Monday May 22, 2017
What was Car of the Year for 1979? Surely it was the Opel Senator or maybe the B2-series Audi 80? But the answer, as all Talbot and Simca enthusiasts will proudly tell you, was the Horizon, a true ‘World Car’ that was made in France, Spain, Finland, the UK and the USA. In Britain of the 1980s, they were almost as familiar a sight as contestants on Bullseye wearing disastrous mullet hairstyles. And then, on 1st January 1990, nearly every example seemed to vanish from the roads.
When the Horizon was first mooted in 1974, it was at a time of moderate industrial chaos for the Chrysler Corporation. The US giant owned both Simca in France and the former Rootes Group and Project C2 would have to replace the ground breaking but now ageing 1100 hatchback and revitalise the UK line up. The rather attractive five-door styling was created by Roy Axe in Coventry and the Horizon was based on a modified Chrysler Alpine floorpan with Simca-derived suspension and a choice of three power plants.
When the car that was ‘built to win you over’ debuted in December 1977 it entered a fiercely competitive market sector, one dominated by the Volkswagen Golf. There was also the recently launched Renault 14 and if you did not require front wheel drive on a hatchback there was the Vauxhall Chevette, the Volvo 343, the Mazda FA4 323 and Chrysler UK’s own Sunbeam. British sales would not commence until October 1978, when the Horizon was greeted by a somewhat lukewarm response from Autocar magazine ‘Good predictable handling marred only by rather low gear and heavy steering’. Car was more positive, finding the Horizon to be ‘a very good car, competent on the road, very pleasing to drive, practical and efficient’.
The Horizon did have many strong points; it looked smart, if innocuous, was versatile and it was a five-door saloon at a time when the only British-built FWD hatchbacks were the Austin Maxi and Chrysler’s own Alpine. 1978 saw the debut of the new SX flagship version, with automatic transmission, cruise control and quite incredibly for a car of 39 years ago, a trip computer as standard equipment.
1978 was also the year when Chrysler sold its European operations to Peugeot and from August 1979 their line-up was re-badged as a Talbot; French television adverts showcased the Horizon as the ideal car for any B-film style car chase that you might become involved with en route to the local café - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0Nq9uJ4sj4.
However, dealers were now facing a further and very formidable challenge from the new Opel Kadett D and by the beginning of the 1980s, the Talbot that promised ‘more driving satisfaction than anything else on offer was starting to look faintly dated’. Competition from the Ford Escort Mk. III increasingly decimated its sales and the Horizon, together with its stablemates, also suffered from some truly inane marketing slogans. Anyone remember the ‘Talbot Takes You Further’ campaign? Thought not.
Not even the special edition Horizon Ultra (‘Use the key to turn yourself on’ urged the faintly desperate sounding adverts) with its quartz clock and tartan seat trim could revitalise the range. British sales ended in 1986, with the Horizon being replaced by the Peugeot 309 but this was not entirely the end of the story as until as late as 1990 a re-engineered version was manufactured in the States as either a Plymouth or as the ‘Dodge Omni’. N.B. Any reader with limited tolerance for late 1980s fromage should refrain from viewing this footage - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qDZHh51Qyo
On this side of the Atlantic, the Talbot Horizon deserves to be remembered not as a ground-breaking car but as honest family transport that was once as much a part of everyday life as Wham records blaring from Our Price outlets. They also starred in some truly amazing TV commercials – don’t have nightmares.