Veteran Edwardian Vintage, September 1983

A section devoted to old car matters

The 25/50 hp Talbot

The Talbot, as a make, has a complex ring to it, because it can be Lago, Roesch or London. The great 25/50 hp model comes in the last-named category, stemming from the Bayard cars made by Mon A Clement in France. When the Rt Hon the Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot, KCVO, who had hansom-cab interests in London and was an enthusiastic user of Panhard-Levassor and Clement-Bayard cars decided, in 1904, that it was time he got into the expanding motor industry, he branched out from being Chairman of the British Automobile Commercial Syndicate, with Weigel as managing director, to forming Clement-Talbot Ltd, for the manufacture of cars at a new and lavishly-appointed factory and headquarters on land at Ladbroke Grove in West Kensington, London, which was probably part of his stabling for cab horses.

It is now well-known that this factory, which still exists and should be a preserved building, was opened late in 1904, at Edinburgh Road, later called Barlby Road. It was an elaborate edifice of offices and palatial entrance hall, as well as a very modern factory, reminiscent of the Argyll factory outside Glasgow. It occupied 31/2-acres of the Earl’s 51/4-acre site and a 1/8th mile test-track ran round it, with slightly banked corners. It was here that the first Clement-Talbots were made, London-built, with very strong Anglo-French undertones.

No doubt due to its unusual aristrocraric connotations, the Clement-Talbot soon had a considerable following among influential folk, Lord Linlithgow for example recommending the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells to acquire an 8 hp two-cylinder Talbot. As the smaller models gave way to the carefully-constructed larger cars, these going up in nine steps from 12 hp to 50 hp, later to be replaced by the celebrated 12/16 hp and 16/20 hp Talbots, these became very well established. In 1905 the 24/30 and 35/50 models were announced and Weigel, a noted troublemaker, was quietly dropped from the Board, TH Woolen becoming Talbot’s General Manager, and CR Garrard the Works Manager. By the beginning of 1906 an entirely British 20 hp Talbot was being made at Barlby Road, the work of Garrard.

A successful day at the Fromes hill-climb led to the “Invincible Talbot” trade mark being adopted. After Garrard had left to join the Sheffield-Simplex Company, his place was taken by GP. Mills, and in 1911 George Brown, from Austin’s, came to work for the Talbot organisation under Mr Mills. By this time the rather confusing range of models was still being made, four-cylinder 12, 15, 25 and 35 hp chassis, and a 20 hp six-cylinder. Some time ago Anthony Bamford sent us some splendid photographs showing impressive assemblies of these early Talbots outside the Earl of Shrewsbury’s impressive mansion, Ingestre Hall near Stafford (now a school), and another of the Earl in hunting garb about to crank up one of the larger models. Lunching with the present Earl of Shrewbury a year or so ago I commented on these pictures, of which he showed me the originals, and he told me that the occasion would have been family parties at the house and that one of his Aunts would have known not only to whom each car belonged, but very likely the names of their chauffeurs. The Earl added that the picture of his Grandfather was probably a posed one, as a man would have been called to actually crank-up the engine. . . .

From the aforesaid rather complex range of Talbot cars, one in particular was to stand out, indeed, to give this modest British make undying fame. It was the new side-valve with L-head, in place of the former T-head model, to be known in 1914 as the Type 4ST 25/50 hp Talbot, in keeping with its juniors, the 15/20, 20/30 and six-cylinder 20/40 hp cars. It had a bore and stroke of 101.5 x 140 mm (4,531 cc) and was to be promoted by a Brooklands’ racing programme. To this end George Brown, who had been responsible for the successful series of Austin “Pearly” racing cars driven by the famous Percy Lambert, was given the go-ahead to prepare a well-streamlined single-seater version and naturally he engaged the popular Percy Lambert to drive it.

From the standard chassis, which sold for £515 in 1914, the least expensive complete car costing £610, Brown evolved an efficient racing version with the very narrow body and faired in dumb-irons, radiator etc favoured at the time, with a cone-type tail over the fuel tank. Thereby attaches an amusing tale, for on one occasion, when being push-started at Barlby Road for his run to the Track, which Lambert always made by road, this tail came off under the grip of the Foreman’s arm as they were struggling to push-start the car on the test-track and, failing to hear the shouts, Percy set off without this aid to reduced wind drag. Fortunately there was someone, presumably a Talbot agent, at Shepherd’s Bush and a frantic telephone call enabled him to dash out and stop the surprised Lambert and get him to return for the missing tail before he left London for Kingston-on-Thames and the Cobham Fairmile. . . .

With this slim 25/50 Talbot “Pearly” Lambert gained many significant successes’ at Brooklands, in sand events, and in public-road hill-climbs and speed-trials. When it wasn’t Lambert who was challenging the Vauxhalls and Sunbeams in the last-named category it was Leslie Hands, who made ftd at Weymouth, WestonSuper-Mare, and Porthcawl in 1914, repeating this in the Caerphilly hill-climb, and at Colwyn Bay. Hands then beat Guinness’ GP Sunbeam at Saltburn, where Hedge’s 25/50 Talbot won two events, prior to which Lambert had triumphed at beacon Hill in 1913, beating Higginson’s 30/98 Vauxhall by 1.4 sec, while Hands, using the Brooklands’ Talbot, did likewise at Pately Bridge hill-climb.

On the Track this remarkable car had put up such effective Class F short-distance records, the half-mile at 113.28 mph for instance, that it was clear that the Earl of Shrewsbury had the great landmark of 100 miles in the hour within his grasp. This was being contested by far larger cars, such as Excelsior and 15-litre Lorraine-Dietrich, but mechanical troubles and tyre failures after some 50 miles had caused it to elude them. Perhaps a simple side-valve 41/2-litre car could better the World’s hour record, held by Victor Hemery’s giant Lorraine, at 97.49 mph?

To this end the Talbot was brought out in February 1913, confidence such that the attempt was well publicised. Tyre trouble ruined the first bid but a week later, although the fog at first prevented Lambert from seeing the top of the bankings, the Talbot ran perfectly, the Palmer cord tyres, retained with extra security bolts, stood up (although gangs of specially trained fitters stood by in case they gave trouble) and after a standing lap at 87.24 mph Lambert never went round at lower than 100 mph, his quickest circuit being at 106.42 mph, with the result that 103.84 miles were covered in the 60 minutes, the first time any car had exceeded 100 in the hour. The pit had been run by Harold Lambert, Percy’s brother, himself a racing driver (he drove Crossley and Bugatti cars at Brooklands), the Earl congratulated Lambert as he climbed out of the cockpit and the mechanics, who had predicted the record would fall at around 105 mph, were jubilant. A fuller account of this epic achievement appears in my Brooklands book, pp 43-45 (Grenville, 1979).

Part of the reason why a side-valve car was capable of this remarkable speed was because GWA. Brown had contrived for it to run up to 3,500 rpm, then a very high engine speed. The power output claimed for the racing engine was 40 bhp at 1,000 rpm, 80 bhp at 2,000 rpm, 120 bhp at 3,000 rpm and over 130 bhp at 3,500 rpm, which I quoted in the first single-volume edition of the Brooklands History. Anthony Blight took me to task, saying that a more realistic figure would have been 105 bhp at 2,500 rpm. Bowing to this great authority on Talbots I duly amended this in the last edition of the book, although the original information had come from no less an authority than The Autocar, admittedly from someone they termed their “occasional correspondent”.

Not many secrets of the racing engine were disclosed, but it seems that it ran with 40 deg ignition advance, that the inlet valves opened 14 deg 45 atdc, and closed 30 deg 30 abdc, that the exhaust valves opened 46 deg 15 bbdc and closed 9 deg 30 atdc, that tubular con-rods of Belgian steel were specially bored-out in the Talbot machine-shop, and that at 2,500 rpm the engine gave a fuel consumption of 17 ton-mpg.

Whatever the truth, this great performance established the reputation of the 25/50 hp Talbot and of its designer, GWA Brown, for all time. Brown had been educated at Charterhouse and Glasgow University, and had worked in the experimental departments of the Argyll, Humber and Austin motor companies, and had driven the “Four Inch” Humber he designed in the 1908 TT, and the Austin “Pearly I” successfully at Ostend. One wonders where his war-time and subsequent career took him? He had geared the hour-record Talbot at 2.43 to 1, using 880 x 180 tyres, which represented 105 mph at 2,500 rpm. The car was naturally a great attraction when Lambert afterwards raced it at Brooklands, but this great racing motorist, who had driven for Percy Kidner of Vauxhall’s continued to race a 2.8-litre Singer during the 1913 season, with which he won the Whitsun 100 mph Short Handicap at 80 mph and two All-Comer’s races. At the August races Lambert’s Talbot beat a Vauxhall in the 100 mph Long Handicap, after a lap at 112.68 mph. For the Autumn Meeting a 101.5 x 150 mm (4,754 cc) engine was installed in a strengthened chassis and it was in this form that Lambert contested his hour record, which Goux’s twin-cam 7.6-litre Peugeot and then Chassagne’s V12 9-litre Sunbeam had broken, the latter at 107.95 mph.

On an earlier attempt things had not been good for Lambert. He was badly thrown about, the discs on the Talbot’s wheels made handling difficult and the earlier engine then blew up, the car, contrary to normal practice, having to be taken back to Barlby Grove on the spares lorry. Things were worse on Octomber 31st, 1913. Earlier the Talbot had put the World’s 50-mile record to 110.96 mph. Lambert then had to wait from that Monday to the Friday for good weather. He set off in pursuit of the coveted hour honours but a mysterious accident befell him after 21 laps, behind the Members’ Hill, and, the car rolling over and over, the driver died of a fractured skull. Lambert was buried in London’s Brompton Cemetery, a spoked wheel forming his headstone. Some measure of how fast the single-seater Talbot was can be gauged by its best lap before the calamity — 114.23 mph, compared to a race-lap by the 9-litre Sunbeam of 118.58 mph. The car was not used again, but the long-stroke engine was removed from the wreckage and used in the Talbot which Vandervell and Barnato raced for a brief period after the Armistice.

These fine performances must have enhanced sales of the normal 25/50 hp Talbot, the satisfied users of which included Lord Tweedmouth and the Dowager Duchess of Argyll. (Incidentally, a film was made of the record run and one hopes it has survived.) The standard chassis had a wheelbase of 11 ft and followed the conventional form of the day, with a cone clutch, half-elliptic springing and rear-wheel brakes. An open propshaft was used, from the separate four-speed gearbox, and it is interesting that pedals (central accelerator) and steering-column were adjustable. The engine, which developed about 55 bhp, had a Stewart-Precision updraft carburetter feeding through a water-jacketed Y-shaped manifold on the nearside, with a well-formed four-branch exhaust manifold above it. The cylinders were in two separate blocks of two, there was pump and fan cooling, and the sparking plugs were in valve caps along the nearside of the heads, ignition being by Bosch magneto and coil, using the latter for starting up, the magneto for running. The brake and gear levers were on the right, the fuel tank held 131/2 gallons and you lubricated your car with Talbot oil and grease. Top speed was about 57 mph, with 18 to 19 mpg.

The 25/50 hp Talbot was certainly one of the fine cars of its period, proudly using the Earl’s crested hound (or Talbot) insignia as its badge. But it did not have long in which to establish itself before war broke out and the Talbot factory busied itself with shell manufacture and the repair of aero-engines. Nevertheless, the cars gained a notable war-time reputation, along with Crossley, Sunbeam, and Rolls-Royce. The Admiralty in particular made good use of the 25/50 hp chassis, both as staff-cars and ambulances, and even as improvised armoured-cars for the Belgian front. Production for the private sector ceased after 1915, and that year the chassis price had gone up by £61.

Had it not been for the STD merger soon after war had ended, there is no reason why the Talbot should not have enjoyed as much success as other makes in its field, for overhead valve engines were some years away and other manufacturers were compromising with pre-war designs. In this context, Barlby Road revived the 25/50 hp model, as the Type 4SW, after the Armistice, giving the engine bigger water jackets and using Skefco ball-races in gearbox and transmission. The chassis price had risen to £850 by 1919. At that year’s Show two saloons were exhibited, and as with other high-performance cars, from then on the 25/50 hp Talbot was apt to be burdened with heavy bodywork, although for a time a tourer priced at £1,230 was listed, on what seems to have been a fractionally-longer-wheelbase chassis with 880 x 120 tyres. At that first post-war Olympia coachbuilders like WH Arnold, Caffyns, and Maythom displayed their wares on the big Talbot, and the Earl of Leitrim got Thorn’s to put a polished wood brake body on this substantial chassis.

Other discerning motorists followed suit. JF Buckingham, of incendiary bullet fame, had a Charlesworth all-aluminium open body on a 25/50 hp Talbot, Malcolm Campbell Ltd had the honour of supply Admiral Beatty, KCB, MVO, DSO, with a Cole all-weather, and Bernard May of Moseley ordered an ivory-and-black two-seater (OE32), with straight-through exhaust and spare wheels far back on each running board. A Mr O’Brien had a sporting two-seater with a prominent outside exhaust pipe put on a 25/50 hp chassis (F64121) by the London Improved Motor Coachbuilders, an unusual item for a non-racing car being a radiator cowl, on which the word “Oriel” was inscribed, to denote the owner’s Oxford college.

The chassis price rose to £1,050 during the 1921 slump but was back to £850 in 1922. That was the last year of 25/50 production, for the old Talbot factory was in the doldrums and when Georges Roesch was called-on by Louis Coatalen to revive it, he had little time for the 25/50, the design of which dated back to 1910, preferring to turn the post-war 8/18 into his delightful 10/23 Talbot, pending production of his brilliant 14/45, and subsequent London Talbot models, all about which Anthony Blight has told us in great detail in his book “The Invincible Talbot” (Grenville, 1970). But by being the first car to put more than 100 miles into an hour, the 25/50 hp Talbot is assured of immortality.

This was recognised by VSCC members. At one time an all-weather used to take part in Club events and soon after the War Barry Clarke acquired a Talbot breakdown truck I had told him about at a Byfleet garage, and re-bodied it and another 25/50 hp chassis. The former became, much later, the basis of the 70 mph 25/50 with lightweight Wilkinson skiff body campaigned so effectively by John Rowley before his untimely death. He was also busy building a similar car. Bentley fancier FM Wilcock, for fun, put a two-seater parody of the Lambert car on a 1913 25/50 which he had found derelict in a yard near Billingshurst in 1949, another breakdown truck which had been there since about 1939 (PA 5522), and which he ran at the 1952 Brighton Speed Trials. It was later turned into a more practical two-seater by Barry, his second 25/50. Wilcock has a 1912 2.4-litre Talbot in his Jersey Motor Museum in which he has driven more than 50,000 miles since rebuilding it, after finding it in storage at Bolney. He used it for differing VCC and MCC competition events. He also regularly uses a similar Talbot (J 1910) which was rebuilt from an ice-cream van found in Eastbourne with an original two-seater body. A 1913 chassis, sans engine, robbed of some small parts for this Talbot was the one, with 1919 engine, passed on to John Rowley circa 1978.