Eggplant, Lavender, and Putty Beige - Restoring a Talbot Lago

By: Ron Pinto

Back in the early '80's I'd restored a 1937 Alvis, one off, Earl's Court show car and a 1934 Bugatti, Type 57, Gangloff Drophead. In '93 I got the urge to restore an old classic again and the gamble I decided to take was a 1950 Talbot Lago with a one off body by a Dutch coachbuilder Veth and Zoon (pronounced Fet and Son), advertised as a "Faux (false) Convertible." The car was in Pennsylvania but I became convinced by pouring over photos with a magnifying glass that it was probably an old "Carson" top conversion, so popular in California (where the car hailed from) in the '60's.

A month or so later the transporter delivered the Talbot to my driveway and I saw the car for the first time. Yes, the top was fully upholstered, in and out, but the dealer who traded it to me had not wanted to risk cutting the vinyl cover to check whether or not it was a "false" or real convertible.

Unrestored Ron's Talbot Lago before restoration - on its way to the wood shop and engine restoration.

My first act was to take a razor blade to the top, and sure enough, under that vinyl was a convertible frame, tack welded here and there with wooden stays nailed to its rotten bows to make it a fixed head. Some California tuck and roll artist had done the dirty deed and left his trade mark tucks and rolls over every part of the interior, while gluing two inch square walnut paper-thin veneer over the entire dashboard.

Top Bows Remnants of the top frame - a welcome find.

The car had also been lightly hit on the left front door, crumbling the inner wooden frame and had been repaired with Fiberglas and a one inch thick outer coating of bondo.

As I removed the various panels, the disgusting sight of rotten wood was everywhere. The only solution was to remove the body and replace the entire frame, top-bows, door panels, etc. The next step would be to sandblast the chassis and suspension and oh, by the way, to try to find an original transmission to install where the "updated" G.M. Hydramatic had been cleverly fitted in without damage to the engine panels or frame.

I was aware when I purchased the car that the correct original transmission was being stored in its trunk. What I didn't know was that the original trans, a Wilson pre-selector, was incomplete, with broken bands. As luck would have it, I was able to purchase an entire 1947 Talbot Lago sedan which had been parked under a tree in Riverside County for forty odd years. As the entire chassis and running gear were identical to mine, I was able to scavenge all the linkages and other parts which I needed.

Believe it or not, this parts car was 99% complete but the wood had rotted away to the point that the old saying applied "all four doors had literally fallen off", as well as the trunk and other areas which had been supported by the wooden frame.

Old Wood The rotten wood body before restoration...

A quick ad in Hemmings dispatched the remainder of the spare car to Holland, leaving me with a free spare transmission and other spares. It took two of us about three hours using duct tape, bailing wire, rope and chewing gum to tie it together in order for the tow truck to haul it off to the port.

Back to the Veth and Zoon! A couple of months later, Pete Brunelli (formerly of Scott Restoration) returned the chassis with fabulous new wood (way too nice to cover up with metal panels). We began returning the engine to the chassis and hooking up the transmission (now with the correct original linkages) to the output shaft from the engine with its incredible couplers, to the rear driveshaft. I restarted the engine and wow, it all worked thanks to my dear friend Al Cortez of Alfa Romeo restoration no