In our line of work, you see a lot of hot metal. Auto shows, concourses, historics, track days, car clubs — you name it. All filled to the brim with the sort of rides that make men pant. But never mind the job, just living in California gives you a front row seat to some of the world's most stunning cars. During a half hour phone call with the Postfather last week I saw a bright yellow Porsche GT and a black-on-black Rolls-Royce Phantom. Later that day, on the same street (Montana) in Santa Monica I caught an orange Smart FourTwo, a Bentley Continental GTC, a RUF Porsche of some sort and a yellow Lamborghini Miura. Killer cars, the lot of them, but really, just another day in automotive paradise (OK, the Miura raised my pulse a beat or two). However, compared to what crossed my path a few months back in San Francisco, all the aforementioned machinery may as well have been a crop of Pontiacs at a rental auction.
Picture it: There I was, somewhere north of Market stopped at a red light when a crimson Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi sped by. I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing. Those things actually exist? Moreover, there are owners with gonads robust enough to drive $3.5 million cars in the bumper-busting, fender-gouging hell that is SF? Couldn't be. I had to follow that beautiful apparition and find out. Trouble was, I was in the right-hand lane and the Talbot-Lago was on a one way flowing to my left. Do I run the red? Do I dare make like a black Dodge Charger R/T and hang a smoky drop-clutch left?
I should have, but didn't. Better men than I would have. Part of my problem, was disbelief. Had I just witnessed an actual Goutte d'Eau? Outside of a seaside golf course, sightings like that just don't happen. A few minutes later I had Murliee Martin in my car and I told him what I thought I'd seen. "Really?" said the master of street-side car observation, his voice filled with doubt. "Yeah, I really think so." Interestingly, if I would have told Mr. Martin I'd spied essentially any other car, even a 300SL Gullwing Coupe, his response would have been, "Sweet!" Talbot-Lago Raindrop Coupes however, are just that fantastical.
Read about cars long enough and without fail somebody starts tossing the term "art" around. Usually marketing types. And while generally like the new Caddys for example, art is a stretch. But see, the Talbot-Lago Coupes actually are art. No, really. In 1951 New York MOMA held an exhibition called Eight Automobiles, though most people know it by the more famous nickname, Hollow Rolling Sculpture. Some examples included along with the Raindrop/Teardrop were a 1941 Lincoln Continental, a coffin-nosed Cord, a Cisitalia 202 Pinin Farina and a Willys Jeep. If that ain't art, we don't know what is. Actually, we do. You're looking right at it.
The most important part of this car's rather cumbersome moniker is Figoni et Falaschi. A French design house noted for their extrovertedness to the point that American and British critics disparagingly referred to the team as "phony and flashy." That's not nice, especially considering that famed designer Joseph Figoni (as opposed to accountant Ovidio Falaschi) was simply obsessed with aerodynamics. Two or three seconds spent studying these Talbot-Lagos (or the nearly as stunning Delahaye 135 MS Figoni & Falaschis) confirms that cheating the wind was a top priority. As was making the cars utterly stunning. In the case of the T150C SS, where form allowed for function and vice-versa then back again, both goals were transcendently achieved.
Which is all well and good for the layman. Luckily, for those of us with hearts full of Bondo and 50 weight, these beauties were performers. Racers, in fact. The nearly 200 horsepower inline-six featured hemispherical combustion chambers and three Stromberg carburetors. The four-wheel drums were considered superb for the time (1937). So sporting were the underlying components that in 1938 a Teardrop Coupe built on a shortened SS chassis took third overall at Le Mans behind two Delehayes (and several places ahead of the Nazi-era Adlers). In the 1939 24-hour race, a different Raindrop was running in ninth place before it was forced to bail. In our eyes, the very fact that men were capable of looking at raw gorgeousness like these Talbot-Lagos and thinking, "Let's beat these to death at Le Mans" is proof pudding the world was a very different place before WW2.