Monday November 25, 2019
In the late 1970s, a new Chrysler Sunbeam was the sort of car that cut a dash, one that seemed to belong in the same world as the hostess trolley and the Goblin Teasmade.
A few people admiring one in the local shopping centre car park would have guessed it was developed at breakneck speed.
Chrysler UK initiated Project R424 at the beginning of 1976, and their impetus was a desperate need to produce a new small three-door saloon.
Ford’s Fiesta was due to be launched later that year, and sales of the Hillman Imp were soon to cease.
A short-wheelbase Avenger with a new body seemed the most logical – and cost-effective – solution.
Ryton initially considered marketing the new model under the Sunbeam marque, but Dearborn wanted to use the Chrysler badge; the resulting name was in the best sense of a comprise.
The Sunbeam debuted in July 1977, and shortly afterwards Motor evaluated the flagship 1.6S, concluding: As an interim model to help Chrysler over a difficult period, it should have a reasonable future for the next few years, but we have no doubt that Chrysler can – and will – do better than this in models yet to appear which will have the benefit of a longer gestation period.
However, the crisply styled Sunbeam did not resemble a stop-gap and nor, despite the use of Avenger doors, did it resemble its parent model.
At that time a rear-wheel drive layout was not automatically a sales drawback - Vauxhall Chevette and the FA4-series Mazda 323 both eschewed FWD.
Autocar thought ‘The Sunbeam may not be the world’s most advanced or imaginative small car, but it has its share of good points’.
Car, meanwhile, evaluated the entry-level LS in all its vinyl-trimmed glory and approved of the way ‘you can stretch your legs (in front) and cruise quietly down a motorway’.
The advertisements claimed ‘the year’s most exciting hatchback is here’, which was definitely stretching the truth.
The original engine choices were 930cc, 1.3-litre and 1.6-litre, none of which promised much in the way of blistering performance.
The debut of the Ti, - ‘Ti is It’, according to Chrysler - in 1978 was intended to rectify any deficiencies in the Sunbeam’s thrill quotient with its Avenger Tiger power plant, twin Weber carburettors, alloy wheels and fog lamps.
When official sales began in 1979 the Ti’s £3,779, price tag made it considerably cheaper than the Golf GTi, although Car grumbled ‘It’s quite a good attempt to build a sporting saloon, but it offers too little to be serious competition in this company’; i.e. the VW and the Renault 5 Gordini.
However, Ti drivers were obvious to such carping, and 1979 also saw the debut of the Sunbeam Lotus, a car of such grandeur that it merits a separate blog.
From August of that year, all Sunbeams bore the “Talbot” badge following Chrysler’s sale of its European operations to Peugeot.
The final example departed the Linwood factory in 1981 and Talbot’s marketing focus was on the new Samba.
But the Sunbeam remains fondly remembered - and did we mention Petula Clark, who actually co-wrote the lyrics to this stirring song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9Om9oOGh9Y
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