Despite what Volkswagen would have you believe, the Golf GTI was not the world’s first hot hatchback. Nope, that honour goes to a little factory in Scotland that was originally part of the Rootes Group.
Rootes owned a variety of successful British brands, including Hillman, Humber, Singer and Sunbeam, before they were acquired by Chrysler in 1967, who then proceeded to ruin them.
In just a few short years the whole thing was loss-making, and the French government – fearing the demise of the French brands that Chrysler also owned – encouraged Peugeot-Citroen to purchase the remnants, which they did. For a dollar.
The result was the return of the Talbot name, which was applied to various Rootes products including their Sunbeam small hatchback. It was a design Chrysler kept hold of too, being quite a good one, successfully selling a very similar looking model as the Dodge Omni / Plymouth Horizon in the US.
In Europe, Peugeot-Citroen wanted to raise the profile of the reborn Talbot name, and so they decided to go motor racing, with Group B rallying their chosen route. Fortunately for them, Chrysler had already developed a sporty version of the Horizon / Sunbeam, having turned to Lotus for the development, but didn’t have time to launch it before the sale to Peugeot-Citroen.
Thus when it finally arrived, the 150bhp Sunbeam Lotus wore a Talbot badge, becoming the world’s first hot hatchback, and duly winning the World Rally Championship in 1981.
Such immediate success meant that Talbot become a household name, which must’ve pleased Peugeot-Citroen. Or so you would have thought. By the mid-’80s they’d killed it, with the marque lingering on a van for few a years before disappearing completely.
Still, SIM CAMAT of Flickr does remember the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, and has paid homage via his wonderful Model Team recreation of the world’s first hot hatchback.
Beautifully accurate, SIM’s Sunbeam features opening doors and hood, a highly detailed interior complete with folding seats, and a stunning removable replica of the 2.2 litre slant-four Lotus engine that powered the car to the ’81 World Rally Championship.
There’s lots more of the model to see at SIM CAMAT’s photostream, and you can head back to the often-forgotten genesis of the hot hatchback via the link in the text above.