On the occasion of the S.T.D. Register Wolverhampton Rally I had the privilege of being invited to drive there and back, from Kingston Blount, in Talbot 105 Team Car No. 2, the celebrated “GO 52.” This splendid 1931 sports/racing car has been painstakingly restored by A. Blight. Indeed, he also owns GO 53, having bought both cars from Charles Mortimer who, having acquired them, quickly passed them on. Mr. Blight has more staying power, for not only has he rebuilt both these historic Talbots to original specification but hopes soon to commence work on a replica of the third Talbot of this illustrious Georges Roesch-inspired team.
When I was asked if I would like to drive GO 52 to Wolverhampton I was conscious of a great responsibility, for this is indeed an historic motor car. In 1931 Rose-Richards and John Cobb drove it into first place in its class and 10th overall in the J.C.C. “Double Twelve,” averaging 79.3 m.p.h. for the two rounds of the clock. The Hon. Brian Lewis was third in his class and sixth overall in it in the Irish G.P., at 79.97 m.p.h., Hindmarsh was second of the non-supercharged cars and 15th in the race in the T.T., averaging 72.93 m.p.h. and, also in 1931, the same driver drove GO 52 in the B.R.D.C. 500-Mile Race. He held third place for some 300 miles, before retiring, and had averaged 110.19 m.p.h. up to that time.
The following year, 1932, Rose-Richards came home third in his class, seventh in general classification, in the J.C.C. 1,000-Mile Race, at 91.36 m.p.h., the Hon. Brian Lewis was second of the unblown cars, seventh in general classification in the T.T., at 75.3 m.p.h., and, in the 500-Mile Race, Hindmarsh averaged 103.4 m.p.h. to finish second in his class, eighth in the race. His best lap was done at 114.4 m.p.h., and in the Ulster T.T. the green Talbot, its body the shade of a dress Mrs. Roesch used to wear, had lapped the difficult road circuit at 81.3 m.p.h.
Today it looks as it did in 1932—long wide tail behind the tonneau-covered back seat, ending in that huge eared petrol tank cap, cycle mudguards, well-louvred bonnet, and two enormous headlamps, wearing dust covers in daylight, set very close together before the tall shuttered radiator.
A clever feature is the full-width windscreen which folds flat, leaving the aero-screen erect. This is achieved by a cutaway arc in the panel of the main screen surrounding the aero-screen; the latter has its own electric screen-wiper.
The instrument panel layout and arrangement of the controls are purely functional. The normal Talbot black central panel carries a Jaeger speedometer indicating up to 100 m.p.h. with precise movements of its white needle, an ammeter, an ignition warning light, a combined turn-switch for lamps and ignition, small starter button, a combined vertical-scales indicator for fuel contents, heat and oil temperature, another lights switch and a big oil pressure gauge reading to 100 lb./sq. in. The last-named has a needle that fluctuates with engine speed but settles for rather over 60 lb./sq. in. at cruising speed.
To the right of this panel above the steering column is an enormous pre-war-style tachometer, its needle traversing anticlockwise like that of the small speedometer aforesaid. This records to 6,000 r.p.m. and has a yellow band from 4,000-4,500 r.p.m., the red warning from 4,500-4,700 r.p.m.
The seats are comfortable leather-upholstered buckets, in which the driver sits low, looking through rather than over the aero-screen, although as the Talbot is high the view over hedgerows is rewarding. There is a 4-spoke, spring steering wheel with hand throttle and choke controls on its hub, and above these a control for flicking on one or both headlamps (Bentley, give over!) and another, never wired-up, for direction indicators, never fitted to GO 52. Two modern dials have been added to the instrumentation, on the left of the main panel—small oil and water temperature gauges. A lever working in a quadrant behind these controls the radiator shutters.
Today GO 52 runs on Pirelli 700 x 18 back tyres and wears 6.00/6.50 x. 19 English-made Michelins on its front wheels. The wheels, naturally, are centre-lock wire type. The springs are gaitered and, with aerodynamic intent, so are the stays between the backs of the front mudguards and the chassis. The enormous cable-applied brakes have polished back-plates and the steering arms and track-rod are highly polished.
On the road GO 52 is sheer joy. I was told not to exceed 4,500 r.p.m. and used a thousand revs less, but, even then, the acceleration was extremely impressive, to the accompaniment of a hard, purposeful sound from the push-rod 6-cylinder machinery. In no time at all the speedometer needle is jerking up to 65, to 70, and the instrument is probably 10% slow. Traffic and 50 m.p.h. limits alone subdued our rapid progress—why Marples bothers with the former when the latter hardly ever exceeds 40 and several drivers were concentrating hard at a headlong 25, I cannot explain. Certainly 50 to this 1931 Talbot is loitering—with intent. Press down the r.h. accelerator and she springs away, speed building up, I’m told, to over 90 m.p.h. in full road trim.
When I drove her she had small jets in her single Zenith d.d. carburetter and in any case the task was to get to the Birthplace of the Sunbeams for the Parade and Concours d’Elegance, not to record performance figures. So I concentrated on the niceties of gear-changing. The long r.h. lever in an open gate, set rather far forward, controls a box with a low first gear and three very close upper ratios. Consequently, you have to remember to double-declutch between 1st and 2nd but not at all between 2nd and 3rd, or 3rd and top, going up. Going down, the lever almost flicks itself from top to 3rd if double-declutching, with a very small amount of throttle, has been judged correctly, while a properly timed change from 3rd into 2nd is sheer bliss—you can almost see the hole into which the lever drops!
Clutchless changes are possible, but the gears bite so firmly that a little assistance from the clutch is desirable to disengage them. There is a catch over the reverse slot of the gear gate, which you have to reach down and lift clear by hand. The grip of the clutch is normally adequate but it doesn’t enjoy racing starts. Outside the gear lever but inside the body is a big fly-off handbrake. The footbrake pedal has considerable travel before anything happens and then, given a hefty prod, the brakes work very well indeed.
The steering becomes heavy and rather “notchy” because, in spite of a heat-shield, the box absorbs too much of the engine’s temperature. In this, GO 52 is not quite characteristic of a good Talbot but she makes amends by taking corners precisely with noticeable understeer, and there is no steering kick-back.
Without more than slightly opening the radiator shutters, water temperature is normally approx. 70º C, oil temperature about 55º C. She didn’t like the Parade through Wolverhampton, but even then the water thermometer didn’t climb above 90º C. Incidentally, the fuel tank holds 35 gallons and as GO 52 is giving about 20 m.p.g., it is possible to drive her some 700 miles without refuelling!
I gather that although Mr. Blight didn’t acquire GO 52 or her sister team-car cheaply, quite a lot of work was found to be necessary. In fact, GO 52 was completely stripped down, the engine being rebuilt by John Bland and the body, which is the original, receiving attention from Cornish craftsmen.
The car is a great credit to Mr. Blight’s enthusiasm and integrity. I shall long remember the pleasure of driving this Talbot, which took first prize in the Wolverhampton Concours d’Elegance, nearly 200 miles that day—every mile exceedingly enjoyable. The suspension is firm, yet the ride, even over frost-damaged surfaces and ruts left by slap-happy trench diggers, isn’t uncomfortable. The engine starts promptly and silently when the starter button is pressed, ignition advance and retard is fully automatic, there is far less bonnet and scuttle shake than on the average vintage car. The response to the throttle is clean and exhilarating, the gear-change, when mastered, a delight (a well-known vintage Talbot fancier told me it took him six months to learn to select the cogs silently, which was consolation when I crunched lightly GO 52’s delicately close-ratios), and the big brakes really stop this handsome and historic car.
The quiet, effortless work of the engine is in contrast to the rattle of o.h. camshafts and raucous exhaust of some old sports cars. The years, in fact, have dealt lightly with GO 52 and it was a privilege to drive her.—W. B.