Classic Road Test: 1979 Talbot Horizon 1.3 GLS

“Some recent changes to Talbot’s Horizon means we have to take another look at this old stager,” wrote Archie Vicar in Today’s Driver Magazine, apparently.

This appears to be a verbatim transcript of a period road test from the regionally distributed Today’s Driver Magazine, December 1979 (the Vale of Arden-area). Dougl Asland-Windermere (sic) contributed the original photography. Due to fading of the images, stock photos have been used. 

On sale since 1978, the Talbot Horizon is a said to be what they supposedly call a “world car”, one designed in England to boot (something the car lacks!). In line with modern expectations, the Horizon is a front-wheel drive hatchback somewhat in the style of the dreary VW “Golf” and odd-ball Fiat Strada but it looks more acceptable than either. Why are we writing about this car, you might very well ask. I didn´t like it very much when I first drove it. But recent revisions to what is by now an old-stager in the fast-moving medium-sized family car market mean we are simply obliged to take another look to see if this all-British car is still up to cutting the mustard.

Good! – source

And mustard is what we tried upon our joyful return the Hotel du Palais in Dijon, much to the surprise of most of the staff who could be excused for thinking Today’s Driver Magazine´s correspondent must be nigh on a full-time resident at said hotel. The mustard went well with the fine steak and chips! And where better than Dijon and Burgundy to test this car, taking as it does the challenge to Peugeot and Citroen in the medium-small family car sector.

The Great Malvern to Dover leg of the tour allowed me get re-acquainted with a car I had not driven (albeit briefly, thankfully) since late 1977 (a top-secret drive in the Lake District which is, as I was reminded, very full of lakes!).

Although not hinted at in the new brochures, my “little bird” inside Talbot tells me changes have been made to the bushings of the rear suspension so as to deal with criticism from some quarters (probably criticism from Mulhouse!). No evidence of this change presented itself in the first ten hours of driving. Moreover, the apparently comfortable velour seats are still too short in the back for a Malvern man and I had to take off my hat to find a good seating position.

The car is still front-engined, and front-wheel drive, much like the rather uninspiring Volkswagen “Golf”. There are three petrols and one diesel (available soon) but for this exclusive long-range taste, I sampled the 1.3 GLS. That trim designation means the addition of head-restraints, laminated glass and velour upholstery over the GL’s standard halogen lamps, reversing lamps, tailgate wash-wipe control, driver’s door mirror and a push-button radio. What´s wrong with a dial, I ask?

The car is reasonably well equipped but then it ought to be for the £4,350 asked (more than the Renault 14, the drab old “Golf”, the Fiat Strada and Opel Kadett). Only the bare-bones dinosaur Vauxhall Chevette costs less in this class and even that is pretty decent motor car, if you must save some pennies.

Good! – source

Yet, with some further acquaintance the extra money spent can be perceived in the Horizon (Austin, take note) so it does not have to be such a penance to drive it about.

The dashboard is a sprightly confection of selected modern shapes and if you look directly, the instruments seem well-considered regarding their positioning. So, by the time I was off the ferry and steaming on to Reims and Chaumont (fine boudin noir and even better dry white!) I very much felt as if I was very  (continued on p. 45)

(continued from page 12)   “at home” in the Horizon. So why do they still make the (continued on page p.46)

(continued from page p.45) Horizon? (continued on p.48)

(continued from p.45) The ashtray left a bit to be desired and yet even when the car is the wrong way up, the contents remained in place. Remarkable.

Much can be said about the adequate ride, yet the Horizon falls down ever so slightly as a keen motorist’s car. It’ll do for the commute and with its large boot and clear view out, it will even cover long-distances easily (how does 38 mpg sound?) but the engine drones rather and the car is only as fast as your right foot namely, it’s about average. And if you are the kind of driver who likes heavy steering that is low-geared then the Horizon is the car for you.

It was as I toured around the back-lanes of Dijon’s hinterland that I realised that under the surface of a smooth and well-polished and indeed, handsome, English-designed and fairly modern car there was a more traditional large-car trying to get out (much like the Sunbeam). If I was to drive this car blindfold I’d say I was conducting a Vauxhall or Morris from the last decade. No bad thing if you liked those cars and many still do!

Author: richard herriott

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

12 thoughts on “Classic Road Test: 1979 Talbot Horizon 1.3 GLS”

  1. Loved the gently satirical humour in this. A neighbour of ours had one of these, you could hear its rattling ohv engine coming from three streets away. I oft thought the Horizon and the later Maestro were aimed at the same customer profile. Hard to believe it was a ECotY winner.

    1. XUD diesel engined Horizons were quite interesting. One of the best diesel engines of its time combined with a truly comfortable car resulted in astonishingly pleasing and frugal long distance driving.

    2. Dave, agree with you on the XUD – the neighbours car was NOT the diesel version!

    3. The old Simca power unit was unusually ‘tappety’ in noise and the XUD actually was the smoother engine.
      There was an astonishing number of PSA vehicles that were best when powered by the XUD.
      The otherwise utterly mediocre 305 suddenly became interesting with the (for the time) torquey and (for a diesel) agile XUD, the Horizon undoubtedly was XUD -powered, the best 205s next to the GTI had the XUD, a BX turboXUD was really good….

  2. The Horizon was a pleasant enough design, but was blighted by the late addition of those oversized wheelarch eyebrows, required, apparently, to satisfy US regulations for the fitment of snow chains. This had the effect of always making the Horizon look under-wheeled. Would it really have been so difficult have allowed US and European versions to diverge in this relatively small respect?

    Here’s a European prototype, before the wheelarches were altered:

    A neighbour of my parents had one, in a particularly loud metallic green (albeit not loud enough to distract from the rattly old engine).

    1. Also its stylistic progenitor: this handsome devil which has nothing mechanically in common with the Horizon.

    2. The Chrysler Sunbeam was developed in record time, supposedly about eighteen months, when the Horizon was already well under development, so it’s more likely that Horizon styling cues were applied to the Sunbeam, not the other way around, even though the Sunbeam was launched six months before the Horizon.

      The Sunbeam was a decent achievement in difficult circumstances, managing to look contemporary and quite different from the Avenger, despite sharing a platform and even doors (with different window frames) with its older and larger sibling. The Lotus version in gooddog’s photo added some sporting credibility too. Together with the Vauxhall Chevette, it represented the last hurrah of the RWD layout in European small cars.

      Best of all, the Sunbeam fetured the lovely Petula Clark in its launch TV advertisement:

    3. Thank you goodog! It’s a bit ironic then that it’s the Maestro which I identify as being the closest in concept to the Horizon in this class. Axe is well known not have liked the Maestro at all when first shown it having joined BL/ ARG – I recall that he asked Harold Musgrove as to whether there was time to start again rather than try to make it a success at launch in 1983. He must have had the Horizon/ Omni as a mental template when making the comment. I could argue that the Horizon is the more boring design, but it’s also more ‘correct’ and seems to make fewer mistakes. I think I am in a minority, but I like quite a lot of what Axe achieved at BL/ ARG and his alterations to the LM11 which, late in the day, was named Montego, almost saved that car from becoming a subject of ridicule. Furthermore, when one sees the likes of the 800, 200/ 400 (R8) alongside photos of his work at Chrysler (Alpine, Solara, Horizon) one can see how cohesive his portfolio was over the years, and indeed a progression within it.

  3. In 1979, my father was searching for a new car. For him it was a choice between the Ford Taunus and the Opel Kadett. i tried to convince him to test the Talbot Horizon, because as a young boy, i loved the nice interior and especially the trip computer. My father saw the missing gas strut on the left side of the hatchback and the high loading sill. The Kadett D was the far better car, but for me a bit too rational – i wanted that trip computer.
    My father didn´t – and the Horizon was not cheap.

    I found a nice test of the Horizon: https://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/albums/72157654598807121/with/18645152888/

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