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Talbot Lago at Indianapolis 500 1941


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#1 cabianca

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 22:08

In 1941, Jean Trévoux and René Le Bègue showed up at the Indianapolis 500 with two Talbot GP cars. Does anyone know details about how they were able to get these cars and themselves out of occupied France and what route (Lisbon?) the cars took to get to America. Obviously, this must have taken place in Vichy. The cars were also present at Langhorn, the Land's End Hillclimb and the Pikes Peak Hillclimb that year.
Many thanks.

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#2 Vitesse2

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Posted 15 October 2017 - 23:00

Michael - I've done quite a bit of research into this. However, it's a bit late here in Britain - look out for a PM in the next couple of days.



#3 Vitesse2

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 10:57

PM sent.



#4 Michael Ferner

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 11:14

I trust Richard Armstrong (Vitesse) will be able to give the most complete information here. What I know is mostly from newspaper reports, so not of unquestionable repute, and not very exhaustive anyway, but yes, they cabled their entries "through the censors at Vichy" and were "hoping to get passage on an American Export Co. liner from Lisbon, Portugal, May 2". They arrived in New York on May 13 "by Pan-American Clipper", while the cars were to arrive on May 19, but appear to have got to New York three or four days late. By May 24, they arrived in Indianapolis "hauled here from New York on trailers", and commenced practicing on the afternoon of Sunday, May 25.

#5 Vitesse2

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 13:39

I trust Richard Armstrong (Vitesse) will be able to give the most complete information here. What I know is mostly from newspaper reports, so not of unquestionable repute, and not very exhaustive anyway, but yes, they cabled their entries "through the censors at Vichy" and were "hoping to get passage on an American Export Co. liner from Lisbon, Portugal, May 2". They arrived in New York on May 13 "by Pan-American Clipper", while the cars were to arrive on May 19, but appear to have got to New York three or four days late. By May 24, they arrived in Indianapolis "hauled here from New York on trailers", and commenced practicing on the afternoon of Sunday, May 25.

Ah, interesting! I have all the details of their flight from Horta in the Azores, complete with immigration documents, but I'd assumed that the cars had gone - as planned - on the American Export Lines' SS Excambion, arriving on the 12th and then been delayed in customs. I hadn't seen the 19th reference, but your access to American sources is better than mine! However, I've now found a Portuguese ship called the SS Guiné which docked at New York on the 22nd, having sailed from Lisbon on the 10th, which would fit very well with those dates (that was the voyage on which the writer Hannah Arendt - along with many other refugees - arrived in New York). Can't be certain, as Ancestry only has the passenger - not freight - manifests of course!

 

I'll also send you a copy of my PM.



#6 Tim Murray

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 14:13

Perhaps a brief resume here? I'm interested to know the story, and I suspect I'm not the only one.

#7 Vitesse2

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 15:01

Brief isn't easy! My guess is that cabianca's interest is more around how it fits in with Chinetti - who was of course involved with at least one of the cars - the one sold to Zora Arkus-Duntov - after WW2, and I've provided him with more details which also tie in to the 1940 Schell cars, but here's the story:

 

The expedition was announced to the French public by Maurice Henry on the front page of l’Auto on April 29th 1941. Possibly for the first time, Henry’s readers also discovered what René Dreyfus and Luigi Chinetti had been doing since they had travelled to the United States the previous May. In Chinetti's case - not much!
 
With help from both the AAA and ACF – the latter in the shape of its president the Vicomte de Rohan-Chabot – together with that of the pro-German Renault executive and future Vichy transport minister François Lehideux, Le Bègue and Trévoux had managed to get authorization to travel from Sports Commissioner Jean Borotra and the German occupation forces. They had purchased the two 4.5 litre Talbot MDs from Tony Lago – although Henry described the cars only as ‘of French manufacture’. He seems to have been letting his readers down gently, since he also pointed out that virtually all the cars they would be competing against were blown 3-litres. Nevertheless, he was sure the drivers would do ‘everything humanly possible to ensure that French colours are triumphant.’
 
Links to the article:

http://gallica.bnf.f...6k46427968.item
http://gallica.bnf.f...6427968/f2.item
 
That article states that they were to embark from Lisbon the following Friday - May 3rd - but they must have been delayed in some way en route and missed their boat - American Export Lines' SS Excambion - because they actually crossed the Atlantic on a Pan American Clipper flying boat from Horta in the Azores, overnight on May 12/13th.
 
I've uploaded copies of their immigration records from Ancestry to my Dropbox, which you can find here:
 

https://www.dropbox....4-0619.jpg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox....4-0622.jpg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox....4-0623.jpg?dl=0
 
Usefully, it gives their home addresses - Le Bègue in occupied Paris, Trévoux in unoccupied Vichy - and even the dates their visas were granted in Lyon - again in the unoccupied zone. Note that Trévoux's visa is dated just the day before the article in l'Auto. Note also that Mme Le Bègue is recorded as living in a hotel in Nice.
 
Based on the late date of his visa it occurs to me that Trévoux might have been a last-minute substitute - possibly for Raymond Sommer, who was the reigning French Champion and also had wartime connections to Talbot and Tony Lago; in September 1940 he had been reported as wanting to try to improve his own Montlhéry outright lap record using the Talbot Monoplace Centrale, raced just once previously - by Raymond Mays in the GP de l'ACF (a whole other intriguing story!). All he needed (he claimed) was someone who could let him have 20 litres of fuel! Trévoux was of course far better known as a rally driver than as a circuit racer - his main circuit experience was in the Le Mans and Spa 24 Hours - and hadn't handled a GP car since 1929, so was a very odd choice.

 

Their cars, meanwhile, appear to have travelled on the Companhia Colonial de Navegação’s SS Guiné, which left Lisbon on the 10th, docking in New York on the 22nd. Among the many refugees on the Guiné was the German philosopher Hannah Arendt.
 
By the 24th the Frenchmen and the Talbots were at Indianapolis, but the big French cars – entered as 'Talbot Specials' and arriving at the Brickyard still sporting the numbers 6 and 8 which they had worn in their last race at Comminges in August 1939 – were seemingly unsuited to the fast oval track and despite surviving a protest from Russ Snowberger and several other drivers who claimed they had not been properly scrutineered neither qualified for the race. The protest had quietly evaporated after it became clear that the Talbots were among the slowest cars on the track and unlikely to make it into the field of 33 – Le Bègue's best 4-lap run was more than 12mph slower than Mauri Rose's pole position speed and Trévoux seems to have been so slow that he didn't complete qualifying, not even making an attempt in the final session. Both he and Le Bègue might perhaps have done better had they not arrived in Indiana so late – the same comment is valid for the previous year's French effort.

 

The French reporting of the Indy 500 was also somewhat creative: l’Auto duly reported Mauri Rose’s win on June 2nd, but incorrectly claimed that the two French cars had failed scrutineering; five days later they published a supposed correction, quoting a cable sent to 'friends of the drivers' in the zone non-occupé (possibly Mme Le Bègue and/or friends of Trévoux?). It was now stated that they had been compelled to withdraw due to arriving too late and ‘difficulties which arose on the spot, which meant they were unable to obtain an honorable classification’ – a rather roundabout way of saying ‘we failed to qualify’.

 

I get the impression that the trip had cost them much more money than they had expected - which could be the reason they turned up at Langhorne; presumably Lucky Teter offered them some good appearance money there. I've seen mentions in the US press before Land's End that the trip had already cost them $10,000 ($150,000 today). After Pike's Peak it was said that the Frenchmen were now considering travelling to Brazil for the Rio de Janeiro GP on September 21st, but nothing came of this, with Brazilian sources - where the same story appears - citing financial reasons for their non-appearance. It all goes quiet after that, but on December 8th, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, l’Auto reported that information had reached them to the effect that Le Bègue and Trévoux now intended to remain in the United States for at least the next six months, giving them ample time to prepare for participation in the 1942 Indianapolis 500.



#8 Tim Murray

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 17:41

Thanks Richard - fascinating stuff. I'd got the impression from reading the earlier threads discussing the subject (eg: here, here and here) that getting the cars out of France had involved some cloak-and-dagger smuggling operation, but it was really all legal and above board.

#9 Vitesse2

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 18:57

One wonders whether the planned trip to Brazil was in hope of offloading the Talbots there onto some unsuspecting local or two. They'd still have been more up to date than anything then racing in South America apart from Riganti's Maserati 8CL. Although probably less potent than even the older Alfa Romeo 8Cs and 308s which had made their way there ... or maybe even de Teffé's 6CM! :lol: