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