Keith Adams tells the story of the Talbot Arizona, the replacement for the Horizon. It was design by the former Chrysler UK Design Team at Whitley in Coventry, and shared much with the recently-launched Peugeot 205.
Known as the project C28, it was canned and rebranded at the last moment as the oddly-named Peugeot 309.
Talbot’s swansong car: the Arizona
Around the time the Talbot Horizon matured into a half-decent car with the launch of the 1.9D in 1982, the ex-Chrysler UK Whitley Design Team was already hard at work on the its replacement, Project C28. Unlike the Talbot 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 Talbot 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 were under scrutiny. In this climate of belt-tightening, 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.
The car itself was a wholescale updating of the Horizon concept, incorporating a more organic 1980s shape and new suspension, but continuing with the existing Simca engines for the lower models (1118cc and 1294cc). So, 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. The biggest challenge for the Whitley-based Designers was to style an all-new car around the passenger doors of the smaller Peugeot 205. It’s a design theme that Peugeot was familiar with in the past, with the 304 and 604 using the doors from the 204 and 504.
Integrating the 205’s doors: no easy task
As can be seen from the design themes below, it wasn’t an easy task getting those doors easily integrated into the larger design. The wraparound rear glass that they came to in the end was an elegant solution compared with these earlier efforts.
However, Talbot sales were continuing to slide, and the debate about whether the car should be marketed as a Talbot or a Peugeot continued into 1985. 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
The C28 was penned in the UK and had a great deal of carry over from the Peugeot 205 including its floorpan, its doors and bulkhead. Although it was a pleasant-looking car, it did not integrate too successfully with the rest of the Peugeot 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.
Prototype images supplied by Andrew Elphick