The cars : Chrysler Horizon (C2) development story

The Chrysler Horizon development story tells a difficult tale. It was Chrysler Europe’s first world car, and an effective Anglo-French interpretation of the Volkswagen Golf, which should have gone on to rule the world…

So, what went wrong? Keith Adams tells the story of the 1979 European Car of The Year and its rapid descent from superstardom to also-ran.

Chrysler Horizon: less than the sum of its parts…

The Chrysler Horizon was simultaneously launched in Europe and the USA in December 1977. Chrysler had had ambitions that the Horizon would become its world car, loved by everyone from Italy to California. However, disappointing sales and Chrysler’s own troubles soon put paid to that idea.

The Horizon was developed to replace the aged Simca 1100 range. However, the 1100 lived on for four years after the Horizon was launched, simply because the Horizon estate car, panel van and pick-up derivatives were not developed.

The limited nature of the Horizon’s development was a pretty accurate reflection of the generally weak state of Chrysler’s European operations. It was built initially in France and America, but was not produced in England until the 1980s. And the European and American versions may have looked similar but under the skin they were very different pieces of machinery.

Building on success…

The British Chrysler Alpine and French Chrysler-Simca 1308 had been the first comparatively successful result of the Chrysler Europe policy of producing a single range of cars that would fit into the UK and snugly as it did France. The previous attempt – the British Chrysler 180 series and French Chrysler 1609/1610 – had been a total failure!

The process of ‘Europeanisation’ did not go as far as devising a single name for all markets. Despite having taken full control of the Rootes Group and Simca in 1967, both operations were left to pursue their own destinies, without any real pressure coming from Detroit to merge.

Although each company was renamed to reflect their new owners (ie, Chrysler UK, Chrysler France and Chrysler España), the British and French divisions continued to build and market cars under their existing marque and model names. The reasons for this are hard to fathom, but were probably down to the corporate policy of Chrysler’s US President Lynn Townsend, who believed that a European presence was required, not a European model policy.

Adopting the Pan-European strategy

By the beginning of 1975, the quaint notion that each country could be left alone to get on with its own thing was rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The UK operation continued to lose huge amounts of money and sales had been sliding alarmingly.

Chrysler in France, on the other hand, had been going from strength to strength, thanks to the success of the 1100. It was decided that the Alpine/1308 story (British style, French engineering, pan-European assembly) should be repeated across the range. During the development of C6 the amalgamation of British and French Design Teams had worked rather well, and there was no reason to believe that this system would not work equally as well for the smaller car.

A model strategy for Chrysler’s European line-up was drawn-up, and a sound future policy was devised. Based around three cars, the policy would cover all of the market sectors that Simca and Rootes had been actively competing within.

  • Chrysler C2
    Front-wheel-drive Simca 1100 replacement, to fight in the Volkswagen Golf class. Emerged in late-1977 as the Horizon.
  • Chrysler C6
    Front-wheel-drive Simca 1500 replacement, to fight in the Ford Cortina/Taunus class. Emerged in late-1975 as the Alpine/1308.
  • Chrysler C9
    Rear-wheel-drive Chrysler 180 replacement. Emerged in late 1980 as the Talbot Tagora.

This plan was rational, but it did little to address the British situation and, because of this, none of these models were directly conceived to replace the Hillman Avenger and Hillman Hunter models. The other anomaly was the Chrysler Sunbeam, which Chrysler in the UK were cooking up at Whitley to keep alive the Linwood plant in Scotland. Although conceived to fight in the supermini sector, its rear-wheel-drive platform meant that it would have a very short shelf life. However, Chrysler could at least try and market the Chrysler Sunbeam as a replacement for the Hillman Imp and Simca 1000.

Project C2: Chrysler’s Golf

Concept drawing

Chrysler Horizon development story: The original sketch as produced by Roy Axe; as this point in the proceedings, the SIMCA 1100 replacement was known as the "C6 SWB" (short wheelbase).
The original sketch as produced by Roy Axe; as this point in the proceedings, the Simca 1100 replacement was known as the C6 SWB (short wheelbase)

Clay models

Chrysler Horizon development story: Two 1974 proposals for C2: as can be seen from these pictures, there has been some effort expended into retaining some vestage of resemblance with the SIMCA 1100, whist adopting a more angular 1970s look. Note also, the slight "kick up" at the back of the car, which seems to pay tribute to the similarly shaped 1100 rear. It should be noted that it was the concept on the left that was approved for further development...
Two 1974 proposals for C2: as can be seen from these pictures, there has been some effort expended into retaining some vestige of resemblance with the Simca 1100, whist adopting a more angular 1970s look. Note also, the slight kick up at the back of the car, which seems to pay tribute to the similarly shaped 1100 rear. It should be noted that it was the concept on the left that was approved for further development…

Chrysler Horizon development story: Two 1974 further C2 proposals, which followed the same train of thought as the top two.
Two 1974 further C2 proposals, which followed the same train of thought as the top two

Saloon styling proposal

This proposal may have pleased the conservative British (who took the later Ford Escort-based Orion to their collective hearts), but obviously had some way to go in styling terms...
This proposal may have pleased the conservative British (who took the later Ford Escort-based Orion to their collective hearts), but obviously had some way to go in styling terms…
Chrysler Horizon development story: After mocking up several different C2 drawings, it was this one that gained managerial approval in November 1974. (Picture:
After mocking up several different C2 drawings, it was this one that gained managerial approval in November 1974

Chrysler Horizon development story: C2 kicks off

In 1974, just weeks after the launch of the Volkswagen Golf, and following the Simca 1100 replacement project being defined as the C2, Roy Axe‘s team at Whitley began working on the new car’s styling. Roy Axe had a clear idea in his mind of how the new car should look and was very aware of the importance of it looking like a smaller brother to the soon-to-be-launched C6 (Alpine/1308).

By mid-1974, four C2 proposals (above) had been prepared for management viewing and, from these four, a single one was chosen for further investigation. The final design that was chosen dropped the Simca 1100 theme in favour of a clean, crisp and very Golf-esque design. From early on in the design process, it was agreed that the C2 should be sold in the USA, becoming Chrysler’s first purpose-designed ‘World Car’.

With the co-operation of the European Design Teams in Britain and France with their counterparts in Detroit, Chrysler was hoping to have a modern sub-compact on the United States market before any of their American competitors. It would allow Chrysler to respond to the new American legislation reducing the fuel consumption of cars and to meet the ever-increasing onslaught of the Japanese.

Designing for America and Europe

This meant that the C2 would need to incorporate styling and design elements that would help with the Federalisation process. The Executive Designer on the C2 project, Curt Gwinn, explained why the Horizon sported what seemed to be such oversized wheelarch lips.

He said: ‘Many surface adjustments to our approved design were required, but the most significant one was to increase front fender wheel lip flares to accommodate the tyre chain clearance requirements in the USA.’ The wheelarch flares were normally sized on the original design! Many owners of scuffed Horizons would no doubt rue that piece of transatlantic rationalisation in subsequent years.

By 1976, development of the C2 and its proposed variations C2-short and C2-saloon version was well under way and the package was looking good in both European and US specification. The style had evolved slightly from the final clay of November 1974, but only in minor detailing, which had been defined by Chrysler in the USA.

Carrying over the best of the Simca 1100

As anticipated at the start of the programme, much of the existing Simca 1100’s hardware was carried over – most notably, its engines, gearboxes and suspension. Effectively designed around the 1100 base, the Horizon nevertheless incorporated many of the refinements already utilised in the Alpine.

The original 1118cc 1100 engine was used, along with the 1294cc and, later in the car’s life, 1442cc versions from the Alpine. A four-speed manual transmission was lifted straight from the Simca 1100. However, the car was to be wider and have a longer wheelbase than the 1100 to allow for more interior room. Similar seating to the Alpine, being large and soft in the French style, was fitted.

During the gestation period of the C2, rival European producers were also working hard on their Volkswagen Golf clones. By the end of the 1970s, it became clear that Chrysler had been on the button with the Horizon packaging, judging by the size and style of the rivals that had appeared by that time…

Chrysler Horizon takes a bow…

To press home the ‘World Car’ message that Chrysler was trying to get across with the Horizon, the car was officially launched in Europe and the USA on 7 December 1977. In the UK, it was marketed as the Chrysler Horizon (since 1976, all UK cars were Chryslers), whereas in France and much of Europe (where Simca was much stronger), it was called the Chrysler-SIMCA Horizon.

In the USA, Chrysler presented the C2 in two forms: the Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni and, although these American variations looked similar to their French cousins, there were many differences under the skin! For example, the European Horizon used torsion bars for its front suspension, as did its predecessor, the 1100. On the Detroit Horizon the torsion bars were replaced by MacPherson strut front suspension – ironic since Chrysler had pioneered the use of torsion bar suspensions…

Chrysler’s own financial problems might have overshadowed the launch to a degree, but the Horizon was given a warm reception in Europe. The Horizon was launched as the Simca 1100’s replacement, and the press (especially in Europe) were quick to proclaim the design, ‘an Anglo-French triumph’, even though, under the skin, there was little to differentiate it from the Simca 1100.

Chrysler Horizon: Car of The Year 1979

Although the Horizon was marketed like the Alpine as a brand-new car it was more a facelifted 1100 than a cut-down Alpine. However, the styling and packaging hit its intended market dead on, and it seemed that Chrysler Europe would have a bright future.

The European Car of the Year panel awarded the Horizon with its highest accolade – Car of the Year 1979. Remarkably, this would prove to be Chrysler’s second CoTY winning car in a period of three years, although the Horizon only narrowly beat the Fiat Ritmo/Strada into second place.

According to the Car of the Year website, the Horizon was a car of uneven ability, marred by its aging components: ‘Born as Chrysler-Simca Horizon and later known as Talbot Horizon, this was the last new model from the French manufacturer under Chrysler group’s control before PSA’s takeover.

‘Heir of remarkable Simca 1100, the five-door hatchback was a practical, unpretentious family car, appreciated for its sturdiness, ride comfort and a safe roadholding that was the trademark of previous Simca. Slow, stiff steering and a weight that marred somehow performance were concerns for some jurors.’

Lee Iacocca: proud of Chrysler’s new baby

That is not to downplay the Horizon’s achievement. Given Fiat’s track record of producing CoTY winning cars, to knock its car into second place was impressive. Lee Iacocca (right), boss of Chrysler, was certainly proud of the achievement, but ensured that the press knew that the Horizon was more than merely a European car.

He said: ‘The 50 leading auto writers of Europe… gave the [Car of the Year] award to the new Simca Horizon… because of the technological innovations on that car – like automatic transmission, and on-board computer, automatic speed control, electronic ignition, and electronic trip computer.’

‘European technology? No way. They were all developed by Chrysler engineers in this country and then made available to our French company for use on the Simca Horizon.’ – Lee Iacocca

While the C2 had perhaps been developed internationally, the final products that went to market were distinctly different. In America, the Plymouth Horizon and its twin, the Dodge Omni, looked different from their European counterparts, featuring a different dashboard, stronger bumpers and Federalised lighting.

A slow build-up to introduction

The Horizon went in production at the end of 1977, but did not get fully up to speed until May 1978, when production of the rear-engined Simca 1005/1006 ended. The introduction of the Horizon marked the end for the 1000. The 1118cc Horizon LS was introduced as the successor to the 1005/1006.

There was also in France a luxury version to substitute for the 1006GLS, complete with a plethora of equipment, including folding rear seat, long-distance lights, tinted glass, radio, bumper guards, side trim, metallic paint and, optionally, a sunshine roof.

The British range was not launched until October 1978. It was made up initially of 1118cc and 1294cc LS and GL models and a top line 1294cc GLS.

The press wasn’t entirely convinced

The press was less convinced than the CoTY jurors. When the Horizon was stacked up against rivals, it failed to impress enough to become a class leader. Critics applauded the ride but not the steering, which was ridiculously low-geared giving an exceptionally large turning circle.

In its first big group test against the Volvo 343, Renault 14, Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Golf in January 1979, What Car? magazine placed the Chrysler Horizon third. It was beaten by the Volvo 343 and Renault 14, and held back for a number of reasons. ‘Chrysler’s new Horizon finishes up in the middle of the pack, and that just about sums it up – average. It is anonymous but comfortable, well equipped and has a good ride. Our biggest worry is the attention to detail.’

Autocar’s first British test said: ‘the Chrysler design is… somewhat conservative, not an obvious step forward and particularly handicapped by its poor steering and fussiness at speed’.

The Horizon did sell better than the Alpine, probably because hatchbacks were more acceptable in the smaller size segment which included cars such as the Renault 14 and Volkswagen Golf. The main British competitors – the Austin Allegro, Ford Escort, Morris Marina and Vauxhall Viva were all saloons.

Where the USA and Europe start to diverge

Chrysler Horizon development story: Dodge Omni might have looked the same as the Chrysler Horizon, but under the skin they were very different.
Dodge Omni might have looked the same as the Chrysler Horizon, but under the skin they were very different

Chrysler had had a hard time legalising the Simca engines, especially since none had been imported to the States since 1973. It would have cost too much to make it meet American emissions standards and was also a very unrefined and rough engine.

The initial engine used in the USA was the 70bhp, 1.7-litre unit from the Volkswagen Rabbit because it was already smog tested and because it was readily available. When Chrysler sold its European operations in 1978, part of the deal included a 1.6-litre engine to be supplied by Peugeot for the US Horizon.

The Volkswagen 1.7-litre engine with a Chrysler-made head was used from the 1978 model year through to 1983. In 1979, Chrysler’s own 2.2-litre engine was ready and at first augmented, and eventually replaced the smaller European engines, including the 1.6-litre Peugeot engine, introduced in 1983 and dropped in 1986.

New parents for a new car…

The Horizon’s early career was soon overshadowed by the political machinations of Chrysler. Sadly, Chrysler’s mounting problems in the USA were becoming intolerable and, in an effort to concentrate on its core businesses in the USA, the inevitable decision to offload Chrysler Europe was taken. After much negotiation and with a degree of encouragement from the French Government, it was PSA which ended up acquiring the Chrysler Europe range or cars and factories from the Americans.

This meant that the Horizon was now part of a larger range of cars that included such talented cars as the Peugeot 305 and Citroën GSA. Fortunately, the Horizon did not clash seriously with either of these cars and so there would be no immediate risk to the Poissy line. Following the change of ownership, the Chrysler name was dropped in 1979, so all new Horizons sold after 1 August 1979 would be known as Talbot Horizons.

The Chrysler bonnet mounted badge was replaced by Talbot (above), and there were tales of dealers retro-fitting these badges to older cars that might have been languishing in their showrooms… This was not dissimilar to the trick used in America when the early Chrysler K-cars were re-badged for Dodge and Plymouth publicity shots!

Model range updates

During 1979, the French were offered the Jubilee Horizon with a 1442cc engine. The Jubilee, introduced in March 1979 and sold for just one year, was based on the GLS and had special two-tone paint. Sales of the Horizon remained steady throughout its early years and, to maintain sales, the range was extended to include increasingly plush versions. In September 1979, the UK received the Horizon SX, which sported a trip computer and standard automatic transmission. British production of the Horizon started in 1980.

For France in 1980, the name was changed to Talbot-Simca Horizon. The Horizon SX was also offered to the French complete with 1442cc engine and automatic transmission, trip computer, electric windows and headlight washers. The French range comprised the 1.1 LS, 1.3 LS and GL, 1.5 GL and 1.5SX Automatic. The Horizon SPL was introduced in France in March 1980. It was based on the GLS, but had its own distinctive paint job and the 1442cc engine from the Alpine.

In March 1981, a basic 1118cc LE and an 82bhp manual transmission GLS were added to the British range. Later that year, in May, came the economy tune 1500 GL. This model featured a 69bhp version of the 1442cc engine and a five-speed gearbox.

That innovative trip computer

Horizon trip computer was a real step forwards, although not many realised it at the time
Horizon trip computer was a real step forwards, although not many realised it at the time

It also had an econometer. This curiously named device was a set of flashing lights on the speedo that showed red when the car being driven uneconomically and green when the driver was using a light right foot! The GLS had a similarly strange additional instrument – a Jaegar horizontal electronic rev counter across the top of the steering column shroud that looked like the afterthought it obviously was!

At the same time an economy-minded GL was launched, the more powerful 82bhp 1442cc engine was made an optional extra on LS and GL models, but only with a three-speed automatic gearbox.

Unlike the US range, no genuinely sporty European Horizons were ever developed. This market was left to the rear-wheel-drive Sunbeam range as all the other sports models in the Talbot line up had been dropped. No new sports Talbots of any other type were developed under the Peugeot management who saw the Horizon as a bread-and-butter car, holding the fort in the prosaic but important compact family car sector.

From shining star to also-ran

Chrysler Horizon development story: Chryslers became Talbots in 1979/1980, and beyond that, equipment levels were raised year on year...
Chryslers became Talbots in 1979/1980 and, beyond that, equipment levels were raised year on year…

Sadly, the arrival of the GM Astra/Kadett in 1979 and the Ford Escort Mk3 in 1980, helped push the Horizon into also-ran status very quickly, thanks to its elderly engine and low-geared steering. Not that it mattered too much though, as it was still the best-selling mid-sized hatchback within PSA, and therefore vitally important to the group’s future model plans.

PSA’s influential XUD 65bhp 1905cc diesel engine made its first appearance in October 1982 under the bonnet of the Horizon, and met with critical acclaim. Without doubt, it was the car that launched PSA into the diesel big time, proving that the gap between compression ignition and petrol engines was closing rapidly. Despite its rapidly ageing body the diesel Horizon took on the all-conquering Volkswagen Golf diesel…

Subsequently developed as 71bhp non-turbo and 92bhp turbo versions in other Peugeot models, since that time over 7.5 million of these engines, credited with introducing diesel engine motoring to a huge number of previously sceptical motorists, have been built.

Talbot Horizon Series 2 is introduced

For the 1983 model year, a shake up of the British range took place to combat falling sales of the Talbot marque in general. All Horizons were re-designated Series 2. Five-speed manual gearboxes and head rests were fitted on all models except the base 1.1 LE. Specification levels rose, although the SX was dropped. The range was made up of the 58bhp 1100LE, 64bhp 1300LS, 82bhp 1500LS Automatic, 82bhp 1500 GL and 64bhp 1900 LD.

A couple of special editions arrived in 1984 – the Pullman (two-tone brown and gold with gold alloy wheels) and later the Ultra (with power steering and wheel covers). For France too, in 1983 all Horizon’s were re-designated Series 2 cars.

The final changes were made in spring 1985 when the range was slimmed down. In Britain there was an 1100 LE, a 1300 GLE, a 1300 LX and a 1300 GLX. It was all too late and the Horizon died in Britain in 1986 with the introduction of the Peugeot 309. A mere 150,000 Horizons were built in the UK from 1980 to 1985. The last French Horizon had been produced in the spring of 1985, but production continued in the United States until 1990. In Europe, the Horizon was viewed as a family car, and, as such, was in a very competitive class. In the US, it was seen as basic transportation, where it excelled.

Outside of Britain, France and America, Talbot Horizons were made by Valmet Automotive at Uusikaupunki in Finland from 1979 to 1987, replacing the Saab 96. There was a choice of 1294cc and 1442cc petrol engines and, after 1982, a 1900cc diesel engine. Talbot’s Finland plant used many Saab parts especially on the interior and also used the Saab painting method.

Horizon interiors always had something of a Gallic feel to them, and this later Talbot demonstrates that perfectly, with its single spoke steering wheel and soft seats.
Horizon interiors always had something of a Gallic feel to them, and this later Talbot demonstrates that perfectly, with its single spoke steering wheel and soft seats

A new Horizon in Arizona

By the time of the Horizon 1.9D’s launch in 1982, the Whitley Design Team was already hard at work on the Horizon’s replacement, the C28. Unlike the Samba (which had been produced in a hurry) and the Tagora (which was essentially a lightly-revised Chrysler), the Horizon replacement would be created completely under Peugeot management. Given the previous successes of the Simca/Rootes partnership, the C28 was conceived in the same way: styling by Whitley, technical packaging by Poissy.

The Horizon’s sales slowed throughout 1983 and 1984 and, thanks to Peugeot’s insistence on the Talbot marque losing its autonomy within PSA, the idea of Talbot continuing with its own separate product plans died a quiet death. Despite this, Talbot continued to work on two new projects (the C28 and also a Citroën-based Talbot Samba replacement) which would see the then current three car range replaced by two.

Talbot Arizona (nee C28 project) caught testing in 1984. At the time, it still wasn't clear if it was going to be badged a Talbot or a Peugeot.
Talbot Arizona (nee C28 project) caught testing in 1984. At the time, it still wasn’t clear if it was going to be badged as a Talbot or a Peugeot

The C28 became known as the Talbot Arizona, and the intention was for the car to be produced at Ryton and Poissy, using carry-over engines from the Horizon. However, Talbot sales were continuing to slide, and the debate as to whether the car should be marketed as a Talbot or a Peugeot continued into 1985.

The car itself was a wholescale updating of the Horizon concept, incorporating a more organic 1980s shape (and Renault-esque wraparound tailgate glass), new suspension, but continuing with the existing Simca engines for the lower models (1118cc and 1294cc). As it was, by 1985, the end was nigh for the Talbot marque. Peugeot-Talbot in the UK resisted the move to rebadge the Talbot Arizona a Peugeot because they feared it would harm the company’s fleet sales. However, the failure of the Talbot marque to gather any real customer loyalty or brand identity meant that it was inevitable that this would be the final outcome…

When the Peugeot 309 (nee Talbot Arizona) was announced in the autumn of 1985, it marked the end of the Talbot Horizon and indeed of the Talbot marque as a viable brand. The Talbot name lived on as late as 1991, but only as a re-badged Citroën/Fiat/Peugeot-designed van.

Talbot Arizona: the only true Peugeot-Talbot

  • The name
    Peugeot 309 was chosen as it did not fit in comfortably with the existing range (after all, it was not devised to fit into the Peugeot range) – the three-box 305 was still selling well and, although this would be replaced soon after by the 405, it was felt that calling the new car 306 would have harmed its chances. Having said that, trois-cent-neuf tripped off the tongue nicely…
  • The engines
    You could buy Simca-engined 309s until 1991, when they were finally pensioned off in favour of Peugeot engines.
  • The styling
    Unlike the rest of the Peugeot range, the C28 was not penned by Pininfarina and, although it was a pleasant-looking car, it did not integrate too successfully with the rest of the range.

Critics at the time said that the different parentage of the 309 was evident in the car’s external styling. Whereas the 205 and 405 were elegant, the 309 was dull and dumpy. Still, it was the first Peugeot built in Britain at the Coventry plant.

Production of the 309 was followed by the 405, the 306 and 206. However, given that the 309 was actually a Chrysler/Talbot, it is possible to say that the legacy left by the Horizon was Peugeot’s subsequent success in the middle-market hatchback sector where the company subsequently went from strength to strength with the 306, 307 and, latterly, the 308.

Pre-production prototype of the Talbot Arizona: a Peugeot by any other name. 
Pre-production prototype of the Talbot Arizona: a Peugeot by any other name…

With thanks to Andy Thompson for his input.

Keith Adams


  1. Give me the Maestro anyday, FAR better looking than this munter!!! Axe was an overrated designer!

  2. i was hoping you would have more information on the us/canadian dodge omni and plymouth horizon models. after leaving the uk in the 80’s it was like a flash back.

  3. Quite a car in its day. We had one in 1979. A bright yelowy orange 1.3 GLS. Badged as a Chrysler on a T plate.

    Bit daft comparing it to the Maestro as it was a design 6 years old when the Maestro came out.

    The styling is fine and modern for its time. Neat front end, neat back end. Clearly made an impression in Solihull, the P38 Range Rover always looks to me like Roy Axe and the Horizon team messed with its nose and tail.

    You have to remember too that Horizon was styled as a world car, it had those bumpers and flared arches for a reason.

    Horizon was quite clever marketing, taking the family car to a new level in the late 70s, digital clock, remote door mirrors, stereo cassette, crused velour interior, halogen lights…All a big deal back then when my Dad was looking at Kadette A and MKII Escorts.

    Horizon did have the edge.

    The truth was mechanically it was little more than an old Simca. Old wine, new bottle.

    Product development was not that great, but it served its purpous. But when the Astra/Kadette came out, followed by the Escort III it did look very old very quickly.

    As a Kid I so wanted us to get one painted like a Lotus Sunbeam.

  4. Parents had one of these though they never learned to drive, it occasionally had L tickets on.. Though the steering was light it wasn’t the best car to learn in, lots of wheel turning and wobbly/crunchy gearchanges and over sensitive brakes, it was later traded in for a basic Metro after the jack went through the floor at around 6 years old.

    Ours was a bright orange early T reg thing with Talbot badge on the self destruct tailgate and Chrysler on the quite heavy bonnet if I remember, bought second hand and the cheapest car we ever bought. Previous owner fitted a Webber Carburettor and a funky digital clock that doubled for a rev counter, for a 1.3 it could actually keep up with 2.0 Cortina’s (in a straight line) quite stable at speed which led you into a false sense of security as sadly the steering wheel was just there for show ! (tiny little 13″ wheels didnt help the wonderful under-steer).

    But despite its faults which could be lethal in the wet (easily locking its wheels when braking and little action trying to steer clear of obstacles) I have fond memories of ours, even if many took the p*ss about the noise.

    Remember when scrap yards were full of these including the Matra Rancho/Alpines etc always the cars that were hardly used for spares, one yard in Sunderland had so many He just automatically crushed any that came in.

  5. The diesel was a revelation as the cheap and cheerful Horizon had a good selling point, a Peugeot XUD engine that was far pleasanter on the open road than the elderly SIMCA units and sold on its low price and 50-55 mpg economy. Having been in one of the original diesel Horizons, apart from the noise at idling, this was a good car and my old man managed to get a ton out of one on the M5 without the engine noise proving unbearable like the petrol models.

  6. My mom had an ’86 Plymouth Horizon 2.2/auto, strangely it had a hole in the passenger side firewall, blanked off by a welded plug and made noticeable by a notch cut in the carpet, where a right-hand drive steering column would go!

  7. I remember these well, I knew several people who owned them and none were what I would call enthusiastic drivers! The big squashy seats were comfy and there was a reasonable amount of space but, to be honest, they were prime stodge even when they first hit the road. In fact, typical CoTY from the 80s like the Renault 9 and Escort Mk3.

    The Horizon might have had a chance of doing something if it had not been so dynamically challenged. The bag of nails Simca engine put anyone off who had enough hearing to listen to anything short of a Deep Purple concert without a hearing aid and the four and a bit turns lock to lock for the turning circle of a barge were major factors to anyone remotely interested in driving. Then there was the relentless understeer (occasionally frightening understeer in the wet) and the notchy, vague gearchange. Add the unremitting rust that caused floor pans to disappear in 4-5 years, and that jacking the car up was a lottery as to whether the car would lift or the jack would just go through the sill gives a car doomed to failure.

    In short, given the choice of a Mk1 Golf or a Horizon you would have to be mad or stupid to opt for the latter!

    Thoroughly deserved to die. One should be preserved to remind people how bad motoring could really be!

    But I did like the trip computer. 😉

  8. Although I never liked the Horizon enough to buy one, I thought it was a better looker than the Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam. A friend had a Horizon for a while which seemed okay and was comfortable at least.

  9. The Arizona story raises further questions:

    Why did it use Peugeot styling cues such as the slatted front grille and the rear lights with bumper mounted rear plate?

    The use of 205 doors also ties it in with the Peugeot range.

    It simply looks like they wanted a mid range Peugeot hatchback, but developing one from the 305 was either not straightforward or it was in the middle of it’s model life anyway. They didn’t use 3005 back then, wanted to keep space for the next few generations and so plucked 309.

    From this legacy, Peugeot’s next generation is not to be x09.

    They’ll continue with x08 for western market cars, and x01 for BRICs market cars (eg. 301).

  10. @10 The 309 as far as I know was basically a stretched 205 ? I remember the original road tests, especially the “Motor” who said the doors wings and bonnet are the same, along with its suspension, (though to be fair I have never worked on cannot confirm this) However the use of the old Simca/Horizon engines in 1.3 guise was strange decision when the 205 had the more pleasant 1.4 OHC engines….

    • Maybe Peugeot were short of “suitcase engines”, as the 205 and BX were selling well. In any case, once the tappet rattle was sorted, the Simca engine was pleasant enough, and probably cheap to make. I seem to remember contemporary road tests describing Simca-engined 309’s as cheap and cheerful, no-nonsense basic transport. There used to be a lot around Coventry, but all Peugeots have become scarcer since they pulled out of Ryton; even the execu-barge 607’s. Coventry police had Peugeots for a while, but I think they’ve lost favour there as well. Perhaps now they should drive SVO F-types!

  11. Like all Talbots, comfortable with a soft ride, well equipped for the money( a trip computer was a real novelty in 1980 and it actually worked), economical, cheap to buy and with a decent size boot. Like all Talbots, rust prone, not very well made, hated by the trade as soon as the badge disappeared and with rattly engines that sounded like a London taxi when idling. However, one of the first diesels and actually in diesel form with a Peugeot engines was a good car.

  12. @12
    In part, everything the MK6 Escort was. apart from the diesel engine.

    Shared the same boat like 4.2 turns lock to lock in any case.

  13. Spotted behind me and coping very well on the A69 was a white Talbot Horizon with a French number plate. This is the first time I’d seen one since 1998 and I suppose even in France these are very rare now. However, has anyone seen a British registered one recently as I think survivors barely scrape into double figures now.

  14. In America the Plymouth Horizon was a big seller in the energy challenged 1979-80 period and stayed in production until 1990. Unlike the European version, the American Horizon had the choice of either a willing and economical 1.7 litre Volkswagen engine, or Chrysler’s entry level 2.2, and was vastly better rustproofed to cope with American winters. Also it had a stronger bodyshell due to Federal safety regulations and a more stiffened ride to cope with the poorer American roads in rural areas. Of more interest, a performance version, the GLH, was introduced in 1985 and is a cult item in America now.

  15. Never knew the 309 was in fact a Talbot Horizon replacement, although I could always tell it did not fit with the 205 and 405. It was funny wee thing the 309 – not unpleasant as such but not very substantial looking.

    The Horizon was very well proportioned but would have benefited hugely from some better, higher quality detailing, trim.

  16. The 309 was a Horizon replacement and I suppose the 405, which arrived two years after the Talbot range was abandoned, was a replacement for the Alpine/ Solara. Both cars were made in Britain and sold well during their lifetime. Interestingly the smaller engined 309s used Horizon engines until about 1991, although most buyers opted for the Peugeot engined diesels or the 1.6, which were more refined.
    It’s interesting the American Horizon had a 12 year life, using a more or less similar design to the European car all the way through its life, but its survival was probably due to it being one of the cheapest American cars to buy and being a popular second car. Also they rejected Simca engines from the start as they were too unrefined and the poor rustproofing on the European Horizon would be unacceptable in America and American versions were far better rustproofed.

  17. Given the Type 180 engine was looked at for the Chrysler Alpine / Solara, could the same engine in 1.8-2.2 forms have featured in the Horizon above the 1.6 unit instead of an alleged plan to fit the 1.75 E-Series as part of a deal with BL?

  18. Probably worth considering as a cheaper British built alternative to a Maestro in 1983 as the five speed gearbox reduced a lot of the engine noise, rustproofing became better on later Horizons, and mechanically they were reasonably reliable and easy to maintain. Also a lot of standard equipment for the money, good fuel economy, a decent ride and plenty of luggage space probably kept the Horizon alive until 1985.

  19. If anything, on ride and seat comfort( they always had these really comfortable cloth or velour seats), the Horizon always did well. Even the basic LS model had these really cossetting cloth seats, while basic Allegros and Chevettes still came with hard, unpleasant vinyl seats until 1980. Further up the range, and on later model special edition cars, the velour seats always looked and felt really nice, and the soft ride made the Horizon more comfortable than most of its rivals.

    • I agree with Glenn, the Horizon was a comfortable car with its thickly padded chunky seats. I remember it (like the Alpine / Solara) had white/cream painted steel wheels rather than silver.

      I still think the Horizon was better looking than its successor, the 309

      • If anything the Horizon seats were too soft imo. Gave me a numb bum after a few hours, which I never suffer from on firmer upholstery.

  20. I assume the 309/Arizona was the last car Whitley worked on before its closure or did it do the “styling” for the proposed AX based Samba replacement as well?

  21. On another article, there were talks of a tie up between British Leyland and Chrysler, and a point has been made about the Horizon replacing the Allegro in 1978 and using British Leyland engines. This would have been quite interesting as an Austin Horizon would have given British Leyland a far better competitor in the C segment and the car would have been endowed with far better engines like the A plus and the E series. However, would the rust protection be any better, although Austins of this era tended to resist rust better?

    • It would depend on whether the Horizon was the Simca-based model that traces its linage to the Simca 1100 via the Simca Alpine or the version sold in the North American market that like the Maestro / Montego featured a platform best described as a reverse-engineered copy of the Volkswagen Golf.

      Though doubtful the latter was available, it would have nevertheless been interesting seeing the North American Horizon adapted to the UK/European markets particularly in the handling department (with or without the involvement of Lotus).

      • What I never get is why develop two models with different underpinnings but same bodies? Ford did the same with the mk3 escorts. This means more budget expense and chrysler didn’t have that back then. But reading the other chrysler pages you understand that it was in a bigger mess than bl!

        • Think it was due to Chrysler believing it to be cheaper to keep the Simca tooling instead of replacing for the same tooling as on the North American Horizon or something to that effect at potentially higher cost.

          It is indeed strange that the North American Horizon apparently formed the basis for the Chrysler K platform that basically saved Chrysler with descendants of the K platform even allegedly including the Neon and the Sebring.

  22. I note in this article that the Horizon was described as the “only British hatchback” when launched in Dec 1977. However, wasn’t the Vauxhall Chevette (also a hatchback!), already on sale since 1975?

      • Production of the Horizon was moved to Britain in 1980-81 to stem the anger at the closure of the Linwood plant and the end of the Sunbeam and Avenger, which were the last Talbots to mostly use British parts. Moving the Horizon’s assembly to Ryton probably helped save this plant from further redundancies, as it had seen a large reduction in its workforce in the late seventies and early eighties.

        • I think the decision to move Horizon production to Britain was to assure the workforce at Ryton that the plant was secure after Peugeot Talbot had shed 10,000 jobs in Britain, and to try and deflect the anger over the closure of Linwood. Also in the eighties, Ryton was largely free of industrial disputes, productivity rose considerably, and this probably persuaded Peugeot to keep the factory open and to switch to producing Peugeots in the mid 80s.

    • Also the Solara, which was made at Ryton. These all used the same SIMCA derived drivetrains and later shared the same Peugeot five speed transmission, which was a huge improvement on the Chrysler four speeder. The Sunbeam and Avenger used Rootes drivetrains, which while more refined than the SIMCA ones, were considered out of date and out sync with the rest of the French based Talbot range, which was another reason Linwood was closed.

  23. Interesting aspect aroud the 309..I’d always assumed that it was a ‘proper’ Peugeot design. I know the 205 was very closely related from an underpinnings perspective. In fact the period mod for the 205 was to bolt on the 309 rear beam & front control arms, tie rods etc to give a wider track & better roadholding. Always thought the 309 Gti was a fairly accomplished car, obviously never as fashionable as the evergreen 205 Gti though. An Mi16 309 would be good, can’t imagine an Mi16 Horizon though!

  24. Though am assuming the C28 project began a few years after Chrysler Europe was sold to PSA and always intended to be derived from the Peugeot 205 underpinnings, it would be interesting to find out whether the conception of the C28 project actually predates the sale to PSA and if so what the original plans were for what eventually became the Peugeot 309.

  25. Talbots did sort of come good for the launch of the Y plate in the summer of 1982. All but basic models now had a Peugeot five speed gearbox, which was far better than the Chrysler four speeder, and made the cars far quieter and more economical. Rustproofing and quality was tightened up, removing another bone of contention about Talbot. Add in good value for money, some tempting special editions, good fuel economy, the spaciousness of the hatchback cars and a comfortable ride, and the company probably stopped its endless slide down the sales chart and settled around 5%

  26. Talbot introduced a six year anti rust warranty on their Series 2 cars in 1982, and later models did seem a lot less rust prone. I could never get the dislike shown towards the Horizon, as once it received a five speed transmission and better rustproofing, the main arguments against buying one had gone. Also the design was crisp and modern and was similar to a Mark 1 Vauxhall Astra, and didn’t seem to age badly. I would even go to say the Horizon was better than the Mark 3 Escort, which in 1.1 litre form didn’t go, basic models had vinyl seats in the early days, and had a very harsh ride.

  27. With regards to the innovative miles per gallon indicator mentioned for the Horizon, I’m sure I had this as standard on our company Simca 1100 van sometime in the 70’s. As we were selling car accessories and the van had a tiny steering wheel, Paddy Hopkirk rally seat covers, big Cibie lights, a big exhaust and we drove it flat out everywhere – it was a pretty useless bit of kit for us! I guess the Horizon is the archetypical car (like bell bottom trousers is to fashion) that some people laught at with the benefit of hindsight -.rather than appreciating it for its value at the time.

  28. I had one in France in 1986 after my stint in the army, it was a 1980 brown SX, the lacquer had peeled/baked on the roof and bonnet but so cheap and less than 60,000mls. After working on the rust(front wings, doors bottom mainly) it got well rust proofed and got many layers of regency red even the bumpers and wheel covers. It was a fairly nice car, better than many small cars my friends had(R4, 5 or 6 one had an old Simca 1100lx, hence my choice), very comfy seats, not a bad handler compared to the 304S(or my pal’s 1100) I had before but lacking the PAS it should have had as standard… thirsty beast, 27-30mpg at best, I drove a good 25,000 miles, tappets adjusted every 5000 mls or so with oil change to keep the noise down. It was sold in 1988 to get a brand new Corsa TD as I had changed job and had a 60 miles commute daily…

  29. According to, there are only 13 1983 Talbot Horizon 1.5 GLE’s for sale. My family has one for sale at 3200 Pounds. Probably the best condition in the UK. No rust anywhere. 71,000 miles from new. Only two owners. Fully undersealed. Logbook. MOT until September. Time warp condition. Fantastic running engine. Well cared for. No blemishes.

  30. When Peugeot took over Chrysler Europe at the end of 1978, the Horizon should have been completely revised as Peugeot lacked a hatchback model in this class. Ditching the Simca drivetrains, except on the base 1.1 models, and fitting the car with 1.3 and 1.6 litre drivertains from Peugeot and five speed transmissions would have killed a lot of criticism. Also tightening up the quality and rustproofing would have killed another major gripe with the Horizon. I’m sure a relaunched model for the 1980 model year would have seen the Horizon really take off as its contemporary styling, comfortable seats, cossetting ride and decent equipment levels were praised by critics, but mechanically it was poor.

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