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The Talbot Tagora

The planned C9 - Chrysler Tagora

The Talbot Tagora / Chrysler C9 was the result of Chrysler president Lynn Townsend’s efforts to build Chrysler Europe in the 1960s; Chrysler acquired Rootes Motors (England), Simca Motors (France), and Barreiros Motors (Spain). By 1975, they were building around 700,000 cars per year on nine different platforms and architectures. To simplify and reduce costs, they embarked on a program that would, in five years, result in new products covering two thirds of the European market on three platforms:

PlatformCarsStart YearTypeEngineEuropean Market
C6Simca 1307/8 and Chrysler Alpine1976FWD 4-door hatch1.52.5 million cars/year
C2Horizon1978FWD 4-door hatch1.33 million cars/year
C9Tagora1980RWD 4-door sedan2.01.5 million cars/year

Chrysler Europe's 1975-1980 Product Plan would be far simpler, helping dealers, manufacturing plants, and purchasing. The C2 in particular was a major success; more than 3,000,000 C2s (Chrysler-Talbot-Plymouth Horizons and Dodge Omni) were built between 1977 and 1989.

glass fibre mockup of C9The new products were surprisingly competitive; the fifty leading auto writers of Europe gave the Car of the Year award to the Simca 1308/Chrysler Alpine (C6) in 1976 and again to the Chrysler Horizon (C2) in 1978.

In 1976, the C6 easily passed the BMW 316-320 in votes; in 1978, C2 passed the Audi 80 and Fiat Ritmo. (For 1977, the European Car of the Year as the Porsche 928.) Two Car of the Year awards in three years was a remarkable accomplishment for a company that had only 7% penetration of the European passenger car market.

Lee Iacocca was quoted by Automotive News in 1979 as crediting:

... the technological innovations on that car - like automatic transmission, and on-board computer, automatic speed control, electronic ignition, and electronic trip computer. ... They were all developed by Chrysler engineers in this country and then made available to our French company for use on the Simca Horizon.

Lee was right about the technology, but the powertrain, chassis, and body were engineered at the Chrysler France Technical Center at Carrierres, near Paris. The car was planned and styled in Europe (Whitley Technical Center near Coventry, England).

The Chrysler C9 (Chrysler Tagora)

The modern, glassy three-box saloon sat atop a generous 109-inch wheelbase. Rivals were moving towards larger six-cylinder models for their range toppers, backed up with entry level models in the 2-litre class. The C9 would receive its predecessor’s inline fours, but as Chrysler Europe had nothing larger (and Chrysler US engines would not fit), an alternative had to be drawn up.

Chrysler C9 full clay

Initially, Chrysler considered a Mitsubishi straight-six, but it soon became apparent that the Mitsu lacked the power, torque, and refinement needed; the PRV V6 “Douvrin” engine, used by the Peugeot 604, Renault 30, and Volvo 264/265, was the best solution, as it was compact, light, and reasonably powerful, but PSA raised concerns about it being used in a direct, French competitor. However, this engine was indeed used when the PSA takeover of Chrysler Europe in 1978 made the argument moot. Peugeot moved the C9 front wheels 2 inches forward to accept the PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) V6 engine. These design changes improved the car but they delayed production by one year.

styling bucks

Burton Bouwkamp wrote, “Our American management challenged the expense of the IRS [independent rear suspension] feature on the C9. (I think the basis for their position was that more expensive American cars did not have IRS and the current Chrysler 2 Litre model did not have IRS.)

For their evaluation, Joe Farnham (Chrysler France's Technical Director) prepared two C9s - one with IRS rear suspension and one with the carryover Chrysler 2 Litre rear suspension. He then had them drive the IRS car around a Belgium block unbanked oval track at Chrysler France's Proving Ground at 100 KM/hr. Joe then challenged them to drive the c/o rear suspension C9 on the same course at the same speed. They could not keep the car on the track in the turns. The C9 got IRS!”

Styling-wise, the C9 story was British ... initially. The style was defined early, and remained reasonably unchanged throughout development. The early concepts produced at Whitley under the direction of Art Blakeslee possessed an interesting frontal treatment (lights and number plate housed behind a glass cover), but other than that, the shape did not change radically between 1977 and 1980.

Chrysler Tagora fiberglass model

Despite the C180's non-performance in the executive sector, Chrysler Europe planned for a 60,000-70,000 per annum production run (in Poissy, France). According to Burton Bouwkamp, Chrysler Europe's Executive Director of Product Development at the time,

The C9 programme approval by Chrysler Corporation management was for more than $60 million for special tools. This did not include product development costs which were expensed - rather than capitalized. Product development costs were covered in our annual budget and so were not part of the C9 programme submission. In my presentation to top management I forecast that with the C9 our annual sales in the European luxury car market would increase from 30,000 Chrysler 2-Litre cars to 60,000 C9s. This was only 5% penetration of that market segment but on this basis the C9 program was profitable and was approved. (Chrysler - Europe's overall passenger car penetration was 7%, so 5% of this segment seemed like a reasonable forecast.)

The Tagora was an entirely SIMCA (Chrysler Europe) creation in terms of engineering, save for a last-minute substitution of Peugeot parts. The SIMCA four-cylinder engine was mechanically completely unrelated to the Peugeot fours. According to Burton Bouwkamp, the C9 was designed in Europe in 1978, styled in England by Art Blakeslee at the Whitley Studio, and engineered by Chrysler France Engineering (under Technical Director Joe Farnham) at Poissy, France.

Chrysler C9 becomes Talbot Tagora

1983 talbot tagora carsWhen Chrysler's European operation was sold to PSA in 1978, the C9 story changed.

On January 1st 1979, all Chrysler management left Poissy. Peugeot felt that C9 was far too advanced to put on ice, and decided to continue its development. The PRV V6 version could go ahead, even though it would push the C9 range towards the Peugeot 604. In those closing months, the policy of using as many PSA parts as possible was executed.

Burton Bouwkamp explained the changes that took place after Peugeot took over C9:

Peugeot delayed the production date of the C9 to make changes to install their V6 engine and to increase the feature and appointment level - and the price. I think they moved the front wheels forward about 2 inches to accommodate the engine. I think the addition of the V6 and the wheel movement actually helped the C9. I think it failed in the marketplace because PSA did not need the car. They already had two cars (Peugeot 604 and Citroen CX) in this 1,200,000 to 1,500,000 market segment. It seemed to me that the C9 - which we named Tagora - should have been a new model of the 604.

UK Talbot Tagora

The entry-level C9 continued with an enlarged version of the SIMCA engine, which ended up with the same displaacement as the 2.2-litre version of the aluminium “Douvrin” engine in the later Renault 25 and Citroen CX Phase 2, but was otherwise unrelated. The Peugeot turbodiesel found in the 604 and 505 went straight into the C9.

Despite the ownership change, the launch date of the C9 only slipped a matter of months, and although it was not quite production ready, it was showcased at the Paris Salon in 1980. The appearance of the Talbot Tagora in Paris was an impressive achievement.

In the UK, the Tagora was seen very much as a rival to the Ford Granada, which could help Talbot to become established in the UK as a solid "number four" behind Ford, BL and Vauxhall.

When journalists got their hands on the Tagora for the first time at the Morocco launch in March 1981, the problem was chassis and engine competence, overshadowed by a lack of visual charisma. Many commentators compared the Tagora to an upscaled Solara; a car which, in the minds of the press, also lacked real flair. The Tagora was a pleasant enough design in the whole, but it was seriously let down by the detailing (some of which may have been due to Peugeot, not the original stylists). The rear wheels were set far too inboard of the flanks, which hurt the Tagora's stance on the road; it may not have been designed this way, but this is what emerged when the narrower-tracked Peugeot 505 rear axle was used. There were other issues, of course, but again, it was all in the detailing - small design errors that ended up damaging this make-or-break car.

Talbot Tagor production

When launched in the UK, the Tagora came in three trim variations: GL, GLS and SX - and prices were competitive with Talbot's stated number one rival, the Ford Granada.

1983 talbot tagoraRoad testers were mixed. CAR’s LJK Setright wrote, "With admirable traction, even on mountain roads filmed with freshly falling snow, the SX seems more to profit than to suffer by the high ratios of its transmission, and it climbs up the speedometer with an eagerness that must put all of its class rivals in the shade. ... In many ways the SX is a better car than the 604 ... the Tagora SX is, if to a lesser extent than the GL/GLS because of its superior tyres, a softer and more slowly-responding machine, admirably stable but as it were heavily damped to ensure that the driver is never taken by surprise. That does not mean it cannot be hustled: it can, and I took enormous pleasure in leaving the entire press-test convoy behind after a late start. On road surfaces that were sometimes superb and sometimes non-existent, amounting in the latter case to loose stones and sand that had merely been levelled by a grader, the Tagora was always safe and secure, always competent, never at a loss for the right gear or the necessary grip."

Whitley Technical Center - Chrysler design office in Coventry

After all, that, though, his summary was that the car was not outstanding and would not rise to the top of any buyer’s list.

When What Car? tested the V6 SX the following year, it posted an impressive set of performance figures (0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds, maximum speed 122 mph). What Car? summarized, "The SX presented is spacious, comfortable and, thanks to its abundant power (163bhp at 6000rpm, thanks to its triple-carb set-up) and speed, quite fun to drive at times. But in ways it is too rapid for its own good, the power highlighting wet-weather handling vices, which make any BMW seem well-mannered. The Tagora is also inexcusably badly ventilated, its interior is hardly even in the cheap hatchback class and perhaps most importantly, it has such a complete blandness of style as to disqualify it instantly in a market where character and status count for so much."

Sales were a sad end to the 1970s Chrysler corporate plan. The C9 died after four years, with a run of fewer than 19,400 cars. Had it been launched as planned, it may well have been a success in the same way as the C2 and C6. Or perhaps not: the luxury car segment had fallen by a third, by 1980, to one million cars per year.

Year
1980
1981
1982
1983
Produced
145
15,368
2,566
1,310

Total: 19,389 (figures courtesy of the SIMCA Club)

Notes from the Chrysler Europe team

Marc Honoré (Director of Product Planning for Chrysler Europe) added:

I believe that the major cause in the failure of the Tagora was the catastrophic re-branding of the Simca range (already perturbed by the intervening addition of Chrysler ): Simca = Simca-Chrysler = Talbot! The majority of the range having remained unchanged, the buyers were left somewhat bemused. You may remember a similar hiatus when Datsun switched (abeit more logically ) to Nissan.

Additionally, the dealerships were suffering from a severe crisis of confidence following the arrival of Peugeot. The Paris based Sales division had never quite come to terms with Chrysler “European” products and the prospect of a new regime did little to instill much confidence in their personal futures!

Tagora crash test

I agree that the Tagora itself had lost something between the studio and the production line, including some twelve months for re-engineering. The narrowing of the rear track to accommodate the Peugeot components pretty well ruined the stance of the vehicle - a size 8 body on a size 6 chassis.

Finally, though very roomy, the interior of the car was by then quite out of step with the growing demand for “richness:” the plain, angular style, constrained by demanding cost targets, made for a lined “refrigerator” look rather than a comfortable “lounge.” I might add that the 604, at launch, had had the same problem - a blown up 504 but not a top of the line car. The Frankfurt show-car interior (leaving aside the gadgets) was much nearer the mark. Ah well! It reminds me of a styling meeting in which Jean Boillot accused me of trying to sink the company by proposing to trim the B post on the 305 GL instead of leaving it painted!

Burton Bouwkamp added:

I still think the car would have been a marketing success if it had been merchandised as the new Peugeot 604 instead of a luxury offering from a weak - and disappearing - dealer body. [Still,] Marc makes some interesting points:

1. European customers were confused by the brand name transition over 5 years from Simca to Chrysler to Talbot. This weakened the nameplate image.
2. Chrysler Europe (renamed Talbot) had a weak marketing/merchandizing capability.
3. Revising the C9 design to use Peugeot components helped the product with the availability of a V6 engine but hurt the product by delaying the car 12 months and the narrow rear track appearance hurt the product.
4. The interior was not luxurious enough for that market segment.

The Talbot Tagora Presidence

The brief was to design a Talbot Tagora with everything, the kind of car that would lure the well-heeled executive away from the more established luxury cars. The result was the Presidence; a £25,000 "one-off" from Talbot's Whitley styling studio. It was stocked with everything from cloth-faced leather seats to a colour television, video recorder and 100-watt stereo system.

presidenceThe designer behind the project was Sunny Atri, a graduate of California state University, who moved to Coventry. She was told that the changes must be cosmetic; there must be no engineering changes. The Presidence was based on the 2.6-litre SX model.

The interior was hand-trimmed in Connolly leather with woollen cloth inserts and a brass inlay for the centre console and gear lever. The ultimate accessory was a matching briefcase in leather and brass! Externally, the Presidence was treated to new alloy wheels and smoked rear lamp lenses.

Office equipment included a telephone, dictaphone, and an in-built television capable of picking up CEEFAX and Oracle text services. The was also a natty electric shaver stowed away in the glovebox for midnight-oil style emergencies. The Presidence was purely built as a styling exercise, a mobile demonstration of what Whitley could do, but the idea was to try and interest governments in the UK and France into following a Talbot buying policy.

Only one was built in the end, and it is still believed to be in existence in France.

A Seattle band has named itself Talbot Tagora.

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