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My T23 Grand Luxe has an extraordinary tale to tell, beginning in 1938 when Talbot-Lago Automobiles owner Anthony Lago gave it to Philippe Étancelin as payment for being part of his works racing team.
In those days it wasn’t an unusual way for a cash-poor car maker to pay its drivers.
Étancelin had a long and successful career, including winning Le Mans in 1934 and Grands Prix before WW2, and he remains the oldest driver to have scored a World Championship point.
A wealthy wool merchant, he drove this factory-bodied four-seater T23 for a year. It has a 4-litre straight-six with two Zenith-Stromberg carburettors and is capable of reaching in excess of 100mph – it has been described as a race car in evening dress.
Étancelin sold the T23 to local man Georges Leroy, who kept it for 25 years and even occasionally towed his boat with it.
During the Occupation the car was hidden away behind a false wall in an outbuilding for four years.
After WW2 the second owner continued to drive the car until selling it to an American who appreciated the marque. Here is where my affiliation began.
It was purchased by a family member in 1964 and imported to America to join a number of cars in a collection driven on the weekends around the Milwaukee area.
It was always the favourite of the bunch because of its sports car styling with family accommodation. I acquired the car in 2009 when it was in the midst of a troubled restoration.
The whole experience was harrowing because the restorer was hostile and demanding more money after squandering the entire budget.
We were eventually left to start over again when the car returned in boxes, and I was not sure all the parts remained together.
The wrongs of the previous shop were made right at Bennett Coachworks of Milwaukee, which is run by a friend, and the Talbot-Lago underwent a sympathetic restoration of paint, interior and chrome, plus some light mechanical and wiring work.
Essentially the car is mechanically original and only has around 40k on the odometer.
The rebuild took close to three years and was well worth the wait. I have spent many hours researching its history, which has included trawling through the boxes of documents, brochures and correspondence.
My plan now is to educate people about the marque. In the past seven years the car has been at local events, winning Best in Show at Saints and Sinners, and twice claiming Most Sporting Early Closed at the Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance. Last year it also took home third in The Classic Era class against some really great cars.
Today, I enjoy the car with my family and, in the spirit of all its previous owners, I drive it.
My 10-year-old daughter Fiona loves the car because Étancelin’s nickname was Phi-Phi – she also believes the car is hers because of the ‘F’ placard on the rear!
My son Giuseppe really enjoys it when we drive in the city, too, presumably because of all the people who honk and wave.
I see myself doing a mechanical refresh at some point, but not just yet because the car is running and performing superbly.
Talbot-Lago T23 Grand Luxe
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