The cars : Talbot Tagora

Chrysler’s great white hope in the executive sector was the C9 project. However, events overtook its development, and Peugeot ended up finishing the job.

And like all the best stories, it ended up in abject failure…


Wrong car, wrong time

To fully understand why Chrysler Europe decided to replace the slow-selling Chrysler 180/2-Litre models just as the effects of its domestic crisis were really starting to bite, one needs to look at the company’s long term goals for Europe. After over a decade of involvement with Rootes in the UK and SIMCA in France, Chrysler instigated a programme of model rationalisation, which would end the days of there being a completely separate Rootes and SIMCA range of cars, more often than not competing on the same markets.

The Chrysler 160, 180 and 2-Litre was a step in that direction (although it did not replace any specific SIMCA model) because it was the first Pan-European model to be offered in the UK, France and other export markets. Of course, for the French market, it was still marketed as a SIMCA, but that was a decision taken by the French, who felt that it should wear the SIMCA badge, given the company’s status as the producer of the country’s best selling car of the time.

In France, the 180 range (called the Chrysler-SIMCA 1609/1610/2L there) was not the success that Chrysler would have hoped, whilst in the UK, it also sank without a trace. It did, however, prove to be a learning experience for Chrysler, and even though that model might have been a commercial failure, it did not neccessarily follow that its successor should.

Be that as it may, Chrysler wanted its European arm to further move into the rapidly expanding executive car sector, and decided to press ahead with a replacement for the C180. Given that by 1976, the effects of the 1973/74 energy crisis were becoming a rapidly diminishing memory, and all of the major European players were all moving into this market, Chrysler had little choice but to give the new big car project its full backing. The plan made much sense given that the market was proving such rich pickings for Ford (the Granada), Audi (the 100), Rover (the SD1) and so on; Chrysler wanted a slice of the action, and wanted to bury the current car as quickly as possible.

The Chrysler C9 is go…

Like the Alpine and Horizon before it, the C9 was styled in the UK. This early model featured interesting treatment of its wheelarch apertures and a striking frontal treatment; both would be dropped before the car reached production.

Like the Alpine and Horizon before it, the C9 was styled in the UK. This early model featured interesting treatment of its wheelarch apertures and a striking frontal treatment; both would be dropped before the car reached production.

The new project was christened the C9, and as with the Horizon and Alpine before it, the technical development took place in France, whilst the styling was created in the UK. Keen to put the Chrysler 180 behind it, the company soon devised a modern, glassy three-box saloon, which sat atop a generous 109-inch wheelbase. Engines would be something of an issue, because rivals were moving towards larger six-cylinder models (and even a V8 in the case of Rover SD1) for their range toppers, backed up with entry level models pitched in the 2-litre class. In the C9’s case, it was a certainty that it would receive its predecessor’s inline fours, but as the group offered nothing larger, an alternative had to be drawn up.

Initially, Chrysler considered buying-in a Mitsubishi straight-six, but it soon became apparent after testing, that it delivered neither the power, torque or refinement sufficient to compete in the class; and so, the plan was soon shelved. Searching around for other alternatives, the PRV V6 Douvrin engine (at the time in use in the Peugeot 604, Renault 30 and Volvo 264/265) looked to be the best solution, as it was compact, light and reasonably powerful, but it seemed doubtful that Chrysler would gain access to it, as Peugeot raised concerns about it being used in a dirct – French produced – competitor. That being the case, it was a subject that led to much controversy, and only ended in a satisfactory conclusion after the PSA takeover of Chrysler Europe in 1978.

This C9 was a glass fibre mock-up, and it was this photograph (along with one on the projects and prototypes page) that was used in Chrysler Europe's presentation in Detroit in order to secure top management approval for the program.

This C9 was a glass fibre mock-up, and it was this photograph (along with one on the projects and prototypes page) that was used in Chrysler Europe’s presentation in Detroit in order to secure top management approval for the program.

Styling-wise, the C9 story was a British one… initially. As can be seen from the early prototypes, the C9’s style was defined early on, and remained reasonably unchanged throughout development. The early concepts produced at Whitley under the direction of Art Blakeslee, possessed an interesting frontal treatment (lights and number plate housed behind a glass cover), but other than that, the shape did not change radically between 1977 and 1980. However, Chrysler’s management in the USA did get involved more than they had done so in the past (presumably, as they saw C9 as the company’s last gasp), and watered down the more interesting details in order to produce what they saw was a more mainstream car.

Despite the C180’s non-performance in the executive sector, Chrysler Europe planned for a 60,000-70,000 per annum production run, and production was set for Poissy only. According to Burton Bouwkamp, Chrysler Europe’s Executive Director of Product Development at the time, “The C9 programme approval by Chrysler Corporation management was for more than $60 million for special tools. This did not include product development costs which were expensed – rather than capitalized.

“Product development costs were covered in our annual budget and so were not part of the C9 programme submission. In my presentation to top management I forecast that with the C9 our annual sales in the European luxury car market would increase from 30,000 Chrysler 2-Litre cars to 60,000 C9s. This was only 5 per cent penetration of that market segment but on this basis the C9 program was profitable and was approved. (Chrysler – Europe’s overall passenger car penetration was 7 per cent, so 5 per cent of this segment seemed like a reasonable forecast).”

Sadly, by the time C9 would appear on the market, Europe would be suffering badly from the effects of the second oil crisis on 1979, which affected all large car sales…

Peugeot’s executive conundrum

Tagora is takes a bow at the Paris Salon in October 1980 - initial reactions were subdued, to say the least  However, when Chrysler's European operation was sold to PSA in 1978, the C9 story changed somewhat.

Tagora is takes a bow at the Paris Salon in October 1980 – initial reactions were subdued, to say the least However, when Chrysler’s European operation was sold to PSA in 1978, the C9 story changed somewhat.

On January 1st 1979, all Chrysler management left Poissy for good – never to return. This left Peugeot with the unsavoury task of unravelling the Peugeot-Citroen-Talbot product plan; and it was in the executive sector, that this problem was most pressing. Despite this, PSA management felt that C9 was far too advanced to be canned, and decided to continue its development towards production. The matter of which engines to use now looked somewhat less complex; as the PRV V6 version could go ahead, even though it would push the C9 range towards the Peugeot 604 (perhaps to bridge the miniscule gap between this and the smaller Citroen CX). With this in mind, plans to use this engine could be set in stone, and PSA set about the task of overseeing C9 development through to its conclusion. In those closing months, the policy of using as many PSA parts as possible was executed…

Bouwkamp explains the changes that took place after Peugeot took over C9: “Peugeot delayed the production date of the C9 to make changes to install its V6 engine and to increase the feature and appointment level – and the price. I think they moved the front wheels forward about two inches to accommodate the engine. I think the addition of the V6 and the wheel movement actually helped the C9. I think it failed in the marketplace because PSA did not need the car. They already had two cars (Peugeot 604 and Citroen CX) in this 1,200,000 to 1,500,000 market segment. It seemed to me that the C9 – which we named Tagora – should have been a new model of the 604.”

PSA executive model overlap
Car Engines
Citroen CX 1995cc Douvrin in-line four
2347cc Citroen in-line four
2500cc Citroen in-line four diesel
Peugeot 604 2664cc Douvrin V6
2304cc Peugeot in-line four turbodiesel (in development, launched 1980)
C9 2165cc SIMCA in-line four
2664cc Douvrin V6
2304cc Peugeot turbodiesel

As can be seen, the engine range was heavily influenced by Peugeot, but because of anticipated production volumes, the entry-level C9 would continue with an enlarged version of the SIMCA conceived engine, found in the 180 range. This engine had exactly the same engine capacity as the 2.2-litre version of the all-aluminium Douvrin engine, as found in the later Renault 25 and Citroen CX Phase 2, but there was no relationship between the two. Beyond this, the Peugeot turbodiesel as found in the 604 and 505 went straight into the C9, and because of the lateness of its incorporation into the development programme, it appeared some time after the original press launch.

Despite the ownership change, the launch date of the C9 only slipped a matter of months, and although it was not quite production ready by the time it was showcased at the Paris Salon in 1980. The appearance of the Talbot Tagora in Paris should be noted as an impressive achievement, when one considers the trials and tribulations it had endured since 1980. Even more so, when the triple carburettor V6 version became France’s most powerful saloon…

Despite the interesting politics behind the Tagora, it failed to make much of an impact on Paris showgoers, who felt that although it was quite an imposing car, it lacked any real charisma. There was also the issue of how it would fare in relation with the Peugeot 604 in the PSA lineup given their closeness in size and price. In the UK, the story was a different one, and the Tagora was seen very much as a rival to the all-conquering Ford Granada, which could help Talbot to become established in the UK as a solid number four behind Ford, BL and Vauxhall; a position familiar to the company – from the Rootes days.

When journalists got their hands on the Tagora for the first time at the Morocco launch in March 1981, the story was one of chassis and engine competence, overshadowed by a lack of visual charisma. Many commentators suggested the Tagora was little more than an upscaled Solara; a car which, in the minds of the press, also lacked real flair. It has to be said that these initial reservations were not unfounded: the Tagora was a pleasant enough design in the whole, but it was seriously let down by the detailing. The rear wheels were set far too inboard of the flanks, which completely destroyed the Tagora’s stance on the road; it may not have been designed this way, but this is what emerged when the narrower-tracked Peugeot 505 rear axle was used. There were other issues, of course, but again, it was all in the detailing – small design errors that ended up damaging this make-or-break car.

Out for a duck…

The Tagora lacked appeal at so many levels, it is difficult to know where to start. The interior design was one area left wanting, thanks to a plain dashboard design and a lack of "chintz" so beloved of the early 1980s executive car buyer...

The Tagora lacked appeal at so many levels, it is difficult to know where to start. The interior design was one area left wanting, thanks to a plain dashboard design and a lack of “chintz” so beloved of the early 1980s executive car buyer…

When launched in the UK, the Tagora came in three trim variations: GL, GLS and SX – and prices were competitive with Talbot’s stated number one rival, the Ford Granada.

The road testers had mixed things to say about the Tagora. CAR magazine’s LJK Setright drove the Tagora at the Morocco launch and spent most of the time waxing lyrical about the SX version’s Michelin TRX tyres. He liked the way the V6 performed though: “With admirable traction, even on mountain roads filmed with freshly falling snow, the SX seems more to profit than to suffer by the high ratios of its transmission, and it climbs up the speedometer with an eagerness that must put all of its class rivals in the shade.” When What Car? magazine tested the V6 SX the following year, it posted an impressive set of performance figures (0-30mph, 2.9secs, 0-60mph, 7.9secs, maximum speed, 122mph), which explained Setright’s set-of-the-pants impressions.

He liked the way it handled too: “In many ways the SX is a better car than the 604, with which it might appear to be most earnestly in overall competition. I am not sure that I would not choose the 604, because I liked the alacrity of its response and the sureness of its grip on TRX tyres, whereas tthe Tagora SX is, if to a lesser extent than the GL/GLS because of its superior tyres, a softer and more slowly-responding machine, admirably stable but as it were heavily damped to ensure that the driver is never taken by surprise. That does not mean it cannot be hustled: it can, and I took enormous pleasure in leaving the entire press-test convoy behind after a late start. On road surfaces that were sometimes superb and sometimes non-existent, amounting in the latter case to loose stones and sand that had merely been levelled by a grader, the Tagora was always safe and secure, always competent, never at a loss for the right gear or the necessary grip.”

If after reading that glowing prose, one was under the impression that Talbot had produced a worldbeating machine, then think again. Setright summed-up the car in the same way that many buyers did: it was OK, but not outstanding enough to rise to the top of anyone’s list. “After driving it, I can see that it has its place, even though there may be very little in the way of individual details to pick out for praise or even mere analysis: if one accepts the kind of cars that it represents, it is a car that is very difficult to fault – and there must be plenty of call for cars like that.”

What Car? magazine went further: “The Tagora is a car of the strangest contradictions, not least of which is its very existence on the market. The SX presented is spacious, comfortable and, thanks to its abundant power (163bhp at 6000rpm, thanks to its triple-carb set-up) and speed, quite fun to drive at times. But in ways it is too rapid for its own good, the power highlighting wet-weather handling vices, which make any BMW seem well-mannered. The Tagora is also inexcusably badly ventilated, its interior is hardly even in the cheap hatchback class and perhaps most importantly, it has such a complete blandness of style as to disqualify it instantly in a market where character and status count for so much.”

The end comes quickly…

And that was the crux of the Tagora’s failure: it offered nothing over and above its more established rivals, and as a result, it was not good enough to entice buyers away from their Fords, Rovers and Audis. That is to say that the Tagora was not without its charms; its bluff styling may not have been an unqualified success, but it did possess a certain presence. And that large body should be indebted having given the Tagora an absolutely huge interior.

It was also fast and handled nicely… but that was not enough, and as a result, the Tagora sold in tiny numbers.

And really, that was a sad end to the 1970s Chrysler corporate plan. In 1975, it looked so different: the rag-bag of SIMCA and Rootes cars would be replaced by a Chrysler range of cars that took the best from France and the UK, and offered a logical family of cars for the buyer to choose from. Alas, it was not to be… and C9 died after a mere three years in production and run of less than 20,000 cars.

Given that Peugeot had inherited the C9, and brought it into production with a fair amount of its own hardware, it seemed a shame that the car should go to waste. And in fact, in 1980, it did develop its own version of the car to replace the elegantly ageing 604. As it was, the restyled Tagora (below) lost much of its personality, and given the declining executive market of the time, it was considered a gamble too far… and so, it was canned. And that really was the end.

There’s a further twist to the story. According to Nick Kounelis, the  Tagora could have gone on to form the basis of the Australian Chrysler line-up, had events not got in the way. ‘They imported a talbot Talgora clay/fibreglass full sized replica to be contemporary with the first of the Holden Commodores, and the lighter and more roomier XD falcon range.’

He added: ‘With the local hemi-six fitted to the Centura replacement, I think the Talbot version would of sold well against these cars – especially if it was fitted with the Peugeot four-cylinder engine as well as the 4.0- and 4.3-litre hemi-six engines.’

The Tagora was not replaced in the real sense of the word, therefore, and it was not until 1989 that PSA introduced new blood into the executive market, with the Peugeot 605 and Citroen XM. A sad end to the grand plan…

Peugeot briefly flirted with the idea of facelifting the Tagora and rebranding it as one of its own.

Peugeot briefly flirted with the idea of facelifting the Tagora and rebranding it as one of its own.

Tagora production
Year 1980 1981 1982 1983
Produced 145 15,368 2566 1310

Total: 19,389
(figures courtesy of: The SIMCA Club)

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21 Comments on "The cars : Talbot Tagora"

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  1. Tony Evans says:

    Looked boring, was boring and also boring to drive. French build quality meant inbuilt problems almost from day one. A car that no-one in their right mind would ever want. Exterior was best described as bland, interior was almost featureless. This car was not helped by rust and poor engines coupled with soggy handling. Tagora or Cavalier … no contest. Tagora or Cortina, still no contest. Happily killed off quickly, now very rare.

  2. Pete Brothwell says:

    As a young bobby in Derbyshire, I remember road traffic having a V6-engined one on trial from the local dealer. Unmarked, no police equipment fitted, it had to make do with a portable radio pack sitting on the back seat and a magnetic-base aeriel on the boot lid. The traffic lads quite liked it as it was roomy, comfy and quite fast compared to the standard-fare, carb-model Granny 2.8s that dominated the fleet…..and it had power steering, whereas Derbyshire specced all their traffic cars without it!

  3. Nick Kounelis says:

    I saw a fibreglass model of one of these at the Birdwood museumn in adelaide as Chrysler Australia was planning to use this car to update its 180 version named the centura which was launched in 1975 when the model already was old but fitted it withthe 2.0 Sicma 4 cyl, 3.5 and 4.0 hemi 6 cylinders. This was planned to possibly replace the valiant which was looking very old by 1976. I believe it was canned as an idea when mitsububishi bought the entire tonsley park adelaide plant in 1981 for penuts and concentrated on building its Sigma model (galant) which was fitted with a 2.6 Astron engine which almost out performed its 4.3 Valiant predecessor.
    I think in comparison to the VB Commodore(1978) , XD Falcon(1979) that the Tagora would of found more buyers in Austriala if offered in the 4 cyl form(as an economy version), and the 6 cyl as the performance version, than it actually sold in France and Europe.
    Cheers Nick

  4. Mikey C says:

    The styling reminds me of a larger Renault 9, so it was up to date looking, but equally dull, which unfortunately isn’t good news for an executive car…

    http://www.autogush.com/imgs/1739-Renault-9-4.html

  5. Jon says:

    I’ve just had a look on ‘How Many Left’ and it appears that roadworthy versions of this car are now extinct from UK roads!

    • Samtheman says:

      Just checked and there is now only one registered and eight SORN. There are three GLS’ on SORN and no GLS Automatics whatsoever on DVLA

  6. Hilton D says:

    Yep… the Tagora was a bland looking car. Like many other manufacturers of that era, their small car ranges were more appealing than the large Executive aimed models. Similarly Datsun’s UK success was down to the Cherry, Sunny, Violet & Bluebird rather than the big Laurel & 280C saloons.

  7. Jon says:

    At least Talbot gave the Tagora a half decent name – the Datsun 280C saloon was called the Cedric!

  8. Mikey C says:

    That Peugeot version doesn’t look bad, a nicer nose and the loss of the horrible wheel arches, together with a wider track, made it look fairly smart.

  9. Glenn Aylett says:

    Became an absolute bargain in the mid eighties, a V6 powered luxury car for the same price as a five year old Escort L. A few lived on as taxis or as a cheap second hand car for large families.

  10. Richard16378 says:

    I did wonder why Peugeot green lit this when PSA already had the 504, 505, 604 & CX in production.

    I guess it was too far down the line to just pull the plug.

  11. Alasdair says:

    At least it wasn’t only BL that came up with lemons during this period, although I have to say – and I am unanimous in this – I quite like the looks. I think the glass fibre mock up looks good. If it had a more luxurious interior such as velour, wood and more equipment it would have been a lot of car for the money.

  12. Chris Baglin says:

    The Peugeot restyled version probably ought to have been put into production instead of the Tagora (together with a reworked interior)- there was at least a ready market at the time in France. It still wouldn’t have been particularly distinguished, but then neither was the 604.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. At least the taxi trade had a good supply of cheap large saloons.

  13. Will M says:

    The Peugeot grille does indeed look good, if a little Hyundai Stellar-like.

    Another thing I’d change here would be the window line – a Montego style rising window line would make the boot look less droopy.

  14. Paul says:

    Nice big car. An estate version would have been a cracker.
    Dashboard is awful. Like a cheapo budget version of the Rover SD1 dash (which looked good).
    What were they thinking with that dash? Just looks like something out of a van.

  15. Will M says:

    I think it was the style. French dashs, to me anyway, traditionally tended to look functional.

  16. MikeCross says:

    Mikey-I thought this looked like a Renault Alliance (as it was called here in the States,) too.

  17. Glenn Aylett says:

    A big shame, as it featured Peugeot, rather than Simca based, engines, was massive inside, well equipped, competitively priced and V6 versions were very smooth and powerful. I still think the Tagora was a good car and very underrated.

  18. Michael 1963 says:

    MICHAEL 1963, From Italy.
    La Talbot TAGORA mi riporta alla mia prima giovinezza e al tempo di quando presi la patente, ossia ai primi anni ’80. In Italia non ne sono mai circolate molte, anche nei tempi in cui era sul mercato, complice la motorizzazione a benzina di 2200 cc per nulla diffusa sul nostro mercato e della linea poco latina. Le poche, pochissime che si vendettero, erano diesel 2300cc, motorizzazione più idonea alle nostre esigenze. A me la Tagora all’epoca piaceva, credo perchè era un’auto imponente e poco diffusa. Una volta, ad una fiera visitata con la scuola, in uno stand dove esponevano le Talbot, c’era una TAGORA in bella vista e io osai, mi sedetti al volante e la cosa mi piacque tanto. Quella TAGORA era proprio bella , mi piaceva! Ora ormai in giro non se ne vedono più da anni! L’ultimo avvistamento risale a Nuova Cliternia il 15 agosto 2011, alla festa patronale, dove vidi una Tagora diesel grigia un pò malconcia, con targa francese.

  19. Ol says:

    I’ve seen one. Just one in the flesh in my whole life.

  20. Susan Young says:

    I always wondered why it could not be upgraded (interior/grille/lights) and launched as a Humber (Hawk 4 cylinder or Snipe 6 cylinder. I heard that the BL Wedge sold best in Wolseley form for its short life, maybe Humber would have done better ?

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