DTW Summer Reissue: Unforgetting the 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. [First published July 16, 2014]

1980 Talbot Tagora a car show
Image: Alfaowner

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. Out of the comparison group the Tagora had the

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.

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”. 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.

1979 Volvo Tundra by Bertone
1979 Volvo Tundra by Bertone
1982 Citroen BX by Bertone
1982 Citroen BX by Bertone
1988 Citroen XM by Bertone (example shown is a 1990 model)
1989 Citroen XM by Bertone (example shown is a 1990 model)

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 80’s, 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.

1981 Talbot Tagora
1981 Talbot Tagora

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.

8 thoughts on “DTW Summer Reissue: Unforgetting the 1981 Talbot Tagora”

  1. A price check shows a 1981 Tagora is €4000. There’s been a rise in values of these late 70s/early 80s cars, I notice.
    Supply is now closer to demand, meaning there must be few left, I’d contend.

  2. As I commented on your previous article on the Tagora, I have to disagree about it being bland. At the time it was striking and no car I’ve ever owned has received so much attention and praise. To my eyes it is clearly an exercise in modernism and minimalism, the interior just as much. In many ways it appears to have been influenced by the designs of William Towns with its angularity. I suspect its chief reasons for failing were its long gestation, its brand and the fact that the mid-market large saloon was in rapid decline.
    Incidentally there’s someone restoring a Tagora SX who posts on AutoShite
    http://autoshite.com/topic/16398-tagora-sx-restoration/?page=3#comment-1015443

    1. Hi:
      In comparison with later cars the Tagora stands out by dint of being old. At the time it looked quite similar to many of its peers. Your viewpoint depends on whether you’re a lumper or splitter. The car’s character existed at fine detail level; I feel the designers saw things that weren’t really there. I’m a lumper in this case and would group the Tagora with the Granada, Senator and 604 and maybe the Audi 100. The differences were in the tailoring.
      The car lacked a USP and a big engine range; that did for the 604 too. The large saloon market came under pressure in the early 80s due to fuel prices but the real rot didn’t set in until the late 80s. Ford and Opel sold a lot of Grannies and Omegas until around 1990 then the decline accelarated.
      That said, the Tagora is now an interesting car and if not I would not be discussing it!

  3. By the way, as the owner of another also-ran, I understand a car can rack up a string of poor to middling reviews and still be objectively likeable. The XM never came first at anything much (even the ride quality) yet there’s much to commend the car anyway. I think car reviews need a second gauge as well as comparisons among class-leaders which might be a judgement on absolute demerits.

    1. George Thomson, whose work has appeared on these pages on more than one occasion, it seems worked under Roy Axe at Whitley from 1979, punctuating stints at Jaguar and later, Land Rover. While at Talbot he apparently contributed to the style of a number of cars, including the Tagora.

  4. Richard, I understand that the Tagora hardly broke new ground; it was a rebodied 604 with stiffer springs after all, but can you honestly say it looks bland next to a Granada Mk 3 or Vauxhall Senator? Then there’s the Volvo 700. To fully appreciate how different the Tagora was, you have to sit in one. Nothing else in that segment gave such a light airy ambience. The market the Tagora was pitched into was a consevative one; people who choose large cars on a budget wanted some flash. The Tagora meanwhile lacked pretension. Maybe it would have sold better with some strips of wood and chrome and other automative equivalents of mock tudor windows and chandeliers. As for car sales at that time; there was a recession on and there were vast fields of slowly rotting Granadas and SD1s which were sold to the fleet market at whatever price they could get. 40% discounts were not uncommon on Fords (not for private buyers). There you go, rant over, a minority of one defending the indefensible; next time, the Lancia Dedra.

    1. Hi:
      You’re quite right about the slump in large car sales when the Tagora came to market. I distinguish that acute crisis from the chronic problem of a shift from mass market brands to “prestige” brands which accelerated from the middle eighties.
      You raise a good debate point about what constituted visual distinction.

  5. Tagora launched at the tail end of the life of the non-premium executive class when, if you weren’t going to buy “premium”, the Granada had it pretty much all sewn up.
    My father owned a Y registered second hand Tagora 2.2GLS as his personal company car when he went self employed.
    Our car was a light metallic blue ex-demonstrator that had two tone paint (silver below the body line) a set of front fogs and Compomotive cross spokes that lifted the look of those rather low-rent pressed steels. So, slightly odd proportioning aside, the thing liked quite handsome and upmarket. Thinking about it now I realise the “goodies” added by the dealer were probably to help shift the thing.
    The light airy interior coupled with the cool warning light cluster, vacuum operated heater controls, leccy windows and central locking put it a cut above the abject poverty of the Granada L trim.
    Dad put a load of miles on it over the couple of years he owned it and I don’t recall I it being any less troublesome that the Granada 2.0L that preceded it and the 2.3L estate that came afterwards. All three gave great service.
    Please don’t get fooled by received internet wisdom that tells you how thoroughly deserving it is of its entry into that “Crap Cars” coffee table book you got for Christmas a few years ago.
    Tagora was a perfectly OK car, let down by compromise on cost at the end of its development, lack of interest from Peugeot, lack of brand and ultimately not sufficiently good enough to steal buyers away from the (very competent) competition.

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