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No, Talbot didn’t build cars in the Nineties. Yes, it did build campervans

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos via Historics Auctioneers.

Automakers can get into some unexpected business models once they leave their original niches. Some become breweries while others go on to real estate ventures. Talbot, the venerated French builder of luxury and sports cars, squeaked its way into the Nineties by slapping its nameplate onto utility vans and campervans, one of which will head to auction next month.

The French Talbot (not to be confused with the British Talbot, despite their similar origins and fates) dates back to the first Darracqs of 1896, though the name itself first appeared by itself in 1920 and as Talbot-Lago in 1935. Production was never abundant, but on its sporting reputation Talbot-Lago continued on through the decade and then picked up production again after the war.

With bodies from Saoutchik, Chapron, Pourtout, Graber, and Pinin Farina, postwar Talbots became darlings of the concours scene, but the company saw dwindling production numbers going into the Fifties and few paths forward with its limited resources. Tony Lago made one last Hail Mary in 1955 – a modern two-door coupe called the Grand Sport that he later installed a BMW V-8 into and rebranded as the America – but it barely moved the needle, so in 1958 he sold Talbot to Simca.

Simca, in turn, tried to sell the America with a Ford flathead V-8 still in the company’s inventory, but with Chrysler’s involvement in Simca starting later that year, the America – and the Talbot name with it – got the axe. As Chrysler increased its stake in Simca over the next decade or so on its way to building Chrysler Europe, it also bought out Rootes, inadvertently reuniting the British Talbot (bought by Rootes in 1935) and Talbot-Lago marques.

The Talbot name remained dormant throughout Chrysler’s ownership of Simca, but when Peugeot bought up Chrysler’s European operations in 1978, it decided to resurrect the Talbot nameplate on various models of Simca – including the Matra-Simca Rancho, the 1307, and even the Horizon – and launch a few new Talbots, including the Samba and Tagora. That approach only worked for a few years, and by the mid-Eighties, Peugeot gave up on the Talbot name for passenger cars.

But not for trucks. The same year Peugeot bought out Chrysler Europe, it also started Sevel Sud, a partnership with Fiat focused on building commercial vehicles. When production began in the early 1980s, the same basic ton-and-up chassis became badge-engineered as five different vehicles: the Fiat Ducato, the Alfa Romeo AR6, the Citroën C25, the Peugeot J5, and the Talbot Express, the latter available only in the United Kingdom with either Peugeot 504 gasoline or Citroën CX diesel engines.

The front-wheel-drive Talbot Express, available from the factory as a minibus or as a commercial van, also proved popular for campervan conversions, judging from the Talbot Express Owners page on Facebook. It lasted a decade or so in the marketplace until Peugeot decided that the Talbot-badged trucks should go the same way as the Talbot-badged cars. No vehicle has been sold as a Talbot since then.

One of the last of those last Talbots, an Auto-Sleepers Harmony on a 1992 Talbot Express chassis (chassis number SDB290A2200068364), originally sold through Roe Moor Garages in Eccleston, Lancashire, and has since traveled less than 50,000 miles. According to the Historics Auctioneers description of the Talbot, it’s been fitted with “a wc and shower as well as heating with amenities including a cooker, sink, three-way fridge and a wardrobe” and recently had its gearbox and alternator replaced.

No pre-auction estimate was released for the Talbot, which will sell at no reserve on May 18 at Historics’s Mercedes-Benz World sale in Weybridge. For more information on the sale, visit Historics.co.uk.