Avon Sunbeam Lotus

Last of the line 

Those enthusiasts who doted on such machines as the Lotus-Cortina were delighted in 1980 when a similar partnership to that which once existed between Cohn Chapman’s company and Ford sprung up between Lotus and the Talbot subsidiary of GM. The product of that alliance was the splendid 2.2-litre all-alloy, twin-cam-engined Sunbeam Lotus, an exhilarating sports saloon based round the mass produced Sunbeam saloon. A top speed of just over 120 m.p.h. allied to a 0-60 m.p.h. time of 6.9 sec. made the Sunbeam Lotus a much-sought-after sports saloon combining quite stunning performance with everyday practicality. Unfortunately, just over a year ago the decision was taken to run down the project and the last remaining 150 Sunbeam-Lotuses were purchased by the Avon Coachworks concern who are now offering them for sale, in a specially trimmed “limited edition”, individually numbered, at a price which is actually lower than the quoted final retail figure for the basic car!

We recently spent a week with one of Avon’s neatly conceived, eyecatching Sunbeam Lotus conversions and came to the conclusion that there’s very little, even now, on the market which can offer so much performance for such a relatively modest price. The Avon cars are re-painted in pale blue, complemented by double bands of deep metallic blue running the full length of the car. The bumpers and front spoiler are finished to match, while the normally black grille is “colour-keyed” in pale blue. Adding to the exclusive luxury aura, a full length vinyl roof is fitted in contrasting blue, plus a Britax tinted, tilting sunroof. Red coachlines run above and below the side stripes and the exterior appearance is set off by a pair of original yellow and green Lotus badges.

Inside, the Avon Sunbeam Lotus has also been improved considerably, the standard trim replaced and the car fully soundproofed. The interior is then rebuilt with high quality blue carpet, contrasting blue velour and leatherette trim with red piping for the seats, padded door caps and a specially trimmed console.

On the road it’s pure, uninhibited pleasure, although I personally preferred the original Pirelli CN36 rubber to the Avon (no relation) 60-series Turbospeeds which are offered as a £100 option and were fitted to our test car. The noise level inside is considerably reduced, although I still feel that any Sunbeam Lotus is a pretty noisy, tiring prospect for extended motorway cruising. That notchy ZF five-speed gearbox retains all its idiosyncrasies, providing the driver with endless opportunities to “get lost” between first (dog-legged back and to the left) and second, often winding up in fourth as a result. High speed stability is pretty good, although I recall that there was considerable variation between the various road test cars we tried a few years ago, and the Avon car also failed to feel totally secure, demonstrating a degree of wander at speeds in excess of 90 m.p.h. Nonetheless, with a £7,500 tax paid price tag, this is great value for money: as a final flourish each car has an individual “chassis number” signwritten ahead of the driver’s door mirror, with a registration number to match. Thinking ahead, Avon reserved a batch of numbers from 1 to 150, thus our test car had the registration DDU 1Y, with the others to follow on. Avon Coachworks are at Ladbroke House, Millers Road, Warwick CV34 SAP from where they will doubtless be delighted to receive enquiries for this limited edition special. — A.H.