Georges Roesch was the Chief Engineer of Clement Talbot Ltd for nearly twenty years. He was one of the brilliant but unrecognised engineering geniuses of the early motoring age but did eventually rescue Talbot from oblivion when one of his wonderful designs was recognised for what it was and put into production. His cars then took Talbots to the height of competition success.
Roesch was born in Geneva in 1891 and came to England in 1914 to work for Daimler. He was Swiss but with a German name and accent he found life difficult after the start of WW1. But he was given the job of Chief Engineer by Talbot in 1916 at the age of 25. His primary task was to design a new motor car for the end of hostilities and this he did in the form of a new 12hp car. This remarkable car was the first demonstration of his ability to design from a clean sheet of paper rather than just build on what had gone before and he incorporated many revolutionary features in its chassis, engine and body.
The 12hp never went beyond Roesch’s prototype as Clement Talbot was bought by Darracq & Co in 1919 and became part of the STD Group which included Sunbeam, Talbot and Darracq cars. Clement Talbot’s main task at this time was the reconditioning of ex-military commercial vehicles and Talbot motor car production was of little importance. Also Roesch came under the management of Louis Coatelen, the group Chief Engineer whose priority was Sunbeams and Darracqs and racing success. He had little time for Talbot’s young engineer and would not have allowed his ability, if he saw it, to outshine his own reputation.
It was not until the 1922 season that a new model was given to Talbot. It was the Talbot 8/18, designed by Coatelen in Paris. It was an immediate success but, perhaps on his own initiative, Roesch redesigned the engine to eradicate several mechanical weaknesses. Roesch then adapted this improved engine to create two other models; the 10/23 which had a larger bore and the 12/30 which was a six cylinder version. The three new cars were launched for the 1923 season; the 10/23 and 12/30 being much more practical cars that could take a variety of body styles, rather than the 8/18 which was only powerful enough for a light 2 seater body. This was Roesch’s first major success.
Roesch’s next chance to shine was in 1923 with the design of a lorry for a War Office scheme whereby lorries conforming to certain extreme specifications would qualify for an annual government subsidy on the condition they could be bought back at a time of national emergency. Whereas other companies entering the competition for the contract adapted existing models Roesch again created a revolutionary design from a blank sheet of paper. His Talbot lorry was in the finalists and Commercial Motor magazine extolled its virtues as the clear leader. It would transform the fortunes of Clement Talbot but the government cancelled the whole project and another opportunity to demonstrate his engineering brilliance slipped through Roesch’s fingers.
With only old models and growing mass production in other companies the fortunes of Talbot were in rapid decline from 1924 onwards. The work on ex-military vehicles had dried up and very little was happening at the Talbot works in Kensington. What need was there for a Chief Engineer if the STD Group seemed to have plans to close the whole factory? Roesch took it upon himself to design another new and revolutionary car, the Talbot 15/50, but when the STD Group Directors saw how good it was they took it from Talbot and gave the design to Sunbeam to put into production. Undeterred, Roesch designed another car even better than before, the Talbot 14/45, which could be produced using the company’s antiquated machinery, yet was more powerful and much cheaper than the old models that Talbot couldn’t sell. It, again, incorporated many revolutionary features. Prototypes were produced by September 1926 and the car was being delivered by February 1927. Part of the success was due to a one model policy which maximised efficiency in the works. Sales from 1927 to 1929 were the highest in company’s existence.
Over the next eight years Roesch developed the 14/45 far beyond its initial concept as a reliable, efficient family car. In 1930 the team of Talbot 90s came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in class at all but one of the major race meetings; Le Mans 24hrs, the Irish Grand Prix, the Tourist Trophy Race, and the Brooklands 500. In 1931 the Talbot 105s performed a similar feat and were the talk of the motoring world. In 1932 and 1934 Talbots were the winners of the Alpine Cup with no loss of marks. Racing successes were not taken any further due to lack of support from the STD Group which did not have the money. Roesch advocated a return to a one or two model policy to reduce costs and raise production but he was ignored.
In 1935 the STD Group was bought by the Rootes Group as it could not repay the debentures taken out to pay for Coatelen’s racing exploits of the 1920s. In the last years of STD it was Clement Talbot that was profitable. Roesch stayed on to see his brilliant designs belittled by cost cutting and replacement of his features with cheaper Humber parts. After a while he moved to David Brown tractors and then to Whittle where he worked on gas turbine engines for the rest of his career.
Georges Roesch died 1969, living long enough to see his abilities recognised by a growing band of Talbot enthusiasts in the STD Register. He is now recognised for the brilliant engineer he was. The proof is in his record but the question is often asked, “Why did he stay so long with a company that failed to use his talents?”
This short biography is reproduced courtesy of Stephen Lally – Talbot Archivist for the STD Register