Words by Cristi Stefan and photos courtesy of Alin Demian
A textbook example of how the Art Deco movement influenced automobile design in the 1930s, the Talbot-Lago T150 C-SS Coupé Aérodynamique ‘Goutte d’Eau’ Figoni & Falaschi, represents the brilliance of bygone coachbuilders from the pre-WW2 era. After more than twenty years of experience in classic car modeling, craftsmanship champion CMC has chosen to reproduce this very icon as its new crown effort in 1:18 scale – raising enthusiasm in the relevant collector forums and Facebook groups.
With a full name as long as its list of accolades, the T150 C-SS was manufactured by France’s Talbot-Lago illustrious marque and is widely recognised as one of the most beautiful and elegant automobile designs of the 20th century. Designed to resemble a water droplet by Italian Giuseppe Figoni, the creative half of the French coachbuilder Figoni et Falaschi, the T150 C-SS coupe’s elegant, flowing lines look as though they were moulded by nature itself, giving the impression of speed even when it’s at a standstill. In fact, the car doesn’t feature a single straight line – it’s all fluid curves and rounded edges, from the narrow front fender to the chromium-plated exhaust tail piece. The car’s credentials as a looker were immediately apparent yet it was also a highly capable racing car. With a production run of only 16 units, the T150 C-SS was the touring variant of the racer that came third in the 1938 24 Hours of Le Mans Grand Prix, swept the top three finishes at the 1937 Tunis Grand Prix and won the Royal Automobile Club’s (RAC) Tourist Trophy in Britain the same year.
THE TALBOT-LAGO T150-C SS ‘GOUTTE D’EAU’ GENESIS
The story of the beauty icon begins with the birth of Antonio “Tony” Franco Lago in Venice in 1893. The family moved to Bergamo, where Lago’s father managed the municipal theatre. Young Tony Lago grew up in a home full of actors, musicians and impresarios and government officials. Lago left to Paris in 1919, picking up engineering degrees along the way and working for Pratt and Whitney as far afield as Southern California, before settling in England in the 1920s. Lago’s ambition seemed boundless considering his resources, but he was always able to find investors to help realize his dreams.
By the early 1930s, Lago had negotiated the rights to market the Wilson pre-selector gearbox, a breakthrough invention that allowed the driver to select a gear with a lever in advance of its need – the gear would not engage until the clutch was operated. In the course of trying to find a factory in France, Lago entered into discussions with the Anglo-French automobile company, Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq.
Based just over 5 miles from Paris in the town of Suresnes, the marque was started in 1896 by Alexandre Darracq and originally called A. Darracq & Cie, it built both luxury cars and successful racing cars. Talbot went through various iterations, with both French and UK-based owners and factories. A series of mergers before WWI saw the company rebranded as the aforementioned Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq (STD Motors Limited) until 1922 when the name was simplified to Automobiles Talbot, although the racing cars were still badged Talbot-Darracq due to the successes that had previously been enjoyed by the Darracq cars, winning the Vanderbilt Cup twice and setting two new land speed records in 1904/1905.
By the time Tony Lago stepped in, the Talbot factory in Paris was laboring under a huge debt after overspending on Grand Prix racing in the 1920s. It had a muddled line of cars, with few selling and an antiquated plant. Lago made a deal with the British parent of STD whereby he would be paid a salary to turn the French side of the company around and share in any profits upon sale. Armed with the transmission license and another license for a front suspension system he had designed, Lago moved to France in 1933. As the company’s new managing director he also lent his name to the company which was officially re-branded Talbot-Lago.
In 1934, Lago tasked his engineer, Walter Brecchia, to upgrade the existing model Talbot T120 to the T150, by designing a new hemispherical combustion chamber cylinder head for the three-liter engine. To accommodate the new engine, Lago built three new cars and entered them in Concours d’Elegance in the Bois de Boulogne in June 1934. Sales still stalled, though. After staving off bankruptcy, it all came right in 1937, with Talbot’s greatest achievement, the T150 C light-weight chassis. The “C” stood for competition, a reference to the marque’s racing success, while “SS” signified “super sports,” the short 2.65-metre wheelbase version of the competition chassis, which was designed for elegant two- or three-place coachwork. The lightweight T150 C and the older 4-liter both began winning and racked up successes at Marseilles, where they finished 1-2-3-5, Tunisia, Montlhèry (1-2-3) and the British Tourist Trophy.
In the midst of these successes, Tony Lago introduced his masterpiece in August, at the Paris-Nice Criterium de Tourisme or the Paris motor show as it is know today. A touring version of the open T150 Cs that he had been racing, it was designated the T150 C-SS and was powered by a 4-liter, six-cylinder overhead valve engine with triple Zenith-Stromberg carburetors, hemispherical combustion chambers, high compression, triple carburettors and a large-capacity oil pan, just like the track car. Other competition parts included a punched handbrake lever and a dual braking system. As would be expected, power was channeled through a version of the four-speed Wilson pre-selector gearbox. Output was 140 or 160 horsepower, depending on final specification and the size of carburettors used – allowing the car to cruise the poplar-lined French autoroutes at near 100 miles per hour – all with exceptional road-holding by virtue of its advanced independent front suspension and excellent braking.
The body was a stunning coupé by Paris coachbuilder Figoni and Falaschi, nicknamed the Goutte d’Eau. The literal translation is drop of water, but in English, the design is usually referred to as the slightly less tedious-sounding Teardrop. It was an ebullient series of repeating ovoid shapes – fenders, greenhouse, bonnet and hood, accentuated by sweeping chrome filets, ending in a magnificent fastback barely pierced by a small backlight. This style of using sweeping, elliptical silhouettes was heavily influenced by advances in aircraft design and aerodynamics. The tall oval grille with a chrome waterfall looks stunning and the deep vertical slats of the twin round headlamps match the grille and slice the air nicely. Interestingly, the lights disappear behind a chrome visage when viewed from the front three-quarter angle. The interior of the car features seats and door trims covered in oxblood leather, with centre-mounted window winders, and highly polished wood surrounds on both the windscreen and side windows.
That the Talbot T150 C-SS was elegant was unquestioned, but it could also show an impressive turn of speed. Derived from racing, the chassis and aerodynamic efficiency of the Teardrop meant it was highly competitive on the racetrack. A “showroom stock” Talbot-Lago T150 C-SS Teardrop placed third overall at the 1938 24 Hours of LeMans (averaging 76.75 mph or 123.515 km/h) and repeated that result in the Coupé de Paris at Montlhèry, a race won by a Talbot T26 sports racer with a similar engine.
In total, just sixteen Talbot-Lago Teardrop Coupés were produced in two series up to 1939: five “Jeancart” (first patron of the design) with a slight notchback design and eleven “Model New York” models featuring an uninterrupted fastback profile – ten of these built on the short T150 C-SS chassis and one additional car made on the T23 Baby chassis. It is this second series – named after the New York Auto Show, where it debuted in 1937; that it is reproduced by CMC. Each Teardrop was coachbuilt, and consequently there are minor and even major variations from one car to another: two were built with skirted front and rear wheels, some featured bullet headlamps between the radiator grille and fenders, while others featured headlamps recessed behind chrome grilles. The 1:18 scale replica’s closest 1:1 correspondent seems to be the Silver-Blue painted T150 C-SS chassis number 90108, ordered new by playboy millionaire Tommy Lee, from Los Angeles, in 1939.
THE TALBOT-LAGO T150 C-SS CMC REPLICA
Like all great hand-made artworks, the Talbot-Lago T150 C-SS is a marvel to look at. And so is its 1:18 scale replica, crafted by the German/Chinese master model maker CMC (Classic Model Cars) from an impressive count of 1,488 single parts. This is a true die-cast masterpiece of museum quality and you will simply fall in love with it even before you start scrutinizing its jewel-like details: just lift the model and let its weight whisper tales of quality.
True to the original, the stunning exterior is finished in Silver Blue, the same colour as when the iconic 1:1 scale Teardrop Coupe was delivered to media empire heir Tommy Lee in 1939. Masterfully applied, the paint ensures light accents truly come alive on the flowing lines of the sexy Art Deco body, which seamlessly integrates the beautiful recessed front lights with their precisely seated chrome covers, the filigree grilles in the front and bonnet and the signature, decidedly elaborate, side body metal trim strips that run all the way from the front fender to the rear.
As always, panel gaps are minimal, a great accomplishment considering the complexity of all the moving parts. The supplied tweezers must be used to work the delicate door handles before actually opening the ovoid doors, but it’s a quite user-friendly task. The window frames are mounted in rubber coverings and the chrome strips all around are genuine, using individual metal parts, and the same recipe is used by the perfectly-wired wheels with complex stainless steel spokes.
In true CMC fashion, the interior trim and upholstery are identical in form and pattern to the originals. The wooden trim, the carpet, headliner and red leather were painstakingly cut and fitted to match the Tommy Lee chassis 90108 T150 C-SS. The steering wheel features etched spokes and beautiful black wood imitation. A really great touch is the four-speed Wilson pre-selector gearbox lever with clearly visible markings. But perhaps the most intriguing detail is the prominent hand-brake lever, embedded in the right side of the foot-well and resembling a classic manual gear-selector. Generous instrumentation includes no less than seven individual gauges, all legible and with 3D-like graphics. The seats can be tilted forward and the doors include pockets for tiny maps or a period correct service manual. The spare wheel hidden in the trunk can, of course, be removed after loosening its fastening leather straps and so can those elegant rear wheel covers – with the aid of a supplied screwdriver.
A minor complaint goes towards the miniaturized badges mounted right below the door sills, on each side of the car: the tiny lettering is only mimicked, with only the silhouette of what should read “Figoni & Falaschi, Carrossiers, 14 Rue le Moine, Boulogne-Seine” barely distinguishable. A proper example of how this should have been done is the impeccable rear “Talbot 4 Litres” badge modeled in proper metal with an intricate 3D texture. The bootlid also hosts two mysterious flaps which, contrary to our initial belief, are not connected to the fuel tank, but in fact are hiding the locks in which the car key should be inserted to open the trunk. Even if the tiny flaps can be delicately opened and closed on the model, the function is not fully replicated, as an actual key is not included in the retail package. Genuinely original, on the other hand, is the functional sunroof (we have seen tilting sunroofs on 1:18 models before, but not sliding ones), easy to maneuver once you have mastered its operation: simply (but firmly) push down and slide forward the metal lid to open it, reverse these steps to close it. True, a certain amount of pressure is needed and this might scare away some faint-hearted collectors the first time around
The famous Talbot inline six-cylinder is successfully miniaturized, retaining the variety of fine details that make the real thing such a mechanical work of art: complete cabling, precisely processed injection lines, individual piping, well-detailed ignition manifolds and realistic material surfaces. Clearly, our pictures can better reflect the amount of details and the superb workmanship than our words. Actual see-through air vents cut through the massive, one-piece engine hood – held in place by a supporting rod. Faithfully recreated, the undercarriage features a myriad of realistic touches, like the functional rear leaf springs, the chrome single exhaust pipe, the wooden chassis accents or the stainless steel fuel tank, beautifully connected to a filigree copper wire emulating the real fuel line. Fascinating! This is what model construction of the highest quality class truly stands for! Chapeau bas, CMC!
P.S. We sincerely thank our dear friend Albrecht Wuerschum for his support!