Posted on: April 23, 1980

From Rootes Review
Vol. 5, #4, April 1980

by Alex Gabbard
Reprinted by permission from The Shelby American

LotusWell, we know the Tiger is dead. No more do the factories at Conventry roll out those superb GT cars. Gone are the sleek lines of real sports cars. Dead are the roadsters that performed like no other car for the money. No more Sunbeam showrooms or new car test drives, but somehow the spirit lingers.

In the face of government control on everything fun, there are always a few rebels who just won’t give up the quest for real performance road machines. Some resort to buying a hot-rod or buying a real piece of iron (now called an old car) but most us only wonder what happened to Camelot. Fast cars, cheap gas and fun with our love of the car.

But to achieve a portion of what it used to be, the time honored method of stuffing a high performance engine into a low performance lightweight is still being practiced-but rarely-in the new car market. So, it’s out to the garage to swap that engine and sink alot of long green into aftermarket items so that we can once again briefly, recall the good times.

Or it’s scan the used car items for something more appealing than another econo-box. Econo-boxes?! Well, with so many of them around, maybe some thrills of the old days are still available. How about a real sleeper-you know-one of those items that look so innocent but carries a hungry grown in it’s heart; a VW Rabbit with a Porsche power or something like it that would thoroughly embarrass the BMW and Porsche clan.

Well, there is now something like it in a good deal cheaper at that. And, you guessed it, it’s a Sunbeam. They still have the spirit! Econo-box or not. There are still some thrills, but at a price from Coventry.

So the story is, take a 2100 pound lightweight and stuff in a 2-litre suitably prepared and, presto! You now have a fireball! Well, by today’s standards. And you have a choice, either the Talbot Sunbeam Cheetah or the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, both giving you uncommon performance. Your compact hatchback (2 door) still looks the same except for the larger tires.

The Cheetah begins as a new Sunbeam 1.6 GLS with 80 Bhp; it’s then sent to Dawson Auto Development where the 1.6 litre engine becomes a 2 litre, putting out about 145 Bhp. The block is bored and the stroke is increased by 11mm. All competition balancing of parts is performed giving the assembly rallying liability. The stock head is suitably modified with bigger valves and other performance workings. The internal cam is replaced with a Talbot Group 1; a larger oil pump is fitted and a 40 DCOE Webers top it off. The exhaust is a rally system; the clutch a competition item; and extensive suspension tightening accompanies it all. A little detail on the exterior lets the unawares know it’s a Cheetah.

To quote Motor Sport, Oct. 1979, “The engine is a little screamer…Most astonishing of all is the top gear performance, which would have Ferrari Boxer and Porsche Turbo owners weeping into their beer.” Ahhh, the good old days. Generally the Cheetah was given praise as being a great pleasure to drive, if the 19-25 MPG is agreeable, and a price of £5500 (about $11,000).

Your second choice is the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, some great names there and none is left wanting with this new Sunbeam. It is the same Sunbeam 2-door hatchback to begin with. It them receives the all-aluminum, twin ohc, 2-litre, 16 valve, slant four cylinder engine attached to a ZF 5-speed gearbox. All kinds of beefier parts are necessary thoughout, giving the Lotus high reliability. And at an honest 150 Bhp and comparable torque, this screamer delivers “sensational performance.” ( Motor Sport, Oct. 1979). This new model gets exterior and interior modifications making it more comfortable to drive as well as unmistakably something special.

Autocar (27 Oct. ‘79) gave a lengthy evaluation of the Sunbeam Lotus and came away saying that except for the money ( £7000 ), it’s got about everything the performance minded could want: top speed of over 120 Mph: 0-60 in 7.4 seconds and 0-100 in 20.4 seconds. That’s hot for today, but not in the mpg category. How about a toe-jamming 12 mpg and a top of 23 with a range of only 150 miles?

Well let’s look back. Road & Track (Nov. ‘64) tested the 164 Bhp stock Tiger and gave it a top speed of 118 mph and 0-60 of 7.8 seconds. For the really hot set up Gordon Crittendon held his class record for 2 years of drag racing with 108 mph at 12.95 seconds. What’s the verdict? Are today’s Sunbeam Tigers only pussycats as compared to real Tigers.

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