The Talbot (nee Chrysler) Sunbeam-Lotus was one of the most exciting hot hatchbacks to emerge from the 1970s, and we have motor sport to thank for that. It originally came about because Chrysler commissioned Lotus to produce an effective entrant for international Group 4 rallying – to beat the dominant Ford Escort RSs at their own game.
Launched in 1979 amid turbulent times
Lotus took a 1.6GLS shell, and installed a 2.2-litre Type 911 version of the Lotus 16-valve four-cylinder engine and a five-speed ZF gearbox. The Sunbeam-Lotus was launched in 1979 with the Lotus name receiving particular prominence over the Chrysler pentastar. However, within weeks of launch, that was replaced by the Talbot ‘T’ as Chrysler Europe was sold to PSA (Peugeot) for a nominal one dollar. Still, the Sunbeam was great. Its 2174cc Lotus twin-cam engine breathed through two twin-choke Dell’Orto carburettors, developed 150bhp and delivered excellent performance.
Homologation rules at the time dictated that for a new car to be eligible to compete internationally, it would also have to be offered to the general public and sold in a specified minimum number. In order to comply with this requirement, Talbot set up a separate production line at its Linwood factory in Scotland to fabricate the body shells which would then be shipped directly to Ludham Airfield where Lotus would fit the engine, suspension and gearbox etc.
Hundreds of miles without driving…
These road-going Talbot Sunbeam Lotus ‘homologation specials’ were more than just fast, they certainly looked the part as well. Initially, they were offered only in Embassy Black with Silver stripes and sported a brace of Marchal spotlights and bespoke ‘double four-spoke’ cast alloy wheels.
It should have been a roaring success, but the ongoing fuel crisis hit demand for all large-engined cars and, despite a projected production run of 4500, time was called on the Sunbeam-Lotus after 2308 were made.
But it had already proved effective in rallying, winning the challenging 1980 Lombard-RAC event. The roadgoing version proved quick and balanced, although it was priced higher than the comparable Vauxhall Chevette HS or Escort RS2000.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.