Born into the world with the cards stacked against it, the Talbot Tagora is now among the rarest vehicles on Britain’s roads – if there are indeed any still running.
It was conceived in the mid-’70s as a successor to the Chrysler 180/2 Litre range and was simply too far down the developmental line to be cancelled when Peugeot took over Chrysler Europe in 1979.
As a result, just as the target market didn’t want to buy the Tagora, its creators didn’t really want to build it – especially as it provided undesirable in-house competition for the Peugeot 604 and Citroën CX.
Unwanted it may have been, but the Tagora was not actually a bad car. Its only serious failing was poor fresh air ventilation, but it simply lacked the party tricks to woo buyers away from the established competition.
Even as a kid the sheer fatuousness of this machine fascinated me, mainly because I couldn’t imagine anybody ever wanting to buy a big luxury saloon with a Talbot moniker.
In fact, that badge – and the tortured, tangled history behind it – explains much about the Tagora’s lack of appeal.
The Talbot name had once been a proud thing: formed in 1903, the marque was an early pace-setter in the new-fangled world of the automobile. In 1913, Percy Lambert covered 103 miles in an hour in one at Brooklands, thus setting a new record, and it remained a desirable make well into the 1930s.
After that, however, things went south. The British arm was absorbed into the Rootes Group in the late ’30s – where they lived on for a period as the Sunbeam-Talbots – while the last French Talbots were built in the ’50s, until the firm was taken over by Simca.
Soon after that, Simca itself became part of Chrysler’s European expansion plans of the late ’60s and there the name might have died entirely.
Until 1978, that is, when PSA bought up the American firm’s European interests and made the strange decision to resurrect the Talbot moniker for all the former Chrysler-badged cars. Nobody seemed to have considered that it was a marque that had meaning only for people drooling in nursing homes.
So it was that the Talbot Tagora, built at the old Simca factory near Paris, became the first new model under the PSA regime: an executive car with no pedigree whatsoever behind it in a market where buyers already had the choice of a BMW, a Mercedes or even a Ford Granada.
It looked fairly acceptable at least – although you could have forgiven casual onlookers for thinking it was something from the Eastern Block or possibly Japan – and 40 years on you might even call it handsome, at least by comparison with the majority of 21st century blobs.
Today, the shape and that severe, synthetic cabin seem almost an ’80s futuristic statement, with something of the fascination of a Casio digital watch or an early home video player.
The style was signed-off by Roy Axe in Coventry as early as 1976. Had it appeared then it might have fared better in the marketplace.
By 1983 it was all over for the Tagora, with just 20,000 cars built. Of those only just over 1000 were V6 SX models.The shame of it was that while the 180/2 Litre it replaced really was a dog, the Tagora was a pretty decent machine, far more than just a tweaked Peugeot 604 under those angular lines.
In fact, its 604/505 suspension was simply last-minute PSA modification aimed at giving this orphan barge, with its unique shell and structure, some family kinship with established Peugeot rear-drive saloons.
The base model Tagora was the GL, as pictured here, with only four manual speeds to harness its 115bhp and no power steering, although you could add that as an option.
The PRV ‘Douvrin’ V6-powered SX versions, with their distinctive four-spoke alloys shod with metric-sized Michelin TRX rubber, were quick in their class, with a sub-8 second 0-60 time that beat that of the BMW 6 Series. I recall that fact getting my attention at the time.
French Tagora buyers had the option of a diesel, which sold moderately well. The petrol-slurping 2.2-litre ‘four’, never inspiring in the old Chrysler 180/2 Litre, was a hesitant gasping presence that urged the Tagora along with no sense of glee or urgency; hardly worthy of what was such a supple, sophisticated and surefooted chassis.
It was outstandingly roomy in the back, too – I seem to remember that many of the Tagoras that made it to the UK were briefly popular with airport-run cabbies – but the cabin was generally austere and brittle in its fittings and furniture, with a boxy dashboard.
The big car world has probably served up more duds and no-hopers than most other sectors over the years; vehicles high in the kind of self-aggrandising size, ambition and pomposity that makes them a gift to the likes of yours truly (essential fodder for the Guilty Pleasures column in fact), yet it feels a little unfair to savage the memory of the Tagora with too much relish.
It was not a bad car, just a pointless one.
Images: Tony Baker