Some trivia for you – which car was the first to be powered by the near immortal Peugeot-Citroen XUD engine?
That’s right, the Talbot Horizon…
Saving the best for last
The almost-forgotten Talbot Horizon is one of those cars with a confused upbringing. It started out as a Chrysler UK styling scheme that ran on French underpinnings. As international cars go, it was certainly up there – an American parent company, Chrysler, British design input (ex-Rootes Group in Coventry boosted by US money) and French engineering thanks to Simca.
Initially known as the C2 project, the Horizon’s design process was instigated around the same time as the launch of the VW Golf in 1974. Just how much Roy Axe’s team was inspired by the German hatchback is plain to see – although one or two design features (the flared arches, for instance) were added to meet the needs of the US market.
After four years in development, the Horizon burst onto the scene, instantly impressing the motoring writers enough to win it the 1979 European Car of The Year award (in an admittedly quiet year). It immediately went head to head with the likes of the Golf, Renault 14, and Fiat Strada – and proved successful. To begin with.
However, Chrysler in the USA was in deep financial trouble, and needed to dump its European arm in order to stay afloat. After a initial conversations with BL, the Americans decided to sell its entire European operation to the Peugeot – for the nominal sum of one dollar. The following year, the entire Chrysler range was re-branded Talbot.
Now under French control, Talbots went head to head with their Peugeot and Citroen counterparts – a situation that couldn’t continue indefinitely. That made their future prospects appear tenuous, just months into the marriage. However, the Horizon hadn’t helped itself either by being less good than the sum of its parts – and although it was assembled in the UK, British buyers couldn’t fall in love with a car that was powered by such rattly (if willing) engines, and proved so tiresome to drive thanks to heavy undergeared steering.
However, things would get better, and Peugeot took great advantage of the Horizon’s status as the group’s best selling mid-liner. The seminal XUD 65bhp 1905cc diesel engine made its first appearance under the Horizon’s bonnet to create the 1.9LD in October 1982; and was met with instant critical acclaim.
Although the car was aging rapidly and remained dowdy to drive (power steering improved it a lot though), it went head to head with the all-conquering Golf diesel… and gave it a bloody nose. The engine, it seemed, had transformed the Horizon into something of a player. Given that it was smoother and more punchy than its petrol counterparts, it was hard not to be impressed – a fact not lost on Peugeot.
In the end, over 7.5 million of these engines, credited with introducing diesel engine motoring to a huge number of previously sceptical motorists, were built, revolutionizing the public’s perception of compression ignition engines once and for all – and cementing Peugeot’s position as a diesel front runner.
Hard to believe that it all started with an Anglo-French hatchback that time has almost left behind…