The Chrysler Sunbeam was a middling shitbox of a compact hatchback built by Chrysler Europe. It was based on the larger Hillman Avenger, which had been in production since 1970. In order to boost sales, Chrysler commissioned Lotus to build a hot version of the rear-drive hatch, which was so fast and awesome that it won the World Rally Championship’s manufacturers’ title in 1981. Unfortunately Chrysler sold Chrysler Europe in 1979 and didn’t get to reap the benefits of being a world-renowned motorsport champion.
Way back in the late 1960s, Chrysler was positively booming and flush with cash. It did something a bit dim by buying up three failing Euro brands — Simca of France, Barrieros of Spain, and The Rootes Group of England — and merging them into Chrysler Europe. In a little over a decade under Chrysler ownership, the company didn’t build much in the way of cool cars, except maybe the too-little-too-late Matra-Simca Rancho.
Chrysler sold Chrysler Europe off to PSA Peugeot Citroen in 1979, well before the hot versions of the Chrysler Sunbeam were released. When PSA purchased the company, the Chrysler hatchback was rebadged as a Talbot. It is not lost on me that Chrysler and Chrysler Europe are now back under the same umbrella thanks to the merger of FCA and PSA to form Stellantis last year.
The Sunbeam Lotus was based on the Talbot Sunbeam 1.6 GLS, but equipped with Lotus-tuned suspension, which made it actually sporty. The engine was replaced by a 2.2 liter screamer and a proper ZF gearbox. In period this car made 150 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, which must have made it a proper machine. The Group 2 rally cars shown in the video below were alleged to have made over 250 horsepower in race trim. In 1981.
It only takes about ten seconds of watching this video for a sane normal car person to desire this ridiculous little car. A modern version of the rear-drive hatch with 250 horsepower, preferably electric, would be a total ripper. Given Lotus’ recent all-in on EV tech, and excellent engineering skills, the Hethel-based company still might be interested in partnering (consulting) on such a project. Okay, maybe that last bit is a pipe dream, but I can’t help but think about how cool it would be. Hell, they could even sell it as a compact SUV, as long as the rally-ish version got a lowered suspension and got rid of the plastic cladding.
Anyway, here’s some video of a pair of Talbot Sunbeam Lotuses tearing it up at RallyLegend in San Marino.