A club dedicated to the iconic Talbot Sunbeam Lotus,
1981 Lombard RAC World Rally Champion.

The Sunbeam Lotus Owners' Club is the only independent organisation catering solely for the Sunbeam Lotus, and the cars therefore receive our undivided efforts and loyalty. As a part of membership we are able to provide written valuations on cars for agreed value insurance schemes, plus an extensive calendar of social events, including local area meetings, attendance at the major classic car shows as well as track and sprint test days. Technical advice and assistance, and help with finding spare parts, is also available at the end of a phone, through e-mail, or by post, and in addition, we do from time to time source, or have re-manufactured, some spare parts or associated items of interest, and these are advertised for sale exclusively to members (normally at cost price plus postage). These currently include radiator hoses, stripes, sales brochures, homologation papers, Talbot rally films and scale models.

The Sunbeam Lotus Owners' Club is recognised by the Motor Sports Association ("the MSA"); we are also members of the Association of Rootes Car Clubs, the Association of West Midlands Car Clubs and the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs. This ensures that SLOC members are invited to, and can participate in, all events organised or attended by these long-standing and active organisations. Members can also benefit from reduced membership rates for the AA breakdown service.

Our club magazine, oppoSite LOC, is published quarterly, and is posted free to all members. The club is organised and managed by a group of enthusiastic volunteers who, whilst running things entirely in their spare time, nevertheless try to provide a service equal to the highest professional standards.

Until his death in 1999, the Honorary Club President was Des O'Dell (former Talbot Competitions Director and inspiration for the Sunbeam Lotus). Now, our Honorary President is Paul White, who was the Talbot Team Manager and winning co-driver on the 1980 Lombard-RAC Rally. Other honorary members include Jean Todt and David Lapworth.

 The Sunbeam Lotus Owners' Club is a fully incorporated limited company entitled "The Sunbeam Lotus Owners' Club Limited", and this ensures that all members are fully protected from any liabilities that the club may incur as part of its day-to-day business.

Single Membership is available to both owners and enthusiasts at the realistic rate of £25 per annum. Joint Membership also costs £25, and is available where another in the Member’s family, bona fide partners, or friends living at a single address wants to join SLOC. Joint Membership also enables both Members to enter motor sport competitions as individuals. A discount of £2 for both single and joint membership is applied where the member agrees to pay by standing order. Also, Family Membership is available at a cost of £28, and in addition to the other benefits of membership, all family members will receive individual membership cards. We welcome all conditions of car, from restoration projects to every-day workhorses, weekend 'fun' cars, concours winners, sprint/hill climb/race/rally versions and ex-works rally cars.

To enable Talbot to compete in the WRC,
A number of road cars were required to meet Homologation Rules.

 

The Car

The Chrysler Sunbeam first appeared with three engine variants, 930cc, 1300cc and 1600cc; the former derived from a Hillman Imp engine (itself based on a Coventry Climax fire pump!) and the larger sizes from the Avenger range. The sporty end of the market was soon catered for with the 1600cc Ti model ("Twin Induction"), which boasted alloy wheels, sports seats (with tartan trim), side stripes and front & rear spoilers (although these were more for show than for function). 100bhp and 0-60mph in under 10 seconds was very respectable in the late seventies, but Competitions Manager Des O'Dell knew from his experience with Avengers that this was insufficient to mount a serious challenge in the rallying world - he was desperate to build a machine capable of beating the Ford RS Escorts and Vauxhall HS Chevettes.

Des had already spotted the potential of the Sunbeam but was on the lookout for serious power. Nothing in the Chrysler range was likely to prove adequate and he had already dabbled with outside help from BRM without the success that he craved. Suddenly an obvious solution presented itself; Lotus had been supplying 2 litre engines to Jensen Healey, who had recently ceased trading. Des's deputy, Wynne Mitchell, contacted his old college friend Mike Kimberley at Lotus and Des was straight in to seal a deal. Initially he returned to Coventry with two engines - a standard 160bhp 2 litre and a modified version producing over 230bhp. The former went into the only vehicle at his disposal, a red Avenger, for testing and showing off to the management before finally being fitted to a Sunbeam, while the race version found its way into a rally-prepared Sunbeam, WRW 30S. Testing began in earnest and the car competed in several events where homologation was not required. Andrew Cowan did the competitive driving while Bernard Unett carried out development testing.

Lotus subsequently developed their engine into a 2.2 litre unit designated type 911 of the following specification:-

4 cylinder

2172cc

twin overhead camshafts

twin 45mm Dellorto carburettors

16 valve cylinder head

all alloy

150bhp for road use

9.4:1 compression ratio

The competition engine was initially uprated to 234bhp (later increasing further) and featured 48mm carburettors and a compression ratio of 11:1. In fact, once Talbot took delivery of this they set about re-building it with components of their own choosing (Cosworth pistons, for example). To enable these to compete, however, 400 cars had to be produced to satisfy homologation rules. Chrysler's ambitions were for a run of 4500 engines, and homologation was achieved for April 1 1979 on the basis of 32 pre-production cars converted by the Service Department - these filled the factory's service workshops and gave the right impression of progress to the FIA delegates at a time when production cars were not quite ready to roll off the lines.

Lotus were fully involved in the development and production, not only designing and manufacturing the engine but developing the suspension and exhaust systems as well. As a result, the rolling chassis built alongside all other Sunbeams at Linwood near Glasgow were delivered by transporter to Lotus in Norfolk. Here they were fitted with the engine and 5-speed ZF gearbox at a satellite operation located at Ludham airfield, some 20 miles from the Hethel base where the engines were built. Once assembly was completed the cars were transported to Coventry for final checking before delivery to the dealers.

The Chrysler Sunbeam Lotus was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1979, but deliveries did not start until summer of that year. By this time, Chrysler UK had been sold to the French Peugeot concern who changed the name to the Talbot Motor Company. With the exception of the very first pre-production models, all road cars were officially known as Talbots.

Originally the cars were only available in Embassy Black with broad silver side stripes and grey interior, and the very early cars also boasted twin exit exhaust pipes.

For the 1981 model year, however, a black and grey "Piccadilly" trim was introduced and these new Series 2 cars were further distinguished by larger headlamps, a new corporate grille, new door mirrors, a much-needed larger fuel tank and engine modifications which produced a small increase in power and torque figures. The following year, with a number of cars still in stock and sales slow, Moonstone Blue paintwork became the only available colour, although customers were offered a choice of silver or black stripes.

Even so, some cars remained unsold through the winter of 1982/83, and a batch of 150 were reserved for Avon Coachworks of Warwick to produce a limited edition "Avon" model. These were to be retrimmed internally, with a change of exterior colour scheme and the addition of original green & yellow Lotus badges on the flanks, plus each was to be registered within the series DDU 1Y to DDU 150Y with a limited edition serial number corresponding to the registration. In total, though, only 56 cars were officially converted (plus a handful of cars returned from dealers for conversion), and some of these missed out on the DDU number plate although they were still numbered sporadically up to no.150.

The final batch of cars, including the balance of the 150 originally destined for Avon Coachworks, were sold through a single dealer in Nuneaton at reduced prices. Again, most of these cars were registered in sequence bearing the marks DAC 2Y to DAC 141Y, with some gaps (DAC 1Y was reserved for the dealer's own new Sunbeam Lotus but this car has remained unregistered and the mark was assigned to a different vehicle!). A handful of cars did still remain unsold at dealers until the "A" prefix was introduced in August 1983, and at least one car even went unsold until the "B" arrived.

Overall, Lotus claim to have built 2298 cars (1150 right-hand-drive) while Talbot claim a total of 2308. This difference is accounted for by the building of ten 'works' rally cars from bare bodyshells at the Humber Road Competitions Department between 1980 and 1982.

Delivery statistics were as follows:-

Country   1979 1980 1981   Total
             
UK   423 304 457   1184
Austria   14 1 0   15
Belgium   36 39 14   89
France   235 125 28   388
West Germany   52 121 31   204
Holland   20 10 0   30
Italy   32 291 68   391
Switzerland   4 0 0   4
Others   0 3 0   3
             
Totals   816 894 598   2308

The Talbot Sunbeam Lotus took part in international rallying from 1979 to 1982 and won the World Championship for Talbot in 1981. Its most famous achievement was at the 1980 Lombard-RAC rally, Britain's round of the World Rally Championship, where Henri Toivonen became the event's youngest ever winner and Sunbeam Lotus cars finished 1st, 3rd and 4th - the last time a two-wheel drive car won the RAC. Des O'Dell was presented afterwards with a Sunbeam Lotus road car bearing the registration RAC 134W!

In fact, Talbot's Sunbeam Lotus won their class (Group 2) on the RAC for three years in succession, culminating in 1982 with the last ever win in this class before the FIA rules changed to Groups A, B, etc.

Sunbeam Lotus works drivers included the late Henri Toivonen, Guy Fréquelin (co-driven by Jean Todt) who narrowly missed out on being the Driver's World Champion in 1981, Stig Blomqvist, Tony Pond, Andrew Cowan and Jean-Pierre Nicolas. Russell Brookes also competed in a works-built car, privately sponsored by Andrews Heat for Hire.

At the end of the 1982 season many of the Talbot team transferred to Paris where their experience contributed to the success of Peugeot-Talbot's new rally contender, the 205 T16. A closer successor to the Sunbeam, though, would have been the mid-engined, turbo-charged Lotus Horizon, of which only one example was built before attention was switched to the 205.

(This text is copyright © SLOC 1996-2017)

 

www.sunbeamlotus.com