Whatever happened to the Talbot Samba?

In the history of PetrolBlog, never has the ‘whatever happened to’ question been more apt than in the case of the Talbot Samba. Once upon a time, Britain’s roads seemed to be littered with the Peugeot 104-based supermini. There was a Talbot Samba on every corner.

As recently as 1994 there were 24,129 Talbot Sambas on the road. Today, that number stands at just 25. Twenty five! If this were an episode of Casualty, the little Talbot Samba would be fighting for its life, the doctors would be called and the team would start muttering things about putting the car out of its misery.

Talbot Samba in Madrid

But this isn’t Casualty, it’s PetrolBlog, and we reckon the Talbot Samba is a miniature hero. And every single one of those brave little Sambas, still dancing around in Britain, need to be preserved. Yes, even the Talbot Samba Cabriolet.

The Talbot Samba can owe its existence and its subsequent demise to Peugeot. It was quite obviously based on the Peugeot 104, albeit with a slighter shorter wheelbase. And yet, by 1986, the Talbot Samba was a bit of a white elephant. A fun-size white elephant for sure, but a distinctly obsolete supermini. The reason? Quite simply, the Peugeot 205.

The 205 was effortlessly cool, whereas the Talbot Samba wasn’t. The 205 hinted at an exotic life in St. Tropez, whilst the Talbot Samba felt a little bit like a wet day in Coventry. The Samba died and along with it went the Talbot brand.

Talbot Samba LE

That’s not to say there were weren’t one or two interesting versions of the Samba. Take the Talbot Samba Rallye for example, an entry-level racer for budding rally stars everywhere and available in any colour they liked. As long as they chose red or white. Its 1.2-litre engine developed 80bhp which, thanks to its lightweight construction, gave the Rallye a decent turn of pace. Today, there are just two left on the road, with a further six registered as SORN.

Then there’s the Talbot Samba Cabriolet, which tends to make a regular appearance when folk are compiling a list of the worst convertibles of all time. And yet, despite the derision, it’s almost single-handedly flying the Talbot Samba flag, with 11 on the road – up from seven at the end of 2012. Proof that there’s life in the old dog yet.

But here’s the thing – when did you last take a good look at the Talbot Samba Cabriolet? It’s actually a pretty little thing and Pininfarina deserves some credit for making it look so appealing. It’s no wonder it became so popular in France, with many buyers seeing it as a cut-price VW Golf Cabriolet. Of course, in the image-obsessed world we now live in, the Talbot Samba Cabriolet wouldn’t stand a chance. But that’s precisely why it’s so appealing to PetrolBlog.

Talbot Samba Cabriolet

It’s time to halt the decline of the Talbot Samba. Whilst it’s encouraging to see numbers increasing, there’s no doubt that the Samba will need love to keep it alive. There’s only one for sale on eBay, which just happens to be a Cabriolet, and it could be yours for a tenner. Sadly, it’s being stripped for spares.

PetrolBlog will leave you with this classic ad from the archives. It features the Churchill Insurance dog on his first acting assignment, along with another unnamed nodding dog whose career never took off. He was last seen sleeping on a park bench in Dulwich Hamlet. Poor dog.

The advert is notable for the Mobil Self Service petrol station (remember them?), a cheeky reference to the ‘topless’ Samba Cabriolet (guffaw) and a rather delightful Talbot Samba S. And listen out for the narration, which is delivered in a distinctly BBC children’s television style.

Classic stuff. And remember, if you’re preparing a list of terrible cabriolets, spare a thought for the Samba. You’re only contributing to its decline.

Talbot Samba Cabriolet image © Igelgerson, Talbot Samba in Madrid © Charles01,Talbot Samba LE © Derek Law.

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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.

21 comments

  1. October 10, 2013
    Loop Withers

    Gavin, you write in a way that draws shame and humility from me. I know my actions and also my indifference has contributed to the extinction of yet another species on this planet.

    In my defence, I would suggest that the name ‘Samba’ was probably a key element in this car’s demise. Although its ride and handling were worthy of a tiger cub, the car was clearly shovelled out of the Talbot factory with an invisible sticker on its windscreen saying: “Cheap Car For Trainee Sales Reps”.

    I killed one, knowing that I would one day pay for my sins.

    In my defence, it had an interior less comfortable but four times as heavy as that in a 2CV, it started only when it felt like it and it reeked of failure. It was the dumbed-down last gasp of Talbot and – as you point out – it was the instant coffee version of the fresh latte Peugeot 104.

    Everyone who reads your article and my comments can smell damp fields of clipped grass, right now. Those fields where brightly dressed Marshalls walk with indifference while ‘Motoring Heritage’ is parked in lines for us to stare at while we fumble with our iPhones to take a picture of…the Samba.

    The Samba was as perfect as the sister of your best friend. You knew on first sight that you could never fall in love under any circumstances. Worse still, she turned up next week with a friend who looked like your wildest dream.

    I killed my Samba because nobody was looking and I could get away with it. Am I a bad man? Should I REALLY rot in Hell? I mean – we are talking about a car that had no sound-proofing and even less charm at a time when Ford offered the Fiesta with a foot operated screen-wash and vinyl seats.

    It deserves to die.

    Reply
    • October 10, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      I can see the potential for a Question Time style debate here. A weekly TV show – ok, a YouTube show filmed on an iPhone – where we all sit down and debate the merits of a car facing extinction.

      Probably more Room 101 style, which itself has sold its soul to the lure of the panel show format. What was wrong with the original one-to-one approach anyway.

      But back to the Samba – surely no car deserves to die. And the Samba did spawn the Rallye and the Cabriolet, which may or may not be a good case for the defence.

      I’m sticking by my call to action. Keep the Samba dancing.

      The Samba must live.

      🙂

      Reply
  2. October 10, 2013
    Ben

    I love the Samba, but Fiat 127 Mk11 is my favourite in this particular niche.

    Reply
    • October 10, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      You know what, the 127 nearly appeared last night. But the Samba got the nod.

      Watch this space…

      Reply
  3. October 16, 2013
    MV

    I remember the first time I saw a Samba. I was living in Germany back in the late 80’s and early 90’s and it was parked out front of the cafe I was having a quick coffee at. It was in great shape, but wasn’t an attractive vehicle so I assumed it was an Eastern Block car. I had only recently seen my first Wartburg, Zil and Trabant so anything was possible. Plus the boxy look was similar to the Russian Zil and Trabant I had seen. I was surprised when I saw the UK license plate.

    Reply
    • October 17, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Yes, it’s arguably a little East European in its styling.

      A salute to the chap who drove one across to Germany…

      Reply
  4. October 17, 2013
    Costin

    Samba … I saw one or may be two of them all of my life … I do remember the T 🙂

    Reply
  5. October 25, 2013
    Dewoitine

    Does anyone else remember the Citroen LNA, which was another 104 spin-off?

    Reply
    • November 1, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Very much so. The LNA is pencilled in for a piece on PetrolBlog.

      Only seven left on roads of Britain now…

      Reply
  6. May 29, 2014
    Andrew hobbs

    In 2005 I drove a 1 litre Talbot Samba from London to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Baataar.
    We paid £30 on E bay as it was a non runner. After swapping the ignition leads onto the correct spark plugs it ran a treat.
    We drove it 8509 miles across mountains, through rivers and over deserts. We made it in first place taking 23 days. We gave this little machine one hell of a send off. You couldn’t help but fall for its basic charms, it proved all its doubters wrong, which was everyone!
    It’s now I feel guilty for not bringing it home and leaving it pride of place in my garage. Long live those little rusty sambas.

    Reply
    • June 14, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Good lord – that’s an epic achievement.

      Where is the Samba now? Going by your “send off” comment, I’m assuming that was its last journey?

      Reply
  7. August 17, 2014
    cliveneville

    I have had a Cabriolet since 1989 and I’d take issue that it’s one of the worst cabs. Okay build quality was not good but it is pretty, has decent power to weight (80bhp versus 890kg) and handles very eagerly. It’s also very comfortable. It rolls of course but it’s French. I have two ostensibly much much flashier cars in the garage but the Talbot will be the last to go as it’s just so appealing and you can have fun at up to 100mph not beyond it. It also turns heads now. I’m fortunate to have one that has not needed restoration and is almost as good now as it was new. Shame then that I have to get things likes hoses made up from scratch as the supply of new ones has dried up. long live the Talbot Samba!

    Reply
  8. August 26, 2014
    Willy

    I’ve a beautifully restored samba rallye historic rally car that I use as a play thing. They have completely disappeared from our memories, never mind the roads.

    Reply
  9. February 21, 2015
    Ddr

    I have a porsche 356 1963, and I consider my talbot samba convertible more important as it is far more rare.Its far smoother and better to drive than the 356 ,and much harder to find.they all need to be preserved ,Talbot had a long history and the samba is the last example and the origional supermini ,cheap to run it asks for very little and gives more than it takes ,a very rare attribute in any motoring circle

    Reply
  10. May 3, 2015
    Firefly

    In 1991, aged 17, I somehow convinced an employee of the Driving Standards Agency that I was fit and proper person to drive an automobile on Britain’s roads. A few weeks later I was the proud owner of my first car, a Y-Reg 954cc Talbot Samba LS, bought for £150.

    And I really liked the thing. The performance was adequate (yes I’m being very generous) but it could accommodate my 6’3″ bulk quite well, was reasonably economical and reliable.

    Then it started.. Of course it had a couple of rust spots when I got it but it was largely superficial. But soon I ended up with farking great big holes in the sills, footwells, boot and door shuts. I’ve never seen a car turn to iron oxide so much as in the one year I owned my Samba. A friend tried to weld things up for me but he said I was fighting a losing battle, so with a heavy heart I eventually PX’d it for an Orion.

    The one thing that will stick with me about the Samba was how tough the engine was. I absolutely hammered it at every opportunity, including a long downhill stretch on the M6 near Stoke where I was doing an indicated but improbable 105 mph and there was sparks coming out of the exhaust. It simply refused to die.

    Despite its rust problems I’m surprised that there’s so few of them left. Last one I saw was in 2006, an immaculate looking C-reg Samba GLS being driven by an old codger. I can only guess that Alistair Darling’s scrappage scheme in 2009 robbed us of many 80s classics.

    Reply
  11. May 6, 2015
    David Milloy

    The Samba was never destined for a life of glamour. Whilst its cousin, Peugeot’s much celebrated 205, dined at the Ritz, the humble Samba could be found rummaging through its pockets for enough loose change to buy a greasy roll in the less than salubrious surroundings of Sid’s caff.

    The Samba may have been motoring’s equivalent of a Bash Street Kid, hastily cobbled together from PSA’s parts bins in the company’s haste to replace the Sunbeam, but it wasn’t bereft of charm – albeit largely of the rustic variety.

    The Rallye and Cabriolet versions gave the model some welcome credibility in the eyes of boy racers and budget-conscious fashionistas, but the bread and butter models in the range offered relatively low-cost motoring (with a decent amount of gallic comfort thrown in to boot) at a time when the world was emerging from recession – yes, we had those back in the 80s too.

    The Samba, last of the Talbots, passed into obscurity in 1986, without fanfare or farewell. It deserves better than to remain there. After all, they also serve, those who hold the line until the cavalry arrives…

    Reply
  12. February 3, 2016
    caroline

    i have a red “c” reg sitting in my friends garage. one day i hope to drive her again

    Reply
    • April 20, 2016
      Dan

      Hi would you consider selling your samba?

      Reply
    • January 7, 2017
      aidan

      I had two sambas caroline…drove one from bodyke east clare to athenry with a broken clutch cable….great wee car…I would like to see your car

      Reply
  13. April 16, 2016
    Nick Bolton

    Hi folks

    I have an ’83 Samba Cabrio in red that was on the road until last year. Now needs some tlc after sitting for 12 months and I want o pass her onto a new carer.

    Anyone got any links to clubs or sources of spares? Anyone interested in a new ride for the summer?

    Cheers
    Nick

    Reply
  14. July 10, 2016
    MW

    I owned a Samba briefly in the late 1990s, when I was 18 and trawling the lower ends of the second-hand car market for a replacement for the rusty old Mk2 Escort (and how much would that be worth now?!) I’d just rolled. I bought ‘Sammy the Samba’ for £250, from an elderly woman whose family had had it since new. It was 1983 Samba LE, the base model with the 950 engine and pretty much no creature comforts whatsoever – no radio, no heated rear screen, no reclining seats – in a faintly queasy shade of yellow.

    Looked at objectively the thing was a shed. It had been looked after – and I received with it a huge file of receipts for work done – but it had done 77,000 miles and was nearly at the end of its life. It had had an accident at some time and none of the panels at the front fitted properly, it had a big scuff down the left-hand side, and the dreaded rust was starting to show itself in various other places. Still, it had 9 months MoT and it went willingly enough. I think I put about 6,000 miles on it over the next 8 months, and my little yellow car – the teachers at college christened it the ‘Yellow Peril’ – became quite well known around the town. No-one took it very seriously, least of all my mates, who quickly realized that it was so light at the back that a couple of people could lift it up by its rear wheelarches and push it along like a wheelbarrow. On several occasions I’d be sitting in a lesson and see my own car going past the window, nose down, wheeled by a load of giggling teenagers. That was funny, although the time they wheeled it right off site and left it across the main road wasn’t. Still, it took me to work and college, and ferried me and friends to the usual parties, nightclubs and other things you do when you’re that age (including that: the Samba didn’t make a great passion wagon, but it was marginally less absurd than trying to do it in a Mini). It ran on a mere sniff of patrol, and it was surprisingly good fun to drive, in a roly-poly French-car sort of way.

    But then it started to puff blue smoke; the gearbox, always a bit crunchy, became even more temperamental, it developed a petrol leak, and then finally the exhaust fell off as I pulled away from a junction with a bang so loud I thought for a moment that something major had gone in the transmission. I only drove it one more time, sounding like a tank, up to the garage of a friend of my father’s, who promised to have a good look at it and advise me whether it was worth putting it through the MoT that was by then nearly due. Needless to say, it wasn’t. The garage proprietor used the word ‘death trap,’ and hinted darkly that he’d have refused to give me the keys if I’d wanted to drive it away, because the suspension bushes and steering rack gaiters were hanging off, two tyres were badly perished and the brakes were out of balance. I left the V5 with him, prised off the bonnet badge as a memento, and said my goodbyes. It went through the crusher at a local breaker where I’d spent a few happy Saturday mornings cannibalizing other Sambas for bits and pieces.

    It’s a shame Samba has become such a rare sight. No-one would claim it was the greatest small car ever made, but it did have its good points. It’s a car I’ll always have a lot of affection for, simply because it takes me back to the days when I had no responsibilities and few worries beyond scraping together cash enough for a tank of fuel. It’s part of my history, and for sheer nostalgia value, if the chance came up to buy one I’d grab it with both hands.

    Reply

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