History Lesson

Failing to learn from experience only condemns you to repeat your errors.

(c) motorbase

By the mid-1970’s it was abundantly clear that the Chrysler 160/180/2-Litre was a flop. Launched in 1970 under a marque name with no resonance in Europe, the big Avenger was regarded with indifference by the market and sales were disappointing to the point of embarrassment. However, the large saloon segment in which the car sold was growing healthily, with cars like the Ford Granada, Audi 100 and Rover SD1 selling profitably in good numbers. Chrysler wanted a slice of the action, so plans for a successor were initiated.

The new model was developed under the C9 project code name. Like its predecessor, the C9 would be styled in Coventry and engineered and built in Poissy. Early sketches for the design showed a large, three-box saloon with smooth, unadorned flanks, a deep six-light glasshouse and low waistline.  Some fashionable aero elements were incorporated, such as partly enclosed rear wheels and a faired-in front end, with the number plate and headlamps covered by a Perspex panel, not unlike the Citroën SM. These details were intended to give the car the distinctive character that was lacking in its bland predecessor.

Chrysler’s US executives thought the initial design too radical for a conservative market sector (notwithstanding the Rover SD1’s popularity) and ordered it to be toned down. The waistline was raised, an indented horizontal feature line and rubbing strip were added to the flanks and the wheel arches were altered to a more conventional if squared-off shape. The sloping front end was changed to a slim vertical arrangement, with dual oblong headlamps behind single lenses flanking a small grille. The Citroën CX-like vertical rear lamp clusters were replaced by large horizontal units flanking a number plate recess.

However, the interior, in particular the dashboard, would remain uncompromisingly modernist, with striking similarities to that of the original SD1. As with the Rover, the instruments were housed in a black pod which sat on top of a horizontal shelf that ran the full width of the car and contained the rectangular ventilation outlets.  The steering wheel had a Citroën-style single vertical spoke. Seats were upholstered in pleated velour. There would be no traditional wood and leather options.

Events and poor decision making at corporate level had hobbled the C9’s predecessor and would now intervene again. This time, it was the bankruptcy of Chrysler’s European operations and their sale to Peugeot-Citroën for a nominal $1 in late 1978 that interrupted the C9’s development.  The car was well advanced by then but, competing in this market segment, Peugeot already had the 604 and was preparing to launch the 505 and Citroën had the CX, so there was really no need for the C9.

The new owners considered scrapping the C9 (or using it to replace the 604) but instead decided to re-engineer it to use as many existing components as possible. One benefit was the availability of the Douvrin 2,664cc V6 engine for the top line model. Lower line versions would use a 2,165cc four-cylinder unit, which was an enlarged version of the Simca engine used in the 2-Litre. A 2,304cc Peugeot turbodiesel engine would also be offered.

One unfortunate component sharing decision was the adoption of the rear axle from the Peugeot 505 for the C9. This was 60mm (2 1/2”) narrower in track than the original axle and it ruined the car’s stance, making it look over-bodied.

Peugeot-Citroën needed a new name for its acquisition and decided to resurrect the defunct Anglo-French Talbot marque, which had the benefit of being perceived as British in the UK and French within mainland Europe.  Existing Chrysler and Simca models were rebranded from August 1979. The C9 was christened Tagora, a synthesised word that meant nothing but was chosen for its alliterative value.

The Tagora was unveiled at the Paris Salon in October 1980 and went on sale in March 1981, following its press launch in Morocco. Reviewers were generally underwhelmed. Some dismissed it as just an enlarged Talbot Solara and didn’t appreciate its minimalist interior, lacking the obvious signifiers of luxury they expected in an executive car. History was repeating itself here: the 160/180/2-Litre had been similarly dismissed at launch as an enlarged Hillman Avenger.

This superficial criticism was somewhat unfair as the Tagora displayed a standard of ride, handling and performance that was fully competitive with its peers. Autocar magazine tested the 2.2L SX model in April 1981 and recorded a 0-60mph time of 11.3 seconds and a top speed of 106mph.  Average fuel consumption on test at 23.9mpg was slightly better than its peers.

The car’s ride was knobbly at low speeds when lightly laden, but much better at higher speeds or with a full complement of passengers and luggage. It steered accurately and handled tidily, with limited body roll, and had a quiet, comfortable and spacious (if poorly ventilated) interior. The magazine even speculated that the Tagora might replace the ageing 604 in the group’s line-up.

Autocar’s verdict was that the Tagora was “…highly comparable with the others [in its class] and deserves to sell as well as any of them, although it doesn’t come out with any of the startling advantages which you might expect from the latest appearance on the scene”.

(c) stubs-auto.fr

When the C9 was originally conceived, Chrysler had hoped to double its market share in the European executive car segment to around 5%, which would require annual sales of around 60,000 units. This didn’t seem unreasonable, as the company enjoyed a 7% market share in smaller vehicles. In the event, the Tagora remained on the market for less than three years, during which time a total of only around 20,000 were sold.

What really killed the Tagora was that Peugeot-Citroën simply didn’t need it, and didn’t need the Talbot marque either. It had little incentive to spend time and money promoting a struggling brand that completely overlapped Peugeot’s own range. A tentative plan to facelift the Tagora to become a Peugeot came to nothing and the Tagora died unmourned in 1983. The Talbot marque lived on until 1987 on passenger cars and until 1994 on commercial vehicles.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

43 thoughts on “History Lesson”

  1. After googling the c9 concept, i can understand why they revised it – its really awkward looking.

    The production model is actually quite a nicely proportioned/styled car, though is is playing it a bit too safe, and the narrow rear track does ruin the stance.

    I would also say that the final car is let down by the wheel design – the glass fiber mockup looks really nice with its turbo style rims.

    1. That top sketch look pretty neat, the lower one looks like a larger Renault 9, don’t you think?

    2. That design sketch has been bugging me since I wrote the piece on the Tagora. Where have I seen it before? It’s just come to me:

      The 1980 Mitsubishi Sigma. I know the Sigma is a four rather than six-light design but, otherwise, the similarities are strong.

      Regarding the second photo, I thought Renault 21, because of the DLO.

    3. The wheels really make a big difference, apart from the track width. The ones on the mock-up are a good fit, but also in the very top photo, the alloy wheels make a huge difference against the bland and tiny-looking steel wheels on the other pictures. It might be an optical illusion, but the alloys look way bigger and wider. They might be equipped with TRX tyres.

  2. This car needed all the proportions to be tweaked. It really lacks any identity. Like many Japanese cars of the period, the design theme is almost absent. The design resides in the engineering, the fitting concepts and there´s little more. Compare it to the strongly identifiable Audi 100 which is also very rational but has some extra character.

  3. The Tagora has been a particular favourite debating subject here before, as we seem to like a tale of an oddity and/ or sales flop. I am trying to recall whether it was a Roy Axe design or not? It does have shades of Montego, which, of course, Axe despised having had it dumped in his lap on arriving at BL, and so I would hate to go around assuming that the Tagora was one of his if it wasn’t.

    When you look at it and that glass fibre mock-up, you can really see that the adoption of a narrow axle really made a mess of the stance and so further hobbled an already rather awkward design.

    1. Good morning S.V. Roy Axe worked for Chrysler in the UK until 1977, when he decamped to the US to head Chrysler’s design studio there, so he must at least have had oversight of the Tagora’s design. Chrysler’s US K-car, which was supposedly the saviour of the company, was launched in 1981 and was a similarly rectilinear design:

    2. I have a vague recollection that Art Blakeslee had some involvement with the Tagora, when he was resident at Whitley. Also, I believe George Thomson, who also worked at both Jaguar and Land Rover (XJ40 and P38A Rangie) contributed to the Tagora design.

    3. That K car does look like an Axe design – strong shades of the Horizon/ Omni.

    1. SV: Roy Axe is one of those anonymous designers. I mean that in a good way. He seems to have had the knack of subsuming his personality into the brand. That leads me to politely dispute that one could tell a Roy Axe car from any other car. I rather like that in a designer!

    2. The real prizes were probably Poissy and Villaverde, and a significant chunk of home market share which swung the balance of power Groupe Peugeot’s way.

      Michael Edwardes refers briefly in BFTB to a 1978 plan to merge BL and Chrysler Europe, under the code name ‘Dovetail’. His most pertinent comment was “we were, thank goodness, pre-empted by Peugeot”.

      Nevertheless there was value to Peugeot in the British part of the operation. Ryton was making 206s until the end of 2006, but, long before, the merger gave the Peugeot brand instant access to the Chrysler UK dealer network, a large part of it company-owned, because that was the way Brian Rootes liked to do things. Peugeot went from a marginal but well regarded bit-player in the British market to a consistent place in the UK top five. ‘Treasure Island’ bought a lot of cars, and paid high prices for them.

      Which is not to say that Chrysler Europe was not a difficult morsel for Peugeot to swallow. The products were past their best, the legacy of under-investment and mis-investment was everywhere. Thankfully for the parent company a successful product led revival – 205, 405, AX, BX, allowed them to make use of the good parts of the new production capacity.

  4. Daniel: I think that what the Mitsubishi and Tagora have in common is that they are rather bland. I would not say that means they have strong positive similarities. Maybe because I am in splitting mode, I see the Mitsubishi as being distinguished by the sagging DLO line and its plainer flanks. Non-car design nerds would think I was nuts to make a distinction at all and I can well appreciate that.
    The K-car is rectilinear like the Tagora; it is however much more ornate. I think in every period one has to look at the details; the overall forms tend to be rather the same.
    The Tagora is unusual in that it is so remarkably watered down. I would dearly love to drive one to see what they are like. In all likelihood, probably rather pleasing.

    1. Hi Richard. Rather than the DLO, it was more the slope of the front and (particularly) rear ends and that of the bonnet and boot lid that put me in mind of the Sigma, but I take your point about both it and the C9 in the sketch being pretty bland.

  5. Various sources refer to pre-PSA Chrysler considering a Mitsubishi straight six for the top-end Tagora. I wouldn’t claim any expertise on Mitsubishi’s engine family tree, but the only one that ‘fits’ is a rather old 2 litre unit made in very small numbers for the Debonair. By 1976 it had been replaced by the 2.6 litre balancer-shaft Astron four.

    The engine Chrysler really wanted was the PRV V6, but Renault and Peugeot wouldn’t countenance it.

    I’m wondering what Chrysler were really planning. Was there a bigger more modern Mitsubishi straight-six planned for Chrysler US purposes/ Or was the ‘Mitsubishi’ engine a placemaker for a European straight six? Possibly BMW or VAG?

    1. Chrysler Rootes had a V6 ready to plonk in the 180 back in 1970. The lines were installed to make it, but were dismantled at the last minute. 31 million quid down the drain, when a pound would easily buy at least four big lots of fish and chips, and a decent pint was 1/10d. It’s detailed on the Allpar pages I linked to in my response to the first article a couple of days ago. But here’s one actual page again:

      https://www.allpar.com/cars/chrysler/180.html

      Whether Chrysler actually wanted to use the PRV V6 seven years later for the Tagora is highly speculative to my mind. Or using a non-existent Mitsubishi straight six for that matter. That firm went to V6 engines a few years later in addition to their fours, only one of which ever really came good. Being the cheapskates they were, and not having a small car to sell in the US after the 1973 fuel crisis until the Omni, Chrysler needed money which is why they sold out to Peugeot. The only reason Chrysler even went to Europe in the first place was to keep up with the Joneses of GM and Ford. Forty years too late.

      As I mentioned, reading the Allpar pages to get the reactions of actual working Chrysler US people sent to Europe to “run” the empire there, are, at least to me, quite a bit more instructive than most of these comments. But since styling is what seems to dominate here, well, the best that can be said of the 160/180 and Tagora is that they showed no inspiration whatsoever and were completely bland to look at. I never paid them the slightest attention when I lived in the UK till mid 1974, nor did any other car nut I knew. Completely forgettable and commercial failures anyway. Having to bring back the Simca 1501 in 1974 rather highlights the failure, it seems to me.

  6. Prefer the Rekord E meets Citroen inspired styling sketch of the C9 as well as the Peugeot facelift.

    With the C9 / Tagora there certainly have been more then a few people at Chrysler who regretted scrapping the Avenger-based 60-degree V6.

    How could Simca claim there was no need for the V6 in France and claim “Big Sixes” were not financially acceptable in a market that taxed cars by engine capacity and power, when Renault and Peugeot (later Citroen) would soon introduce the PRV V6?

    Even the argument a V6 would overlap with their Type 180 engine does not hold up when one considers Renault and Peugeot later PSA used both the Douvrin 4-cylinder and PRV V6 engines.

    Additionally the Avenger-based 60-degree V6 would also have been a potential asset in 2-litre form for the Italian market (unlike the PRV V6), especially if they opted to turbocharge their 2-litre V6 in a similar manner to both Maserati and Alfa Romeo.

  7. I had the pleasure of driving a Tagora in the early 80s. My father owned a Murena at that time that had to be brought to the workshop for maintenance. The owner of the workshop was a good acquaintance at the time (married relative) and he gave us his Tagora as a replacement. I remember that I was way too young to find a limousine for good, especially since the way to the workshop was in a racy sports car. But I also remember that I felt very comfortable when driving, I very much liked the interior with its pragmatic simplicity and tidiness. And today after all these years, when I see a picture of this car I still think it was one of the most beautiful vehicles in the upper middle class at that time.

    (Edit 1: Unfortunately the Talbot-Murena-season only lasted a very short time. My father worked in the research and development center in Weissach. His bosses were not amused by the sting that was parked so close to the office building between the whole Porsche, so they made him “an offer, that he couldn’t refuse”.)

    (Edit 2: btw. Before my father owned the Murena, there were two Simca 1301 in our family. One of the best saloon ever, in my opinion.)

    1. Fred: Thanks and welcome. Like you, I think the Tagora’s cabin design has aged very well indeed. I like its clarity – a trait sadly missing from today’s cars. The Murena is a car we will get around to profiling this year. Another design which has aged with grace, in my view.

    2. Hi Fred and thanks for your comments. Its great to hear from someone who not only has first-hand experience of the Tagora but the rare and exotic Matra Murena too. That probably puts you in a minority of one amongst the DTW readership.

      Great story about your father’s chutzpah in parking the Murena in enemy territory! I visited the Mercedes-Benz head office in Stuttgart back in my banking days and recall two things; the very strict security and the virtual absence of anything other than “own-brand” vehicles in the car park.

  8. Thank you very much for this excellent and well documented article which reminds us the British origins of the Tagora. One small regret: you may have talked a little more about the “SX” motorized with the V6 Douvrin (or PRV for Peugeot-Renault-Volvo). This version of the engine was fitted with two triple-barrel Weber carburetors, which was an amazing choice that we would have rather expected to find on a sports car. It developped 165 hp (more than all the other PRV versions at the time, even Alpine A310) and had a very unusual temperament for such a large sedan. I can testify, I have still one from 1982 ! Another element that makes it quite interesting today: only 1083 “SX”were made.

    1. Hello A.T. Thanks for your comments and glad you enjoyed the piece. The Tagora is interesting for more than just its rarity so it’s great to have an owner’s perspective.

    2. Hello A.T: There are other Tagora articles at this site. I have something of a minor obsession with the car. If you want to post an image of yours, please do. One day I´d like to drive one and see how it compares to the 604.

    3. Thank you both ! I would love to post a photo but I don’t know how to do it. Regarding the 604, I’ve never driven it. I think the injection model (STi/Ti) was smoother than the Tagora.

    4. Hi A.T. It would be great to see photos of your Tagora!

      If you would like to post a photo on this site, you will need to use a photo hosting app or website such as Imgur.com. If you click on the ‘Driven to Explain’ tab above and scroll down to ‘Site Guidelines’ you will find full instructions for posting photos. These instructions cover Windows laptops, Android tablets and Apple devices.

    1. Thanks, A.T. It´s super to see an example being cherished and enjoyed. I like the colour too. It is not exacty an obvious choice of car – how did you wind up with one of your own?
      I nosed around to see if there were any for sale at the moment; if I wanted to test one I´d need to go to France. At the best of times that´s quite a jaunt from here in Denmark. There might be a few in Holland; I don´t think it was sold in Scandinavia at all.

    2. It’s a family story. My father bought it in 1986. He needed a sedan to drive from Paris to Nice (about 1,000 km) several times a year. Since the beginning of the 2000’s, he uses a new car for this purpose, but he still has kept the Tagora. Nowadays, I’m about thirty and we take care together of this car we both like vey much. It’s now pretty difficult to find one for sale. There is one “SX” actually on “LeBonCoin” website.

    3. That´s a good story. It must be a charming car then to have worked its way into your affection. And yes, there are not so many around either. That makes it a lot more interesting than a Ferrari. I think I´d faint if I saw one in the metal.

  9. A.T. – that car is something else…fantastic.
    Oh, for the less care some days of old…

  10. I’ve always liked the Tagora, to me It resembles the Maserati Biturbo, look at the tail lights!

    1. It´s a lot more reliable than a Maserati Biturbo.
      Did anyone ever read one of Setright´s drive articles about the Biturbo? It was quite memorable, with reports of tail-out antic on slippery Welsh roads, and waiting for six (?) litres of engine oil to heat up.

    2. Good morning Kine. Speaking of those tail lights:

      The Hyundai Stellar, a.k.a. the most handsome Cortina that Ford never made.

    3. Like the general look of the Maserati Biturbo and related models, Lancia missed a trick in not adopting the general look of the former for high-performance -165 hp HF Turbo / 185-215+ hp Integrale Evo Turbo 4WD versions of the Lancia Prisma (and even a Biturbo-like coupe bodystyle) as a smaller more accessible and slightly reliable 4WD alternative to the Maserati Biturbo.

      The Stellar does look pretty good at certain angles though not sure about the front, do wonder how Ford would have fared had it rebodied the Cortina in such a way in place of or concurrently with the early Sierra (possibly outside of Europe).

    4. It wouldn’t have been difficult for Ford, given that the Stellar was based on the Mk5 Cortina’s floorpan. Hyundai had previously built the Cortina in South Korea under licence. The Euro spec Stellar was very smart, but the US model was ruined by huge bumpers.

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