The Chrysler Horizon, Talbot Horizon, and Simca 1100
Chrysler Europe was effectively formed around 1964 by the purchase of the English Rootes Group and the French Simca. The Rootes group was made up of Hillman, Humber, Sunbeam and Singer.
In 1967 Simca released a revolutionary car, the 1100. With front wheel drive, an independent suspension, a hatchback with four doors, it was a sensation. Simca wanted to move the 1100 upmarket, to a larger size class, so using the same factory assembly line they designed on the same floorpan a larger (102-in wheelbase) five-door hatchback, using the same suspension and stretched (1294cc and 1442cc) versions of the 1100 engine. The Alpine did not replace the 1100, but sold alongside it starting in 1975.
Chrysler Europe then turned to a replacement for the 1100. Though it had been a success, it was now looking old in a number of areas. Chrysler Europe used it as the basis for its replacement, as they had with the Alpine. The new car was launched at the end of 1977 as the Chrysler Horizon. Horizon? Yep, it was one and the same as the Plymouth product and its Dodge Omni brother. Except for some minor details - head and tail lights were changed as per Federal requirement, as were the bumpers, and the engine was replaced by first a VW, then a Peugeot, then a Chrysler engine (in North America).
Also, the 1100/Alpine engines of 1118cc, 1294cc, 1442cc (and later 1580cc) were not deemed good enough - perhaps due to valvegear noise - so a Volkswagen engine was used to start with. Owners and fans of the Omni/Horizon may also know that later on a Peugeot 1.6-liter engine was offered, but more of this later...
As we all know, in the late 70s Chrysler was having a hard time of it. In the USA this was mainly due to the wrong cars at the wrong time (fuel crisis, anyone?) In Europe, with cars being somewhat smaller (and a lot lighter) than their US equivalents, the fuel crisis hit less hard, so the relative lack of success of Chrysler Europe was not so much due to uncompetitive product as poor execution.
The cars were technically good, and the packages offered a lot (Alpine was European Car Of The Year in 1976, and Horizon in 1978), but the finished item was poorly built and suffered from a number of "small" faults such as rattly engines after as little as 20,000 miles, low-geared steering (a friend's Horizon had the largest turning circle I have ever seen), poorly-finished plastic dashboards and body rust after a short time (although better than many British Leyland products) - however, as so many mid-1970s cars were affected maybe this is unfair. Apparently this was caused by poor Russian steel; Alfa Romeo found that their Alfasud bodies were sometimes up to 80% carbon!
The European version of the Horizon/Omni was born out of a need to replace the aged Simca 1100 range. However, the 1100 lived on some 4 years after the Horizon was launched in late 1977, simply because some versions (like the wagon, panel van and pick-up) weren't replaced. It could in fact be said that the 1100 was replaced by two cars - the Sunbeam for the low-spec 2-doors, and the Horizon for the high-spec 4-doors. The Horizon was not built in England until the 1980s.
Effectively designed around the 1100 base, the Horizon nevertheless incorporated many of the refinements already utilised in the Alpine. The original 1118cc 1100 engine was used, along with the 1294 and 1442cc versions from the Alpine. A 4-speed manual transmission was initially standard. The car was to be wider and of longer wheelbase than the 1100, allowing more interior room. To this end similar seating to the Alpine, being large and soft in the French style, was fitted. The Horizon was marketed like Alpine as a brand-new car but was more like a facelifted 1100 than a cut-down Alpine.
Andrew Cranshaw, who worked at Whitley for some time, wrote that there was a Lotus Horizon Turbo, though it never made production. The power unit was developed by Lotus. “I had the pleasure of riding in a prototype from Whitley to the Chausson wind tunnel, with Lotus engineers. Alternative bodywork mods were styled both at Whitley and at Lotus.”
Ville Keinnen wrote that Talbot's Finland plant used many Saab parts (especially on the interior) and used the Saab painting method. He said there are many Talbots in Finland. Timo Schalkowski wrote that Talbots were made in Uusikaupunki from 1979 to 1987, replacing the Saab 96. There were 1.3 and 1.5 gas engines and a 1.9 litre diesel engine. Talbots have a lot of transmission problems, the 5th and 3th gear do not work like the other gears. We now have an article on the Finland Talbots.
Bill Watson noted: "Not many people realize it, but the European Horizon used torsion bars up front, as did its predecessor, the 1100. When Chrysler took the Horizon over to Detroit, the torsion bars were replaced by a MacPherson strut front suspension." Ironic since Chrysler had pioneered the large-scale use of torsion bar suspensions (which were first used by Packard in 1955), but the torsion bars were apparently heavy and space-consuming.
Again Chrysler Europe won Car Of The Year in 1978 with the Horizon (the Porsche 928 won the award in 1977, the year between the Alpine and Horizon winning). It was not in fact until 1993 that a Japanese car won the award (Nissan Micra), although it is open to any car sold in the European countries. The interior style borrowed much from the Alpine; can anyone provide a U.S. model interior so I can comment on its likeness to the European version?
In 1978 the U.S. versions were of course launched, using a 70hp 1700cc VW engine. Why had the 1442cc Simca engine (which produced 82hp) not been used? I guess that emissions work would have been too costly. Also the engine could be very unrefined and rough at times. The 1118cc engine had only 50hp or so, leading to a very underpowered car, almost matched by the 928cc Sunbeam. The visual differences on the Europe car amounted to smaller bumpers, no side marker lights, flush (rather than recessed) oblong headlights, and larger rear lights, somewhat like those on a Dodge Spirit. Inside not all models had head rests; those that did had fully-adjustable rather than integral ones.
Again the critics applauded the ride but not the steering, which was low-geared and had an exceptionally large turning circle. The Horizon sold better than the Alpine, probably because hatchbacks were more "acceptable" in the smaller size segment, with cars such as the Renault 14 and VW Golf competing. However, it was the only "British" (although early examples were built in France) hatchback - the Ford Escort, Vauxhall Viva and Austin Allegro were all sedans.
For the 1980 model year the luxury SX model, featuring the 1442cc engine and three-speed auto, with trip computer, electric windows and headlamp washers. The range at this time comprised of 1.1 LS, 1.3 LS and GL, 1.5 GL and 1.5 SX auto. Unlike the U.S. range, no sporty European Horizons were ever developed. This was left to the Sunbeam range, although other sports models had been dropped and no new ones were developed under the Peugeot takeover of late 1978. However, the Horizon featured significantly for one reason in Peugeot's plans - in 1982 it was the first model to receive the new XUD 1.9-liter 65hp diesel engine (subsequently to be developed as 71hp non-turbo and 92hp turbo versions in other Peugeot models). Since that time over 7.5 million of these engines, credited with converting many countries to diesel, have been produced.
For the 1983 model year, a shakeup of the range took place to combat falling sales of the Talbot marque in general. All cars were re-designated "Series 2". 5-speed manual gearboxes and head rests were fitted on all models except the base 1.1 LE. Specification levels rose, although the SX was dropped. A couple of special editions arrived, the Pullman (two-tone brown and gold with gold alloy wheels) and later the Ultra LX and GLX (with power steering and wheel covers). Alas, it was again too late and the Horizon died in 1985, although the U.S. model continued until 1990. I guess the priorities were different - in Europe it was seen as a family car, where the market is most hotly contested. In the U.S. it was seen either as a cult sports model (i.e. GLH) or as basic transportation, and in both areas it excelled. If it had only been seen in such a light here, but the former was firmly the Sunbeam's domain, and it was never cheap enough to be the latter - in this country that title belongs to Eastern European cars.
The Horizon as a "world car" (by Bill Watson)
Chrysler initially got a toe-hold in Simca when they bought Ford's 25% interest in 1957. But the Horizon went into production in the U.S. market in the summer of 1977, and Chrysler did not sell their European operation to Peugeot (cars) and Renault (trucks) until a year later in 1978.
The Horizon was meant to be Chrysler's world car, but the car only got as far as Poissy and Detroit. It did not even get to Ryton-on-Dunsmore in the U.K. as Chrysler let Chrysler U.K. tool a completely different vehicle. The Horizon was designed and engineered in France with torsion bar suspension, but Detroit re-engineered it with MacPerson struts for the North American market.
The Volkswagen 1.7-litre engine with a Chrysler-made head was used from the 1978 model year through 1983. 1983 was also the first year of the Peugeot-built 1.6-litre engine, and was last used in 1986. But I believe the Peugeot engine was, indeed, a Peugeot engine and not a Simca unit. The Simca engine was noted for high maintenance, needing such things as having the head retorqued after a few thousand miles. That is something a Japanese car owner would be used to, but no owner of a Chrysler, Ford or GM product would tolerate that back then.
Peugeot built the Horizon in Europe until about 1982, selling it initially as the Talbot Simca Horizon. The 1979 Talbot Simca Horizon even had the pentastar in the grille for a few months.
Chrysler Australia was sold to Mitsubishi in 1981. Chrysler in the U.S. at one point owned 30% or so of Mitsubishi, plus had a 50% interest in Diamond-Star Motors, a joint venture with Mitsubishi. But, in both cases, the need to break the connection was strictly financial. Chrysler needed the money. Chrysler, however, continued to work with Mitsubishi developing the Eagle Talon, Plymouth Laser, Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring. The Colt was dropped as it was considered a potential rival for the Neon. When the Neon was first introduced, the 4-door sedan sold for less than the 4-door Colt.
The Talbot Horizon after Chrysler sold Simca and Rootes to Peugeot
One of the ways in which Chrysler tried to bail itself out of hot water was, in 1978, to sell the entire Chrysler Europe operation to Peugeot. Because the Chrysler name could no longer be used, Peugeot dug up an old name with significance both in the UK and France - Talbot. Legend has it that many cars were rebadged in dealer's showrooms, much like the early publicity K-cars were rebadged for Dodge and Plymouth shots. Sometime later a general shakeup occurred, and this is where the 180/2-Litre, Hunter, 1000 and 1100 met their ends. The range was slimmed to just Avenger, Sunbeam (both only big sellers in their UK homeland), Alpine and Horizon.
Thereafter no development was done on the existing range (except fitment of the new Peugeot/Citroen 1.9 diesel engine to Horizon in 1982), and only 2 products of the "new era" occurred. In 1981 the Linwood, Scotland factory closed for good, and shortly after demolished, which meant the death of the Avenger and Sunbeam. However, the Avenger tooling was then bought by VW of Argentina and cars were manufactured for the South American countries throughout the 1980s. The remaining factories continued to pump out Alpines, Solaras and Horizons.
Not long after the Alpine and Horizon met their maker, the last legacy of Chrysler Europe was no more. But the Talbot name lived on as late as 1991 on a rebadged Peugeot/Citroen/Fiat-design van, and the Peugeot 309 of 1985-93 was in fact the intended Horizon replacement. Critics of the time said that this was evident in the cars 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), and production of the 306 and 406 continued for many years. The Ryton plant was finally closed in December 2006, when the Peugeot 206 ceased production, replaced by the Peugeot 207 made in eastern Europe (thanks, Tim Webb).
150,000 Alpines were built in the UK from 1975 to 1985. A similar number of Horizons were built in the UK from 1980 to 1985.
I would ask, why Federalise the Horizon and not the Alpine? The Alpine was larger, more roomy and more comfortable (with its soft French-design seating and torsion bar (coincidence?) suspension), so would have fitted in much better with American tastes. Maybe it was much easier to fit an alternative engine to the Horizon.
Omni, Horizon, and more - Peugeot Museum
According to pello.t.81M, the Peugeot Museum in Poissy has everything that was built in Poissy or studied there. In the museum is a Dodge Omni that was sent to perform the first tests with the Peugeot diesel engine. The museum can be visited every Saturday. You may contact them at CAAPY, 45 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 78 Poissy (France).
Thanks to Brad Addison for his corrections.