Doug Nye

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New view of blighted Talbot racing history

Doug Nye

ONE OF THE FINEST MOTOR RACING BOOKS I HAVE read is ‘Georges Roesch and The Invincible Talbots’, written by the ate Anthony Blight. He had an extraordinarily scholarly understanding of the Georges Roesch-designed Talbot 90 and 105 competition cars, as campaigned by Arthur Fox’s successful Fox & Nicoll team through 1930-32.

These powerful, reliable and good-handling cars accumulated an incredible record of success within theft class in races ranging from the Le Mans 24 Hours and RAC IT at Ards to the Irish Grand Prix, the Brooklands Double Twelve and the BRDC ‘500’.

The appeal of these relatively sober-looking sportsracing cars has been confined to more discerning enthusiasts because theft success in period did not include memorable outright victories. They instead dominated theft class. Like C2-winning enduranceracing marques of the 1980s, one has to understand the broad spectrum of motor sport to understand why the Talbots have been so much loved.

Now Anthony Blight was the arch Talbot enthusiast. But he encountered a situation which would leave any committed historian gnawing the bed sheets. This is discovering the truth only long after a ‘definitive’ history has been printed. For years there has been controversy about whether or not the Talbot 105s ever raced with

aluminium-block engines rather than the standard production cast-iron design. Blight doubted they did, because no alloy engines seemed to survive, nor had he seen documentary evidence to the contrary.

His wonderful book was published in 1970. In 1988 he wrote in the STD (Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq) Club Register as follows: “The origins of the 105 remain one of the last really baffling mysteries of the Talbot story, and I would love to have another go at it. The Talbot book was written in the teeth of active opposition from Georges Roesch… ‘Blight is against me’, he told Bill Boddy; and he was also a little jealous. ‘It is my story’, he used to say, ‘…and only I am entitled to write it’. ‘Well, get on with it then’ I invariably replied, but of course he didn’t, and kept me at arm’s length instead. He never allowed me access to any single document of interest or value… and he even went so far as to give his few surviving… associates (instructions) not to give me any help either…” Anthony explained how the great performances of the utterly standard Talbot 90s in 1930 persuaded Talbot that more power in the same car would bring further success in 1931. He wrote: “The decision to go for a new unsupercharged 3-11tre engine was entirely justified from the engineering point of view, politically bold and commercially in 1931 bordering on the insane”. He imagined one boardroom faction

in Talbot’s London factory at Barlby Road, Ladbroke Grove, insisting that the new model should be an extension of the existing 90 in all design elements while the spots-minded faction won the point that the new car should carry the same weight as its predecessor on both axles “…and thus gaining approval of an alloy cylinder bock”. This is presently something of a hot topic in Talbot circles with alloy engines being frowned upon for historic racing, against iron blocks with greater capacity than period. Talbot’s alloy-deniers mgt therefore take note of two telling reports compiled by Brooklands/ RAC scrutineer Hugh P. McConnell on May 19, 1931. One is headed ‘Le Mans Meeting 1931. Talbot l’ describing how he had visited the Barlby Road factory “…to ascertain the cubic capacity of the engine of the above car entered for the above competition and

beg to report as follows…”.

He found the six-cylinder unit’s cylinder bores measured 75mm, the stroke 112mm and total capacity therefore 2968.801cc. “The engine No. is: A.V.I ” chassis ‘31053’ and he had duly stamped the engine —H.P. R.A.C. A.V.I’ On nearside timing case”.

His second report typed that day details ‘Talbot III’ for Le Mans that year; “Engine No. is: A.V. 3chassis ‘31051’stamped on timing case”. Now the racing Talbots’ normal iron-bock engines were two-digit numbered, eg ’33’ or ’34’. But these Le Mans engines stamped by Hugh McConnell were instead numbered ‘AVI ‘ and ‘AV3’. Today engine ‘AVI 0’ survives, having been acquired from Australia many

years ago by Talbot specialist Ian Polson. It is the only known surviving alloy-block unit. During 1935 it had been sod in a 1932 Talbot 105 by London dealer Jack Batlett to South Australian P.S. Hawker. In a letter to Hawker, Batlett described it as “…number 10 of the special 12 hand-built chassis with special bronzeelectron cylinder blocks, special cylinder heads and …the same chassis as the Fox & Nicoll racing cars”. Describing its bock as ‘bronze-electron’ sounds like motor tradese; it proves to be in ‘Birmasik aluminium alloy with ‘Chromidium’ cast-iron cylinder liners.

And that’s where McConnell’s 1931 reports would have galvanised Anthony Blight, had he only seen them. Because McConnell described the cylinder blocks of those two engines as having been stamped “…on front liner” and “on top of block and liner”. Since the iron blocks didn’t need them, only the aluminium engines would have had cylinder liners… and here’s the smoking gun. When The Motor described the new racing Talbot 105s it reported:”…the power output of the engine has been increased while the gross weight has been diminished”. The production Talbot 105 castiron engine is around 100Ibs heavier than the 90, yet the first racing 105 engines were lighter than the 90. Regarding alloy Talbot 105 engines as a myth, perhaps this is the smokiest gun of all? arl