Louis Coatalen


I have always maintained that our grandfathers were far more brilliant than we realize. The things they conceived, designed and built revolutionized our world in countless ways. Within every field of human endeavor heroic figures emerge to advance the progress of their particular calling. Such is the case with renowned engineering giant Louis Coatalen, the man behind early twentieth century motor vehicles such as Sunbeam, Humber, Talbot and Darracq. While no longer household words, they still represent landmark achievements in motoring and for knowledgeable enthusiasts, motor racing and land speed racing in particular.

Oliver Heal’s new book, Louis Coatalen: Engineering Impresario of Humber, Sunbeam, Talbot, Darracq  brings to light the extraordinary history of Coatalen, a genuinely remarkable man, both flawed and genius, which is often the case with driven individuals on the leading edge of progress. Among the most prominent engineers of his day, Coatalen was a skilled automotive designer, a daring racing driver and the heartbeat of enormously successful Gran Prix racing teams and land speed record racing cars.

Using his close ties to the Coatalen family, author Heal is uniquely able to chronicle the in-depth story of Coatalen’s racing and manufacturing achievements woven within a beautifully detailed narrative of his complicated and often flamboyant life story. From his birth and childhood in Brittany to his engineering training in France and subsequent successes in auto racing and manufacturing, Coatalen’s story is a riveting account of an ambitious and determined man who steamrolled his way to success despite a somewhat tragic private existence hallmarked by multiple marriages, drug abuse and a penchant for impulsive and often poorly conceived investments.

Rescuing Humber and Sunbeam from looming failure as pre-war automakers, he rallied their positions as manufacturers of high-quality automobiles, while using available resources to further his racing and land speed record ambitions. Coatalen’s racing teams were the first British cars to win a Grand Prix race and further advanced their prominence by setting no less than five land speed records including the breaking of the seemingly impossible 200 mph barrier. Later, he invested considerable time and money into the KLG Spark Plug Company and the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Company.

The author’s thoroughly researched narrative carefully notes Coatalen’s many successes and, of course, numerous failures that often accompany the arc of high achievers. While many automotive enthusiasts are familiar with some of the racing highlights, few know the particulars that made and sustained a man of Coatalen’s lofty stature. Coatalen dabbled in many side pursuits such as the development of a diesel aero engine and numerous non-automotive interests that leave the impression that he would not have done anything differently if offered a do over. Ultimately, Coatalen was as flawed as any of us, but his star shined brighter than his failings and that is a grand achievement in itself.

The story is beautifully written, lavishly illustrated with 250 timeless photographs of Coatalen’s life and many achievements and a very thorough appendix of Coatalen’s racing accomplishments and the 150 patents granted him during his life. The 287-page book is hardbound, with a subtle, but striking dust cover in keeping with Coatalen’s era. Motoring enthusiasts will love the historical context and racing enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy the photographs and illustrations of early engines and racing cars. It is a must have for any enthusiast’s book collection. Thank you and well-done Mr. Heal.


  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Unicorn Publishing Group; 1 edition (May 15, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1912690691
  • ISBN-13: 978-1912690695

Unicorn Publishing Group