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Roesch Talbots   

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"Georges Roesch And The Invincible Talbot” (Grenville Publishing, 1970), makes one consider another set of fine engineering ideals.

Georges Roesch was a Swiss engineer, who worked for Talbot in London from 1925 through the late 1930’s. He had been sent to Talbot by Coatelen (Sunbeam, Paris) where he proceeded to turn Talbot around until the successful company was sold off in 1935. The Talbot name was then used in Paris by Anthony Lago, who made different cars through the 1950’s.

The English Roesch Talbots of the 1930’s were known for refinement, sophistication and flawless performance. They were superb large luxury touring cars. In competition they ran as touring cars, frequently against more specialized race cars. The Talbots were remarkable for their sheer reliability. Their performance was staggering: Blight writes of many races (such as long 500 mile Brooklands runs at high speed, 6 day Alpine Cups,etc. ) where Roesch Talbots ran quickly, silently, and needing  no work, running without stopping. Rather remarkably, these 4 seater touring cars had little special race preparation and yet were in the same league as racing Bentleys, Alfa 2.3, and the Bugattis. Roesch was quite stubborn in his development, and even getting aquick cahnge gas cap fited took a year or two of negotiation. Getting Roesch to fit even adjustable radiator shutters took long negotiations, so these were not cars compromised for competition. But they ran for hours upon end, often fitted with large gas tanks and not even stopping for gas.

Theirs is an incredible history – full of 2nds and 3rd place finishes. We know little of this because of two reasons: first is our fascination with specialty race cars above all else, and the cars that “cross bred” between touring and race seem compromised. That they may actually have been a better product is hard for the enthusiast to realize. Secondly,  Talbots were caught in the period of transition from touring cars racing competitively to competition only for purebred race cars. They raced with the Bugattis and Alfas, but often found themselves “finishing” behind slower (and smaller) cars, such as blown MG’s due to handicapping regulations, in fashion at this time.

This history is not a “if you only look at this small slice, our car was so special…”, so current today. They were one of the few cars that successful ran over 120 mph in the upper course of Brooklands (a Bugatti, 2.3 Alfa, and a racing 4.5 Bentley made it as well, but only the Bentley was as durable as the Talbot). With a team of three cars, they won the Alpine Cup (6 day race) twice, running together without breakdowns or issues, even finishing once losing no marks whatsoever. They drove these cars to the races, ran them, drove home, never even adjusting their brakes! They once ran a car in the Mille Miglia, running close to the top until crashing in the last hour from fatigue (looking for the promised, yet absent fuel in Rome took its toll on the drivers, while the Italians got much needed rest…).

So what happened? Throughout the 1930’s, amidst the depression, Talbot grew as the successful part of the ill-fated and under-funded corporate conglomerate of STD (Sunbeam Talbot Darracq). They  were neither supported nor embraced by the financiers of the parent company, and were rudely sold off to pay down debt to Rootes in 1935. They proceeded to dumb down the engineering (anybody remember Humber?), dismantling the engineering and manufacturing team in the process. Lost were Roesch’s other fine inventions, including a production pre-selector gearbox (early automatic), installed in quite a few cars successfully. His experimental high-revving straight 8 and fully independent suspension chassis (around the time of the Aprilia) were never put into production either. Rather, his reputation has to rest with the remarkable straight 6 engines made and run without fault at performance levels not achieved by others.

And what was Roesch’s genius? It was the first major example of the discipline of refinement – with exquisite engineering, he tweaked to perfection the basic parts of the motor without drama, without excess. He achieved his success by focusing on  the reciprocating parts to be made strong and light, at levels not seen before. He made a very light pushrod-driven valve train, with reduced wear, allowing high revving motors (5000 rpm plus, even with long strokes). His lower-end crankshaft design was more robustly sized and better balanced to allow higher revving without failures, and his superb detailing of pistons and conrods provided less weight and thus less strain. For example – his reciprocating weight (a piston and rod) was about 630 grams (2/3 that of the 3.4 Jaguar made from 1948-1968, and equal to that of the Aurelia 2.5 liter motor of smaller bore). The Jag had difficulties revving over 5,000 rpm – but not the Roesch Talbot. Roesch’s genius was focus: lessen weight, improve performance, and thus have high revving, cool running, high compression (starting at 8:1, eventually working up to over 10.5:1), yet totally faultless and reliable cars.

The performance numbers proved this – his these 3 liter engines, driven to races far away, Le Mans, Ulster, etc., were used for hours (or days) revving to 5,000 rpm (last versions even up to 6,000 rpm) for hours on end without trouble, and then were casually driven home.  And never breaking, silently running.

in the realm of the auto, the sexy ones capture the imagination. But as Blight points out, Bugatti used basically vintage WW1 era technology, and yet his work was called radical. On the other hand, Roesch’s work set forth the precision engineering principles that remain at the roots of cars today. This work remains mostly overlooked but   buried in English history is this offshoot, worthy of deeper consideration.

Written by Geoff

May 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Aurelia

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