Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is a Sunbeam Lotus?
It is a British-built car, manufactured between 1979 and 1981 by Chrysler UK, which was sold to Peugeot before any cars were officially offered for sale. Except for a few pre-production examples, therefore, all cars were known as “Talbot Sunbeam Lotus”.
The basic Talbot Sunbeam was a small hatchback designed to rival the VW Golf and Ford Fiesta. It had been engineered in record-breaking time, and to achieve this carried over the basic layout and shortened chassis of the Hillman/Chrysler Avenger (sold in Europe as a Sunbeam and briefly in the US as the Plymouth Cricket). This meant that the Sunbeam appeared with rear wheel drive in deference to the more modern front-drive competition, but this was to have benefits to the Chrysler/Talbot Competitions Department, who struck a deal with Lotus to buy some of their 2 litre engines as used in Esprits/Eclats/Elites and the Jensen Healey. Having convinced Chrysler management of its potential, production progressed with Lotus re-designing the engine to 2.2 litres; working on suspension and exhaust systems as well as fitting the drivetrain at a new facility in Norfolk. Early cars were only available in Embassy Black, with silver side stripes and grey interior. Later, after some cosmetic changes had been introduced, Embassy black was replaced by Moonstone Blue with a choice of either silver or black stripes. A further option was provided by a small coachbuilding company who produced the limited “Avon” version, which added dark blue to the light Moonstone base and a plush blue interior.
About 2300 cars were built, of which about half were exported to Europe.
The rally versions were homologated into Group 4 and then Group 2, before being transferred to Group B. Outright victories on the Arctic Rally, Mille Pistes, Lombard RAC and Codasur rallies were combined with numerous class wins that culminated in the World Rally Championship for Makes in 1981.
Standard cars have 150bhp, and it is not too difficult to increase this to about 180bhp while keeping the car outwardly original (remember, though, that the standard brakes are not overly brilliant to start with!). 200bhp plus involves a bit more work and will probably see driveability suffer – and petrol bills soar. The works rally cars peaked at about 245bhp and anything more than this (for competition use only) would be taking you onto thin ice without increasing the capacity (it has been done!) or adding a turbo (likewise!)
Road cars will hit 60mph in 6.6 seconds, works rally cars in 5.0 seconds. Top speeds; over 125mph in standard trim, or lower depending on gearing.
What should I pay for a Sunbeam Lotus?
In the UK, you will find prices ranging from around £5000 to over £25,000. The lower end of this scale will perhaps get you a complete car, but not much else. If it runs you are lucky, but do not expect great things – the bodywork is likely to need major attention and the engine may need a rebuild. The upper end of this scale will give you an original / restored car that has not been used much at all – very low mileage and in pristine condition. Cars like this are rare, and top prices paid have realistically been more like £17,000/£20,000.
That leaves a lot of mid-ground, and it is here that most people will be looking. About £12,000/£15,000 is the right price for a good car – possibly the subject of a complete rebuild – that will not need any work, yet in which you will be less frightened to exploit its capabilities – after all, the last thing you would want to put on a £20,000+ car would be stone-chips! Around £8000/£11,000 is the area where you will find a lot of cars, and if you know what to look for you should find a decent example for this sort of money. Generally, in good condition and covering all sorts of specifications – original standard, modified, restored but used, etc. Watch out for over-priced cars, though – a bit of body filler and paint may be deceiving!
Below £5,000 is where you need to be very wary – do not expect to drive away a car and not have to work on it for a year or so. For this sort of money (especially) you need to know exactly what you are buying and what gremlins come with the car, it may not even be complete, or in bits. If you have any doubts, walk away.
Competition-prepared cars fall into a completely different price structure depending on purpose and condition – contact the club for advice.
If you are serious about buying a Sunbeam Lotus, join the club and receive further information, including our buyers’ guide that contains further tips on what to look for.
How can I be sure that the Sunbeam Lotus I am looking at is a genuine car?
A lot of road cars have either been totally rebuilt or even re-shelled (often using a non-Lotus body) in their time, hence the question of genuine originality can be a difficult one. In general, a car that has been rebuilt on a genuine original ‘Lotus’ body, and hence kept its original VIN / engine number etc. can be considered as genuine. The VIN number and chassis plates shows quite clearly whether this is the case, and information supplied to all new members on joining the Club will enable them to check this. There are also other marks on the bodyshell and engine that will verify the chassis number / build details etc. shown on the chassis plates, and again these are explained to new members. If you come across any vehicle that has had its identity numbers changed or removed on either the bodyshell or engine – proceed with caution!
Cars that have been re-shelled using a non-Lotus donor body are more difficult. Some very competent jobs have been undertaken – and some not so competent! There are a few cars around where the VIN number and chassis plates are clearly not that of a Lotus model, but they do look like a Lotus model, and there are others that do have correct identities, but the conversion has missed some detail of the bodywork mods or other conversion requirements necessary to create a ‘correct’ car. If in doubt you should contact a committee member as some of these cars are already known, and as values continue to rise, the likelihood of this happening could well increase.
This does not necessary mean that an apparently non-genuine car is not worth buying, since the question of price also enters the equation, the important thing is that you know what you are buying, and the price takes this into account.
Ex-Works cars of course may well have been rebuilt / re-shelled several times at the factory without losing any originality.
Can I run my Sunbeam Lotus on unleaded petrol?
Lotus have issued a statement saying that all their 900 series engines – including the Sunbeam’s 911 type – can use 98 RON super unleaded petrol without adjustment. However, bear in mind that most branded super unleaded fuel is rated at 97 RON and it is therefore advisable to use a fuel additive that contains an octane booster unless you are sure of the higher rating (NB – Shell V Power Unleaded is rated at 98 RON, and this is suitable for everyday use without any additive) Extra hardened valve seats can be fitted, but it is not necessary to have this work done in order to use normal ‘pump fuel’ – unless the engine is being rebuilt anyway. Another option is, of course, leaded petrol – if you can find and afford it!
Are spare parts still available?
You would be surprised at how easy it is to find some things that are long since NLA. There are a few specialists like The Sunbeam Owners’ Parts Shop, Skip Brown, Dutche and Speedy Spares that can supply general mechanical items, and of course engine components are available through Lotus specialists. Most body panels are now being reproduced and there is a healthy trade in second-hand parts among club members. The hardest to find spares tend to be interior trim, and works-spec’ competition parts. Patience and perseverance will usually find what you want, though.
How many Sunbeam Lotuses are left?
A tricky question to answer since about half of all these cars went abroad. Club records list nearly 400 cars in the UK and there really cannot be many more around, but with less than 100 cars known overseas there may or may not be more LHD versions still going. Unknown cars still seem to reappear out of sheds and barns, though, so there are probably more lying around that just refuse to die.
Are there many works rally cars around?
Sixteen different identities were used by the Competitions Department in major rallies, and only three of these are currently unaccounted for: EVC 444T, KDU 111V and NVC 444W. Does anyone know where they are or what happened to them? E-mail the chairman if you have any details (email@example.com)
All the help you will ever need on buying; living with; servicing and modifying your Sunbeam Lotus can be found on the members only Club forum and in the Club OppoSiteLOC quarterly magazine.
All new members receive an extensive information pack plus the most recently published issue of oppoSiteLOC. The pack contains contact details of all Committee Members who can assist by post, or email, on most questions related to the Sunbeam Lotus, plus a list of useful names and telephone numbers for suppliers of parts and services. Additionally, further historical, technical and background details are laid out, plus general hints and advice, and tips on what to look for when checking a prospective purchase (NB – details of how to access the Members’ Area of the web site – which contains a list of all known ‘cars for sale’ – is also provided to members only)