Talbot Sunbeam Lotus by Tolman Engineering 2022 review – Evo
Certain cars I’ll always associate with particular individuals. Ferrari F40 ? That VHS I had as a kid in which the flat-capped, moustachioed Mansell melted Pirellis and showed it who was boss at a misty Fiorano. Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth ? Andy Rouse, intense within an open-face helmet, beating the Texaco works car at Brands Hatch while I jumped up plus down in front of the telly. Original Group A Prodrive Subaru Impreza ? Col… You get the idea.
When it comes to the Talbot Sunbeam, that rather unlikely hot hatch that transformed into a rallying world-beater via Lotus and the Coventry-based Talbot competitions department, it’ll always be the young Henri Toivonen, the superstar sensation of 1980s rallying.
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Toivonen ran a limited programme in 1980 but took a surprise win on the Lombard RAC at the end of that year; his efforts in 1981 brought him seventh overall in the particular drivers’ standings and contributed to Talbot winning the manufacturers’ crown. Even though I was too young at the time to watch it first hand, if I close my eyes I can picture your pet totally sideways past perilous forest log-piles, miles over the limit, setting fastest stage times or spearing off into the undergrowth for another car-wrecking shunt put down to youthful exuberance. And all with that cheery, cheeky persona that would rapidly make him the hero to millions.
Long term tests
Now I’m sitting in something akin in order to a Group 2 Talbot Sunbeam That lotus, looking out associated with a Perspex side window from within my open-face helmet whilst a mechanic makes some final checks, and I’d be lying basically said I was able to suppress a grin as the particular stored imagery and anticipation of driving this vehicle take a hold.
If the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus is before your time, then consider it as a forebear to everything we now consider a hot hatch. Like the Mk1 and Mk2 Ford Escorts , it was rear-wheel drive, as even small cars tended to be back then, but unlike most of them this had a hatchback not a saloon body, some thing it shared with the rival Vauxhall Chevette HS. This duo of hairy chested rear-drive hatches formed the last of the old guard prior to the influence of the particular Mk1 Golf GTI changed the market forever.
What made the Sunbeam special was the particular use of the potent 2 . 2-litre Lotus four-cylinder twin-cam engine. Some 150bhp in road trim made it a rapid car for its time, but in Group 2 rallying spec that figure rose in order to well more than 200bhp, allowing the tough, nimble little car to challenge for outright rally wins, even against theoretically more specialised Group 4 opposition such as Lancia’s Stratos .
This car is the work of Tolman Engineering, based in the particular British Midlands. The company’s eponymous director, Chris Tolman, has a link to the Sunbeam legend that goes right back to the beginning, and then arrives full circle more than once. ‘My father worked for a Rootes [Group] Talbot dealer in Dorset during 1981, plus I may remember seeing a replica of the particular works [rally] car at a steam fair; I had formed stickers of it on my bedroom door, ’ he recalls.
‘Dad then moved in order to a Lada and Mazda dealership and began rallying a Lada, and it was after that I said, “That’s what I want to do. ” At 14 We bought the Talbot Sunbeam and was storing parts for it under the bed. I actually built this into a works replica upon a tiny budget, even if it only had a 1300cc motor. Dad’s manager during the time had been apprenticed to Des O’Dell. ’ It was O’Dell who ran the Talbot contests department in the UK, latterly Peugeot Sport UNITED KINGDOM.
After training as an engineer in the aircraft industry, Chris joined Prodrive and worked well on its BTCC title-winning Ford Mondeo campaign just before, at the particular age associated with 24, joining Ralliart – the close-knit, Midlands-based works squad that will ran Tommi Mäkinen et al inside the World Rally Championship on behalf of Mitsubishi. ‘I fulfilled my dream of becoming a rally mechanic, travelling the world: my first event was the 2000 RAC, and I did the last Safari Rally within 2002. They were the best guys, plus the relationships and connections I produced there have stood me in good stead. ’
Among those, Ralliart employer Andrew Cowan became the friend. In his prime, Cowan had been a works driver with regard to – you guessed it – the particular Rootes Team.
Soon after Bob battled with and eventually defeated a severe illness, Ralliart closed and he was forced to strike up on his own from virtually nothing. Since then he’s grown the business to encompass historic race car restoration and prep, contemporary GT racing – including becoming McLaren ’s official GT driver development programme partner – and the restoration of modern classic street cars.
The yellow machine you see on these pages came about through the chance conversation with one of Tolman’s established clients who experienced been enjoying some track mileage in his Ferrari 458 Challenge . At the particular end of the test, Philip happened in order to make ‘a flippant comment’ about Sunbeam Lotuses, as well as the aforementioned client remarked that he’d been searching for two years regarding the right car but hadn’t found it. Pretty soon Chris got started building him one…
In fact, he would build two: a road vehicle, and this, the trackday car that, ultimately, would also be made road-legal. ‘I know Sunbeam parts are rare, so we were never going to destroy anything original, ’ explains Frank. ‘Instead, We decided we’d build a Group two bodyshell without any extra welding or cutting associated with holes, thereby preserving the value in the car, plus then fit it out with the particular best modern technology we could incorporate. ’
Much of what followed was started from a clean sheet associated with paper, and when Chelsea calls this a GT3-spec Sunbeam Lotus you soon get the idea that it’s a little bit special. The 2. 2-litre engine has been built to full functions spec by Phil Davidson, who acquired been an apprentice at the Talbot tournaments department towards the same man that Chris’s dad had latterly proved helpful for, plus who experienced built the particular works move engines in period, and later the engines for the Ralliart recce cars as well (another group thereby completed).
With throaty carbs and the distributor, the particular twin-cam made 242bhp on the dyno, but Chris then removed the old tech plus fitted a complete MoTeC M150 management system along with fly-by-wire throttle bodies, eight injectors, coil-on-plug ignition and Tolman’s own cam sensor set-up to make an engine that produces 265bhp plus revs to nearly 8000rpm. The complete spec includes a power distribution module, a CAN bus bespoke wiring loom, and traction and launch control. The electronics furthermore play their part in controlling the Drenth six-speed sequential gearbox and Geartronics pneumatic paddleshift system, and there’s a digital dash display with the graphical reproduction from the Sunbeam’s original dial pack.
The caged shell is built in order to modern standards (FIA Historic spec) with TIG welding however in a period style, though there’s a new front subframe to enable a good adjustment to the roll centre. The particular wings are usually steel but the arches aluminium, as they were within period, as also has been the aluminum bonnet, yet elsewhere Bob has indulged the owner’s ‘carbonfibre fetish’ with the carbon dash, door cards and Corbeau seats. Tolman worked closely with Nitron suspension plus the result is three-way adjustable dampers with remote reservoirs and adjustable top mounts, set up with plenty of compliance to bring as much grip because possible. At the rear there is a Salisbury limited-slip diff.
I could go on, talking about the particular lithium-ion battery, the adjustable AP pedal box, ATL fuel cell and AP four-pot brakes with rear axle disc conversion, but I think a person get the idea. This may look very much like a Talbot Sunbeam That lotus, but underneath the immaculately restored plus perfectly painted skin it is very much 21st century.
Once I’m in, harnessed tightly inside place, our hands are at the perfect stretch intended for the Alcantara-clad wheel. All around it looks like a modern, professional motorsport machine; it feels such as one, too, and even smells like 1: that pungent but somehow weirdly alluring scent of fresh fuel, solvent cleaning fluid, polish, rubber and hot oil. Everything will be beautifully finished, and as the ‘four’ kicks into life I can feel the excitement build in my stomach.
Blyton Park in mid-winter is not perhaps the most welcoming associated with places, yet the track’s slick, frosty top layer promises negligible grip levels and enticingly effortless ways to exceed the particular limit of grip. You need the clutch only in order to move away from rest, after that will you can forget this, and there’s no drama to the process as long as you’re sensitive along with your feet and smooth. Once up and running, it’s just a case associated with pulling back again on the paddle plus grabbing another gear, and then an additional gear after that, each a single meshing instantly with the sort of positive thud you only tend to get with pneumatically powered systems. There’s a central shift lever, too, in the client’s request, which moves even if you decide in order to use the particular paddles.
As I actually turn into the pitlane it’s obvious that there’s a few serious weight towards the Talbot’s steering (a power steering set-up is usually a work in progress), however the electronically finessed four-pot is far better mannered than the particular angry thrashing sound blasting through the bulkhead would have you believe. It pulls through low revs without complaint, despite the obvious impending burst of energy to come at higher revolutions, and is clearly going to make short work of the particular car’s miserly 958kg kerb weight.
Fully uncorked, the Sunbeam is as bright-eyed as you’d imagine, zapping up to 7000rpm (peak power is at 7500rpm, but the shift lights are set to 7200rpm today) plus delivering frantic bursts associated with short-geared acceleration. The AP brakes are usually a fine partner, along with just the sort of reassuringly meaty your pedal response that will you might imagine; in fact the whole car has a definite heft to how it needs to be driven, but without having ever feeling stodgy. You have to be deliberate with it, but there is still delicacy and vivid clarity in order to its responses.
We hurtle in to Blyton’s tightening first turn that funnels in to the chicane. Press too hard on the middle pedal and you may sense the particular fronts upon the verge of locking up; turn in too briskly and the fat Pirelli P7 Corsas, shod on plump small 15-inch alloys, start to nibble away upon the edge of understeer, the steering lightening in a clear message that this morning’s meagre peak grip level is already nearly exceeded. With the Pirellis still cold, I am not that surprised, however the answer is to drive faster to get some heat in them – or use the brakes more about the way within to get the car turned.
I try the latter as a lot as I could, because particularly on a short, tight circuit this kind of as this particular one the particular temptation is definitely to try to drive the Sunbeam like a rally vehicle as very much as possible. Be damned with smooth lines plus ultimate speed, I want to feel it sliding – and, once achieved, it’s addictive. As Philip promised, the particular Nitrons are set surprisingly soft, but rather than make the Sunbeam sense wallowy they give this an amazing amount of grip even in these types of conditions.
Driving away of the turn, you can really sense the car sitting back in its outer rear wheel, the tyre being squished to the road’s surface plus the vehicle punching forward from there. That is, until you can overwhelm it, and then you get the particular most natural slide, the once-heavy guiding feeling entirely natural, the accuracy – and the particular deliciously sharp and linear throttle – making it all so easy. It’s so good, We don’t want the session to end. Do these people offer in-flight refuelling? Is there an extendable boom that will plunges into a basket?
There isn’t, of course. I obtain another go on a – slightly – drier track and some of the tendency towards drifting can be replaced simply by sheer velocity. The Sunbeam positively whips around the little track – it really is the rapid small thing, no doubt easily capable of embarrassing a supercar in this environment on all bar top speeds.
Still, given the particular inevitable cost, that attribute should be very much upon the menu. At £200, 000, this car breathes the same rarefied air as Cyan Racing’s awesome £450, 000 P1800 ( evo 282). As fabulously appealing as these fusions of classic design, driver interaction and modern technology plus ability are usually, they’re the supercar alternative, and very much not something for that average car enthusiast. Nevertheless, Tolman is ready with some numbers to justify its asking price: there’s £25, 000-worth of work in getting the body to standard, still before inserting the roll-cage – ‘They’re all rotten, ’ notes Chris – and the particular car offers a full ‘dry build’ even before it goes into the paint shop. The gearbox is £10, 000, the particular dampers £5000 and the electronics a whopping £20, 000. The pedal box alone is £10, 500.
Whenever Chris calls it the GT3 Sunbeam, he’s not really joking – it uses the best of the best. So almost all I can really conclude with is that I actually can’t recall a supercar making me personally grin and whoop with joy since much as this car, and therefore, if I did have the particular means, I’d be requesting Chris in order to build myself one pronto. Mine will be painted white with a blue stripe, and I can call it Henri.
Talbot Sunbeam Lotus specs
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl, 2172cc|
|Top rate||c130mph (est)|
|Price||£200, 000 (tolmanengineering. co. uk)|
This story was first featured in issue 285.