Concepts and prototypes : Talbot Arizona (1982-1985)

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

Talbot 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.

Talbot Arizona styling scheme Talbot Arizona styling scheme Talbot Arizona styling scheme Talbot Arizona styling scheme

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

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…
  • 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.

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

Prototype images supplied by Andrew Elphick

Keith Adams

24 Comments

  1. 309 wasn’t a bad car with typically contemporary French good handling and ride. The 1.9 diesel and turbo diesel (if I recall that correctly, the 1.9 turbo arrived first in Citroen BX and Peugeot 405) were both excellent, torquey, refined and relatively high reviving engines by the standards of the day; the tapper-rattly Simca carryovers acceptable enough. Petrol GTi versions using the 205 Peugeot engine were great and I am sure I recall a 16V (soupapes in French) twin cam petrol using the BX and 405 M16 DOHC petrol lump. I’ll stand corrected on the detail but did like the 309.

  2. It is unfortunate the UK never received the Peugeot 309 GT16, also have to wonder whether early thoughts for the C28 considered carrying over the Type 180 engines prior to Chrysler Europe being sold to PSA or what the original plans for the C28 were (particularly if there was to be carryover from the North American Horizon).

    Mixed parentage aside, couldn’t Peugeot have attempted to properly rebody the 309 to better resemble the larger Peugeot 405? Also heard rumours of the Peugeot 306’s platform being related to the Peugeot 309.

    • Presumably the Arizona was too far along when they decided to ditch Talbot. The original rear lights were hideous but they did replace them with 405-style clusters when it was facelifted.

    • The C28 project was initiated until Peugeot owned Chrysler Europe, its styling was about using Peugeot parts to keep costs down. In particular because Peugeot was itself strapped for cash and concerned that the Peugeot 205 was too expensive for the market.

      The relationship with 306 is only in concept as the 306 platform was derived from the 405 platform.

      • If the C28 project was conceived prior to the Peugeot takeover of Chrysler Europe, it is known what the original plans were pre-takeover before it utilized Peugeot parts on cost grounds?

        Curious the 306 platform was derived from the 405 platform, can sort of see it via the dimensions of the 405 and Citroen BX.

        Peugeot certainly had a rough patch during the 1970s with the takeovers of Citroen and Chrysler Europe causing them to delay or cancel their own projects, one of which included a tie-up with Fiat on the Fiat FIRE engines before Peugeot developed the TU engine from the X engine.

        • I think I was not clear above, the C28 was not initiated until after the takeover of Chrysler Europe by Peugeot.

          Whilst I am sure there were some sketches and may be even a clay model of future cars beyond what became the Solara and Tagora done after the Horizon was signed off such as the SWB Horizon to replace the Sunbeam, the Horizon was the freshest car they had so attention would have been on the Alpine / Solara replacement.

          However there was simply no money at Chrysler Europe, however I know they did at Whitley evaluate the Mitsubishi products, recall my father being rather impressed with the engineering of the Colt (Mirage), so the future may have been like BL, doing light re-skins of Japanese cars.

          Another thing that would point to this, was the Samba, which was I understand initiated at Whitley team as a demonstration of what they could do with little more than the small change you find down the back of the sofa, to give a PSA product Talbot dna. I suspect similar work had been undertaken with the Colt etc at Whitley in the previous years.

          However it did not save Whitley, however many of those involved with the C28 finished it off in France, flying daily from Bagington Airport on a private plane laid on by Peugeot. Apparently Turnbull would often join them on the flight, but never spoke with them, he just sat at the front reading the Financial Times.

      • Graham, are you sure about the 306 platform being derived form the 405’s? I wondered about this as it seems obvious, they are very similar technically and fo equal width, but more technically experienced people on a Dutch Peugeot forum assured me that they weren’t related.

        • The 306 closest relative is the ZX, the difference being a few tweaks to the roll bar set up.

          It depends what you mean in derived from, the 405 is derived from the BX, but I do not think any components are shared, in the same way the 405 acted as a start point for the ZX / 306 for the same styling and engineering teams, but again I think the components are shared are limited beyond the power units. Because given the high production volumes expected for the ZX and 306 the engineers were not constrained by needing to share many components with the 405 where it was sub optimal to do so.

          However what you do see is common solutions adopted, in how they are engineered, which was why it was very easy to bring the 306 to Ryton and initially assemble it alongside the 405.

  3. I was told by an ex-Whitley engineer that the Arizona/309 package came from dividing up a 205 into quarters, moving them apart to lengthen and widen the new car the right amount and then joining them back up again.

    I was never sure if this was done in CAD, on a layout board or in a workshop!

    The 309 GTi was a very good handling car and was used as one of the benchmark cars during the development of the GTi derivatives the R8 Rover 200, along with the VW Golf GTi.

    • Reliant managed to do that with the Scimitar in the mid 1970s, & the Morris Minor was widened not long before it was launched after being called a poach egg on wheels.

      Renault did the opposite with the new 5 in the mid 1980s, by getting the chassis of the 11 & chopping it down to supermini size.

  4. I believe the decision to ditch Talbot as a mass market saloon car brand was taken earlier- probably late 1981 when Peugeot realised they could not support three mass market brands. My understanding is there was a short lived plan that Talbot was to become their ‘specialist’ division producing the Murena, Rancho and Espace.

    • Car Magazine ran a story that Talbot would become the specialist wing of PSA in early 82. They also had the 305 and other Peugeots using the old Simca engine for a while.

  5. I wonder if any of the Whitley styling team had previously worked on the Austin Maxi, and were thus used to working on a “you must keep these existing doors” brief!

  6. The side profile photos look very much like an Escort MKIII or IV to me. I must admit to not liking the Peugeot 309 during its production cycle

  7. I liked the 309, had 2 of them and apart from the weak back axle found then to be a good driving car. Space efficiency was very good in them with the boot and back seats being a good bit bigger than you’d think. In practice they were a much better car than the MK3/4 Escort especially space-wise and the old Simca engines the lower models had seemed not to be as tappity as they used to be. There were two things though that let the 309 down though and likely stopped them being an Escort basher. The MK1 309 (1985-89) had a dashboard so flimsy it was a blu-tacked joke, rear lights looked naff and the blue and beige colours a lot of them had made the highly competent 309 seem like an old mans car. Much improved with the late 1989 facelift with the more 405 looking rear, much tighter dashboard and greatly improved gearbox. Big pity they did not start as this in 1985. The Diesel 309, even just the ‘straight’ 1.9D non-turbo was the best running and driving diesel on the roads for years. The later Peugeot 1.4 petrol engine versions were excellent running cars too. Tap-tap-tap noises heard more often on CVH Escorts and finally the later 309’s were a heck of a lot more long lasting body-wise compared to rusty Escorts and so the winner is the 309. The more I think about it ir the 309 was the best Escort sized car on the roads during the later 1980’s and early ’90’s. Space, handling, economy and reliability they probably were the best and I’d include gearbox-busting Japanese cars in this comparison too. Its a wonder though about that MK1 dashboard! I wish I stored a couple of 309’s. Wonder why a 305 dashboard could not have been adapted for the 309 or even just a plank of wood! But that MK1 dashboard, legend!

    • I’ve heard the 390’s dashboards were flimsy especially the glove compartment lids.

      Some police forces used them for panda cars so they must have pass some sort of reliability test.

  8. Well I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this so much, maybe its the soft spot I have for Ryton cars (there are exceptions such as two models in particular that wore Chrysler badges at their beginning) but the more I think about it and today as it happens I was chatting to a work colleague and the subject turned to 309’s, the conclusion again being best in class once you got over the looks. An XR3i my buddie had vs his Fathers 309GTi. 309 won, in all departments. Fuel economy, again 309 beats Escort. A 205 1.9 GTi with better track = 309. Is the Peugeot 309 the most underrated car in history? The glovebox lids broke easily because the material was flimsy and because the fuse box was located inside the glovebox top and the catch securing the fuse box would break and put pressure on the glove box lid. This was a thing with RHD 309’s because the fuse box was on the same side of the bulkhead on a LHD 309 where it was designed to be and where it was not interfering with anything else. So yes every RHD 309 had either masking tape or even a screw and tongue latch (!!) resembling a rabbit hutch hatch holding the lid up. But that dashboard, it was so cheap, the passenger side upper pocket was useful and the entire unit would move on a slight tug! If you pushed a cassette into the radio the dashboard would react! Turn on the screen heater to full tilt and there was a plastic gutter creaking affect, so bad it had a unique character and kinda fun in a self depreciating way I suppose. I guess MK1 309’s are very rare now, that’s a pity and I also recall a horrible looing beige MK1 309 another work buddie bought from the auction for 100 pounds about 1997 and we were giving it a new set of spark plugs and cleaning out the carburettor as best we could, it was a GL I think, it was the 1300cc Simca engine. However for a 100 pound, end of life car it was pretty much perfect. Totally ugly in beige but no rust and everything worked with 40+ mpg because of it 5 speed gearbox. It must have been the best ratio of cost vs condition and reliability in a car I have ever seen. So yes, ugly beige or porcelain light blue MK1 clown-car joke dash-boarded 309’s I salute you. Even the rake of 2-door GE 1100cc 309’s, yep they bate the backside of the comparable MK3 1100cc Escorts too and probably ran as good as the 1300cc HCS ohv MK4 Escort, because the Simca engine was alloy headed. I think this website should maybe try to interview the designers in depth who were working on the Arizona project in Whitley. Maybe I’m being un wise, okay, but the slightly dumpy looking 309 was a very good example of that the Brtion’s could do with car design. Even to the point of naff and I mean – really – naff colours at times. Why they did not go with the rear lights design in the picture above in this article (yes I know the 505 had that pattern also for a while) rather than the ugly three bar affairs is a wonder. I had a GRD MK1 in that bathroom-suite shade of light blue which I think was called wedgewood blue, it looked horrible and with over 200k miles on the clock the floppy early BE gearbox was snarling every time I went for 3rd but that worn out 309 just loved to rev and corner. The legendary XUD9A would just pull and pull. Yes the Peugeot 309 was a very honest wee brute of a donkey car. Sadly missed today and in an ironic kind of way, but sure aren’t all diesel cars today very fragile and touchy? The 309 had granite engines and candy-floss trim and dashboards while todays diesels are the other way around, rock solid dashboards but with flimsy engines. Yeh, come back 309 GLD, all is forgiven! 55mpg with no grief. Worst that would have happened was needing a set of glow plugs and if you pumped the fuel filter about 10 tomes it started anyway.

    • @ Pat, people bought Escorts because so many of them were on the road, therefore they must be good. Yet there were so many cars that did the job better, and in the case of the 309, it was way better than the Escort, and made in Britain as well. The XUD was known to be almost unbreakable, and as you say 55 mpg was possible in everyday driving, when most petrol cars in the mid eighties struggled to better 40 mpg. The 309 did have its shortcomings such as the elderly Simca engines on basic models and a cheap looking dashboard that could rattle after a few years, but mecnanically ir was sold and a pleasant car to drive.

  9. Also prefer the Peugeot 309 compared to the Peugeot 306 despite the latter arguably being a huge improvement over the former, however that is partly down to the Peugeot 306 not spawning a 306 4-door saloon-derived 3/5-door notchback hatchback variant.

    Understandably Peugeot sought to draw upon the success of the Peugeot 205 by having its smaller Peugeot 106 and larger Peugeot 306 successors build on the styling of the former*, however Peugeot could have also drawn exterior styling inspiration from the Peugeot 405 and Peugeot 406 for the Peugeot 306 via a notchback hatchback variation of the saloon body.

    *- Notwithstanding the fact Peugeot made a big miscalculation by not developing a direct replacement for the Peugeot 205, which led them towards underwhelming 206 and a very bad spell that damaged their reputation for great handling performance hot hatchbacks and hot saloons that caused Peugeot to be eclipsed by Renault and Ford.

  10. The 309 saved Ryton, as it could have been closed when Talbot was phased out in 1985. It proved that Peugeot had faith in the factory, as the workforce had improved productivity and industrial relations under Peugeot, and getting the 309 saved thousands of jobs. Also another vote of confidence in Ryton came when rt was chosen to build the 405 and the factory took on more workers.

  11. Most definitely a triumph of substance over style. Many years ago the father in law’s very tidy 10 year old 1.3 GLX came our way. Complete with the Simca engine and a 5 speed box. Turned out to be a great little car with superb ride and handling. We ran it happily for a few years before ‘upgrading’ to a Mk3 Astra 1.6 16v. Newer and faster but nowhere near as good to drive. For me the 309 is an unsung hero. Shame they’re nearly all gone now, a good one would still make an excellent little daily driver.

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