The Talbot Lago Saga, Finally Some Progress

(This post is from June of 2020…)

Four years ago, I went to work in Colorado as an independent contractor, the first gig I arranged after quitting my long-time job in California to shake things up and spend more time traveling. The gig involved a couple of Bugattis, a Talbot Lago, and a Lamborghini, so it was an interesting and at times challenging job.

The Talbot is a 1948 Type 26 Grand Sport with a body by Saoutchik. It had been in the collection of author Clive Cussler since 1978, and a repairs from a minor accident had escalated into a full restoration. I was responsible for assessing the engine condition, and it was one of the worst starting points I have ever encountered. Almost everything that could be wrong was wrong.

To start, the crankcase was badly cracked between all of the cylinders and numerous other locations. The crankshaft was cracked. The valve actuating system was broken in numerous ways. The crank damper was broken and the flywheel was in terrible shape.

It was a mess.

By the Fall of 2016, I had set several repair operations in motion and took off to visit Africa with my Mom. I spent the last part of that winter trying to catch Northern California winter steelhead, “the fish of a thousand casts”. I might have misjudged my level of enthusiasm for standing in cold water in a winter downpour.

In the Spring, I went back to Colorado and found that the crankcase had been repaired, new liners and pistons made, and numerous steps completed. But a new crank was still in process, so it was a long way from assembly. I spent that summer with a Lamborghini 400GT motor, a Bugatti Type 40, and some work on a Bugatti Type 37 and a Pursang Type 51. In the Fall, I carried the Talbot block with me to California, where I’d arranged some time  working on a Bugatti Brescia project. My old employer, Phil Reilly and Co would line bore the Talbot and do the bearing work once the new crank was finished.

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Machining of the welded block back in 2017.

To my surprise, it took over two years to produce a new crank, and that manufacturer is now permanently off my list of potential partners.

So I went to Montana for most of 2018 and then to the Texas coast to try to catch redfish on the fly. By mid-2019, the crank was completed and the job was just waiting for an open slot on the Berco line-boring machine. I was in Reno trying to complete a personal project, the 215 V-8 powered Bugeye Sprite that I finally sold in January of 2020. There was new urgency as well, with a class for the Talbot at Pebble Beach in August, and this car had an entry.

Just when the machine work was due to commence in March, the COVID-19 crisis shut down everything in California, and it looked like the project might have hit another major roadblock. It didn’t take long for the Pebble Beach Concours to be postponed ’til 2021, and I started to consider other options for work during the pandemic. But Reilly’s came through, and they shipped the finished crankcase and rods in early May.

Uncrating after a long wait
Uncrating after a long wait

I uncrated it on May 21, and have spent the last three weeks trying to reach the point where I could actually begin putting it together. The biggest holdup was that the new cylinder liners would not sit entirely flat into the repaired block. It took a long time to sort out where the conflict was, a tiny mismatch in machined parts that resulted in .002″-004″ error that would have meant problems with the head gasket.

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Then there was trouble getting the original flywheel to fit the new crank properly, which required welding, machining, and hand work. All so that the clutch and flywheel could be balanced with the crank.

One of the intake manifolds had a tiny pinhole that needed a couple of rounds of welding to seal up to pass the water system test, but fortunately the head casting and the final liner assembly held up to pressure.

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Welding up leaks…

I was finally ready to put the crank into its bearings on Monday, but decided to wait until the new cam bearings were finished and installed, which would be easier without the crank in place. Plus, pressing the new shells into the cam bores could possibly leave a shaving of bronze in the oil drilling, which would have been impossible to clear out with the crank in the way.

Mid-day Friday, I finally had the cam bearings installed and tested, and I was able to get the big chunk of steel mounted in the crankcase for good.

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I’ve already checked the bores for piston clearance, gapped the rings, and checked the rod bearing sizes. All that’s left to do it tweak the component balance a bit.

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Hopefully the rotating assembly will be all together early next week, and I can start getting the cylinder head ready to go. It still needs a little machine work and the valves fitted and lapped into their new seats. Big ol’ Chevy valves in this hemi-head motor. Then the new tappets, pushrods and adjusters need finishing.

The next big holdup is going to be the wait for nickel plating of all the external fasteners, which includes dozens of small bits from the accessories, like the carburetors, fuel pump and distributor. I’ll probably take a couple of weeks to go to Wyoming to fish while waiting for that batch to come back, then we’ll be in the home stretch.  Fingers crossed.

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