Talbot Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Talbot Home Country: United Kingdom United Kingdom

Talbot is a company that was formed of the remains of Simca and Hillman after Peugeot take over. Please read in the according makes chapter for the details (and the downfall!) of this fusion.

Simca’s rally history is not that big, but that of Hillman is at least very unusual. Hillman-Talbot – or Rootes Group to be more political correct – has a rally heritage that circles around a man called Des O’Dell, a man who was way ahead of his time and definitely is one of motorsport’s biggest improvisors. In fact Des often made the point that the adventure of motorsport was to keep the finest technology running when abused by the driver, being in the middle of the wilderness and being equipped with nothing but a hammer and a screwdriver - having to find solutions for the weirdest problems when under pressure, that for Des O'Dell was the true challenge and satisfaction for an engineer. No wonder he loved marathon rallies best. Des O’Dell is an absolutely unbelieveable character and many of the sport’s best stories involve his name.
After making high-tech Aston Martin engines reliable by implanting diesel-tractor oil pumps, Des O’Dell was involved with Ford’s GT40 project. But he got the sack when he was silly enough to tell Ford management: “If you want a rally winner, you need a Capri with 4x4!” – that was in the mid 1960s, over 15 years before the Audi Quattro hit the scene!
At Hillman his attitude carried on. Fancy your team manager telling you to practise "P"-ing into plastic bags so you don't have to stop speeding for this kind of thing on stages of marathon rallies - that is indeed what Andrew Cowan found was part of a test in Coventry(!) for the London-Sydney for Des O'Dell's team! Wonder what the local police thought of the idea that these bags should be thrown out the window? Actually, laws tell you to not talk to your mobile phone, but I don't think there is a law that you can't P in plastic bags and throw them out the window while driving!
When the Simca Rallye turned a successful rally car, Des wanted to do the same with the Hillman Imp. But he needed a bigger engine, which the brand’s management denied him. Now Des broke into the factory every Sunday and replaced pistons and cylinder liners at the engine assembly line, such every Monday morning the first 20 Imps produced had a bigger engine, while Des took careful note of all the chassis numbers. Eventually Des homologated a Hillman Imp for rallying of which Hillman directors never knew it existed!
Hillman made the mistake of asking Des O'Dell to run a touring car program. Des decided that the roundy stuff was such a simple thing to do, he didn't need a highly paid driver, his friend and team head-mechanic Frenchman Bernard Unett could do the job just as well - and the mechanic turned a triple British touring car Champ! The touring car world was turned upside down by Hillman and their rally improvisor director. The opposition was shocked when in the pits they where lifting the cars having to pump the trolley jacks, only to whitness Des O'Dell to come out with a compressor bottle to have his car sitting on 4 pneumatic stands within split seconds! Yes, this is an invention by Talbot's rally director! While Des O'Dell simply is Hillman-Talbot and vice versa, let's move on to the brand, their cars and successes:

One of his biggest adventures was the first London-Sydney Rally in 1968. Des and his department prepared a Hillman Hunter “MKV 15G” and sent it into the event with Andrew Cowan and Colin Malkin sharing the driving and Brian Coyle as navigator and they celebrated a mindblowing victory. The car was so incredibly prepared, when in 1993 the event was repeated for its 25th anniversary, Des took the car out of the Coventry museum, replaced the battery and added fluids and it would fire up 1st try. He entered it again with Andrew Cowan as a driver. Andrew Cowan didn't hesitate a minute to dump his own Mitsubishi team for two months at the prospect to be reunited with Des and Talbot. While there was little hope on winning the event again, the only problem the car had all the way was when it overheated in Turkey for its small radiator. The solution was perfectly typical Des O’Dell: the windscreen washers were pointed onto the radiator and every time the car showed signs to overheat, the driver had to operate the wash-wipers and everything was fine again!

After the marathon Hunter there was a drawt as Chrysler took brief ownership and seemed to operate some kind of a no-motorsport philosophy. Althouh the Avenger should have been a good base car, there was hardly any rallying until Peugeot take over. Then they however came back bigger then ever: the biggest success of Talbot by far was winning the 1981 makes WRC with the mindblowingly successful Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, not long after Peugeot took ownership of the company. The whole project of the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus is bursting full with irony, curiosity and that typical Des O’Dell attitude. It is quite likely the rally car with the most unusual career ever. We describe it in length in the Talbot Sunbeam group2 chapter – well worth a read!

In fact, the Sunbeam Lotus project has so much irony, we don't take away a thing, you still have to read the car's own story, when we tell you this: After the Des O'Dell introduction above, you will find it little surprising how well the WRC Talbots have been prepared. The works cars featured i.e. little lights behind the radiator grill, a different colour for each driver so the team knew even from the distance and at night which car was coming. The cars also featured a little clear plastic strip behind the windscreen for the purpose of guiding the air stream away from the drivers' faces should they roll and lose the windscreen. It is little surprising that Talbot Sport only has built 13 works Sunbeam Lotus and in 2003, 22 years later, all 13 of them have not only been found still existing but still competing!

The Talbot WRC story could have carried on under Peugeot, had it not been for the Audi Quattro moving the development gate posts forward. Although eventually the Quattro was dominated by Peugeot, Ford & Lancia, for the Quattro to appear when it did meant we were robbed of a majorly exciting pre-4x4 group B show! How ever Des O'Dell and his little team managed this, when following Talbot's 1980 RAC 1-3-4 result Des registered his private Sunbeam Lotus in celebration on RAC 134W, he registered a mysterious Horizon alongside it on RAC 777W. This was a finished test car called Talbot Horizon Lotus and it featured a mid-engine RWD layout. During 1981 Des O'Dell even carried out tests in which he turbo charged RAC 777W. This Horizon Lotus would have fitted in well with Peugeot's plans, who were in the process of creating a RWD 305 V6 for African and Marathon rallies, potentially leaving the WRC sprint rallies once more for Talbot. The RWD 305 had a 2.7 V6 engine and such in Africa, where the show was throughout group B down to cars as the 2.4 RWD Opel Ascona 400 & Nissan Silvia 240RS or the 2.1 turbo RWD Toyota Celica TCT, the 305 V6 2.7 could have been an attractive option. At the same time, had it not been for the Audi Quattro, we were facing a WRC battle between the Lancia Rally 037, the also stillborn RWD Ford Escort RS1700T and the RWD mid-engined Talbot Horizon Lotus Turbo - an intriguing thought!

Leaves to say two things that shouldn't be missing in the Talbot chapter. The name Talbot comes from company founder Adolphe Clément, a Frenchman who however based himself and his company in Britain. Here the Earl of Shrewsbury & Talbot supported him and in acknowledgment of this Earl the company was called Talbot. Talbot merged first with Sunbeam and then with Hillman under the Rootes roof, such Talbot was actually part of the package Peugeot helped and bought. On the other hand it shouldn't be underestimated how strongly influenced Peugeot and Peugeot Sport are by the Talbot brand. The 205 T16 project came out of the remains of the Sunbeam Lotus, a straight follow on project run by Jean Todt, an until then Talbot navigator and assistant manager - a move that knocked Peugeot's own, legendary 504 team over the edge. Jean-Pierre Nicolas was a Talbot driver before he turned a test driver and then manager for the 205 T16 project, although Nicolas like Todt already had a Peugeot history. Des O'Dell was heavily involved with the 205 T16 design until he decided to go back to Britain when his wife fell ill. Even Corrado Provera is originally a Talbot man.


Talbot colours were light blue and red and reflected already in Hillman projects. So was the London-Sydney winning Hillman Hunter in a distinctive light blue with white stripes and white letters. With the Talbot Sunbeam this was turned round into a white car with light blue stripes and little red lines added. Although never seen in competition, the Talbot Horizon Lotus used an interesting variation of the Sunbeam Lotus colours, exactly same layout but all light blue car with red stripes and little white lines added. When Peugeot Talbot Sport was formed the last Sunbeam Lotus i.e. in the BRC 1982 featured a combination of the Peugeot and Talbot colours with the cars being completely from front to rear covered in red-dark blue-yellow-light blue.

For tyres, they used Michelin in 1980 & 1981, Dunlop before then.


Now, we have pointed out that Talbot is basically Peugeot UK. Well, as you see in the big story above, Talbot does deserve their own makes chapter, however for registration numbers, we have to combine Talbot with Peugeot UK. Simply the exact same applies. You also find in other makes descritpions, that especially in the UK privatised plates are a famous game. However Peugeot Talbot Sport UK's Des O'Dell must have had extraordinary connections to the registration offices. He never had privatised plates, but he basically always managed to get nice numbers. Talbot Sport/Peugeot Sport UK is based in Coventry, where the firm also has two big factories. The works Talbots and UK Peugeots, would therefore always have Coventry registrations. And, while normal UK and Coventry registration rules apply, Des' cars would usually come with very special, repetitive numbers. For the UK registration rules, see our general registration guide. For Coventry, we have the area codes, which are the 2nd & 3rd digit of the 3-letter-block. These codes for Coventry are following combinations: AC, DU, HP, KV, RW, VC & WK. Only 7 of them, should be easy enough. To see what games Des O'Dell played, here two famous cars of his: Henri Toivonen's RAC 1980 winning Talbot Sunbeam: "KKV 444V" & Britain's Peugeot 205 T16: "B555 SRW". Oh, and Des O'Dell celebrated Talbot's 1st, 3rd & 4th result on the 1980 RAC in getting his private Sunbeam Lotus registered RAC 134W - while displaying "RAC 1-3-4 Win" rally and result, even the area code and annual letter is correct! See, all that is possible with Coventry registrations!

Talbot Rally Cars

Model Class
Talbot Talbot Avenger  Group 1
Talbot Talbot Avenger  Group 2
Talbot Talbot Rallye2  Group 2
Talbot Talbot Samba  Group B
Talbot Talbot Sunbeam  Group 2

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
1980 WRC Open 66th. Talbot (0pts) 12

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