Concepts and prototypes : Talbot Horizon Group B (1981-1982)

Shortly after the formation of Talbot in 1979, PSA decided to go on all-out attack; setting aside the brand as the company’s premier motor sports division. In 1981, the Talbot Horizon Group B was set to replace the Sunbeam Lotus – then the Quattro happened…

Here’s what we know about this intriguing riposte to the Ford Escort 1700T, Opel Ascona 400 and Renault 5 Turbo.

Talbot Horizon Group B: Tilting at the Quattro

Talbot Horizon Group B
Talbot Horizon Group B pictured at Lotus HQ in Hethel

Following the creation of the Talbot marque out of the remanants Chrysler Europe in 1979, parent company PSA decided that the new brand needed a high-publicity boost to its image. The result was a two-tier venture into motor sport. In Formula 1, PSA became the Ligier team’s title sponsor, rebranding it as Talbot, while using tuneful (if rather elderly) V12 engines in place of the Ford Cosworth DFVs that Ligier had previously campaigned with.

In rallying, Talbot put its finances behind the Sunbeam-Lotus project, which had already been under development during the Chrysler era. The Formula 1 project was a spectacular failure, and Talbot F1 cars graced the world’s circuits for barely two seasons. The Talbot Sunbeam-Lotus was, in contrast, a stunning success, scoring a memorable win on the Lombard-RAC Rally in 1980 and thus breaking years of Ford dominance.

However, the Sunbeam was not planned to remain in production after 1981 and, following the introduction of the mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo, Talbot knew it needed to work on a similarly spectacular car.

Work on the Horizon takes place in Hethel

Des O’Dell and Lotus began work on a silhouette Horizon, identifying that the development of a similar concept to the Renault’s was the way forward. Using the same 2174cc Lotus slant-four engine, now developing 250bhp, located behind the front seats, the Horizon Group B was the result, and it has to be said, an exciting looking proposition it looked.

However, only two prototypes were built before PSA canned it. That was probably no bad thing, given that, within PSA, Citroen and Peugeot were also – independently – developing their own rally cars.

In 1981, Audi exploded onto the rally scene with its Quattro and all competing rally teams immediately realised that they would need four-wheel drive in order to remain competitive in the future. Peugeot took over the project and, by 1984, it had produced the mid-engined, four-wheel-drive 205 T16 as a riposte to the Quattro.

Talbot’s rallying efforts were banished to history…

Talbot Horizon Group B

With thanks to Declan Berridge for the pictures and information.

Keith Adams
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  1. Shows also the potential to have lifted the Horizon up with to take on the XR3 etc with some sporty versions.

    Power steering became available with the Solara launch in 80 so solved the biggest issue (heavy low geared steering) along with the addition of the CX 4 and 5 speed gear box in the GLS veresions. So the bits were in the parts bin to if not hit the Golf GTI with its yuppie brand value at least raise the image of the car against the Astra / Escort by doing this.

    Warm 89 hp 1.6 Engline and 5 speed (CX) from the orignal Solara GLS
    Hot 102 hp 2 Litre and 5 speed from thge base CX
    Hotter 128 hp 2 Litre and 5 speed CX GTI

    Add in some more sporty seats, a revised facia using a Solar GLS/SX instrument cluster (which by standrads of the day was very good with its glowing needles) or use the facia fro the US version, (much) stiffer anti roll bars and a set of Alloys to fill out those arches agarnish with a bit of plastic body kit and a rather interesting GTI basher would have come into being.

    • The M engine was too old, bulky and heavy, it might not have found its place under the bonnet without major modifications and if it could have, the heavy nosed car may have become (more) cumbersome. I think maybe the Chrysler 2L or Douvrin would have been a better option, lighter, much more modern units but by that time, 309 was well advanced and PSA didn’t care much about improving old Simcas…apart the diesel xud as a test bed, nothing major happened to the Horizon from 1982.

  2. An interesting idea, as the Lotus Sunbeam was being wound down, would be a Lotus Horizon. You’d have the same 120 mph performance as the Sunbeam, but with a far more practical five door body and bigger boot, and also a five speed transmission available after 1981 to reduce fuel consumption and engine noise( the first being a major criticism of the Sunbeam). I could imagine this Talbot hot hatch being a serious contender against the Volkswagen Golf GTi and five doors being a big selling point.

  3. Is it known whether a connection exists between this prototype and the 1982 Talbot Horizon Turbo concept at the Coventry Transport Museum?

    For some reason the latter features a 1300cc turbocharged (likely Poissy-derived) engine though unfortunately nothing became of it, yet rather than following the example of the US-built Horizons with the 2.2 Chrysler turbocharged engines (including the Shelby GLHS). It is strange though understandable (given the 1100-based platform of the European Horizons) the concept never featured the 2.2 Lotus 900 Series or the 2.2 Simca 180 engines, let alone relatively more viable 1.6 Poissy (possibly including Matra-based OHC and turbo) engine.

      • Obviously it was a factor along with Chrysler Europe’s financial problems that necessitated it being acquired by PSA and the latter’s short-lived initial idea of making Talbot into a budget brand.

        Doubt the 2.2 Lotus 900 Series engine could be mounted into a FWD production European Horizon (the US version is probably another matter), that said the Simca 180 engines were a possibility had the larger Alpine the European Horizon was derived from featured the Simca 180 units from the outset along with Matra developing an OHC version of the Poissy engines (it being established turbocharging was looked at for both the 180 and Poissy units).

  4. “The Formula 1 project was a spectacular failure”

    Not really they were in 81 relatively competitive, Lafitte won in Austria and Canada, with Podiums in Belgium, Monaco, Spain, Germany and GB and came 4th in the World Drivers Championship and the team also finishing 4th in the Constructors Championship.

    • Read the 1.5 Matra MS82 V6 Turbo prototype engine had great potential had it been used by either Ligier (for the JS17T) or later Williams in the early-1980s, which produced 804hp at 10,800rpm on the bench.

  5. “However, only two prototypes were built before PSA canned it. That was probably no bad thing, given that, within PSA, Citroen and Peugeot were also – independently – developing their own rally cars.”

    Actually in around 1980/81 Citroen was looking at Visas, more aimed at amateur/privateer drivers. The Peugeot project was very interesting as that was the Peugeot 305 Sport V6.

    A RWD, non-turbo 305 for groupB, everybody laughed about that! But indeed it was one of the most underestimated projects ever! Because the 305 was meant to take over from the successful but ageing Africa and marathon specialist 504 Coupé V6. But the 305 for the first time had a 24v version of the V6, the gearbox was transaxle mounted for better weight distribution, the bodyshell was aloy for being lighter, the wheel travel was huge. And seeing that throughout groupB RWD cars as the Ascona 400 and Celica TCT dominated Safari and Bandama rallies, the 305 V6 could have worked there very well indeed.

    All that means the Peugeot rally project did not contradict the Horizon Lotus, it complimented it. It seems PSA wanted to very much carry on in the WRC as they did with combining 504 Coupé V6 & Sunbeam Lotus. The Horizon Lotus was unlikely to do well on Safari and marathon rallies but it would have been the better on sprint events as Monte Carlo, Corsica etc. To send the Horizon Lotus to the bulk of WRC events and use the 305 V6 in Africa and marathons seems a very exciting and promising combination from 82 onwards. Then of course the Quattro happened….

  6. I never knew why Peugeot didn’t look at the success of the Golf GTi and consider a hot hatch version of the Horizon. There was the Sunbeam Lotus, of course, but this died in 1981 with the closure of Linwood and was mainly aimed at enthusiasts who wanted raw power more than anything else. A Horizon Sport with a more powerful version of a Peugeot 1.6 engine, or possibly the two litre engine used in the 505 and Citroen CX, and a five speed transmission and PAS could have been feasible at the time. It could have attracted a following as the Horizon’s design was quite fresh in the early eighties and probably would have been cheaper than the Golf.

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