Road impressions

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The Talbot Solara SX

The first of the range of cars now known as Talbots (but far-removed from my 1922 Talbot-Darracq and the Talbot-Lagos which we used to call Lago-Talbots when they were in current production) that I tried was the new Solara SX. It is made in Paris and Ryton, Coventry (the latter being the one-time Rootes’ factory) and is the top model of the present Talbot range. Talbot’s Press service turned out to be first class, because they delivered this very recently-released model to High Wycombe, where I was returning a road-test Volvo, when the Rover 3500 V8, just about due to be written-up at 50,000 miles after some impeccable service silted-up its radiator, got on the boil, and blew a head-gasket, leaving me without transport.

The first thing that impressed about this Chrysler-Simca 1,592 cc four-cylinder “three­box” version of the Talbot Alpine is its very full equipment. For £6,370 you get automatic transmission, the twin-choke engine, a sliding roof (optional), central door-locking (the boot locks itself and needs the key to open it), rear fog-lamps, driver-adjustable door mirror, headlamps wipe/wash, light-alloy road wheels, a cruise-control, map-reading lamp, tinted glass, Talbot five-push-button twin-speaker radio, electric front windows, and on-board computer. From this aspect the Talbot Solara reminded me of the one-time Rootes’ cars, which had that touch of class and extra equipment that used to place them in a category above the normal run of family saloons. This analogy is not quite on the ball, however, because whereas these Rootesmobiles imparted an impression of being substantially-built and possessed performance, this does not exactly apply to the Solara SX.

Driving off to Wales I found that this top-Talbot is a car that one feels at home in from the commencement. It is decently quiet at speed, has exceedingly good, progressive servo disc/drum braking, and corners fiat and steady, the power steering, which is quite high-geared, masking most of the under-steer. Although the mechanical layout is of the normal transverse engine, front-wheel-drive kind, the driver is far from aware that the front wheels are pulling him along, in all but good stability.

Instrumentation, controls, with triple stalks in the steering-column, and seating are all commendable, and the supply of warning-lights is generous, showing sump-level, whether brake fluid requires replenishing, or the brake pads replacing, or if the hand-brake is on, etc. The all-independent suspension gives a comfortable ride. 
Where the Talbot Solara fell down was on performance. Although the engine develops 87 (DIN) bhp the automatic transmission does not provide the acceleration I would have liked, even on rather-reluctant kick-down and unless the bold-2 position of the control-lever was used frequently, it changed up and down too freely on the hilly country which separates Oulton Park from my Welsh home. It may be that the 3-speed self-shift box is unsuited to the 1600 engine, but it is a fact that performance falls off badly when the car is fully loaded and that the less-powerful Talbot Solara GL does not pick-up quite as well as the equivalent Ford. This does not mean that, once into its stride, this Talbot is an overtly sluggish car. On a Jong journey I came to quite enjoy it but if one was really in a hurry. . . . . 

The on-board computer proved great entertainment, although it does tend to take a driver’s eyes off the road. It did much of my job for me, because by pressing different buttons you got read-outs for average speed, elapsed journey-time, time-of-day, fuel consumption, quantity of fuel used, and distance covered, in both metric or Imperial readings. For instance, setting it to zero before I drove to the office it showed that I had averaged 46 mph at 34.2 mpg to Oxford, 49.9 mph at 34.0 mpg over 162.3 miles to the outskirts of London, and that the entire journey was one of 181.6 miles, done at an average speed of 42.9 mph and 34.0 mpg. The computer stops when the ignition is off but the memory-bank remains unimpaired. It takes some miles to settle down and a full-to-full fuel consumption check gave an average of 29.1 mpg of four star petrol in daily running. No oil was needed on 730 miles.

Although the Solara’s engine prods its o/h valves with push-rods and rockers, it follows the rest of the car in having such sophisticated equipment as electronic breakerless ignition, electric fan and an aluminium cylinder head, and it had a five-bearing crankshaft. 

While this Talbot Solara SX may delight many family motorists, I do not think that it will necessarily dent the sales figures of Cortina and Cavalier. If the test car is anything to go by, quality is a bit suspect, because the carpet became soaked in the n/s of the rear compartment after driving over wet roads and the trim on the back of both the front seats had lifted, disclosing the springs used for the squabs, although no-one had pressed their knees against these. The cruise-control is useful but as its button is on the tip of the l/h. turn-indicators’ stalk, it can be operated inadvertently by someone new to the car (like me), with momentarily startling results. The bonnet release is on the “wrong” side on a rhd car and the heavy lid has to be propped up, the sparking plugs are deeply buried, and, reverting to the disappointing performance, there was some hesitation at times in moving off in low gear, which could be dangerous under certain circumstances. – WB.