Wednesday November 27, 2019
“By any standards the first new model to bear the Talbot name has superb performance; by the standards of any other small three-door hatchback saloon — even the Vauxhall Chevette 2300 HS — the performance of this 2.2-litre, 150 bhp Lotus-engined Sunbeam is absolutely sensational.”
Those were the words of Motor Sport in 1979 about the new Sunbeam Lotus - and two years later Talbot won the manufacturers' title in the World Rally Championship.
As described in a previous blog, the Sunbeam debuted in July 1977 and in that same year Des O’Dell, the competitions’ manager for Chrysler UK, was considering successors to the Hillman Avengers Tiger and BRM.
The Ti was regarded as the heir to the former while the mantle of the latter would fall on the Lotus. The appeal of the Vauxhall Chevette 2300HS had not passed unnoticed at Ryton and as early as 1971, Colin Chapman had approached Chrysler UK with an idea for a more powerful Tiger.
The idea was turned down by senior management but a few years later O’Dell and his colleague Wynne Mitchell contacted Lotus…
The result was a collaboration to produce a limited run of (very) high-performance Sunbeams in numbers to satisfy FIA homologation regulations.
The standard 1.6GLS bodies were fitted with a larger anti-roll bar and modified suspension before being despatched from Linwood to Ludham Airfield in Norfolk they received the 2.2-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine and five-speed ZF transmission. Its appearance was not exactly understated – the colour scheme ensured it stood out wherever it went – but the interior was very similar to the cheaper Ti.
This, after all, was not a hatchback for the poseur, but the sporting driver.
The Lotus was unveiled at the 1979 Geneva Motor Show as a Chrysler but by the time official sales commenced it was badged as a “Talbot” following the Peugeot takeover of Dearborn’s European plants.
At £6,995 it was an expensive car as the Chevette HS cost just £5,939 and even the Triumph Dolomite Sprint would have set you back a mere £6,288.
What the Talbot did offer the prospective buyer was performance and a test by Motor found the top speed to be 118.5 mph – over 2 mph faster than its Vauxhall rival – with 0 – 60 in 6.8 seconds.
As the writer pointed out, ‘there is precious little at the price that will give you so much’.
From sales perspective, the Lotus could only add lustre to what was a fairly confusing line-up of models.
The advertisements may have paid lip service to ‘room for four passengers’ and ‘with the rear seats folded down, an amazing 42.7 cubic feet of luggage space’ but these were rarely important issues for the potential customer.
They were more concerned with Henri Toivonen winning the 1980 RAC Rally - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhCDYEoJHaQ - and in the following year, the Sunbeam Lotus achieved its famous competition victories.
1981 models are immediately identifiable via their larger headlamps, but production was to cease in the middle of that year after just 2,308 Sunbeam Lotus units, only 1,184 of which were right-hand drive.
Unsold Lotuses were offered in “Moonstone Blue” (with your choice of black or silver stripes) and in January 1983 Avon Coachworks retrimmed 150 examples as “The Avon Special”.
Mention should also be made of the fleet of Lotuses deployed by Greater Manchester Police’s Traffic Area Support Services (TASS).
This was the sole force to use the Talbot and one ex-patrol car is known to survive - https://policecarunitedkingdom.com/classic-fleet
Along with the Ford Capri Injection, the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus seemed to represent the end of an era in the days before the Peugeot 205 GTi.
And – what a way to go… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ifiYG3KPwE