First Mr. Falkner said that his Talbot 90 was dangerous in the wet, and then Mr. Blight unreservedly commended Talbot roadholding. Perhaps seven years’ experience of a Roesch Talbot entitles me to a few comments?
As there seems to be nothing that can possibly be said against the car’s ability to stay on the road under the most slippery conditions, I suspect that the root of the trouble is the Talbot braking system, which was as idiosyncratic as the rest of the vehicle. The front brakes are operated from separate levers mounted on the gearbox, both rear brakes are controlled by an upward extension of the right-hand lever, and no compensation is used; the balance of the car depends entirely on the individual adjustment at the brake drums, which are sixteen inches in diameter and self-serving at the front. The steering is very high geared at two-and-a-bit turns lock-to-lock. The combination of these features gives braking and steering that is light and sensitive—and potentially very tricky if badly adjusted.
I imagine that the Talbot’s reputation has suffered severely from average garage maintenance. Once, when I was ill, my father took the car for the Ministry of Transport test. The tester claimed that the brakes were pulling to one side. The usual garage know-all said that the only way to adjust the brakes was to shorten the brake rods. Father knew that this was not so, and pointed out the large hexagonal adjusters on the front brake drums. He was promptly told that these were grease cups, and eventually the mechanic noticed the secondary shoe stops near the bottom of the drum—and screwed one up tight, fortunately without doing serious damage. He then passed the brakes as satisfactory.
On a later occasion when I accompanied the same tester, he gave the brakes several gentle applications, and declared that they were pulling to one side. I slacked the shoes off three clicks before he was satisfied. When he slammed the brakes on in the actual test the sudden pull and the high geared steering took him by surprise, and for several seconds I thought that the old girl’s career—and possibly mine—was over. After a second, more cautious, try the car was handed over to me. I succeeded in pulling up straight and registering over 80% on the meter, but the sensation was most unpleasant as the car pulled heavily to one side. The tester was satisfied, but I was not, and, wondering if the fault was mine, and that I had become used to a car that pulled one way, I tried the brakes immediately afterwards on a large empty car park. When I had restored the three clicks of adjustment, the car would pull up perfectly—hands off.
To sum up, I think that a well-adjusted Talbot is no more dangerous in the wet than any other car of comparable size and weight. However, a badly adjusted one would certainly frighten anyone not used to Talbots. I would personally refuse to drive a strange Talbot without first cautiously trying, and taking the few seconds to rectify, the balance of the front brakes.
The only vice that I have noticed is an occasional tendency for a front brake to grab if the brakes are applied very heavily while cornering under slippery conditions. This is by no means unique to Talbots, but is, I am sure, the root of Mr. Falkner’s objection. There is some evidence that even at the time Talbot was winning races, the front braking attracted some criticism. Mr. Couper, writing in 1936 of his competition successes, said that the secret of powerful, non-grabbing braking with the Talbot was to dose the front brake linings with Zebo grate polish—in other words, dry graphite! I have not had the courage to try this myself, as I am allergic to lubricated brakes, but I would like to hear from anyone who has.
M. C. Jones.