I’ve been giving American cars a lot of likely unwanted meh-car attention lately, so let’s venture across the sea and discover what unexciting non-wonders are waiting listlessly to bore you. This week, thanks to a suggestion from a reader named Adam, I’d like to present to you a heaping fistful of French automotive enuui: the Talbot Tagora.
The Talbot Tagora seems like it should be an interesting car: I mean, it’s French, and, generally, they seem to have a knack for making cars that are, at the very least, not boring. Also, it has a bewilderingly complex backstory, with changes of ownership, last-minute engineering decisions, and has some obscurity going for it.
Yet, despite all of those anti-meh qualities, the power of true mediocrity won out in the end, and managed to make the Tagora a remarkably forgettable car.
The Tagora started life in 1976 as Chrysler Europe’s attempt to produce a larger executive car to replace the slow-selling Chrysler 180 (called the Simca 180 in France). The car was initially styled in the UK, and had some interesting details, like lights and license plate behind a glass panel up front (inspired by the Citroën SM), semi-skirted rear wheels, and an airy, angular greenhouse.
Unfortunately, for some reason Chrysler’s American management decided to get involved and committee’d and focus-group’d away all the interesting bits with the goal of making a more ‘mainstream’ car.
The choice of engines was a sticky problem; Chrysler Europe had some suitable inline-fours for the base models, but a premium car needed to have something more, well, premium, and considered buying a Mitsubishi straight-six (not really refined enough), and then tried to get the Peugeot-Volvo-Renault (PRV) V6, an engine famous for being one of the most disappointing parts of the DeLorean.
Peugeot wasn’t crazy about selling their engine to a direct competitor, but, somewhat happily, the whole ‘competitor’ issue went away when Chrysler Europe became part of PSA Peugeot-Citroën in 1979.
So, now that they were all one big happy family, the Tagora was free to get a nose job to accomodate the PRV V6 engine, along with Peugeot 604 front struts and a rear end from the Peugeot 505, which was really too narrow, but whatever.
PSA already had a number of premium sedans on the market: the very un-meh Citroën CX, the Peugots 604 and 505, for example. The Tagora was so far along it didn’t make sense to kill it, but nobody was particularly interested in it, either.
The result was a car that felt and looked exactly like what it was: something that just sort of kept going based on dumb inertia. The styling of the Tagora was rational to the point of bloodlessness. It was like a Volvo 700-series without the sexy curves, which don’t exactly exist on the Volvo, but somehow existed even less on the Talbot.
“The Tagora is also inexcusably badly ventilated, its interior is hardly even in the cheap hatchback class and perhaps most importantly, it has such a complete blandness of style as to disqualify it instantly in a market where character and status count for so much.”
Yeah, that’s not great.
In true meh car fashion, though, the Tagora wasn’t exactly bad; it drove reasonably well, the V6 had decent power (163 horsepower, with the four making 115, and the turbodiesel 80), and its handling was called safe and secure and competent and a bunch of other words auto journalists use when they’re not scared shitless or entertained or find that during the drive their mind wandered so much they have no idea what the car was actually like to drive.
Autojourno legend LJK Setright summed the Tagora up like this:
‘After driving it, I can see that it has its place, even though there may be very little in the way of individual details to pick out for praise or even mere analysis: if one accepts the kind of cars that it represents, it is a car that is very difficult to fault – and there must be plenty of call for cars like that,’
That’s basically the definition of a meh car right there.
The Tagora might be one of the most impressive ratios of effort and complication to not-give-a-shittery in all of automotive history. The car looks like what you’d get if you physically manifested the dreams of someone who longed to drive a file cabinet as their car.
The Tagora is somehow aggressively boring, like it’s actively swatting away anything that might come near it that could make it more compelling, in any way. It’s like a magic flashlight that turns every color to taupe when it shines on anything. It’s a nuclear-powered, deflavorizer, a rational, competent vehicle with an option package that includes the immediate and total abdication of every bit of your joy, soul, lust and passion.
It’s an impressively meh car.
The world seemed to agree. Being humans capable of emotion and love, most people declined to buy one. Between 1980 and 1983, only 19,400 were built, and the car soon withered away, due to lack of interest.
It’s not like there’s even some rabid group of fans keeping the flame alive; it seems that in 2010 the British car magazine Practical Classics found that of all the UK-registered Tagoras, 99.09 percent were left on the roads. What is that, 3/4 of a Tagora?
I’m impressed; usually I’m pretty smitten with cars I’d never heard of, but the Tagora’s remarkable lack of, well, anything, has made it immune to my knee-jerk obscurity-worship. That’s impressive.
But also boring.