4½-Liter Talbot Lago
By Forest Dalton
Longevity is not a particularly necessary quality in the Grand Prix race cars of today, with some only lasting for perhaps half a season. Consider then a Grand Prix car that was used actively for six seasons and, with little more than the addition of cycle fenders, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Such was the versatility of the 4½-liter Talbot Lago.
It is important when taking a close look at the Talbot Lago to remember the one ingredient that Tony Lago could not include in the total design of the car: money. So when you examine the car and see remnants of design from the 1930s, there is a distinct possibility it was done because that's all they could afford.
That was no great hindrance in the design of the frame, a very substantial structure based on box section metalwork along the sides tied together by tube cross braces. The front suspension followed conventional thinking of the day, being independent with a transverse leaf spring acting as the lower arm on each side, in Talbot's case with the A-arm above it. Friction shocks did the damping, aided somewhat by back-to-back Houdailles in a common casing that also served as the inboard mounting for the A-arm.
The lack of money caused Tony Lago to keep the rear suspension system a solid axle mounted on semi-elliptic springs, the last major Grand Prix car to do so. The rear suspension was damped both by friction shocks attached from the rear and by tube shocks mounted above and inward.
The differential housing was offset, the short driveshaft coming out of the 4-speed Wilson Preselector transmission and running to the right of the driver with its cover providing an armrest. The 4-speed Wilson Preselector was of the type in which a driver preset a column-mounted lever to the next gear he would need and then, with a quick stab on the clutch pedal, engage the upshift or downshift selected.
Ahead of the transmission was the Talbot 6-cylinder engine, which provided the proper mix of power, reliability, and fuel economy for the Talbots to occasionally outlast their competitors. Both the block and head were of aluminum alloy, the cylinder having a bore and stroke of 93 X 110 mm for a total displacement of 4485 cc. While the engine may look like an overhead twincam, the camshaft on each side is just halfway up the block and cranks the valves open through short pushrods. The engine has hemispherical combustion chambers, which, when fed through the three downdraft Zenith-Stromberg carburetors, produced 240 bhp at 4700 rpm. A later version of this engine with twin ignition produced 280 bhp.
The long crankshaft in the block was held in by seven main bearings oiled through a dry sump system, with the lubricant cooled by being forced through three rows of small tubes, which can be seen sticking out of the bobywork on each side just behind the firewall. Other details included a worm-and-nut steering gear, 16 inch Lockheed hydraulic drum brakes and, generally, Borrani wire wheels with 7.00-18 tires in the rear and 5.50-18 tires up front.
Around this was wrapped one of the most lovely Grand Prix bodies built right after World War II, a headrest formed above the rear 50 gallon fuel tank, six exhausts snaking out from under the hood into two tailpipes on the left, and an air tube with a gauze flame trap on the right feeding air to the carburetors. With a 98.5-inch wheelbase and 54 and 51.5-inch front and rear tracks, the car weighed 2015 pounds unladen.
Although hopelessly outclassed by their Mercedes, Maserati, Ferrari, and Alfa Romeo rivals, the Talbot Lagos with their 8-9 mpg mileage, compared to the others 3-4 mpg, were sometimes able to outlast their competitors and win between 1946 and 1952. This was not bad for a racecar whose design dated back to 1936.
At the French Grand Prix in 1949, Louis Chiron was close enough to Peter Whitehead's Ferrari, so that when Whitehead's shifter caused him trouble near the end of the race, Chiron was able to put his Talbot Lago into the lead and gain the good fortune of winning his home Grand Prix. The model I have built represents this race car.
I used the old Merit kit that is no longer available, but is still produced by SMER in the Czech Republic and is available from Squadron Shop as catalog number 2-SE0208.
The Wilson Preselector was scratch-built from sheet styrene and 24 gauge wire, with the shift knob being simulated with 5-minute Epoxy and painted white. The shift cage was hollowed out with a #80 drill bit and #11 X-acto blade, painted semi-gloss black and four drops of white paint were applied with a needle for the gear selection indicators.
The interior, shock covers, instrument panel, pedals and steering wheel were airbrushed with Krylon Bright Aluminum, a paint that airbrushes very well and dries almost immediately to a hard maskable finish. The steering wheel was hand painted semi-gloss black. All switches are simulated with stretched sprue cemented into predrilled holes. I held off assembly of the seat/driveshaft cover, instrument panel/steering wheel assembly, and pedal/floor assembly until the body was complete to aid in masking.
The ignition wires were made from phono wire that I picked up at a local electronic store. I rubbed them down with some used, dry 3600-grit sandpaper to remove the sheen. The wire guides are from heat shrink tubing and nylon fishing line.
Radiator hoses were simulated using 18 gauge solder and heat shrink tubing, which were wrapped with two strips of chrome tape each for the clamps. Copper wire was used for the engine temperature line. Valve lubrication tubes were made out of 22 gauge solder, which is easier to bend than wire. The gauze flame trap from the kit was used punching two disks from fine screen wire for the two open ends with a Waldron punch kit.
Red phono wire was used for the carburetor feed lines and 20-gauge solder was used for the accelerator tube assembly. Black phono wire was also used for the brake lines. The kit's two exhaust pieces were sawed at their body mounting juncture and the rear portions replaced with like sized aluminum tubing. They were painted Krylon Bright Aluminum and set aside for final assembly.
Body and Suspensions
I cut away the grille from the kit's nosepiece and replaced it with fine mesh screen wire, cemented from the inside with krazy glue. The starter opening hole was prepunched with a Waldron punch.
The kit's hood was cleaned up and hood tiedown bolts were simulated with sprue rivets. The tiedown wires are fine-stripped phono wires. The bolt and wire assemblies were attached after painting. I did leave the MERIT logo inside the kit hood, because this kit was something special.
The body, nosepiece, and hood were first primed with Krylon Gray Primer and sanded with used, dry 1200 grit sandpaper, The parts were reprimed in three places and resanded, after which I washed the parts in dishwashing solution and dried them with a paper towel and hair dryer.
The three parts were airbrushed with three coats of Model Masters French Blue and allowed to dry for two weeks. I then rubbed the parts down with two grades of Mequire's Mirror Glaze.
The wheels and tires are from Herb Deeks Models. The wire centers are photoetched, whereas the wheel rims, brake housings, and knock-off hubs are cast white metal. After cleaning up the rims with sandpaper on my mini-lathe, I painted them bright aluminum. The brake housings were painted dull aluminum with the cooling ducts opened and washed in black. The hubs and photo-etched wires were already polished aluminum, so I left them alone. The tires are real rubber and they are stunning. I simply wiped over the tread pattern with some used 1200 grit and left them be.
The front suspension leaf spring, A-arm, and steering rod are one piece. I cleaned this piece up and airbrushed it Pactra Steel. The leaf spring was treated to a black wash. The solid rear axle and two leaf springs were painted steel with the springs receiving a black wash also. The two rear attachment rods on each side were simulated with 1/16th inch aluminum tubing and a 22-gauge hypodermic needle respectively. The exhaust attachment on the left rear leaf spring was done with styrene strip.
Painting and Decaling
All louvers in the hood and body were picked out with a .005 technical pen and India ink. The fuel tank separation cover and front body piece separations were simulated with nothing more than 1/64th inch striping tape.
The exhaust to body connectors were simulated with sheet styrene and sprue rivets. The kit's windshield frame was used, but the kit's glass was replaced with clear sheet styrene. The two side view mirrors were cut from self-adhesive chrome foil and attached to the kit's mirror fairings. Seatbelts were fabricated from sanded brown auto striping tape, with Model Technologies' Auto Harness Buckles used for the belt attachments, belt adjustment, and lock.
Cottage Industries used
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