Sunbeam Talbot 90

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Sunbeam Talbot 90

1948 - 1954
United Kingdom
4 cyl.
2267cc (MkIIA)
70 bhp @ 4000 rpm
4 spd. MT
Top Speed:
90 mph
Number Built:
10,888 (MkIIA)
4 star
Sunbeam Talbot 90
Sunbeam Talbot 90
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


The Sunbeam Talbot 90 was launched in 1948 along with the smaller-engined Sunbeam-Talbot 80 but many features dated back to the pre war Sunbeam-Talbot 2 Litre. The body was completely new and available as a four-door saloon or two-door drophead coupe. The saloon featured a "pillarless" join between the glass on the rear door and the rear quarter window. The Sunbeam Talbot 90 went through three versions before the name was changed to Sunbeam MkIII (without "Talbot") in 1954. It was the last car to bear the Sunbeam-Talbot name.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkI 19481950

The original version had a 64 bhp (48 kW) 1944cc side-valve four-cylinder engine derived from a pre-war Humber unit carried over from the Sunbeam-Talbot 2-litre. The chassis was derived from the Ten model but with wider track and had beam axles front and rear and leaf springs. The brakes were updated to have hydraulic operation. Saloon and Drophead coupe bodies were fitted to the chassis and the rear wheel openings were covered by metal "spats". Around 4000 were made.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkII 19501952

The Mk II got a new chassis with independent front suspension using coil springs. The engine was enlarged to 2267cc. The increased engine block capacity was shared with the company's 1950 Humber Hawk, but in the cylinder head the Humber retained (until 1954) the old side-valve arrangement. The Sunbeam's cylinder head was changed to incorporate overhead valves, giving rise to a claimed power output of 70 bhp (52 kW), compared with only 58 bhp (43 kW) for the Humber.

The favourable power-to-weight ratio meant that the Talbot could be "geared quite high" and still provide impressive acceleration where needed for "quick overtaking". The front of the Talbot 90 body was modified; the headlights were higher and there were air inlet grilles on either side of the radiator. A Coupe version tested by The Motor magazine in 1952 had a top speed of 85.2 mph (137.1 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 20.2 seconds. A fuel consumption of 22.5 miles per imperial gallon (12.6 litres/100 km; 18.7 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1393 including taxes. 5493 were made.

Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkIIA 19521954

The Mk IIA had a higher compression engine raising output to 77 bhp (57 kW). To cater for the higher speeds the car was now capable of, the brakes were enlarged and to improve brake cooling the wheels were pierced. The Talbot MkIIA coupe/convertible is regarded as the rarest of the Sunbeam Talbots. The rear wheel spats were no longer fitted. One of the first impressions most motoring journalists had when looking over the Sunbeam was its pleasing shape. For most punters, the cars design was attractive and the well-balanced proportions gave it an air of solidity lacking in some contemporary cars from the era. At a time when car designers were finally taking aerodynamics seriously, the smooth flowing contours were seen to advantage in that wind noise was at a minimum at speed.

The Large "Four"

The power unit of the Sunbeam-Talbot was a large four cylinder with an 81 mm. bore and a stroke of 110 mm., giving an overall 2267cc. The overhead valve gear was quiet, and the low compression ratio of 6.45 to 1 was responsible for the complete absence of pinging. Maximum power was 70 bhp and was developed at 4000 r.p.m. Starting from cold was instantaneous due to the efficiency of the automatic choke mechanism - an early type that met with almost universal praise with owners who had previously struggled with the manual type. The gearing of the Sunbeam-Talbot was rather high, with the back end ratio at 3.90 to 1, but surprisingly enough top gear performance did not suffer as a result, it being possible to accelerate from 10-30 m.p.h. in just under 12 seconds.

The flexibility of the motor right throughout the power curve was a credit to Rootes engineers. Over 40 m.p.h. it was not essential to use the indirect gears to obtain enough "snap" when passing traffic on the open road and in an emergency a quick engagement of third gave outstanding acceleration up to 70 m.p.h. When travelling from A - B in the Sunbeam-Talbot it was a simple matter to clip many minutes off the usual time for the journey and many motoring journalists and road testers were left surprised at the comparative ease at which this feat could be accomplished by a 4-cylinder car. Around the city the Sunbeam-Talbot proved itself to be an ideal town car, being very docile and obedient. Acceleration through the gears was more than respectable, to 50 mph the "90" took only 13.4 seconds providing, of course, intelligent use was made of the gearbox (remember, this was a time you still had to "drive" a car, not simply navigate one).

Through The Gears

Gear changing held no problems as the synchromesh was efficient and the steering column gear lever was easy-to-hand and positive. First was in reality only an emergency gear, although it was capable of pulling the car to 27 m.p.h., and could be omitted altogether unless faced with an incline. If fast "take-off" was required there was no necessity to exceed 25 m.p.h. before dropping the lever down into second. In the latter gear, the Sunbeam spun its back wheels on a slightly damp surface for some distance and the power available was definitely out of the ordinary.

When you wound out to just over 40 mph third gear could then be selected and the car really began to wind-up, and after pulling the lever down into top at 70 mph speeds of up to 90 mph were possible. According to Autocar, "top speed held no terrors as the car was stable and the suspension eliminated any tendency for pitch or alarming motion when dips were encountered". The steering had more movement than was the norm for the early 1950s, however, once you became familiar with it, it would prove to be accurate enough - and we can find very little by way of owner feedback that notes the steering as a problem.

Behind The Wheel

On the open road and pushing the Sunbeam-Talbot hard, the car was found to be amazingly stable - it was after all a "Sports Saloon" - so its ability to corner with only slight body roll and under complete control was something that most would have expected. Ease of control was an important factor in a car built to be driven far and fast, and in those days devoid of so many of the safety and stability features we expect to find in a car today. Then as now, gravel road testing forms an important part of judging any car to be used in Australia. And the Sunbeam-Talbot 90 proved its worth - over bad roads the Sunbeam was steady with rough loose surfaces not causing any "tail-wag."

One Australian road tester was behind the wheel at night along the Hume Highway during a severe rain storm, and the road surface along some stretches being extremely treacherous, and they noted " ... both driver and passengers were not alarmed when holding 55 m.p.h." The driving position was excellent and the full set of instruments, including a water temperature gauge, were easily read through the steering wheel. Ash trays were provided in both front and rear and generous map pockets were located in the doors. The capacious glove pocket even had its own interior light

All-round vision was good and the rear seat passengers were seated slightly higher than the front occupants. The arrangement of the rear windows was characteristic of some American cars from the 1950s. The luggage compartment was not large, compared with modern trends, but the spare wheel was available without disturbing any baggage. The installation of an individual stowage for tools in the thickness of the locker lid was provided, and the small tools were accommodated in the scuttle alongside the front seat passenger. Summing up, one could say that the Sunbeam Talbot Mark IIA Sports Saloon was a high performance luxury car with the maximum of comfort for four, whether moving around the city or taking a swift trip up the country. A car out of the ordinary, and this car was very much out of the ordinary, was not cheap and the Sunbeam retailed in Australia for £1,532 (including tax) in 1953. 10,888 were made.

Sunbeam Mk III

From 1954 to 1957 the car continued, but without the Talbot name and was marketed as the Sunbeam MkIII and badged on the radiator shell as Sunbeam Supreme. The drophead coupe was not made after 1955. There were some minor styling changes to the front with enlarged air intakes on each side of the radiator shell and three small portholes just below each side of the bonnet near to the windscreen. Duo-tone paint schemes were also available. Engine power was increased to 80 bhp (60 kW) and overdrive became an option.

A Mk III tested by The Motor magazine in 1955 had a top speed of 93.6 mph (150.6 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 17.4 seconds. A fuel consumption of 22.1 miles per imperial gallon (12.8 L/100 km; 18.4 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £1191 including taxes. The main Rootes Group dealers in Leicester, Castles of Leicester, offered a conversion that moved the gearchange to the transmission tunnel, modified the cylinder head, fitted a bonnet air scoop and changed the way the boot lid opened. These models were not connected with the Sunbeam factory but are sometimes referred to as the Mk IIIS. Some 30-40 cars were modified. The revised gearchange was also offered as an after market accessory and was suitable for fitting to earlier models also. Approximately 2250 were made.
1953 Sunbeam Talbot 90
1953 Sunbeam Talbot 90
1953 Sunbeam Talbot 90

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Also see:

Sunbeam Car Brochures
Lost Marques: Sunbeam
The History of Sunbeam (USA Edition)
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