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Sunbeam Lotus

The Sunbeam Lotus project itself was conceived by Des O'Dell who was Head of Motor Sport for Chrysler in. It was his aim to replace the Avenger which had been a successful car in its own right in International Rallying with the Sunbeam. Having the basis for the Sunbeam already with the Avenger being basically the same car O'Dell set about swaping all the bits over to a spare Sunbeam shell. The Sunbeam Lotus carried over from the Avenger the ZF gearbox, brakes, 4HA axle and even the Avenger wiring loom! The only real major difference was the engine.

Des O'Dells assistant Wynne Mitchell had been at college in Coventry with Mike Kimberley who at the time was Managing Director of Lotus Cars in Norfolk. Lotus had been supplying 2 litre DOHC engine in quantity for Jensen Healey, but as Jensen Motors had ceased trading in 1976

Lotus were looking for a new customer to sell their engine to. Lotus agreed to supply a basic 2 litre type 907 engine plus a rally tuned engine for competition use. This engine as we now know turned 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 alloy head
  • 155bhp for road use
  • 9.4:1 compression ratio

For the competition engine power was uprated to 234bhp and featured 48mm carburettors and a compression ratio of 11:1 and Cosworth pistons. For homologation purposes 400 cars had to be produced to satisfy the rules. Chrysler's marketing department envisaged that they could do much better than that and the deal signed with Lotus was in the region of around 4500 engines.

Lotus were involved in the development, production, design and manufacturing of the engine. Also they worked on developing the suspension and exhaust systems. The rolling chassis was built alongside all other Sunbeams at Linwood near Glasgow before they were delivered to Lotus in Norfolk. Here they were fitted with the engine and 5-speed ZF gearbox. They also undertook work to modify the bodyshell, fitting a larger radiator and alloy road wheels. Pictures below show the cars being worked on at the satellite base at Ludham airfield some 20 miles from Lotus Headquarters at Hethel.

The first pre-production cars were built by the 16 Lotus employees in 1978 . Once assembly was completed the cars were transported to Chrysler in Coventry for final checking before delivery to the dealers all over Europe. Production continued at a considerable rate until the Summer of 1981.

 

The Chrysler Sunbeam Lotus was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1979. Deliveries did not start until Chrysler UK had been sold to the French Peugeot Motor Company who then called the UK division the Talbot Motor Company. All cars were officially known as Talbots although the very first pre production Sunbeam Lotuses are badges as Chryslers. Cars were originally only available in Embassy Black with silver side stripes and grey interior with the very early cars boasting twin exhaust pipes. But still sporting the Chrysler pentastar in the grille!

For the Series 2 model year introduced in 1981 a black and grey "Piccadilly/Candy Stripe" trim was used. This trim was first used on the  Series 1 Sunbeam Trio which was also Moonstone Blue. These new Series 2 cars had a more French look with larger headlamps, a new Talbot logo’d grille, new adjustable door mirrors and minor engine modification which had small increases in power and torque figures. In 1982 Moonstone blue became the only available colour. But you now had the choice of silver or black stripes. Sunbeam Ti's also shared the same trim and the same Moonstone paint.

By the winter of 1982/3 Avon Coachworks took a batch of 150 cars to produce a limited edition "Avon" model. These were to be retrimmed with plush material including new carpets and soundproofing. Colour scheme was Moonstone with the addition of Talbot Dark Blue bands top and bottom, and vinyl roof with sunroof. Original type green and yellow Lotus badges were fitted to the wings. Each Avon was to be registered from DDU 1Y to DDU 150Y with a limited edition number for each registration. In total only 57 cars were converted and sold with only 30 of those carrying a DDU number plus they weren’t sold in numerical order either! The others were sold on A, B and even a C plate.

The final cars, were sold by ASOC Honorary Member Leon Gibbs at his dealership in Nuneaton Warwickshire. Cars registered from DAC 2Y to DAC 150Y and the spare Avon cars were sold at a reduced rate to the original prices.

Overall, Lotus claim to have built 2298 cars (1150 right-hand-drive) while Talbot claim a total of 2308. This discrepancy may be due to the building of several pre-production cars by Chrysler themselves at Coventry in early 1979.

Delivery statistics are 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

1161 cars were sold in the first twelve consecutive months of production, meaning that the car genuinely qualified for inclusion in international rally competition. 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 Sunbeam Lotus cars finished 1st, 3rd and 4th.

The Works Cars were in order of appearance:

WRW 29S (2 Litre Pushrod) WRW 30S, DHP 835T, 290 CMM 75, EVC 666T, EVC 444T, KDU 111V, KDU 222V, KKV 444V, FHP 600T, NVC 444W, NVC 777W, PVC 999W, LAC 999V, KKV 394V, YHP 333X, BDU 111Y, BDU 222Y and SVC 333W which was used by the factory team as a development and recce car. 

The above text is copyright of the Avenger Sunbeam Owners Club. The original owners club for the Sunbeam Lotus formed in 1989.

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