86 R-Rated

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

AMC’s new sec­tion for ma­ture, open-minded read­ers only. This edi­tion we re­veal the still­born Valiant re­place­ment that the Frogs tried to flog to Chrysler Aus­tralia. Theme song: ‘French Kiss­ing in the USA’ by Blondie.

You’re ex­cused if you’ve never heard of the Tal­bot Tagora – a for­get­table boxy sedan that the French tried to flog to their Chrysler col­leagues in Aus­tralia in the late 1970s. Here’s how... From the re­sump­tion of au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­ture in 1946 after World War II, Chrysler in Amer­ica was en­vi­ous of their cross-town ri­vals GM and Ford’s in­ter­na­tional pres­ence. GM owned Opel in Ger­many and Vaux­hall in Eng­land and was just about to launch the Holden car in Aus­tralia. Mean­while, Ford built Fords in Ger­many, the UK, Aus­tralia and France.

Ford of France was a per­pet­ual thorn in the side of its Dear­born masters and in 1955 it was sold to Simca, a ris­ing star of the French au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try through its Aronde com­pact sedan, wagon and coupe plus the Vedette V8 after the buy-out. In 1957 Chrysler bought a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in Simca and as a re­sult Chrysler Aus­tralia soon be­gan as­sem­bling Aron­des lo­cally.

In 1966, Chrysler bought out Eng­land’s Rootes Group and over the next five years grad­u­ally re­named the com­pa­nies at Chrysler UK and Chrysler France and dropped the long fa­mous names of Hill­man, Hum­ber, Singer, Sun­beam and Simca – a ma­jor mar­ket­ing blun­der in the opin­ion of many his­to­ri­ans be­cause no­body knew the Chrysler name and what it ap­par­ently stood for…

Into this mix in 1978 came Peu­geot, one of the orig­i­nal com­pa­nies to man­u­fac­ture cars from the 1890s and a company with an im­pec­ca­ble in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion.

By 1977 the Chrysler Valiant had almost run out of steam in the lo­cal mar­ket­place. It was still a solid, rugged and re­li­able piece of trans­porta­tion, but it had be­come some­what passé as far as buy­ers were con­cerned. This was mostly be­cause of the car’s bulky styling that might have been fash­ion­able in 1971 but it was way past its use-by date in 1977.

Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion in Amer­ica was in fi­nan­cial tur­moil and there­fore its sub­sidiary Chrysler Aus­tralia Limited was also in trou­ble. The man­i­fes­ta­tion of this was that the planned re-body­ing of the Valiant for the 1976 model year never took place. In­stead, de­sign chief Brian Smyth and his small lo­cal team had to con­tent them­selves with merely “tick­ling the tin” as Brian would say.

Chrysler Aus­tralia had re­jected Aus­tralian­is­ing the 1976 Ply­mouth Vo­lare with its re-en­gi­neered front sus­pen­sion (now us­ing trans­verse tor­sion bars) on the grounds of cost – a fa­mil­iar story with the Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion through­out the 1970s un­for­tu­nately.

How­ever, po­ten­tial sal­va­tion for the Aus­tralians was avail­able but from a most un­likely source – Simca, or as it had been re­named Chrysler France. The Aus­tralians were not un­fa­mil­iar with the peo­ple at Simca hav­ing worked with them to pro­duce the Cen­tura (nee Chrysler 180 in Europe). That car’s suc­ces­sor, known in­ter­nally at Project C9, was pos­si­bly avail­able.

Graeme Long­bot­tom, an en­gi­neer with Chrysler Aus­tralia, was tasked with previewing the pro­to­types for the lo­cal mar­ket and was highly im­pressed. “It drove very well and the sus­pen­sion gave it a su­perb ride with not too much lean in the cor­ners, and it was very quiet,” he re­mem­bered.

Be­cause Chrysler owned Simca and the Rootes Group, the C9’s styling was car­ried out un­der Art Blakeslee at the Whit­ley cen­tre near Coven­try as was the body en­gi­neer­ing; all the me­chan­i­cal work was car­ried out at Car­ri­eres on the out­skirts of Paris. And then you had a sprin­kling of Amer­i­can peo­ple sent in by Chrysler to ‘man­age’ the project!

Talk about oil on wa­ter… The C9 was to con­tinue the 180’s floor­pan with its 105-inch wheel­base, MacPher­son strut front sus­pen­sion and live axle with coil springs at the rear and the OHC 2.0-litre four-cylin­der en­gine plus a 2.2-litre ver­sion.

Then, in des­per­a­tion, Chrysler sold their whole Euro­pean op­er­a­tions to Peu­geot in Au­gust 1978. In­cluded was the C9 which had pro­gressed way past the point of no re­turn. Peu­geot toned down the styling – they made it very bland in the opin­ion of Long­bot­tom – and re-en­gi­neered the floor­pan to ac­cept the Peu­geot 505 in­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion and the 604’s V6 en­gine.

Dur­ing early 1979 Long­bot­tom, Ian Web­ber, chief en­gi­neer Walt McPher­son and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Andy An­der­son all trav­elled to Paris where se­nior Peu­geot ex­ec­u­tives wined and dined them at one of the most ex­pen­sive and fash­ion­able restau­rants in the city.

The ba­sic pro­posal pre­sented meant that Chrysler Aus­tralia could have the whole C9 project, all the tooling and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty for a mod­est sum although firm pric­ing was not on the im­me­di­ate agenda as big­ger is­sues still had to be re­solved.

The Ade­laide team im­me­di­ately be­gan plan­ning how the C9 could be Aus­tralianised. Fore­most in th­ese cal­cu­la­tions was fit­ting the lo­cally-made Hemi in-line six-cylin­der en­gine un­der the bon­net. Their prin­ci­pal con­sid­er­a­tion was to en­sure the fi­nal prod­uct could reach a sat­is­fac­tory level of lo­cal con­tent. This was not that dif­fi­cult as they had been there be­fore with the Cen­tura – C5 in Chrysler-speak. But they had also learnt that bas­tar­dis­ing an over­seas prod­uct for lo­cal con­sump­tion had its lim­i­ta­tions! Lo­cally they had al­ready dropped the heavy 318-cid V8 as an op­tion so that av­enue was not an op­tion even though Holden and Ford con­tin­ued to mar­ket V8-en­gined cars.

Chrysler was look­ing at go­ing a more so­phis­ti­cated route with C9 – tak­ing the tech­ni­cal ‘high ground’ as a for­mer man­ager said. Its styling was quite dif­fer­ent from Holden and Ford’s be­ing quite con­ser­va­tive but with mas­sive glass area – a ma­jor im­prove­ment over Valiant in that re­spect – along with a roomy in­te­rior that would eas­ily seat five peo­ple; re­clin­ing bucket seats were all that came with C9, no bench was of­fered in Europe. And at the rear was a huge and un­ob­structed lug­gage com­part­ment.

Had this project gone ahead, what would Chrysler have been build­ing and mar­ket­ing? A four­door fam­ily sedan that would have matched the Holden Com­modore for size and ‘Euro­pean-ness’ in style and dy­nam­ics. Com­pared with the Cen­tura the Tagora as the C9 had be­come known was longer in the wheel­base at 2808mm (com­pared with 2660mm), longer over­all at 4628mm (4580mm) slightly wider at 1810mm (1730mm) and frac­tion­ally taller at 1444mm (1430mm). As fit­ted with the al­loy Peu­geot V6 it weighed 1345kg so would pre­sum­ably have weighed at least another 100kgs with the 245ci or 265ci D en­gines un­der the bon­net; with the 2.2-litre Simca SOHC al­loy en­gine it would have weighed 1245kg. Lessons learned with the C5 re­sulted in the C9 hav­ing a far more rigid and stronger (and there­fore heav­ier) body.

A Cen­tura fit­ted with the 245ci OHV six-cylin­der en­gine and four-speed Borg Warner man­ual gear­box weighed 1216kg and with a 2.92 rear axle ra­tio would eas­ily run to 180km/h at the top end, reel off 0-110km/h sprints in 12.4 seconds any time of the day and 17.0 seconds for the 400 me­tres. Mind you, trac­tion was al­ways a prob­lem…

With the 265ci en­gine and, say, the 3.23 rear axle ra­tio from the Valiant those ac­cel­er­a­tion times would have been even quicker.

As a five-seater fam­ily sedan with its re­fined ex-Peu­geot sus­pen­sion sys­tem, four-wheel disc brak­ing sys­tem, power-as­sisted rack and pin­ion steer­ing, and with the 265 bolted to the Borg Warner 35 au­to­matic, the Tagora would have been some­thing of the ul­ti­mate lo­cally built car – stylish in a Euro­pean way, quiet, com­fort­able and quick.

The burn­ing ques­tion was whether Chrysler’s mar­ket­ing peo­ple would have had the re­sources and so­phis­ti­ca­tion to suc­cess­fully sell the Tagora – it would un­doubt­edly have had a bet­ter name lo­cally – to the Aus­tralian buy­ing pub­lic?

With the CM com­ing along in 1978, the tim­ing was almost per­fect for the Tagora as it would have taken at least a year to trans­port and re-equip the Ton­s­ley Park fac­tory for a re­lease in 1980 or ’81.

That ques­tion was su­per­flu­ous as it even­tu­ated, be­cause the bean coun­ters hit the idea of an Aussie-built French-flavoured model on the head.

In fair­ness, other events too were cloud­ing the is­sue. The Tal­bot Tagora bombed in Europe for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons and Mit­subishi was tak­ing an ever-grow­ing part in run­ning Chrysler Aus­tralia and they had scant in­ter­est in a tech­ni­cally so­phis­ti­cated large fam­ily sedan that was not in­vented here or in Ja­pan.

Above: Would the Tagora have taken sales away from the XD Fal­con and VC Com­modore? Here is an ex­am­ple at Chrysler Aus­tralia’s Ade­laide HQ in the early 1980s. Where is this car to­day? Be­low: Jean-Pierre Bel­toise raced a Tagora in French sa­loon car rac­ing in 1982.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.