Whatever happened to the Talbot Solara?

Ah yes, the Talbot Solara. Thinking about it, the Solara was very much the Shatchback of the early ’80s, being as it was, the saloon version of the Chrysler/Talbot/Simca Alpine. Looking back, Chrysler had it all wrong. The Simca Alpine, which was to become the Chrysler Alpine, only to end up as the Talbot Alpine was actually way ahead of its time.

It was a good looking car introduced in the mid 1970s, way before we all realised we yearned to own a hatchback. By the time we came to our senses in the early ’80s, the Alpine was an ageing product suffering from an appalling marketing strategy and massive confusion at boardroom level. Perhaps if they had started with the Talbot Solara – the saloon version of the Alpine – things may have been different?

Okay, perhaps not, but you get the point.

Whatever happened to...the Talbot Solara?

The Talbot Solara was actually pretty successful, outselling its hatchback sibling. However, it suffered from two major problems, or three if you want to include the marketing strategy. The two problems were in the form of two C words – Cavalier and Cortina, both of which offered more engine options, a greater choice of trim levels, (critical for the salesman on the up), and the might of General Motors and Ford to back them.

The Talbot Solara was a pretty straightforward machine, built for a more straightforward era. It was three-inches longer than the Alpine, but most of this extra length was taking up by the boot, with rear legroom only marginally increased. Inside it was pretty much identical to the Alpine hatchback. Two petrol engines were available – a 1.3-litre and a 1.6.

Had it not been for a Chrysler Group reshuffle a year before its introduction in 1980, it could quite easily have been born the Chrysler Solara. Which sounds even more like a backstreet bar in Benidorm.

In truth, it was doomed to failure. It wasn’t as though it did anything particularly badly, it’s just that it wasn’t that memorable. Compare and contrast the Talbot Solara with the Ford Sierra which was introduced just two years after the Solara in 1982. They look world’s apart now – so just think how things looked in the early 1980s. The Sierra was all ‘Human League’, the Solara was just a bit ‘Dr Hook’.

The Talbot Solara

By the time the sun set on the Solara in 1985, it was already on borrowed time. And even the usual sales-boosting special editions managed to upset the purists – introducing the Solara Minx and Solara Rapier was viewed as Chrysler dancing on the graves of two much loved marques from Britain’s past. And we haven’t even mentioned the Spectre…

Today, a mere 16 Talbot Solaras are left on the roads of Britain, of which, according to How Many Left?, a quarter happen to be the Minx special edition. Chances are, all those that are left are now safely in the hands of collectors. The Talbot Solara has long since left the kingdom of Bangerdom.

We’ll leave you with the ‘classic’ ad from the Talbot Solara’s past (above). It features some vaguely military-style music and a series of quotes from a number of tremendously positive journalists. Listen out for the man from the Daily Mirror who enjoyed every one of the 1,000 miles he did in the Solara. We’re sold.

Photos courtesy of Gwafton and Charles01.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

6 comments

  1. July 4, 2013
    MKL_37

    Talbot Solara isn’t so unusual in Spain as in England (It was made in Spain in a time when imported cars were really expensive here) but there isn’t a easy car to see. It was pretty dull, without the personality of the Chrysler 150/Alpine but with the same aging looks.

    My uncle had a mint Chrysler 150 and I loved it… the Solara don’t catch my heart 😛

    Reply
  2. September 25, 2014
    JMK1

    The main failing of the Solara (and Alpine) was rust. My late father had an Alpine from new in 1977 (R Reg) and by 1985 the car had gone through several resprays before he disposed of it. My uncles 1978 Alpine was off the road in 1986 as an MOT failure.

    The Solara and Alpine vould have been darned good cars had Chrysler and… later… Peugeot, invested in the car. Early models had a shocking gearbox (worse than a Maxi) and very heavy non PAS. On the plus side, for the size it was spacious (bigger inside than a Cortina). The Mk 2 sorted the steering (PAS) and gearbox (replaced by a Peugeot unit) but it was too late.

    One glimmer of hope is the Peugeot 405 which replaced it and other Peugeot models had a lot of parts in common. The car has morphed through the 406. 407 and 508.. Little do 508 drivers know they are driving a car derived from the Alpine/Solara

    Reply
  3. August 27, 2015
    LondonItalian

    Perhaps we have different recollections of the launch of the Ford Sierra. As I remember it, people were shocked when they first saw it, not by it’s advanced styling but by how ugly it was. One of the most frequent comments from members of the general public to appear in the press was “I wouldn’t be seen dead in it.” A view I shared.

    With it’s ghastly badly-proportioned jelly mould styling and interior swathed in the cheapest, nastiest plastic possible, not only was it an unworthy successor to the super-bland, super-conventional, super-repmobile Cortina Mark IV/V, stylistically it couldn’t hold a candle to any previous Cortina, particularly the Mark II and Mark III. In fact, it looked like the stylists had only gotten as far as covering the wooden buck with clay but had never actually bothered styling it. (And things would only get worse when they tried to glam it up by dropping the 2.8 litre V6 in the engine bay and hung multiple spoilers all over the back. As the XR4, it was even more misshapen and looked more like a Fokker Triplane than a car.)

    The other big criticism of the time was that, yes it had a hatchback but in an era when front-wheel drive was all the rage, here were Ford launching a brand-new model to succeed by far the most popular, bestselling car in the UK of the previous fifteen years and it was still rear-wheel drive. In fact so badly received was it, that it cost Ford the fleet car market which, if I remember correctly, Ford had absolutely dominated with a circa 70% share. General Motors, i.e., Vauxhall, laughed all the way to the bank as fleet buyers flocked in droves to the Cavalier. Ford never recovered that position of primacy in the large family saloon segment even after they consigned the Sierra to the dustbin of history and replaced it with the Mondeo because by the early ’90s times had changed and Ford were now competing with the likes of Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota, and Honda not to mention the Audi 80 and BMW 3 series.

    As for the Solara, when Peugeot eventually killed off the Talbot brand, it was definitely a case of good riddance to bad rubbish.

    Reply
  4. October 26, 2015
    roverade

    I purchased a 1.6GLS new from Charters of Aldershot in 1980. It towed a large trailer loaded with disco equipment every weekend. I eventually traded it for a Rover SD1 V8. The Solara was a competent enough car, the 1.6 engine was quite revvy and it would climb a hill with 2 adults & 2 teenagers on board no problem. Much better than the Hyundai Lantra my wife later owned.

    Reply
    • November 4, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Charters of Aldershot is still there! It’s a Peugeot dealer, so there’s some nice heritage.

      After the Solara, the SD1 must have felt like a supercar!

      Reply
  5. February 22, 2016
    craig boswell

    my father bought a W Reg second hand talbot solora which was a couple of years old from the main agents in Sale Cheshire on Washway Road ,Sale in Racing Green with a cream luxury cloth interior .

    Luxury compared to his vauxhall viva with a plastic interior he he …

    He kept it for a few years where he upgraded to the Mk2 Solora with a 5 speed gearbox compared to the MK1 with a 4 speed gearbox which you need a mallet to get in gear

    The MK1 Solora was a rust bucket on the doors and sills and this was its main downfall

    The metal was cheap spanish made and could not cope with any salt from a british winter

    Shame really as it had reclinng seats which was a plus for all my dates as a teenager

    Reply

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