Introduced in April 1980 in continental Europe, and two months' later over in the UK, the Solara was the first car to reveal Talbot's planned move upmarket, with saloons being seen as more prestigious than hatchbacks at that time. It also was the first car to appear with the familiar ‘T’ roundel on the radiator grille and the last new car to carry the Simca badge at the rear, although this was substituted by a Talbot badge on UK models.
The Solara was a clever piece of styling because its side and rear profiles were quite different to the Alpine on which it was based. All panels from the front up to and including the rear door were identical. From that point, the car was all new, and was 3 inches longer than the Alpine, with a very generous boot. The Solara had an elegant appearance and was a fitting successor to the Simca 1301/1501 models. Being based on the Alpine, there were no mechanical surprises, with the 1294 cc and 1592 cc engines being used on UK built cars, while most European countries started with the 1442 cc engine, and then the 1592 cc unit.
Trim levels were the usual LS, GL, GLS and top of the range SX which came with the Talbot Trip Computer, a feature several years ahead of its time. UK versions of the GLS and SX were fitted with vinyl roofs for the first two years, but buyers the other side of the Channel fortunately escaped this feature, as it invariably led to rust forming in the roof underneath the vinyl covering. As with the Alpine, GLS and SX models initially were supplied with the Citroen CX 5 speed gearbox, while the other models used the faithful Simca 4 speed gearbox. An automatic gearbox option was also available. European sales of the Solara were initially very encouraging, but many were at the expense of the 1510 hatchback (Alpine in the UK). By 1982 it was not proving economic to build the 1510 in France and it was discontinued that summer, while demand for the Solara was still quite strong. In the UK Solara sales were slower, and Talbot were very disappointed that the car failed to crack the all important fleet market, despite being assembled in Britain.
1982 saw the launch of the only Solara limited editions on both sides of the Channel. British buyers were offered the Solara Sceptre in June which was based on the 1.6 GL but had two tone paint and a sliding steel sunroof as standard. This was followed that Autumn by the Solara Vogue, yet another former Rootes name, but only distinguished by standard auxiliary driving lights and an uprated interior trim. In France buyers could choose the Solara Pullman, which like the Sceptre came with two tone paint. It also featured alloy wheels, velour upholstery throughout, and body coloured bumpers, and was certainly the most attractive of the three limited editions. Fortunately at least two of these cars have survived and been seen at European Simca Club meetings.
In October 1982 a wide range of modifications were made to the Solara. The Simca and Citroen gearboxes were replaced by the new Peugeot BE1 gearbox, with 5 speed being standard across the range, with the exception of a new base model, the 1.3 LE, designed for the fleet market. This LE model was also available as a 1.6 with 5 speed box. The LS slotted in above the LE, with the range progressing through the well equipped GL, to the very comprehensively specified GLS, which boasted new ‘pepperpot’ style alloy wheels and two tone metallic paint. The UK cars were branded ‘Series 2’ and carried decals saying that and ‘5 Speed’ on the rear of their boot lids. The French cars received the same mechanical changes but the model line up remained the same with the SX at the top of the range.
Two years later the UK range was reduced to just two models, the Minx and Rapier. Officially these names replaced the Solara name which disappeared from the price lists, but Talbot continued to put the Solara badge on the boot lid. This sort of confusion did not help sales. The Minx was basically a Solara LS with a Peugeot 305 steering wheel and column stalks instead of the Simca derived ones. The Rapier had the same interior changes and was based on the former GL, but with alloy wheels as standard. Both models had a new three bar radiator grille. Features such as central locking, electric windows and automatic transmission were dropped. Production of these cars finished at Ryton in Summer 1985, although sufficient stocks remained around the country to see some cars registered early in 1986.
In France for the 1985 model year the range was trimmed by the deletion of the GLS but the LS, GL and SX continued with a number of enhancements. As with the British cars, the new radiator grille, steering wheel and column stalks were fitted. All three models were given black window surrounds instead of bright metal, deeper bodyside mouldings, and the bumpers were painted in the body colour. The SX was given a new and much improved trip computer, and automatic transmission remained as an option on both the GL and SX. Pepperpot alloys were an option on the SX.
Although production of the Solara ceased at Poissy in the summer of 1985 to make way for the Peugeot 309, the GL and SX models remained on sale in France and some other European markets for another year, the cars being built in the Spanish factory at Villaverde. The Solara range for the Spanish market included a diesel with the 1905 cc Peugeot unit, but this was not sold outside Spain. One of the 1986 Spanish built Solaras for the French market appeared at the International Simca meeting in Germany in 1996. Final production figures for the Solara were 184,976.
There are a few Solaras owned by members of Simca Club UK, but many more can be found in the Dutch, Danish and German Simca Clubs.