Talbot Sunbeam Lotus (Group 4 / B)

Published on: Jan 20, 2016 @ 21:27
Originally Published in: 2014 (old website)
(C) Jay Auger - website owner & author
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INTRODUCTION

In 1979, following the creation of the Talbot brand out of the defunct Chrysler Europe, Rootes, and Simca companies, parent company PSA decided that the new division needed much publicity to boost its image. This was achieved by a venture into motorsport, including the very popular rallying scene of the World Rally Championship (WRC). For this, Talbot Sport was created. PSA ultimately put its finances behind the Sunbeam-Lotus project, brainchild of Des O’Dell, which had already been under development during the Chrysler era.


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HISTORY

Des O’Dell

Des O’Dell was undoubtedly one of the most outlandish characters in the rally scene of the time. He described the Peugeot takeover of his company as “I have a new wallpaper in my office, nothing else has changed”. However, Des O’Dell had much to overcome when he wanted to built his own Group 4 car to compete at the top level of the WRC. As it is often the case with new rally cars, this project would be based on a “flagship” sporty model to help with its promotion abroad – the Sunbeam.

Talbot Sunbeam Lotus

What is most striking about the Sunbeam, while “hot hatches” weren’t a new concept, is that it was introduced in a time when all small economy cars with conventional rear wheel drive were being replaced by the new standard of front wheel drive. Talbot had indeed chosen to retain the rear wheel drive layout. As such, O’Dell had a new platform suitable for rallying almost right out of the box. In his mind, the Sunbeam had the potential to beat the mythical Ford Escort outright. The very successful Escort was ironically on its way to become front wheel drive in its next generation.

Not surprisingly, O’Dell found the base 1.6 litre 105 BHP engine of the Sunbeam to be inadequate, so he went to Peugeot in France with his plans for an international rally car. He was reportedly told that his ideas were ludicrous, too expensive, and would never work. This did not stop O’Dell’s determination as he is rumoured to have plundered his private bank account and travelled with his own money to Lotus in Norfolk.

With the aid of Wynn Mitchell, O’Dell brought back a Lotus engine into his workshop – “Look what I have found in our shelves!”. The new normally aspirated engine was capable of a respectable 250 BHP in racing trim. The following weeks were taken to fit the new engine and reinforce the drivetrain and chassis to match the projected specifications.

The Lotus Engine Fitted

Afterwards, O’Dell summoned the top brass into his office and once again tried to pitch his ideas. Des got the same answer as before – that his plan was never going to work! O’Dell joyfully replied: “Well, the car that’s never going to work sits ready to go in my workshop, fancy a ride?”. Not long after, the Peugeot Talbot board of directors approved the project and gave O’Dell permission to prepare the production of the 400 cars needed for homologation.

O’Dell now had to choose his drivers to be seated in his new 1979 WRC contender. Young Finn and rising talent Henri Toivonen was signed but O’Dell decided that for the first year it was best to have an experienced driver in the seat, especially to help with development, so Toivonen’s contract was loaned out to rival Ford. O’Dell signed fellow Briton, Tony Pond, to be the Sunbeam Lotus’ primary seeded driver.

As history unfolded, Pond would crash out or retire more times than crossing the finish line – the only highlight being a fourth place at the 1979 Rallye Sanremo. For 1980, Tony Pond was replaced by experienced French rally driver Guy Fréquelin. Ford sold everything after winning the 1979 manufacturer title to concentrate on developing a new Group B rally car, so Toivonen’s contract was brought back to the Talbot team.

1980 was to be only a limited rally programme for the small Talbot team. However, the big turning point came on that year’s RAC event when the three cars entered came away with a 1-3-4 finish amidst the strongest opponent field of the year. This made 24-year old Henri Toivonen become the youngest WRC event winner: a record that stood for quite a long time. Afterwards, Peugeot gave O’Dell and his team a more serious budget for a full-fledged attack on the 1981 WRC calendar.

Albeit the 1981 rally programme was still not as hugely financed as the efforts of rivals Audi with their new quattro, and of Renault with their R5 Turbo, to everyone’s surprise Talbot would win the WRC manufacturer’s title with the Sunbeam Lotus. Driver Guy Fréquelin, co-driven by Jean Todt, finished in second place of the driver’s title.

As promising than 1982 might have looked, the year would hail the coming of the Group B regulations and with them sounded a quick end for the Sunbeam Lotus. After a short lived mid-engine Talbot Horizon project, newly formed Peugeot Talbot Sport would base its new Group B contender around the now legendary Peugeot 205 T16 “M24-Rally” project.

For this Peugeot relied strongly on the know-how of the engineers and managers behind the 1980/81 Sunbeam Lotus effort, including that of O’Dell’s. After the untimely death of his wife, O’Dell relinquished his role as the main figure of the brand’s world-conquering motorsports department to regular Sunbeam navigator Jean Todt.

Before parting ways, Des O’Dell was fully aware that the Sunbeam Lotus he had created no longer had a future, so he arranged to close the chapter in style. O’Dell reportedly stated that he has developed a “four wheel drive” Sunbeam and was ready to show it off. This created quite a stir which was quickly turned into ridicule when the press saw that it was simply a Sunbeam with dual sets of rear wheels.

In the end, the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus’ success was as quick as its downfall, albeit retiring while on top is never a bad thing. The car’s homologation was carried over into Group B where it continued to see action mostly in national events up to 1987. The Sunbeam Lotus gave Henri Toivonen a helpful hand into rally stardom which ultimately led him to be considered the fastest rally driver in the WRC circa 1986 and was also driven by some of the world’s best drivers, including Stig Blomqvist.


RALLY CAR SPECIFICATIONS

Group/Class
  • Group 4
  • B/12
Homologation: B-227 (click # to see papers)
Years Active 1979~1987  Homologation (Group B)

  • start: December 1st 1982
  • end: December 31st 1987
Engine
Type Lotus Type 911, I-4, DOHC 16v, gas located front longitudinal
Displacement 2174 cc WRC: 2174 cc
Compression ratio 11.3:1
Output power – torque 245 HP @ 7000 rpm 256 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
Materials block: aluminum cylinder head: alumimum
Aspiration
  • natural / normal
  • 2 Dell’Orto carburetors
Ignition electronic
Cooling system water-cooled
Lubrication system N/A N/A
Transmission
Type rear wheel drive ZF 4 speed manual
Gearbox ratios N/A N/A
Differential ratio N/A N/A
Clutch N/A
Chassis-body
Type steel monocoque chassis with roll cage, 3 door hatchback, arch extensions
Front suspension McPherson struts, coil spring, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Live axle, coil springs, radius arms
Steering system rack & pinion N/A
Brakes N/A N/A
Dimensions
length: 150.7 in (3829 mm) width: 64.1 in (1628 mm) height: 54.9 in (1395 mm)
wheelbase: 95.1 in (2415 mm) front track: N/A rear track: N/A
Rims – tires N/A
  • N/A
Dry/Unladen Weight Weight 1015 kg (2240 lb)
Weight/power 4.1 kg/hp (9.1 lb/hp)
Fuel tank N/A

HOMOLOGATION / PRODUCTION VERSION

Originally based on the Sunbeam 1.6 GLS, the “Lotus” version was fitted with a stronger suspension, larger anti-roll bar, and a larger transmission tunnel. The main upgrade came from the Lotus type-911 “slant” 4 cylinder engine. Rated at 150 BHP in street trim, it far surpassed the meagre 105 BHP output of the normal top of the line GLS model.

The Talbot Sunbeam Lotus was a definitive “hot hatch” or “pocket rocket” that got favourable reviews and much excitement from enthusiasts and the press, all in a time when small cars with conventional rear wheel drive were being replaced by the new standard of front wheel drive.


ROAD CAR SPECIFICATIONS

Class Supermini / Subcompact Homologation: B-227 (click # to see papers)
Production 1979~1981 # built: 400 minimum
Engine
Type Lotus Type 911, I-4, DOHC 16v, gas located front longitudinal
Displacement 2174 cc
Compression ratio 9.4:1
Output power – torque 150 HP @ 5750 rpm 150 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Materials block: aluminum cylinder head: alumimum
Aspiration
  • natural / normal
  • carburetors
Ignition electronic
Cooling system water-cooled
Lubrication system N/A N/A
Transmission
Type rear wheel drive ZF 5 speed manual
Gearbox ratios N/A N/A
Differential ratio N/A N/A
Clutch N/A
Chassis-body
Type steel monocoque chassis, 3 door hatchback, arch extensions
Front suspension McPherson struts, coil spring, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Live axle, coil springs, radius arms
Steering system rack & pinion N/A
Brakes
  • Front: 241 mm rotors
  • Rear: 203 mm drums
N/A
Dimensions
length: 150.7 in (3829 mm) width: 63.1 in (1603 mm) height: 55.3 in (1405 mm)
wheelbase: 95.1 in (2415 mm) front track: 52.8 in (1341 mm) rear track: 52.3 in (1328 mm)
Rims – tires 13 in
  • 185/70 HR 13
Curb Weight 960 kg (2115 lb)
Weight/power 6.4 kg/hp (14.1 lb/hp)
Fuel tank 41 litres

VIDEOS


REFERENCES

 Affiliates Program – (free delivery worldwide!)

Group 4 Group 4 – From Stratos to quattro (English)

  • Any purchase you make through the Affiliates program helps support the Shrine!

(C) Article by Jay Auger – website owner & author

  • PARTIAL SOURCE: rallye-info.com
  • Images & videos are the property of their original owners
  • Eifel Rallye Festival pictures used under permission – McKlein Publishing
  • All homologation papers are the property of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA): SOURCE
  • DISCLAIMER / LEGAL NOTICES

SPECIAL THANKS:

  • Bill Munro (pictures)
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