Thoughts began in 1977 on a replacement for the long running and popular Simca 1000. At that time the only new Simca under development was the C2 (the soon to be launched Horizon). To replace the 1000, Chrysler Simca engineers proposed the "C2 short" which was a three door shortened version of the Horizon. This would have used the same Simca engines as the standard car, but would have provided a smaller and less expensive. It is not known how far this project proceeded when it was decided to use the Chrysler Sunbeam instead to replace the Simca 1000 in Europe. Whatever the merits of the Sunbeam were (its rally winning ability was to prove legendary) it was essentially a stop-gap design based on the Avenger and destined for a short life thanks to the decision to close the Talbot Linwood plant in 1981. This would leave the by now struggling Talbot marque with nothing in the small car segment of the market, by 1980/81 the only sector enjoying reasonable sales as the effects of global recession made themselves felt.
Having extensively reworked the Peugeot 104 as the Citroen Visa in 1979, Peugeot's engineers decided to again take the 104 as a base, and produce a small Talbot. This project was known as the C15. The designers actually shortened the floor pan of the longer five door 104 to produce the Samba, leaving it halfway between a three and five door 104. The new car was actually 6 inches longer than the three door 104 Z, providing rather more legroom in the rear than that offered by the Peugeot.
With the new floor pan established, the C15 was then given to the Talbot style centre at Whitley, near Coventry, to produce an attractive design which would be easily recognisable as part of the Talbot family. Art Blakeslee and his team did a very good job, with the finished Samba only using two 104 Z panels without change; the bonnet and the rear hatch. Every other panel was unique to the Samba, giving it a distinctive appearance.
A clever part of the C15 project was that while the finished car looked different to the 104, it used many of the mechanical components, although all the engines were re-tuned to provide different levels of performance to Peugeot 104 versions. But the trump card was the decision to include a cabriolet in the range, as at that time there was just one hatchback derived cabriolet available, the Volkswagen Golf.
As with the 104, the engine was laid back at 72 degrees to the vertical, with the carburettor and electrical accessories visible once the spare wheel had been removed from its cradle. A four speed gearbox was standard, apart from the 1360cc variants.
At 11 feet 6 inches long, the new Samba was 18 inches shorter than the Horizon, and 13 inches shorter than the Sunbeam, which just shows how similar in size those two models were. Thanks to the design and packaging, the impression for driver and front seat passenger was of plenty of space, and an absence of the small car feel of competitors such as the Metro and VW Polo. Rear seat passengers however, did not have much room, but at least there was more than in the 104 Z. Luggage space was limited, at 8 cubic feet, but the rear seat folded down to increase this to 32 cubic feet and it could also be taken out completely if required.
Talbot re-equipped the former Simca plant at Poissy, near Paris to build the Samba and all cars were manufactured there. The modifications to the bodywork to produce the cabriolet models were carried out at the Pininfarina factory in Italy but the cars were then sent back to Poissy for final completion. The Samba range was launched in France and other main European markets in November 1981. Initially just two models were available, the 1124cc LS and GL, producing 49bhp. In February 1982 they were joined by the 1360cc GLS model, with 72bhp and equipped with a 5 speed gearbox and electric windows (at that time almost unique on a small car).
It did not appear in the UK until February 1982 and four models were initially available:
Samba LE 954cc, 45bhp
Samba LS 954cc, 45bhp
Samba GL 1124cc, 49bhp
Samba GLS 1360cc, 72bhp, 5 speed gearbox
The Pininfarina - designed cabriolet joined the French range in the spring of 1982, and shared the mechanical components of the GLS. It did not appear in the UK until October 1982, denying British buyers the opportunity of driving one that summer. Production of the cabriolets was quite involved. Samba bodyshells were sent from the Talbot plant by rail to Pininfarina's factory in Turin, Italy for strengthening, installation of the hood, roll bar and bootlid. The cars were then returned to Poissy for the mechanical components to be installed, final assembly and testing.
The LE model was unique to the UK market, priced at £2,995 to undercut the price of entry level Metros and Fiestas. Although it lacked a heated rear window, it still had some extra fittings such as a driver's door pocket and centre console. The 954cc engined LS was almost unique to the UK, with Italy the only other major market for this model. Much later in the Samba's development a 954cc car was available in France.
Talbot was delighted with the response to the new car. It attracted favourable reviews from the motoring press, and the public were quick to buy, thanks to the keen pricing and excellent fuel economy. While in Europe much was made of the Samba name with dance steps appearing in posters and on the floors of dealers' showrooms, here in the UK it was the car's excellent economy which was promoted. The 1124 GL model achieved 61.4mpg at 56 mph, remarkable even by today's standards. By the end of 1982 the Samba was in the top 20 best selling cars in the UK, the first time Talbot had managed that since early 1980.
The 1983 model year saw two significant new models joining the Samba range, although the two were never available together in any of the countries where the Samba was marketed.
In France, the Benelux countries and Germany, the new model was called the Samba Rallye. Making its debut in January 1983, it was deliberately aimed at those who had bought the Simca 1000 Rallye series about seven years earlier. The Rallye used the same block as the 1360 cc GLS and Cabriolet, but modified to produce significantly more power, 90 bhp, using two twin choke carburettors, while the cubic capacity was reduced to 1219 to meet the below 1300 cc motor sport category. Top speed was 110 mph. A close ratio version of the 5 speed gearbox was fitted. Finished either in Cherry Red or White, with bold "RALLYE" graphics on the bodyside and an air intake on the bonnet, the new Rallye was hardly shy. It also boasted a sporty three spoke steering wheel, derived from the Peugeot 104 ZS, and body hugging sports seats. It proved to be an instant hit with its target customers, and Talbot in France started a Samba Rallye Club which promoted competition between Rallye owners.
A different "hot" Samba was available in the UK. Called the Samba S, it had the 1360 cc engine, but boosted to 80 bhp, giving a top speed of 104 mph. Equipped with a five speed gearbox, it also came with five spoke alloys as standard with 165/70 tyres, a neat plastic spoiler mounted at the top of the rear hatch, and a remote control driver's door mirror. The S used the metal bumpers normally only fitted to Cabriolet models, giving it a distinctive appearance. The one "extra" it shared with the Rallye was the sports seats. Unlike any other hatchback Samba, there was a split folding rear seat. Four colours were available, Silver, White, Cherry Red and Black. A large "S" decal was carried on the front wings. As with all 1360 cc Sambas, brakes were servo assisted, as indeed were those on the Rallye. Altogether the Samba S was a very attractive package which unfortunately was only available until the autumn of 1983. A similar model was sold in Spain.
1983 also saw the launch of a more powerful version of the Samba GLS for the French market. By fitting two single choke carburettors to the 1360 cc engine, power went up from 72 bhp to 80 bhp, with a top speed of 104 mph.
The first Samba limited edition appeared in May 1983. Initially sold in France, it was called the Samba Sympa. It had the 1124 cc engine, silver paint, velour interior, sunroof, tinted glass and a choice of yellow, blue or red painted wheels with matching coach line. The wheels were set off with chrome surrounds, and a rear spoiler fitted. This model was very eye catching, and proved popular - so popular, that later the Sympa became a permanent model in the French Samba range.
The 1984 model year offered a smaller range, at least in the UK. Both the GLS and S models were dropped, leaving the Cabriolet as the only Samba with the 1360 cc engine. The GL gained the split folding rear seats from the S. The only other development was the introduction of the first limited edition Samba for the UK market, the Samba Roller, in January 1984. The Roller was simply a right hand drive version of the Sympa model, but only supplied with yellow wheels and coach line.
Developments for the French market for 1984 were more positive. The GLS model was improved with the addition of the rear spoiler, and three spoke alloy wheels. The Cabriolet was also offered with the 80 bhp engine, although the 72 bhp version continued. Those attractive three spoke alloys could be specified on the Cabriolet, but only as an option. Steel wheels were now standard.
For the 1985 model year there was a substantial change to the interior of the Samba, with a completely new dashboard, the adoption of just two instrument stalks (similar to those fitted to Minx and Rapier versions of the Solara) and new heater controls.
From October 1984 UK buyers were only offered three main models: 954 cc LE, 1124 cc LS (finally giving the British a version available in most other European countries since 1982) and the 1360 cc 80 bhp Cabriolet. However, one very desirable special edition Samba was launched in the UK at the same time as the above models - a right hand drive version of the Rallye. Only 500 were built, all were Cherry Red, and very few survive. The Rallye had the 80 bhp version of the 1360 cc engine with a five speed gearbox.
As usual, the range for the European market was more extensive. For the first time in France and Germany, a 954 cc Samba was offered. Essentially, it was a LHD version of the UK Samba LE, and was referred to as the Samba base. Next was the 1124 cc LS, similar to the UK version. Above the LS was an 1124 cc GL, with upmarket Norfolk tweed trim also used in Cabriolet models for the 1985 model year. A choice of a four or five speed gearbox was available. GL models also boasted tinted glass and full width wheel trims. Electric windows were available as an option. Two versions of the Rallye were offered, the 80 bhp 1360 cc, on which the UK model was based, and a 90 bhp 1219 cc, mechanically as before, but with the new dashboard and other detail changes. Both models could be ordered with the three spoke alloy wheels. Finally the range was completed with the 80 bhp Cabriolet, which also could be supplied with the three spoke alloys.
The Sympa model continued unchanged apart from the dashboard, but it was joined in France by another special edition, the Samba Bahia. Equipped with the 1124 cc engine, it was finished in Ming Blue (a dark metallic blue), denim upholstery, with fuchsia piping, fuchsia bodyside tapes and matching full wheel covers. Bronze tinted glass, a Rallye steering wheel, rear spoiler and Bahia badging ensured it stood out from the crowd. An identical model, called the Samba Trio, was launched in March 1985 in the UK. The denim upholstery and eye catching colour scheme was to prove a successful formula for Peugeot, which was applied to the 205 a year later as the Junior, and then continued for the next 10 years on a succession of 205s and later 106s.
July 1985 saw the introduction of the last new Samba model in the UK, the Style. This was an upmarket version of the 954 cc LE. Identical mechanically, it was finished in metallic silver with attractive dark red velour upholstery, a radio, sunroof, and the chrome wheel surrounds used on the French Sympa model. Unlike the LE, it did have a heated rear window, but no rear wiper. Priced initially at £3795, this proved a popular model.
The 1986 model year saw the French range reduced to just the 954 cc Samba base, the Sympa and Bahia special editions and the Cabriolet. For the UK, the 954 cc LE and 1124 cc LS continued, as did the Style, but imports of the Cabriolet ceased. 1986 model year Sambas have round side repeater flashers and rear seat belts as standard to comply with a UK directive, the only Talbot cars so fitted by the manufacturer. The last development was the adoption of light grey velour on Samba Style models built from February 1986.
With the three door Peugeot 205 now firmly established, and the decision to abandon the Talbot marque taken, production of the Samba stopped in May 1986 and the brief revival of Talbot Cars was over. The Samba had succeeded in keeping good numbers of customers loyal to what had become the Peugeot Talbot group, and many Samba buyers later became 205 owners. It seems likely that surviving Samba Rallye models will start to appreciate in value, at least in France and Belgium, where the Cabriolet already has a strong following.
Talbot Samba production figures (13,062 Cabriolets were assembled)
Samba range summary
(i) French market
Note: In addition to the above models, the Samba AS with the 1124 cc engine was available from 1983 to 1985. This had no rear seat, exempting it from car tax, and was intended for commercial use.
(ii) UK market
Roller limited to 1500
Trio limited to 1500
Rallye limited to 500