Unforgetting : 1981 Talbot Tagora

If you’ve ever wondered about this famously forgotten car, this is the place to find out why it has become a footnote in automotive history.

1981 Talbot Tagora
1981 Talbot Tagora

The Tagora doesn’t have much of an afterlife. It’s been out of production since 1983 and if anyone remembers it, they aren’t saying much about it. But what was the view of the car at the time of launch? Did it look like it was going to be the flop it turned out to be? I bought a copy of Autocar from 1981 to find out how this car was viewed by contemporary writers. Other magazines followed in the post. This (below) is how I digested the information for Wikipedia. Alas, it was removed shortly after it was published on the grounds that it was “not balanced”. I later revised the text with more “balance”and it seems to have survived. Here is what I wrote first:

Autocar reviewed the Tagora in its 2.2 litre GLS iteration, and summed it up as “excellent, if not a great advance”. In comparing the car to its likely competitors, Autocar’s verdict was that “the new Talbot is highly comparable with the others, and deserves to sell as any of them, although it does not come out with any startling advantages which you might expect of the latest appearance on the scene”.

This is sort of a clue but you can see bets are being hedged: excellent counterpointed with a lack of clear advantages. But look at its peers. The cars against which the Tagora 2.2 GLS was compared were the Ford Granada 2.3 GL, Opel Rekord 2.0S, Renault 20TX, Rover 2300 and Volvo 244 GL. None are a byword for innovation (though Ford did offer a great range of engines) Of these cars the Tagora was the second most expensive.

This is not what they built. Thanks to aronline.co.uk for the image.
This is not what they built.
Thanks to aronline.co.uk for the image.

Out of the comparison group the Tagora had the second highest top speed, was the third fastest to 60 mph though had the best overall mpg (by 0.7 mpg). In terms of interior room, it had the fourth best legroom (front/rear). The Tagora’s handling was deemed “on the good side” and performance was described as “good but not outstanding” and as such the car lay “uneasily close to being listed as under-engined” though the authors conceded that generally the Tagora did not feel under-engined when in use.

Describing the gearbox, the reviewer wrote that the gearbox was “tolerably well suited to the engine”. Autocar deemed the automatic choke problematic since it could not keep the car running after “apparently starting up well on several occasions”. In the interior, the seats drew praise for their comfort and detail design.

The ventilation temperature control was “not satisfactory” due to an un-progressive response at the cool end of the dial. There was no fan-blown cold air (cold air was by ram-effect) nor an option for coolness to the face at the same time as warmth for the feet. Oddment accommodation was “disappointment”.

Lacking a self-setting stay, opening the bonnet was “heavy work” and the boot, while large, had the demerit of an “unusual” locking method: “[the boot] is locked before being shut by pushing in a red handle set in the inside of the lid”.

1980 Talbot Tagora a car show

Design-wise, Autocar judged the car’s appearance as “successful if not standing out”. Reading between the lines, the car excelled at very little. It came late to market without what we now call a unique sales proposition. LJK Setright drove one in Africa. He spent a considerable part of his review saying how much the tyre specification would determine whether or not the car was better to drive than the (1976!) Peugeot 604 to which the Tagora was vaguely related (the rear suspension and V6 engine, mostly). This was faint praise indeed and few of the other writers even hinted that the Tagora could ride or handle as well as the 604.

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What is there in the design of the Tagora? There’s very little by way of inflection or accent. Like many Japanese cars of the mid 80s, it is hard to imagine a valid caricature of the Tagora. You either draw this exact shape or else you are drawing something else.

If you look at the styling sketch above and the actual car there is very little commonality between the two. The fundamental problem with the concept was that the theme was not strong enough to survive the compromises of packaging and engineering.

What strikes me about this car is its tremendous lack of character. There is so little there the car looks generic (except there are no generic cars). What little character the car has is not in any of the angles of the silhouette. It’s in the flatness of the surfaces and the slightly bloated appearance the car seems to have. One or two details are the only real homes of identity: the fussy grille and the exact way the door frames are handled.

If anything, the blandness is evocative of those identikit GM cars done under Irv Rybicki in the middle 1980s (after this car was done). The Tagora approaches the blank featurelessness of office equipment such as screen monitors and photocopiers. I really do wonder what effect the designers were hoping to achieve: what was the trope?  One can learn a lot from failures like this though.

Did the Tagora have any influence on later cars? And what might have influenced it? I would suggest that the 1979 Volvo Tundra concept by Bertone has wheel arches suggestive of the Tagora. Was there time enough for Talbot to be inspired by the Bertone car? The Tundra then went on to be the styling basis of the 1982 Citroen BX. Then 1988 Citroen XM has wheel-arches that echo the BX.

I have to suppose it’s a coincidence: there is such a long time between the development of the two cars and, as far I can tell, the XM’s wheelarches looked squarish before Art Blakeslee (who worked at Talbot and then Citroen) took over things on the XM development. So, the case for the Tagora influencing anyone is tenuous. It really was a dead end. Talbot stopped production after three years. In 1990 Martin Buckley thought the car might become a cult classic. But 14 years later, we are still waiting.

 

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “Unforgetting : 1981 Talbot Tagora”

  1. I’ve always been ambivalent about this car: as a kid I hated it at first, then it grew on me, to the point that I started thinking it was somewhat quite handsome (‘in a certain angle and a certain light’, as Nick Cave would say).
    But still I found there was something jarring about it, mainly from the overly narrow rear-track* which meant the wheel were set back too far from the body work, making it look very awkward from the wrong angles.
    So for me it’s a near miss – a car which should have received a better treatment from its manufacturer but got what it deserved from its critics and the public.

    *apparently this is due to the car inheriting the rear axle of the Peugeot 505

  2. I´ll need to do some more Tagora-related posts soon. It has been a while, hasn´t it? I keep thinking of another car in the “unforgetting” category but, perhaps by definition, can´t think of one!

  3. Similar to the other comment, my first encounter with a Tagora was also as a child, an impressionable 12 year old. The strikingly angular form, from its slim frontal area, along its sloping bonnet and up the steeply raked windscreen, it stuck fast in my head. I still think its an attractive and even elegant design, but of course not without issues.

    I have read many times about its ‘bland’ styling, but I struggle to see it, you can hardly call the Granada, Volvo 240 series, and to be honest many other exec cars of the era overly inspiring designs. The Pug 604 was almost as angular but I’ve never seen it referred to as bland.

    The Tagora, especially the V6 was a very poorly packaged item. In an age of fuel injection, a big exec with carbs and multiple carbs at that, is ridiculous especially as these carbs were adapted Weber IDAs and had no provision for an auto choke so you ended up with an awkward to use choke lever! A cheap looking overly simplistic interior, no available auto option (was listed but never appeared in right hand drive) and other annoying little foibles spoiled the picture.

    Under the skin I really think that the Tagora was a good car spoiled by design penny pinching and bad packaging. But its biggest problem was trying to crawl out from under that badge and get itself heard. It was quite simply an impossible task. But then again I would think that, I have one.

  4. Hello JJW, welcome to DTW. I have a lot of respect for people who take the time to champion underdogs (mine is the Lancia Trevi). My understanding is that the Tagora arrived late to market with all its character removed by Peugeot Talbot´s committees. It lacked a USP as was repeated in most of the reviews. The slope of the bonnet is indeed remarkable for the time but the rest of the car lacks character. It reminds me of the Nissan Sunny we have been talking about elsewhere here. I think such minimal designs are sometimes best understood in relation to other cars. And when that relationship is lost with the passage of time (the car is now seen in relation to all cars not just its contemporaries), what is revealed is that the designers took out too much and left nothing inherent for one to latch onto.
    Audi seems to know how to judge this (or used to) while the Japanese in the 80s let the set-square and ruler decide too much. I would still like to drive one of these though.
    Is the 604 as bland? I´d say it´s a close call if I was being objective but there is just enough of a bend in the bonnet line and a rake in the c-pillar plus a few other small details to suggest the car is a Peugeot and for me this rescues it.

  5. I bought a 1982 Tagora 2.2 GLS back in 1984. I would have to disagree completely with your verdict of it being bland. It was one of the most striking looking cars of that period, something its rarity only accentuated; I used to get complemented on it all the time. The interior was minimalist and all the better for it, giving a great sense of light and space. The low dashboard and deep windsreen gave a commanding view while the controls were ergonomically perfect, particularly the heating and ventilation; easy to use without taking your eyes off the road. I found the best way to keep cool was to set the temp to min., distribution to footwell and fan to max. It spent much of its time on the streets of SW London and was immensly relaxing to drive in this environment. The things that let it down for me were the engine which sounded as tappety as you’d expect a Simca to sound and the front seats which lacked lumbar support – strangly, the rear seats were supremely comfortable and supportive. Unfortunately I had to sell it after 6 months due to needing an estate car but it is one of the most memorable cars I’ve owned or driven.

    1. Hi Mark: Thanks for that response and for reviving an article that is not frequently visited. Your direct experiences put the reviews in context and add to the data. I am familiar with the phenomenon of experiencing a car in a way that is out of step with the general consensus. I drive (sometimes) a Citroen XM and I really adore it despite its shortcomings. What is going on here is that I’m evidently the sort of person the car was aimed at. There aren’t enough people like me among the public and press though. For them, the official majority, the XM is a quirky, unreliable and underperforming saloon with a graunchy gearbox and odd looks. For me, it’s a striking, spacious and comfortable car with a good ride (mostly) and a graunchy gearbox. The two descriptions don’t overlap much and my value set differs from the mainstream. Something similar is going on with your experience of the Tagora. I think a lot of Tagora owners liked them (possibly because they are a minority taste like the XM) but there were not enough Tagora-likers. The Tagora’s fate was sealed by the quantitative aspect: it didn’t score first in enough measurable areas (like the XM) for people to look past the reviews and spec sheet. I realise that a reliance on quantification is why we have brawny but characterless cars now – and indeed why modern life is so dispiriting. Granny, nice trees and charm aren’t measurable so we’ll kill granny, cut down the trees and replace charm with PVC and asphalt.

      Was the Tagora bland? I have to argue here why it was less interesting than an Audi 100, Ford Granada, and Peugeot 604. There isn’t a decisive answer to this. We’re in the land of aesthetics where technique is not enough to explain perception. All I can do is repeat the fact that the sketch is not what they made and if you asked people to match the sketch to the car, most would fail. There is a design there in the actual car but it’s brittle. If you change the angles of the profile much it’s quickly another car. Such identity as is there resides at the detail level not in proportions. It’s a good question though- why do you see the car one way and I another and can we reconcile the two views? We won’t get a clear answer but trying to do so will make us wiser.
      After all of that, the Tagora still remains elusively interesting. We’re not talking about the Audi or Granada here.

  6. Here’s another key aspect which I suggest helped the Tagora to fail, in the status-conscious upper medium saloon market. In the dying days of the Talbot Alpine / Simca 1308 hatchback, a version called the Solara was introduced, with a boot grafted on.
    In side view, the Tagora looks remarkably like a slightly enlarged Solara, especially the centre section. Maybe it actually used Alpine / Solara doors, like the famous BL 1800 doors?
    To me, this huge resemblance to a more downmarket, and obsolescent model would have worked against it, certainly with UK buyers, or more importantly, company car ‘user choosers’ .

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