The Most Amazing Car We Saw At Pebble Beach Had The Best Surprise

Talbot Figoni Top

There are so many wonderful car shows and gatherings of interesting cars on our wet little planet that it makes me realize that explaining why the Pebble Beach Concurs D’Elegance is different or interesting or worthwhile is something important to do. I say this because I’m not sure it’s obvious to everyone, but I think the car David Tracy and I are talking about in this video is a great example of what makes the whole overdone affair so special. Because this car, and cars like it, are very, very special. This is the 1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Figoni Fastback Coupé.

Here, you should watch the video, and stay for the end, because it’s a tiny payoff, but somehow a huge one, too.

I actually wrote about this very car right when we got back because I just couldn’t help myself. This strange and beautiful machine, as much sculpture as car, as much organic-looking as mechanical, as much unreal as real, had a deep effect on me, a feeling that I feel deep in my chest, an ache of appreciation and something that feels like longing but very much isn’t, because its the opposite. It’s a feeling of something that’s being fulfilled because you’re in the presence of something, feeling a concept from another human’s mind and hands, an idea fed directly via the medium of an object.

I feel this way when I stand in front of a Rothko, or under a Calder stabile, or after reading something particularly moving. The feeling is absolutely real, and you can see me feeling that feeling in this video up there.

The reason I’m feeling it is thanks to the coachbuilders of Figoni et Falaschi, Italian brothers who started a carrosserie in Paris in 1935, with Ovidio Falaschi handling the business side and the wildly talented Giuseppe Figoni handling the creative side.

Figoni designed bodies for all sorts of carmakers over the years, but it was Figoni’s adoption and development of the goutte d’eau – drop of water – design language and styling philosophy that really changed things. Here’s an early example of the style, applied by Figoni to a 1936 Delahaye 135M Competition Coupe:

Fig1

Sure, the ideas of scientific aerodynamics are mixed around in there, but let’s be honest: This is design based on drama, on emotion, on the strange way a line and a curve can affect how you feel, and it leans in, hard, to the unknowable magic of that. It teeters on caricature in pictures sometimes but in person it’s a sensual gut punch right in your beauty glands.

Figoni’s cars built for Talbot-Lago chassis continued and developed the look, like on this 1937 Talbot-Lago T-150C SS20:

Fig2

These cars become ethereal things, growing stranger and more beautiful and edging away from the visual language of cars and more into the sculptural language of artists like Henry Moore or maybe Isamu Noguchi. Whatever they are, they’re stunning.

Fig3

So, by the time 1948 rolled around and the car David and I are losing it over was built, Figoni had been pushing this design language a while, which is why I think this particular car feels so confident and strange and glorious.

It was made for France’s Zipper King, a Mssr. Fayolle, the man who was zippers in postwar France, which is why the car has those distinctive chrome bands that are meant to evoke a zipper:

Zip1

Figoni’s choices for this car – that cyclopean headlight, the long, languid curves, the pan-flute exhaust, the gleaming chrome jewelry, the overall flow and presence of all of it, it all feels otherworldly, slightly aquatic, but still simply dazzling. This car intoxicates, and I wish you could all feel it.

Semaphore1

Of course, it also helps that it has semaphore turn signals. Sometimes called trafficators, these were little absurd, charming pop-out illuminated arms that European cars used between the 1920s or so and the 1950s. I adore them, which is why we asked if we could see them work on this amazing car, leading to the sort-of plot of this little video, which I won’t spoil.

The car’s owner, Robert, was an absolute peach to go through the efforts he did, too. And, he drives this thing! As he said, a car is for driving, after all.

Even a car as incredible and peculiar and glorious as this.

 

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30 Responses

  1. The payoff was definitely worth it. That thing is magnificent.

    Knowing that this car was built for a zipper magnate (two words I never thought I’d put together), I can’t help but see the way that the chrome trim on the rear fenders interacts with the bodywork as being somewhat evocative of something being unzipped.

    1. Of course the semaphore turn signals work.
      A car without working indicators would be unfit for someone with the monicker “Zipper King”.
      You can’t just cut into traffic with that name, you need to merge properly.
      Like a the teeth of a zipper.

  2. First of all, at Pebble Beach the semaphores work. That’s what makes it Pebble Beach. Second of all, do you think Rick Dore cars will someday compete for top honors at Pebble? They are the closest things we have today to these coach built wonders of the 30s and 40s.

  3. You have the final vote… what rolls of the tongue better?
    Dodge Dart
    or
    Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Figoni Fastback Coupé

    I am trying to win an argument.

  4. Kudos for having the balls to ask for the semaphore. The owners have invested years (and huge money) in these cars and are rightfully very very proud of them.

    I have had owners volunteer to show me things but I’ve never had the guts to ask.

    1. Same here – great review/interaction! The owner is why I love going to car shows – we recently walked down to our local car show in Oregon and got in a great conversation with the owner of a 1909 Ford Model T, he was a damn font of knowledge and it was a highlight for us. All the little things like how you start the car, the gearing, tiny engine, crazy brakes, and how he drove the car to the show – just made my day.

  5. Although it was designed to look more aerodynamic than be aerodynamic(I doubt it ever saw a wind tunnel), due to its relatively low frontal area by today’s standards, I would not be surprised if its overall CdA was significantly less than your average modern car. It was only recently that the average new car matched the drag coefficient of the 1921 Rumpler Tropfenwagen, at a Cd value of 0.28, in spite of there being multiple fuel crisis and resource wars and people clamoring for more efficient cars over that time period(and never being able to buy anything that went beyond tiny incremental improvements).

    Beautiful car. I really loved the surprise at the end. This is Torch at his finest.

  6. At a local car show was a ’66 XKE Convertible in blue, my favorite color. As I was admiring and photgraphing it, the owner stepped up and offered to let me sit in it. Glorious!

  7. Jason and David, Early on in Autopian I made the comment a couple of times that you needed something along the lines of LJK Setwright and was actually serious when I said it.

    You have accomplished what I would have thought impossible; you have captured the essence of his style, albeit with a bit less esoteric language. Beautiful piece, both written and video. Which brings up another interesting thought bubble. What would Setwright have done in the video medium, had it been available?

    I sincerely applaud your efforts in the piece as well as all of the rest of your hugely successful project. Thanks for entertaining an old curmudgeon.

    1. Had Setright (no W) been writing this piece, it probably would’ve had a fairly detailed discussion on something esoteric about the car, like how the six pipe exhaust affected performance or the preselector gearbox (and how it compares to today’s manumatics), a side trip into comparing drop of water styling to actual drops of water, and a comparison to the Bristol 401 (which, now I think of it, makes perfect sense).

      Part of me feels that Setright would have preferred to stay out of videos. Don’t know why, it’s just a feeling I have from all the columns and stories in CAR Magazine I read back in the day.

  8. There is an American entry into this swoopy era family of cars. My dad has a 1936 CORD Westchester 810 that he will never part with. Suicide front doors, hand crank pop up headlights in fenders, and worlds most beautiful art deco inspired gauge cluster and dash are all there to tap you in the beauty glands.
    https://www.hemmings.com/stories/car-culture/classics/this-beautiful-classic-is-more-approachable-now-than-its-been-in-years

  9. The car is cool…yeah-yeah.
    But what are David and Jason wearing? My guess is that somewhere nearby there is a short old southern gentleman and his gardener knocked out stone cold, tied up and missing their coats and hats.

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