Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5

Following previous DTW incursions into Peugeot’s 104 series, we take a look at the T15 (or Samba, as it became better known).

Talbot Samba LS in gorgeous condition (Source: Car and Classic)

I was sorting through a pile of old motoring magazines I found on a shelf in our box room the other day, when I came across an article in the w/e 24th October 1981 issue of Autocar which was the launch piece for “Talbot’s new T15 small car, called Samba in Europe”. I had purchased that magazine (and the others in the pile) on ebay over eight years ago while researching a series on the Triumph Acclaim which appeared on this site some time ago.

The article holds a particular interest for me because a Samba was the first car I ever bought (I was 19). I’ll come back to that later, but both car and article are so very redolent of their times. The title is lifted from Car’s GBU sum-up of the Samba as per its October 1983 issue. Amusingly, the Samba appeared in the Interesting section of the GBU, alongside the only other Talbot deemed worthy – our old friend the Tagora. I have no doubt that Car’s opinion would have influenced my decision …

Pert rear is biggest giveaway (among many) of 104 origins (Source: ViaRETRO)

One of the first things that struck me is that at launch, the name Samba was far from confirmed for the UK market: “Called Samba in France and other European markets, the new car will have another name for Britain as part of current policy to provide the Talbot UK operation with its own identity.” Well, that obviously didn’t count for much or last long, as Samba it was when launched onto the UK market.

The Samba was obviously based on the Peugeot 104, far more so than the Visa it couldn’t beat, according to the sages at Car. Apparently, only the bonnet and rear hatch were externally shared with the 104.(1) Suspension layout and components, drivetrains, and, the mainstay of the dashboard structure were all 104 too. The Samba’s length and wheelbase sat between the 3 and 5 door 104s, and were similarly larger than the Metro but smaller than the Fiesta (albeit the latter had a two-inch shorter wheelbase).

Typical Talbot/ Chrysler front-end courtesy of Whitley Technical Centre (Source: ViaRETRO)

The styling, such as it was given the constraints of the donor 104’s hard points, was completed by Talbot’s UK design team in Coventry. Their work seems to have centred on the typically modern-but-anonymous grille and headlight combination which tied the small car in with its Horizon, Alpine, Solara and Tagora brethren. That’s a bit unfair, given that most of the exterior panels were bespoke to the Samba, but the overall impression was of a modern facelift to the 104 (with which it was a direct competitor) rather than anything more individualistic.

A cabriolet was conceived and designed from the outset, not an afterthought, and was launched shortly after the hatch (which Autocar keeps referring to as the saloon). It looked great; fun and funky, albeit with a roll-over hoop for safety and rigidity. To my eyes, the styling worked better because it no longer featured the slightly awkward and abrupt manner in which the lower edge of the DLO kicked up aft of the B-pillar, and the canvas roof softened the rear profile too. The cabriolet came only in top-level, 1,360cc specification.(2)

Cute and funky cabriolet was an early edition to the range (Source: petrolblog)

Inside, the best feature were the squidgy front seats, followed by the separate HVAC controls for passenger and driver. Otherwise, the dash was simple to a fault, although the push-push buttons for ancillary controls were nicely positioned within fingertip reach around both sides of the instrument binnacle. Upper-spec models were well equipped for the time, but the LS was sparse, with no headrests, no brake servo and, in the UK, came only with the 954cc version of the all-alloy engine without electronic ignition.(3)

The Samba was built at Poissy in France, which, Autocar tells us, incorporated a high degree of robot assembly and gave much attention to providing anti-corrosion measures such as zinc and galvanised coatings, with hollow section components getting high pressure wax injections, AND a bituminous underseal to protect against chipping and salt attack!

Those were the days when manufacturers had to make a thing about preventing their cars from rusting. It did not prevent mine from developing a patch on the side panel just above the sill, and the grey paint on the steel wheels bubbling up and flaking (actually they were like that when I bought it – a kindly neighbour helped me to respray them early in my tenure).

Cushy seats, spindly gearstick, minimalist dash – all very 1983 (Source: Car and CLassic)

At launch in the UK, the 1,124cc GL version was claimed to be the most economical in its class, stealing the crown (temporarily, as I recall) from the Metro HLE ‘at a steady 56 MPH’.  That (and the cabriolet version) apart, it was a wholly unremarkable car. Oh, I could add that the spare was under the bonnet thanks to the engine being canted backwards to a significant number of degrees, another legacy of its 104 basis.

To drive, as I recall, the car was pleasant and easy, with a bit of a ponderous (four-speed) but easy gearbox and rather low-geared steering. I must stress that my main point of reference was my step-father’s 1973, 1.5L Austin Maxi, to which I had been given access prior to this point, and so the Samba felt like a revelation mechanically, with a much smoother, quieter engine and relatively easy gearchange.

The suspension was soft and the car rolled a lot in corners – nothing like anything of its ilk on today’s market. As such, once you reached an acceptable cruising speed it was comfortable, if not quiet. Acceleration was tortoise-like, but still quicker than the snail of a Maxi, and so felt quite acceptable.

Mine was a 1984 model in silver with a red and orange decal strip down the flanks. The seats were covered in quite a nice, soft-weave, light grey material which showed the dirt quite easily as I recall. It was my first car, bought for £2,000 privately, in order to get me to my new job 10 miles away. I was proud as punch with it and even had a sunroof fitted with my hard-earned after a few months.

No headrests, painted metal for the door-tops, brown cloth. Refreshingly simple, no? (Source: ViaRETRO)

Alas, it did not really go, nor end, well.

First, the rear hatch leaked water from the it’s top edge onto the rear seats and into the boot. It was a case of a rubber seal which didn’t and after a number of attempts by a franchised dealer to fix it, I suggested and they executed a Heath Robinson arrangement of adding another matching seal onto the opposing panel at the top of the hatch opening to sort it.

Worse came when the fuse for the electric cooling fan failed on a hot day whilst crawling around the A406. Fortunately, I noted that the temperature gauge was rising and that the fan had not triggered as it normally did. Immediate disaster was avoided by turning-on the car heater full blast to relieve the worst of the heat from the engine until we hit the M1, when momentum was able to create enough airflow to cool the engine. However, it became clear later that damage had been done when the car started to belch more white vapour-like smoke than the Mallard on a cold January day, signalling a blown head-gasket.

This was ‘fixed’, but the car was never the same – somehow always a sod to start in the wet, or if stopped and restarted when not fully warmed through. After 15 months, I took it with me to university in Bangor, North Wales, and it played up all the time in the damp weather, eventually refusing to start at all. It only just about started in order to get me home for Christmas after several attempts at bump-starts down a number of hills in that fair city: I drove non-stop the whole 245 miles of the journey for fear of being stranded. Safe to say, it did not return, replaced by a very much loved AX.

AX-based replacement for the Talbot Samba that never was (Source: Autoshite)

The Samba remained on the market until 1986, having received a revised and rather modern dashboard and gear knob a couple of years earlier. Sales were nudged along by a few special editions, and, indeed, the only model remaining in the UK by the end was the Style (known as Sympa in France and Europe). Over 270,000 were built. When launched, it was only meant to be a sort term stop-gap(4) and a replacement based on the AX (ironically), was looked at, but abandoned, as PSA decided that Talbot was a waste of its corporate breath.

Just to add that the yellow car featured above is an LS just like the one I owned. This car has been a regular at the NEC Classic Car Show over recent years, and is absolutely, wonderfully, immaculate. Seeing it there, quite incongruous among the other exhibits, was quite strikingly evocative for me. I haven’t met the person who has so lovingly restored it, but they deserve every award going for keeping such a humble and, by default, historic car in such fine fettle. Chapeau!

(1) Although door frames and innards were shared with the 104, the panelwork was bespoke.
(2)This engine, which I think was always referred to as the XU unit, but isn’t in the Autocar article.
(3)Electronic ignition, would be dearly missed in terms of more reliable starting.
(4) Introduced to replace the Sunbeam, itself originally meant to be short-lived.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

48 thoughts on “Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5”

  1. Good morning S.V. and thanks for sharing your experience of running a Samba. Weren’t small cars really simple and straightforward back in the 80’s? Nowadays even a supermini has more computing power than the Saturn 5 rocket that launched the moon landing.

    The design is pleasing, especially given the constraints, but you’re right about that abrupt uptick in the DLO. They should have done it more subtly, as on the convertible. The latter always seemed to be an extravagant indulgence for a stop-gap model. I wonder why Peugeot didn’t also stick a 104 nose on it?

    Your mention of having a sunroof fitted reminded me that I did the same with my new 1982 VW Polo. Those aftermarket glass sunroofs were really popular back then. It was fine when closed or ‘popped up’ at the trailing edge, but the wind noise was intolerable when I removed the glass entirely, because it lacked any sort of wind deflector at its leading edge.

    1. These sunroofs were really popular in the early Eighties when some manufacturers even had special editions with such sunroofs. In 1983 I was offered an ultra-rare Alfa Junior Zagato 1600 whose former owner had been violin player Angelo Branduardi – I didn’t buy it because it had such a sunroof and one of the cheapest kind at that.

      This Samba refusing to start in damp of cold weather reminded me of the time when Peugeot 204s and 104s were popular and one of their common characteristics was their reluctance to start in such weather conditions. I helped quite some Peugeot to get their cars running.
      At that time Peugeot insisted on using ignition HT leads that did not use copper wire but glass fibre strands impregnated with graphite. These HT leads had a higher internal resistance than copper and served as ballast resistors for radio interference suppression. Their big disadvantage was their extreme sensitivity to rude handling – it was sufficient to bend then too tight only once to snap the glass fibre strands with the result that in damp weather electricity went everywhere else but the HT leads.

    2. Yes, I recall the same issue – taking the whole glass plate out was disastrous for wind noise and buffeting coming into the car. I think I only did it twice, and one of those was because the car was involved in a mad treasure-hunt when I was at uni which involved water-bombs being thrown at competitors out of said roof opening. Those were the days …

  2. I find myself in the minority here. The little upkick in the DLO is where much of the car´s character resides.
    If you´d asked me I´d have thought these were only on sale until 1980. The past does linger, doesn´t it? Like the LNA and 104 I must have seen these in Ireland in the 1980s as they´d have been a fairly accessible car for a cash-strapped society.
    There are probably other gems in the old stack of magazines, SV. I have racks of them and they never cease to entertain me. I get quite good value for money from a single purchase from eBay. I don´t watch television so when I need to truly moss out it´s to the old stack of car magazines that I head to first. I haven´t ordered anything from the UK since Brexit took hold in January. I am a little worried I´ll pay import taxes on UK-sourced car magazines. I will have to test and find out soon.

    1. Hi Richard. It’s not the uptick per se I find unsettling, it’s the fact that it begins at exactly the point where the door meets the rear side glass, making the two look somehow misaligned to my eyes. Had it been done more progressively, as on the convertible, it might have worked better. Of course, it’s only one view.

      I might play with it later to see what alternative treatments look like.

  3. It’s a stubby little thing isn’t it? The abrupt tail had the effect of pushing the fron axle forwards giving it a stance where you could almost imagine it as RWD. It reminds me a little of the BMW 1 series.
    My parents had a 4 door 104 before I was born, I have no idea what they thought of it but whilst clearing out my Dad’s stuff I found it’s spare key which was embossed with “Peugette”, seamingly Peugeot branded their keys like this at one time. I did wonder if part 2 might have featured the Peugette concept, the roadster that never was…
    A work colleagues husband had a Samba convertible as his first car and kept it. It was never restored as such, but cherished. It didn’t stop them using it in all weathers though, including the kind of snow that scares off the common or garden SUV drivers. The last I heard it had been passed onto one of their son’s for his first car.
    I can’t help noticing the chasm in status between Talbot’s pre war status- I’m getting a Roveresque impression- and their bargain basement revival under PSA. There’s something infinitely depressing about “Special edition” cars. Who is going to collect them they aren’t like first day cover stamps; it’s really just selling cars using decals and discounts.

  4. Hasn´t the special edition concept died out? At least in overt form where a cheeky decal is stuck on the boot and some odd fabric is draped on the seats?

    “The Wolseley 23/99 Montreal Special Edition. Features unique Montreal Special Edition badges and an extra switch blank plus a Montreal Special Edition key ring and a unique leatherette instruction manual cover. Hurry on down to your Wolseley dealer and arrange a test drive now!”

    1. Bizarrely, Richard, it has made a come-back in the advent of ‘First Editions’ of brand new models at launch. These tend to be highly specc’d and very costly. This is a reversal of the previous trend where special editions were used as a device to prop up the sales of cars towards the middle or end of their life-cycle. I think the zenith (or nadir, depending on your point of view) epoque of the special edition was the 80’s and early 90’s where most of the volume manufacturers supped from that well.

      DTW ran a monthly theme in its earlier days on ‘special editions’ which I recall being good fun to read and participate in.

    2. First editions? I´d noticed that at a very low level of consciousness. “I have a First Edition Hyundai i10, actually… signed by the CEO of Hyundai… still in the wrapper. Worth alot now, you know.”
      “Wanted: any first edition cars, top prices paid. Contact Beth duBois at Launch Motors, Geneva. We have first editions of many recent Audis, Fords, Bentleys and Suzukis.”

    3. That’s true re First Editions, S.V. I think special editions are often now factory-derived (e.g, Volkswagen’s ‘United’ range), as opposed to being more dealer-based.

      I thought that was a very well-written and evocative article, by the way, S.V. Breaking down on the North Circular definitely wouldn’t be fun.

    4. Never saw that much Sambas where I lived, but as far as I remember all of them had go faster decals applied. A quick search on the web actually proves I’m wrong.

    5. As I understand it (I’m sure that I read this recently, anyway) First Editions are helpful to the manufacturer as you can get Joe Public to pay more for your exciting new tin box, while also simplifying the production process by only having one spec going down the production line for the first few weeks/months. They’re certainly proliferating like mad, so there must be a financially rewarding reason behind it

  5. Leaving the road at a tangent can anyone explian the British tradition of pronouncing Talbot as “Tolbat” (It is a still a common surname and thanks to the Earls of Shrewsbury and Talbots’ extensive land holdings a common pub name*). Although”Old TopGear” presenter William Woollard insisted on a silent T at the end presumably labouring under the belief that the marque’s origins were entirely French.

    *Talbot was also a breed of dog akin to a white foxhound, now extinct, which takes us back on the road to Talbot cars!

    1. It´s a vexed question as to when native pronounciation should be tried. Some of my fellow countrymen like to say Renault to rhyme with “salt” and I have heard Peugeot pronounced as “pehr-zho”. Talbot – pronouncing it in French is delightfully affected. Bravo!

    2. My stepfather’s surname was Talbot, but I am not aware that he was anything to do with the Earl of Shrewsbury, he certainly lacked class in his demeanor and general behaviour. The name was definitely pronounced ‘Talbot’, albeit usually in a Yorkshire accent (he was from Barnsley, worked for the Met Police, but came from a family of miners, and his mum was a cleaner for no less than Arthur Scargill (yes, you’d have thought that below his socialist leanings). Anyway, enough therapy for today …

    3. Always ‘ TALLbut’ growing up in London – and always came after ‘Sunbeam’ ….

  6. I recall at the time of the rebranding a statement to the effect that Talbot was chosen precisely because it sounded British to potential customers in the UK and French to mainland Europeans.

    Here at DTW Towers, high-level discussions* have been taking place today in our Alternative Realities department about the Samba’s lower DLO line and how it might have been improved. The problem (if it is one) is that there is a ‘break’ in the line where it kicks slightly but perceptibly upwards at the point it crosses the door’s trailing edge shut-line, making it look somewhat misaligned:

    The first proposed solution is to allow the window line to lead in straight until it reaches about a third of the way under the rear side window, then to kink upwards to meet the existing rear lower corner of the window:

    The second proposed solution is to allow it to curve smoothly upwards to to meet the existing rear lower corner of the window, without any kink:

    The final and most radical proposal is to continue it straight to meet a lowered rear corner of the side window:

    Thoughts, comments etc?

    * Richard and I exchanged a couple of e-mails and ideas

    1. The bottom one wins in my book, it’s much calmer and less disruptive to the eye.

    2. The bottom one, but with a bigger, more angular, ‘hoffman’ kink.

    3. I prefer the original, but then I’m generally a fan of wedginess. I know it’s probably an optical illusion, but the last one looks as if it’s drooping away towards the rear lights in a Metro-like fashion.

  7. Here’s some more options, just for fun. The first is purely to test if a more decisive change of direction at the B-pillar would work better :

    The second allows the door window line to lead into into the rear quarter window , then change direction sharply

  8. One more for luck:

    As a point of principle, I think I prefer the versions where the change of direction doesn’t coincide with the shut-line break.

    Here’s the VW UP! three-door by way of comparison:

    1. The sharp bend is catching my eye. If you make the radius look like the actual radius on the trailing edge of the window it will be easier to judge.

    2. The reason it looks better with lead-in from the door to the back window is that it ties together the whole DLO. If the knick is where the door shutline is it makes the car look more like a front half and back half joined at the B-pillar. The AMC Gremlin is like that. Possibly the 1994 BMW 3series compact too (though less extreme).

    3. Here’s another example of a car where the lower DLO line is subtly misaligned either side of the B-pillar and has always looked ‘wrong’ to me because of it:

      Here’s the image marked up to show the misalignment:

      The red line I have marked up is exactly parallel to the lower DLO line in the front door, but the rear door lower DLO line is not parallel to it, rising towards the C-pillar. The effect is exacerbated by the shape of the B-pillar, widening out towards the bottom.

      Here’s the Allegro Photoshopped to have a properly straight and aligned lower DLO Line:

    4. Richard, here’s the last Samba Photoshop with a more rounded lower corner, as you suggested:

    5. Sorry Daniel, but the Allegro will always look like a dogs’ dinner, no matter what you do to the windows.

  9. Daniel – have you no shame? Allowing an Allegro to get in on the act!! But since you have, compare with the two-door version, which seems to work rather better. The estate does it better still.

    1. Hi John, no, no shame whatsoever!

      The Allegro estate has that lovely Scimitar GTE-esque upswept waistline (!) but the two -door has the same issue as the four-door:

      I haven’t marked this one up, but I think you can see it, now you know it’s there.

  10. Very interesting to see the changes to both the Samba and the Allegro. Pretty much all of the Samba changes are improvements, I think. They make it look more balanced / substantial.

    I flicked between images of the Allegro and Alfasud, recently, for my own amusement. Same concept, amazingly different results. I think the Allegro has less glass and rounder sides which makes it look more bulbous.

    1. Hi Charles. Apart from the aforementioned lower DLO line issue, the Allegro has a multitude of truly bizarre and inexplicable design details. For example, take a look at the rear view:

      Notice how the bodysides slope markedly inwards from the level of the top of the tail lights to the top edge of the boot lid, before becoming more upright again for the DLO. Notice also how the angle of the sides of the rear window are at odds with the rain gutters. All very confused and confusing.

  11. Steering gently away (quartic-ly?) from Allegros, I love the title of today’s piece – GBU used to be a great read didn’t it?

    1. Hi Adrian. Indeed it was, very pithy and witty, although not always entirely accurate or objective. It was always amusing to scan down the ‘Bad’ list for one-star cars and read the summaries, along the lines of:

      “Good: large glovebox. Bad: everything else”

  12. Here are some actual entries from the December 1977 issue:

    Morris Marina
    For: Performance, room.
    Against: Everything else. utterly appalling.
    Sum-up: Embarrassment.

    Toyota Carina
    For: Trusty.
    Against: So mundane.
    Sum-up: ZZZZZZ.

    Chrysler Hunter
    For: Price?
    Against: Just about everything.
    Sum-up: Horrid.

    Rover SD1
    For: Style, go/consumption.
    Against: Nasty interior, delivery delays.
    Sum-up: BMW-beater.

    Austin Princess
    For: Room.
    Against: Thirsty.
    Sum-up: Good, but more for the older man.

    Citroen GS
    For: Refinement.
    Against: Very little.
    Sum-up: World beater.

  13. I’m surprised that you didn’t do the DLO version the same as the ZS/LNA with straight window line and “parallel” rear pillars.
    With a sharp lower corner this would have followed the style of the Talbot Sunbeam, even more so given that the front’s were already pretty close. Here a photo from the great collection at Classicgarage.de
    https://www.classicargarage.de/archiv/talbot-sunbeam-lotus-1980

    Might also have looked a bit like a Nova though.
    Cheers
    Andrew

    1. Hi Andrew. I thought about it, but wanted to avoid going back to the look of the donor vehicle. I might give it a go later.

      Incidentally, we’ve got a piece on the Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam coming up in the near future. Stay tuned!

  14. I was a holiday rep one summer season in 1995 in Catalonia. After arriving my manager showed me my apartment and said I also had use of the cars at the resort. He showed me to a parking area and there was a beige Talbot Samba, and a blue Fiat Strada. He said the keys to both had been lost and to start I simply had to connect two wires together under the steering column! Driving around the Costa Brava in the Samba was a lot of fun. It never failed which is a miracle considering it wasn’t exactly looked after. I was always worried the police or Guardia Civil would pull me over and ask about the UK registration plates, lack of keys or any form of documentation. I think the holiday company logo’s plastered all over the car helped keep me under their radar. Fun pre-Covid times.

    1. Sounds like great memories for you, ckracer, thanks for sharing. Small and cheap (and, ideally, by no means pristine) hatchbacks are just the ticket for the zipping along the Mediterranean coasts. A Samba Cabriolet would be just perfect! (But don’t forget the Factor 30.)

  15. Think you should have a go at the straight window line and parallel pillars Daniel. This would, as Andrew quite rightly states, have followed the Sunbeam styling. They could have even kept the Sunbeam name seeing as that model had enjoyed limited success in Europe, helped by its motorsport exploits, or call the UK version Sunbeam seeing the original idea was to have separate names. The Samba also had sporting success with the Rallye model, a forerunner of the later Peugeot 205, 106 & 306 namesakes. Look forward to the Sunbeam article.

    1. Hi Ayjay. I’ll have a go with the Samba as you and Andrew have suggested this afternoon. Watch this space…

    2. Talbot Samba re-rendered in the style of the Sunbeam, with a 50mm or so extension to the wheelbase and overall length to balance it up:

      Hope you approve!

  16. Excellent work Daniel. Makes the car so much more grown up. I seem to remember an article on the Sunbeam when launched that featured a conversation with Roy Axe, who stated the straight window line was costly and complicated to implement but he stuck to his guns for style reasons. With the Samba conceived as a stop gap presumably an easier, cheaper option was taken.

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