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]
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
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.
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.
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.