Simca-Talbot Horizon. Car of the Year 1979. World Car. The first car with a trip computer. It should be a legend.

Simca was the most normal of the French car makers. Which was really no surprise, given that they started of as Ford France, later made Fiat cars under licence and then became Chrysler’s arm in France. All relatively conventional stuff. And yet, by the early 1980s, it was all over.

Born largely out of the need to replace the ageing Simca 1100 in France, the Horizon was essentially a shortened version of the larger Alpine model, giving the vehicle an unusually wide track for its length. Featuring a “Poissy engine” of transversely mounted, Simca-designed 1.1, 1.3 and 1.5 litre OHV engines, 4-speed gearbox and torsion-bar suspension, the Horizon gained praise for its crisp styling, supple ride, and competent handling.

The SX version which joined the range for the Paris Motor Show, in October 1978, attracted much interest on account of its innovative trip computer. The device took information from three sources, a clock, a “débitmètre” mounted on the fuel feed to the carburetor and a distance information from the feed for the odometer. Using these three pieces of information the “computer” was able to report current fuel consumption and average speeds as well as information on distances and times. Rather mundane today, but pretty cool back then.

The North American versions of the Horizon were known as the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. Although they appeared to share the same external bodywork as the European Horizon (the panels were in fact not interchangeable), they were vastly different mechanically — using a larger engine (of VW, then PSA origins on the early versions, replaced by Chrysler’s own 2.2L OHC “Trenton” I-4 later) and MacPherson strut suspension at the front instead of the more complex torsion bar system found in the European version.

So what went wrong? After Chrysler Europe collapsed in 1978 and was sold to Peugeot, the Horizon was rebadged as a Talbot in 1979. But Talbot was a largely forgotten car brand from the past, and few people recognized it.

In 1981, the Horizon was becoming increasingly uncompetitive next to rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf (which was actually four years older), Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra and the third generation Ford Escort. The unrefined ohv engines which had been carried over from the Simca 1100 were largely to blame, while rust was a serious issue, at least until Series II, giving many cars a short life and killing resale values.

Many of the late cars, which were built between 1985 and 1986, were painted in an un-sympathetic pale green or cream. Horizons had initially been available in more adventurous colours including orange, but many of these colours had gone out of fashion after the 1970s. Today they are a very rare sight, with only fewer than 20 left on the road in the UK! Probably a few more in the States, at least in those states don’t put salt on the roads. Production finished in 1987, and the car was replaced by a Peugeot - the 309.

What the???

Nerd Fact: Finnish-made Talbot Horizons integrated many Saab components, especially in the interior and electrical system. The Saab-Valmet factory also made a series of 2,385 cars that ran on kerosene or turpentine.

The model is another 1/43 Soldio from the “1300" series - models that had simpler wheels than regular Solido models and were sold for less - sometimes in “Cougar” branded blister packs and often years after the 1:1 cars had gone out of production. Ironically, this one is in the exact color that last week’s Peugeot Rally car should have been in. Oh well.

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