This Talbot-Lago Was Lost for 60 Years Until Jay Leno Resurrected It

All too often, cars end up abandoned and forgotten in shipping containers, barns, and other crypt-like places. And usually, it’s a classic or antique car that winds up entombed. However, sometimes these machines get rescued—and sometimes, the rescuer is an enthusiast like Jay Leno who can restore these cars properly. That’s why, despite being lost for almost 60 years, Leno’s 1953 Talbot-Lago Grand Sport is up and running today.

Bonham calls the Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport the French luxury brand’s “last defiant gesture”

A blue 1948 Talbot-Lago 25C at the 2015 Goodwood Revival
1948 Talbot-Lago 25C at the 2015 Goodwood Revival | Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

Although it’s no longer around, Talbot-Lago was an esteemed French luxury automaker, on par with marques like Facel Vega and Bugatti. It was formed when Italian-British businessman Antonio Lago bought struggling French automaker Talbot in the 1930s. But even before that, the company earned its reputation much as Bugatti did. Namely, it crafted chassis that high-profile coachbuilders clothed. And it won races. The Talbot-Lago Type 26C Grand Prix, for example, won the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans. And it competed in the very first Formula One season, Petrolicious notes.

Unfortunately, while Talbot-Lago had some post-WWII racing success, France’s taxation policies hurt sales. But even so, in 1952 the company launched its new flagship: the Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport, Bonhams explains. Ultimately, this would be Talbot-Lago’s last road car. And in many ways, it was one of the last hurrahs of traditional luxury coachbuilding.

A blue 1949 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Cabriolet at the 2019 Concours d'Elegance Paleis Soestdijk
1949 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Cabriolet at the 2019 Concours d’Elegance Paleis Soestdijk | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

Talbot-Lago offered the T26 Grand Sport in two forms: the short-wheelbase Coupe/Cabriolet and the long-wheelbase Lounge. The former’s chassis is based on the pre-war T150C SS and features then-advanced features like independent front suspension and hydraulic brakes. And under the hood is a 4.5-liter straight-six engine derived from the T26C’s engine, and rated at 190 bhp, RM Sotheby’s says. That’s good for 125 mph, Top Gear notes.

The later Talbot-Lago Grand Sport Lounge used a different chassis: a lighter, shorter, redesigned version of the Record, RM Sotheby’s explains. It also had coil springs, not leaf springs, and its 4.5-liter straight-six made 210 bhp. And being a coach-built car, customers could order it and the Coupe/Cabriolet with custom bodies and interiors.

Jay Leno’s lost car had been sitting since 1965—but now it runs again

Jay Leno is no stranger to owning and restoring coach-built cars, from Duesenbergs to Bentleys. However, few have been quite as far gone as his 1953 Talbot-Lago Grand Sport Lounge. The previous owner bought it in France in 1965, then flew it to California and parked it in a garage. And it sat there, Lost Corvette style, until Leno “pulled it out” and finished restoring it in 2020.

To say that sitting for over 50 years with a full 24-gallon tank of gas damaged the Grand Sport is an understatement, Hagerty reports. The tank was so corroded that Jay Leno accidentally put his hand through it. The brake lines were frozen, the wooden door frames were rotting, the brake master cylinder needed re-sleeving, and the engine had no compression. However, the interior was basically intact. And it’s still unrestored, as is the paint.

This Talbot-Lago Grand Sport’s storage situation isn’t the only odd thing about it, though. All of the company’s cars use Wilson pre-selector transmissions, similar to the one in Jay’s Ferret armored car. However, this Grand Sport has a conventional four-speed manual that appears to be a factory installation. What’s more, its chassis code is unaccounted for in the list of recorded Grand Sport Lounge codes. Basically, Jay Leno’s Talbot-Lago is a factory racing prototype.

Unique history aside, this Talbot-Lago Grand Sport is a solid luxury grand-touring car, Jay Leno says. The unrestored leather perfumes the cabin, the engine “pulls strong…in any gear,” and it rides reasonably well. Plus, with its exhaust note, a radio is superfluous.

How much does a Talbot-Lago Grand Sport cost today?

While Jay Leno’s Talbot-Lago Grand Sport is essentially unique, the other examples aren’t identical, either. Remember, it’s a coach-built car.

It’s also an exceedingly rare one. The company only made about 29 short-wheelbase Grand Sports and 19 long-wheelbase ones before it went bankrupt. And prices vary wildly depending on which coachbuilder made a particular example’s body. Some Grand Sports have sold for slightly over $200,000; others sold for more than $1 million.

Still, considering how long this Grand Sport spent in the dark, it’s good to see it running again.

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