(First Posted October 2, 2013) The 1979 incarnation of the historic Talbot name had a very high ambition-to-achievement ratio, the zenith of which was the Talbot Tagora. It was also pretty close to the bottom of the Talbot achievement list.
Cast your mind back to 1976: Chrysler still harboured ambitions to match GM and Ford’s European operations. GM, of course, had Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in the U.K., by this time converging onto a single model plan, whilst Ford had a complete range of cars common to its British and German organisations. Ford had operations in Spain, and GM planned on being there by 1982.
By 1970, Chrysler had assembled a Chrysler Europe group, based around the British Rootes Group (Hillman, Humber, Sunbeam, Singer and Commer trucks); France’s SIMCA (whose history–formerly Ford de France, then an assembler of FIATs under licence before being owned by Chrysler–itself merits review here); and Spain’s Barreiros, which manufactured diesel engines, trucks and assembled some American Dodge products under licence. With the SIMCA building blocks at its center, the product range was beginning to come together. The expected path of travel was quite clear: the conservative Rootes products–including the Hillman Hunter, Imp and Avenger, cars that matched any British product for conservative mediocrity–would be phased out. Their U.K. assembly plants would be converted to provide more assembly capacity for SIMCA-based products, especially the 1100, which was France’s best seller in the late 1960s.
But Chrysler Europe’s first products were the Chrysler 180 and later 2.0-Litre saloons. These were intended,to replace the large Humber Hawk and Super Snipe ranges in the U.K., and lead SIMCA into the larger family-car market in France, going head-to-head with the Peugeot 504, Citroen DS and upcoming Renaults. Chrysler spoke of it as a challenger to the BMW 2000.
It failed. It bombed. In every market but Spain, it became an also-ran. (although my Dad liked his 2-Litre automatic). In view of its new relationship with European countries not named Spain, Chrysler proceeded to move production to the Barreiros plant.
By 1978, Chrysler had won the European Car of the Year award (or as we Brits called it straightforwardly, “Car of the Year”) twice: with the Alpine/SIMCA 1307/1308 range in 1975, and with the (European) Horizon in 1978. Both were very strong sellers right out of the box–especially in France, where they replaced well-respected SIMCA products. The U.K. took longer to adjust, though.
Chrysler planned to follow up these successes with a new large car, known as C9, to compete with the Ford Granada, Opel Rekord, Peugeot 504, Rover 2300/2600 and the like. I think it fair to say that the the styling, by Art Blakeslee of Chrisler U.K., wasn’t his best work, possibly because he left his French curves at home and had only a ruler. Meanwhile, Chrysler France was responsible for the engineering. Engines were to be existing 2.0- and 2.2-litre engines from the Chrysler Europe range. Per market demand, Chrysler wanted to offer a six-cylinder option and considered using a Mitsubishi motor, or the Peugeot/Renault/Volvo V6, which was refused them. That refusal soon became unimportant; in 1978, Chrysler, now under huge financial pressure, sold all its European operations to Peugeot-Citroën, for the sum of $1.00 and liability for the debts.
That changed the scene for the C9 project in two ways: first, given the extensive Peugeot-Citroen range, was it really needed, and if so, how and where would it fit in; and second, how to utilize the potential sharing of existing Peugeot enginering. It became clear how this would be resolved: Peugeot rebranded the entire Chrysler Europe range as Talbot, an old name with both British and French histories, and planned a separate range of Talbot cars to be topped off by the C9. To separate Talbot from Peugeot and Citroën, it was to have a younger (yes, of course!) image, aimed at the ambitious and aspiring, based on a modern style and motor sport participation and sponsorship–a sort of budget BMW. Hmmm.
The C9 was adapted to use items from the Peugeot parts catalogue. The proposed double wishbone front suspension was replaced with MacPherson struts adopted from the Peugeot 505 and 604, and the rear axle was replaced with that of the narrower 505. The front end was extended by some two inches to accommodate the optional PRV V6 engine that was now available. A Peugeot gearbox was used. The car was almost a 505 wearing a different suit and with a different four-cylinder engine, but had no image to build on.
The interior was of its time: superficially modern, but closer inspection revealed a lot of highly styled and not very special plastic. The interior shot above shows an early trip computer (or ordinateur du bord, in French) in the centre of the dash. Without it, you got a piece of black plastic with the letters TALBOT pressed into it. There is a certain similarity to the interior of the 1976 Rover 3500 SD1, with an instrument binnacle placed on top of an open dash, a not dissimilar steering wheel, and no traditional luxury-car wood or leather in sight (although in 1982, the Rover was revised with newly added wood and leather).
It was a large interior though, thanks to a wheelbase of 109″, and with 163 bhp, the V6 was well equipped to compete with the (UK) market-leading Granada V6 and Rover 3500.
In early 1981, it came onto the European market. Contemporary critical reaction was to the effect that the car offered little if anything that others didn’t, at a time when the market for such cars was beginning to shrink. Production of 60,000 units a year had been planned; after three years and 20,000 cars, Peugeot pulled the plug.
I saw this one at a car show in southwest France; the twin pipes and the SX badge identify it as the V6 model, of which just over 1,000 were sold. I cannot recall the last time I saw any Tagora on the road, anywhere; published figures suggest there may be fewer than 10 of all types left in the U.K.
Was this a perfectly good enough car trapped by the circumstances of an unknown brand, confused engineering and unhappy styling, or was it just not good enough? My hunch is it that the answer lies somewhere in the middle–the car was not distinctive enough to rise above its unknown brand, and even if it had been, it probably wasn’t good enough to do so–in other words, the very issues that had so hindered the Chrysler 180 and 2-Litre 10 years earlier.