Why this 60-years-stored Talbot-Lago was actually a restoration nightmare

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When you have the shop, the mechanical support staff, and the cash reserves of someone like Jay Leno, you can take on some seriously complex automotive projects. The average enthusiast probably isn’t fabricating a new gas tank for a Talbot-Lago over the weekend, but the exotic nature of Leno’s projects is exactly what makes his restoration blog shop updates so fun. He helps prove that wacky and wild projects are actually possible and that cool rides, no matter how intricate, can be saved with time and effort.

Leno starts this episode by showing a couple paint projects before shifting to some of his more out-there restorations. The first of this second group is a 1953 Talbot-Lago Grand Sport. The sleek two-door is a rare car—one of only 19 or so cars, in fact—and this particular example has a strange history. In 1965, it was purchased in France and flown to California.  The new owner drove it from the airport to his garage and parked it—and the car didn’t move until Leno purchased it a few years ago. It might sound like a dream candidate for a restoration, but getting the Talbot-Lago roadworthy after 60 years of sitting with a full tank of gas was more of a nightmare.

As Leno tells it, the gasoline evaporated and seemingly took the metal with it. After the tank was pulled, he was able to push his hand right through the metal into the tank. The head of the project deemed saving the original tank, or what was left of it, too much trouble and instead fabricated an exacting replica. The rest of the car stayed as original as possible. When Leno opens the door, camera in hand, you can almost smell the aged leather—I know I caught a faint whiff. That old-car smell is just too engrained in our car-person brains to ever completely vanish.

Another star of this episode, and a personal favorite of mine, is Leno’s 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. It looks perfectly restored to a casual passerby but has actually been converted to rear-wheel drive and packs a twin-turbocharged V-8 punching out 1076 hp. Leno retro-fit the car with anti-lock brakes and traction control and all kinds of other high-tech gadgets. The Toronado was dubbed Hot Rod of the Year by Hot Rod magazine in 2006; now, Leno just enjoys it and has to keep up on maintenance. I guess that last part is something he and I have in common.

It’s fun to see Leno’s wacky projects combined with the relatively mundane ones. This episode, like others in the series, is a reminder that no matter how much cash you have tied up in an automotive project, the problems you face are pretty much the same. We all are fighting corrosion and troubleshooting the combination of old and new parts. Some of us just do it at a smaller scale and with a tighter budget, and that variety is what makes the car world so great.

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