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 largely the same as the Plymouth product and its Dodge Omni brother. There were numerous differences — lights and bumpers were changed as per Federal requirements.
In the late 1970s, Chrysler was having a hard time of it. In the USA this was mainly due to launching new large cars just as the fuel crisis arrived, along with poor management.
The Chrysler Europe 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 the need to replace the aged Simca 1100 range, but the 1100 lived on some four years after the Horizon was launched, because 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.
Designed around the 1100 base, the Horizon still had many of the refinements of the Alpine. The old 1118cc engine was used, along with the 1294 and 1442cc versions from the Alpine. A four-speed manual transmission was initially standard. The car was to be wider and longer-wheelbase than the 1100, for more interior room; seating similar to the Alpine, 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 that there were many Talbots in Finland. Timo Schalkowski wrote that Talbots were made in Uusikaupunki from 1979 to 1987, replacing the Saab 96. See 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.”
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).
In 1978 the U.S. versions were launched, using a 70hp 1700cc Volkswagen engine, largely because Volkswagen had extra capacity and their engines were emissions-friendly. The little 1118cc engine had only 50hp or so, leading to an underpowered car. 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.
British critics applauded the ride but not the large turning circle. The Horizon sold better than the Alpine, probably because hatchbacks were more acceptable in the 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 was launched, 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. Sporty cars were left to the Sunbeam range, but Horizon was, in 1982, the first car to receive the new XUD 1.9-liter 65hp Peugeot diesel engine. Since that time over 7.5 million of these engines have been produced.
For the 1983 model year, a shakeup of the range took place to combat falling sales of the Talbot marque. All cars were re-designated "Series 2." Five-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). It was again too late, and the Horizon died in 1985, although the U.S. model, selling in a different segment, continued until 1990.
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 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. 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, Simca-designed 1.6-litre engine, which was last used in 1986.
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.
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.
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 Volkswagen of Argentina and cars were manufactured for the South American countries throughout the 1980s.
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 the intended Horizon replacement. Critics of the time said that this was evident in the car’s external styling. 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 suspension), so would have fitted in much better with American tastes. Maybe it was much easier to fit an alternative engine to the Horizon.
Thanks to Brad Addison for his corrections.