Even four decades since the last one was registered, the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus seems a wonderfully daft idea. Time has done nothing to dull the cult appeal. Lotus has done plenty of consultancy and engineering work since the early 1980s, yet the dowdy Talbot with the fizzy twin cam - and some Hethel handling help - really does stand out.
In the late 1970s, Chrysler UK was in a bit of a mess (to put it mildly). Its new Sunbeam supermini needed an image boost, and how would a car company go about that back then? A rally car, of course. The old rear-drive Escorts were facing some proper competition, at last, from the Vauxhall Chevette HS, with its big power and agile handling. So the decision was made to make a Chevette of a Sunbeam (sort of), notch up rally success and create a homologation hero to help shift some stock. It was Lotus who would provide the rorty twin carb’d engine, quite closely related to the four-cylinder found in the Esprit of the time, and soon the Sunbeam was taking shape.
Well, sort of. As Chrysler UK (indeed the entire European operation) was on the brink, it decided to sell up to PSA. What was a Sunbeam Lotus would eventually become a Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, as Peugeot resurrected the brand, but there are also early cars like this one that kept Chrysler badges for a while. It was all very confusing (still is, really), and can’t have helped the Sunbeam’s modest sales; a 20mpg hot hatch was always going to struggle in fuel-starved times, and a mismatched identity was yet another problem.
But the finished article was well received by the press, recorded some rally success - including an RAC triumph - and soon forged a reputation for itself as the wild child hot hatch. As the Europeans were investing in front-drive architecture and fuel injection, the Lotus Sunbeam was a hit of old-school entertainment. Which, by the standards of the time, must have made it pretty raw indeed.
Coming across one today really is a rare find, so prone are the Sunbeams to rusting and, er, oversteering into stuff. But this one is a real treat, with a huge amount of time and effort invested in maintaining a brilliant example. It’s a Series 1 car (note the smaller headlamps and Chrysler badge) that’s only covered 63,000 miles, and is said to be rust-free - pretty much unheard of for these cars.
It comes with loads of history, some recent engine work and a proper time machine-spec interior. For a car of such age and relatively humble beginnings, it’s a glorious survivor. The wheels have been restored, there’s a new exhaust fitted and a recent rolling road session has put the engine at exactly the horsepower it was meant to make in 1981. Sometimes ‘labour of love’ appears in an advert where it doesn’t really belong, but here that claim feels more than believable.
The asking price is £35k, and apparently it’s only going because of a house sale. Again, it’s easy to feel every word of ‘very reluctant sale’ in this instance. Appropriately enough, that’s the same money as was asked for a similarly smart Chevette HS last year - rivals still to this day. And a heck of a lot less than most Fords with Lotus engines, too…
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