The Talbot Sunbeam Lotus is Hannibal Lecter garbed in the fluffiest of white woolly fleeces. If you’re racing against it, rallying or just taking off informally from a contested red light, this car will rip your throat out before parking neatly to offer you Elastoplast therapy. If, on the other hand, you are the driver, you may wear your smirk with vicarious pride for the many who would love to be in your place.
There’s a thoroughly professional construct underlying the corporate and political face-offs that surrounded the car’s genesis. Chrysler inherited Hillman’s Imp and Avenger when it acquired Britain’s Rootes Group with a subsequent governmental condition that it maintain the Linwood factory in Scotland. To satisfy many competing demands, including its own to create a serious Group 4 racing contender, Chrysler (by now Chrysler UK and Europe), developed the agreed new supermini, the Sunbeam, from existing Imp and Avenger parts, as a fairly conventional three-door hatchback.
The Sunbeam’s shortened Avenger wheelbase was, of course, a highly exploitable rear wheel drive. Lotus, invited to the party after the 1977 launch, installed their own 2.2 litre twin cam engine and managed to create one of the fastest rallying-potential cars of the era. Lotus did much more, modifying the suspension and brakes to make the live axle more effective, and insisting on a five-speed ZF gearbox (with 1st gear canted over to the left in true racing style!).
Visually, apart from sills above the wheel arches, there wasn’t much to reveal its lightning secrets; and the Chrysler Sunbeam Lotus was presented at the Geneva Motor Show of 1979. By then, Chrysler had sold itself to Peugeot, and the road-going version was delivered as the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus. Never mind the politics. It won the 1980 Lombard RAC Rally and the 1981 World Rally Championship. Its apparent innocence makes you shiver. It’s magnificent.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1979 (until 1981)
ENGINE: 2,174 cc Slant Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 121 mph (195 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.4 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Very seldom has a race or rally car been conceived, designed, tested, homologated and raced (with success) as quickly as the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus. Ultra-professionalism extended to works drivers including Henri Toivonen, Guy Frequelin, Tony Pond and even Stig Blomgvist.