsports Gathering.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
Among the most original 'Teardrops' in existence today, chassis 90105 was famously owned by Los Angeles playboy Tommy Lee. Between 1940 and 1950 he raced the car through the streets of LA and on the dry lakebeds. After his death, this 'Goutte d'Eau' changed hands several times and every time found a careful custodian. During this time it was carefully maintained but never restored. The only modification was a full repaint in 1979. In 2005 it was offered by Christie's in their Monterey Jet Center Auction. It changed hands for an impressive $3,535,000. Two years later it appeared at the Quail, a Motorsports Gathering.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
One of the best known Teardrops, chassis 90106 was famously raced from Paris to Cannes in less than 10 ten hours to win a bet. It was bought off the Talbot Lago stand at the Olympia Motor Show in London by legendary 'Bentley-Boy' Woolf Barnato. It resurfaced in the United States in the 1960s and was displayed for many years in the Briggs Cunningham museum. Since 1985 it has been owned by a prominent American collector of classic French road and racing cars. He had it restored by Hill & Vaughn and has since shown it very regularly at events all through the country. It is seen here at a recent outing, during the 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
Originally delivered in grey with blue covered fenders, this Teardrop was repainted numerous times. Its first owner, princess Stella de Khapurthala, often matched the car's livery to her outfit. She won a prize in the Concours d'Elegance Femina in 1938. Before the War, it was sold to the United States and became one of three Teardrops in the ownership of LA playboy Tommy Lee. It eventually ended up in the collection of Lindley Locke and stored until 2001. Since then it has been acquired by the Nethercutt Collection and fully restored. Chassis 90107 was seen in public for the first time in the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
Featured is one of the eleven New York style Teardrops. It was bought from the 1938 Paris Motorshow Talbot Lago stand by the wife of the British Earl of Stafford, who extensively used the car in France. During the Second World War the car fell victim to Nazis, who removed the tires and ripped the interior out. Soon after the hostilities were over, the car was found near Nice in the south of France. It was at this time, in Lugano that gentleman racer and entrant Rob Walker fell in love with the striking two seater. In the following six months the car was shipped to London and restored to full running order. Walker ran into the Talbot owner again and was offered to car for a whopping 5000 Pounds; more than a brand new Rolls Royce at the time. He was tempted, but refused. Not long after, a better price was asked and Walker was quick to agree. Like many Teardrop owners he was as impressed with the driving characteristics as he was with its striking features. A decade later, he offered the car for sale and then changed hands several times before it ended up in the famous Rosso Bianco Collection. In 2006 the entire collection was sold to a Dutch collector, who subsequently sold several of the cars at a number of Bonhams auctions. It is seen here at the Bonhams Quail auction where offers failed to meet the reserve set.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
The second Teardrop with covered fenders, chassis 90110 resurfaced after the War in Switzerland. At the Graber workshop the original body was removed and replaced by a more modern Cabriolet design. In recent years a highly accurate replica body was created by experts Auto Classique Tourraine in France. The work was completed in time to make a debut at the 2003 Retromobile show. It is seen here during the 2003 Louis Vuitton Classic Concours d'Elegance.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
A Belgian casino owner ordered this Teardrop with several rare features like the sunroof and the chrome covered headlights. He received chassis 90112 and subsequently showed it at the 1938 Brussels and 1939 Deauville Concours d'Elegance. Hidden away during the War, the Talbot Lago did not resurface until the 1950s when it was acquired by a member of the Belgian royal family. It remained in the family for five decades and when acquired by the current owner, it was complete but in a partly disassembled state awaiting restoration.
The new, American owner sent his prized possession to RM Restorations where the car was carefully restored. It was in such condition that much of the wooden framework supporting the body could be used again. The extensive work was eventually completed in time for the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it promptly received three awards. Chassis 90112 would go on to win 'best of show' at the 2010 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance. The owner decided to part with the lovely 'Teardrop' Coupe and offered it at RM Auctions' 2011 Villa d'Este sale where it found a new custodian for just over EUR 3.1 million.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)
Chassis 90117 was commissioned by Duke Philippe de Massa as a pure racing car. It features additional cooling vents in the bonnet and an external fuel filler. Sporting additional driving lights, it was raced in the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans by Duke de Massa and Norbert Jean Mahé. A broken valve spring ended the Teardrop's race after just 88 laps. Confiscated by the Germans during the War, the ex-Le Mans Talbot Lago remained in Eastern Germany until the fall of Berlin Wall. Through various owners it ended in the United States where it was completely restored. In 2006 it sold at the Gooding & Co. Palm Beach International auction for $3.55 million. Its new owner brought it to the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance where it is pictured.(Source: From Passion to Perfection, by Richard Adatto)