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Talbot Samba (1981 - 1986)

Last updated 19 March 2013

 
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Model Timeline

March 1979
Project T15 conceived as the replacement for the Sunbeam

The new supermini took shape in the early months of 1979, under the project name C15, and quickly a product plan was drawn-up for the car. Because the Horizon was established, and had an entry level of 1118cc, it was decided that the C15 should be based upon the shorter of the two 104s, so as not to encroach on its bigger brother. The 104 “shortcut” also fit more comfortably into the classic supermini envelope, fitting neatly beneath the Ford Fiesta (and slightly above the soon-to-be-launched Austin miniMetro). A further matter for consideration was Peugeot’s own replacement for the 104, which had been conceived as a slightly bigger car…

This product juggling would eventually leave PSA with a Talbot-badged supermini at the lower end of the supermini sector, and a Peugeot at the top of it. This did not take Citroen into consideration, as it was considered that they traditionally appealed to very different customers. Without doubt, the post-merger situation at PSA was a product planner’s nightmare!

With a plan settled, the matter of how much 104 would need to be retains needed to be settled. Given that PSA earmarked the Linwood plant for closure soon after it took on Chrysler Europe, the C15 (renamed T15 soon after the “Talbot” marque name was chosen) would need to enter production by late-1981. And that meant, a short gestation. Just like the Sunbeam before it, the T15 would, therefore, need to retain as much under-the-skin engineering as possible.

Given that brief, the Whitley design centre produced a smart update of the 104. It certainly looked more modern, thanks to the 1980s-generic front end styling and moulded bumpers, but because much of the 104Z’s body-in-white engineering was retained, as well as its side doors, the T15 would emerge looking little more than a facelift of an existing car. In fact, according to French sources, the Whitley involvement on the T15 project amounted to a tidy-up of an existing proposal to facelift the Peugeot 104. Although the T15 would emerge as very obviously Peugeot 104 based, it shared very few body panels and only the hatchback and bonnet are the same. The doors are shared with the 104, but with different outer skins.

October 1981
Talbot Samba launched

"A 104 with its faults ironed out", is how WHAT CAR? magazine described the Samba. Certainly, its style was very much of that school of thought.

"A 104 with its faults ironed out", is how WHAT CAR? magazine described the Samba. Certainly, its style was very much of that school of thought.

Like the Sunbeam before it, the T15 went through a remarkably quick gestation period, and even if it relied on much existing Peugeot hardware, it was proof of Whitley and Poissey’s determination to make the best of the situation. Despite not having been anything more than a twinkle in the product planners’ eyes in 1978, the T15 became a production reality in October 1981, and the following month, the new car – called the Talbot Samba – was launched to the press. It was significant at the time for being the first Poissy car to be designed and produced under the stewardship of Peugeot, and at the time of its launch, there was no reason to believe that it was not to be the first in a line of many…

At launch, the Samba range was offered in three levels of trim: LS, GL and GLS, and these trim levels were tied in with three engines – 954cc, 1124cc and 1360cc. At the time of its launch, the Pininfarina styled cabriolet was also touted, but it followed some months after. Unlike the Alpine, the Samba was purely French built, which must have come as something of a blow to the beleagured British workforce.

Still, the Samba was greeted by a positive press at its launch in France, and WHAT CAR? magazine was most favourable after its first drive: “First driving impressions are of the refined, clean revving engine and excellent quality of the gearchange adding to a drivetrain which for its smoothness is unique in the present range of Talbot cars.” Obviously, the use of Peugeot instead of SIMCA engines (with their rattly tappets) had the desired effect on WHAT CAR?‘s staffers… The magazine went on: “The gearing feels very high as the ratios were chosen with economy in mind, and one feels that the limit of economy gearing in relation to the power of the engine is not far off, but as it is the compromise is reasonable.”

The fact that the magazine picked up on the gearing is significant, as one of Talbot’s stated aims for the Samba was to produce the most economical car in Europe… Conditionally, of course. In 1981, much play was made of the EEC “government” fuel consumption figures, and the most flattering of all these figures, was what was achieved at a constant 56mph (90km/h). The nature of the test (performed on a rolling road) produced some stunning headline figures, and the manufacturers were keen to produce the most economical car. In France, this was certainly the case, as the country’s best selling car, the Renault 5 was available in ultra-economical GTL form, and the company were not shy in advertising that it could achieve 58.3mpg…

When the Samba was launched, it was soon touted as “Europe’s most economical car”, after the 1124cc GL version delivered 61.4mpg. As a historical footnote, that was soon bettered by a higher-geared version of the 5GTL (62.8mpg), which then was trounced bythe Austin Metro 1.3HLE (64.1mpg). It is hard to imagine that kind of thing happening now, but at the time, it was a most serious matter, indeed. How times have changed…

The magazine was left unimpressed by the Samba’s chassis though: “…it is satisfactory by the standards of the 5GTL, but is uninspiring compared to the Metro and Polo. In using Peugeot 104 suspension components, it necessarily has soft springing but fortunatly not quite as uncontrolled as the Renault. Damping is good and the amount of body roll on corners is modest so that the effect is what the Renault tries to be but isn’t. Roadholding is good, verging on the enjoyable at times, but the Samba’s handling is to a large extent spoiled by heavy and lifeless steering…”

June 1982
Samba Cabriolet launched

Open-air motoring on a budget: The Samba Cabriolet proved something of a hit in France...

Open-air motoring on a budget: The Samba Cabriolet proved something of a hit in France...

During the development of the Samba, it was forseen by PSA management that a high glamour model would need to be devised in order to make the car stand out from the crowd. The answer to that question came swiftly, in the form of a cabriolet version. Given Peugeot’s long association with Pininfarina, it seemed fitting to give the job of developing the decapotable version to the Italian coachbuilder, Pininfarina. The fact that Pininfarina had also been responsible for all of Peugeot’s drop-top models since the early 1960s, and were massively experienced in this field anyway made the decision something of a no-brainer. The fact that it emerged as such a pretty car, was more by design than accident, thanks to the Italians!

The cabriolet was offered for sale in 1982, and soon became something of a cult car in France, where it was seen as a stylish homegrown (and cheaper) alternative to the Volkswagen Golf cabriolet. Soon, the 1360cc runabout was to be seen in some numbers around Paris; all manner of public celebrities at the wheel… Two versions of the cabriolet were offered between 1982 and 1984 (in 72 and 80bhp form), but this was cut back to the single lower power version after 1984. In its four year production run, 13,062 versions were produced; a respectable figure for such a niche product – and rather better than the in-house competition in the shape of the Citroen Visa decapotable.

Spiritual successor to the SIMCA 1000 Rallye, and precursor to some cracking Peugeot hot hatches (205, 106, 306 Rallye), the Samba Rallye was a fun package that had been created so that young men could go rallying.

Spiritual successor to the SIMCA 1000 Rallye, and precursor to some cracking Peugeot hot hatches (205, 106, 306 Rallye), the Samba Rallye was a fun package that had been created so that young men could go rallying.

The Samba Rallye, on the other hand, was a replacement for the SIMCA 1000 Rallye (and some would say, Talbot Sunbeam ti); produced to meet the same set of criteria as its rear-engined progenitor: a stripped out special with minimal equipment and a “tweakable” engine, purpose built for motor sport. First shown in 1983, the Rallye was instantly recognizable because of its bonnet mounted air extractor, availability in two colours only (white or red), and garish side stripes… The 80bhp 1219cc engine resulted in the 780kg Rallye having a fair turn of speed (110mph), and the club rally drivers took it to their muddy hearts…

In 1985, a rather special 90bhp 1360cc version was launched, and surprisingly, this did without the side stripes, as can be seen in the above picture of a Poissy development car.

March 1986
Samba production ceased

Shortly after the launch of the cabriolet in 1982, Talbot started work on the Samba’s replacement. Because Talbot had lost its autonomy within PSA the previous year, the new car would be entirely managed by Peugeot, which meant that all styling and engineering work would take place back in France. That meant that the Anglo-French Talbot was no more, and that there was no longer any need for Whitley. What it meant for the future of Talbot was plain and simple: Samba, Horizon, Alpine and Tagora needed to sell in order for Talbot to continue…

…and outside of France, and through PSA’s neglect of the range, none of Talbot’s cars sold in large enough numbers for the company to consider Talbot a going concern. The decision did not happen until 1984, which meant that the Samba replacement did get off the drawing board. Sadly, that meant that the development of the Samba (as well as Alpine and Horizon) was limited to a marketing one, and so, the Samba was released in a number of special editions in order to maintain sales. The Samba continued until 1986, when run-out Samba Style (in the UK) and Sympa (in France) models were launched…

What sealed the Samba’s fate was not only the failure of Talbot to sell in meaningful numbers across Europe, but also the massive and instant success of the Peugeot 205 following its launch in 1983. Whereas the older 104 had never set the world on fire, the achingly cute 205 was welcomed by everyone that saw it. The 205′s range started with a 954cc entry level model and ended with the 1360cc GT version – all of a sudden, there was no longer any need for the Samba. So, the replacement was shelved, and with it, the Talbot marque shuffled off into obscurity…

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