Blog : Chrysler 180 – were the British or French to blame?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Graham Ariss

Chrysler 160

I have reached the conclusion that, although the French are generally blamed for messing up the 160/180/2 Litre, this is a little unfair. I’ve arrived at this after talking with my Father, before his recent death, about his time at Rootes, Chrysler, Peugeot from 1968–1998. Most of his time was spent at Whitley, (an irony as that was his previous workplace as an apprentice and in the testing sheds at AWA before it was closed and sold to Chrysler), and he was pretty close to the company’s output throughout the years.

My Father’s view very much was that of the Whitley team that their baby was murdered by the French. Mind you, looking at how the car was orphaned at birth, I guess Simca team felt the same.

My logic is this:

Bodyshell

This is Rootes DNA. I understand that when the project became European it was all but finished and this can be seen with classic Rootes touches such as the bulge in the bulkhead for the heater as in the Arrow (Hillman Hunter) and Avenger.

Suspension

Again, I see this as Rootes because:

1) It was dictated by the bodyshell
2) MacPherson struts with a live axle and Panhard rod is the same solution used on its direct predecessor the Avenger Estate
3) It’s unlike anything Simca had done with the 1500 and 1100
4) When the Simca was leading the Tagora programme, it went for the classic wishbone with torsion bars until Peugeot made them use 505 components.

Powertrain

The French have to take the blame here. True, there would have been a UK V6, but I think this was for Sunbeam and Humber only and the logical solution for the Hillman was the big (what became known as the Brazillian) block 1800cc version of the Avenger engine.

Noting that it was the pre-Fuel Crisis era, the closeness in size of the Avenger to the Arrow and that the Arrow was a stopgap car – the Avenger killed the 1500 Arrow, it would make sense that the Hillman 1800 (Super Avenger?) to replace the Arrow 1725. It would make sense, as I understand, that the planned gearbox for the car was a four-/five-speed high torque development of the alloy Avenger ‘box. Hence, the end package was probably not far away from what would have been the Hillman version.

Interior

This usually falls on the French, but I think by the time the car was moved to Europe the interior was very much a done deal while Whitley, of course, took the lead with the Alpine interior that followed. I think it has a lot more Rootes DNA.

Looking at it, it does have a lot of similarities with the Mk1 highline Avenger interior and also has hints of the facelifted Arrow interior. Some details like the door locking mechanism are very Rootes-ish but, then again, indicator stalks are of Simca design. My conclusion is that this is something that was started in Whitley then finished off with what they had in the Simca parts bin in France.

The end product was still essentially what the Hillman customer would have got, but I guess with those Avenger Mk1 drum-like column switches.

Conclusion

With the investment from Chrysler, Rootes planned to replace the stopgap Arrow with two mid-market cars as it had had before. The first was the Avenger and the second was what we came to call the Chrysler 180, but with a British drivetrain. The Sceptre/Rapier high line Arrows being covered off by a V6 2.0-litre and 2.4-Litre. Remember this was pre-Fuel Crisis and would have not been an out of place move as Ford sized up with the Cortina Mk3.

What we got with the Chrysler 180 was very much the Hillman version, with a French powertrain. Had Whitley set up the chassis, I guess it would have been a little firmer and have tighter handling, as was the British taste. The engine would have been simpler and less powerful, but with a better gear change and probably an option of a fifth gear. Overall, though, the end product would be neither much better, nor worse, than the French effort.

Would it have succeeded? Probably not – it may have sold better, as it would have had the attention of the UK business but, as with the Avenger, Chrysler’s cost cutting would have limited quality and, in particular rustproofing. Poor productivity at the factory, the short-lived fashion of its American styling and, finally, the recession following the Fuel Crisis would have all but killed it in the market by the mid-1970s…

A shame, but there you go, the opposition was just too strong.

25 Comments

  1. Would that be Steve Cropley from my old friends at CAR Magazine in the driving seat?
    If my memory serves me correctly ( and I honestly haven’t looked this up for 20 years or more) didn’t they slate it completely?
    I drove one just the once and remember thinking it was like a tub of lard – possibly one of the most uninspiring conveyances of all time. Now I see them at classic car shows and get all emotional and remember them fondly – such is the passage of time.
    When we were at the NEC last weekend, I was talking to a chap about the Mk 5 Cortina. We were getting all nostalgic about its ‘proper three box’ car shape and commenting on the very civilised interior (apart from the horrible
    Maroon velour seats). We were both about the same age and suddenly drew ourselves up by our bootlaces – what were we talking about? The Mk 5 Cortina was an adequate car but quite uninspiring and already long in the tooth. They were criticised for being noisy, cramped in the rear, thirsty and having poor (ergonomically) seats.
    Such is the passage of time. Have I said that before?

  2. @2 Looks like a Car magazine picture, I recalll all group road tests came with a set of pictures of the cars taking a corner on the limit. I spent the early 80’s thinking the only way to take a corner in a VW was with the inside rear wheel in the air.

  3. One point I forgot to say in the blog was that the Arrow, Avenger and what became the 180 was only expected to have a production life of 4 to 5 years before being reskinned.
    However lack of cash meant they lived on more than twice their planned life just as with the Marina.
    We should then judge the 180 as an early 70’s car only.
    Still was not good enough, I doubt a V6 and a bit of wood in Humber version would have made it much better.

  4. The Humber Hawk version would have been interesting with a V6 and 5 speed gearbox. I guess it would have replaced the Humber Sceptre as there was too much overlap. Instead the Arrow range limped on until 1979 and Rootes group died a painful death.

  5. The car would have made a logical Arrow replacement had it been targeted as such. After all its Avenger-esque styling was as per the Mark 3 Cortina whereas in the end, the Hunter limped on until 1979 with a body that bore an amazing resemblance to a Mark 2 Cortina which was phased out in 1970.

    As it turned out the car occupied the same space as the Vauxhall Victor & Austin 1800 upon its launch, cars which were both stuck between two stools size & engine wise & failed to come of age with its two litre engine since the aforementioned cars had upped the game by introducing 2.3 & 2.2 litre version respectively.

    Ironically the introduction of a two litre engine may have alienated Hunter owners who would previously have considered a 180 since the larger engine may have made them think that the car was a tad larger than they wanted.

  6. Don’t think the badge engineering was tenable with the Chrysler UK / Europe models compared to simply being badged as Chryslers, also despite the problems Chrysler had at the time it could be argued that the cost-cutting and lack of investment are largely to blame for the demise of Chrysler UK / Europe.

    The Chrysler 180 could have probably made more of an impact against its established rivals had they gone for the Bertone styling proposal as well as featuring 3-door Coupe and 5-door Estate bodystyles, plus 1.8 Brazilian block 4-cylinder and 2.0-2.5 V6 engines with 5-speed gearbox.

  7. Have never been in one but have the “Motor” road tests from the 1970s for them, even then they were quite conservative about the car (Later dubbed “Nice engines Shame about the Car !”). Chrysler were who were outright owners of Simca from 1963 and would acquire the Former Rootes Group by 1970 had been on a slight role with the last few launches (Hunter 66/67, Simca 1100 67 and the Avenger 1970 which in most road tests came out the better car than equivalent Mk1 Escort at the time). With Chrysler Money Both Manufacturers knew what their customers wanted … (both were kept apart until the 180).

    However outside their home market they were slow sellers, Chrysler brought them together for their Big car, In the Graham Robson Book of Rootes Group from memory The UK were to design the Body and Simca the engineering, who were alleged to be quite protective of their version (interior looks to be Simca’s work) But somehow just like the Ford mk3 Cortina with Ford UK and Ford Germany working together It was Heavily influenced by Americanism, Which is strange because as far as I know it was never exported to the US.

    Styling wise it still has a distinctive rear end but a rather anonymous side stance in a larger Avenger sort of style, As mentioned it had a strange overall length making it too large for a Cortina class and too small for the Granada class, Its Odd dimensions could be because the 1.6 engine was used for Tax reasons in France?.

    But back in the 1970s the whole Chrysler Europe range was a bit of a mess, The UK had rear engined Imp with all alloy engine (875 ohc) Avenger ( 1.2/1.3-1.5/1.6 ohv) Hunter (1.5-1.7 ohv not related to Avenger). Simca were slightly more organised with the Type 315 ohv engine (of Fiat origin) from 777 right up to 1.6 (eventually used in Horizon and Alpine and Peugeot 309) But like Rootes Rear engined 1000, Hatchback front wheel drive 1100 and 1301/1501 rear wheel drive (Hunter rival quite loved but not many sold in UK), 160/180/2 litre models feature new OHC engines.

    So with 5 different design engines up to 1.6, possibly 7 different Gearboxes, and 7 different platforms.( Though no worse than BL…) The fault must lie with Chrysler.

  8. Forgot to say as mentioned in post 8 It could of been an eventual replacement for the Hunter as there isn’t much difference in length from the Avenger. (At the 180 launch the Hunter was 4 years old, (like the mk2 Cortina) but as its Chrysler I think unlikely to be completely replaced by the 180.).

  9. dontbuybluemotion

    It is kind of a pity that the Rootes Group / Chrysler UK were never able to develop the 875cc OHC Imp engine into a proper 1000cc or put the planned Coventry Climax 1220cc FWE-based 1250/1500/1750cc OHC engine family into production in the Avenger and Hunter in place of the two existing OHV engine families (instead of the stillborn Rootes Swallow), the 1500-1750cc eventually being developed to power the Chrysler 180 at the lower-end.

  10. Nate

    The Imp engine was enlarged to 998 and was a factory order for the Rally Spec Imps from 65 onwards, (I think the engine could still be ordered from Peugeot Talbot Dealers right up to the early 1980s, (Talbot Competitions Department) it was possibly stopped when Linwood Closed/ Sunbeam was discontinued) These Engines were “depending on tune” could develop over 100 BHP, though according to some only lasted a few races when they needed rebuilding.

    The Imp Rally was a Factory conversion on the Imp Super/Singer Chamois or Sunbeam Imp Sport at I think around £200 on top of which ever Imp you Bought asking price. The Rally Imp conversion only lasted a few years and not many made (I think? ) There was also the 928 engine originally designed for the Imp Automatic that never got past the Development stage, but eventually found its way into the Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam.

    When the Imp was conceived it was meant to be an economy small engined car, However by the time of Launch (63) The Mini had already progressed to Cooper S Spec (1275) The Imp with one engine didn’t really stand a chance, even though according to some the 998 Imp could wipe the floor with The Coopers (once up to revs !).

    Yes I’m sure The Imp would of stood a better chance had there been more engines available, at least up to 1300, The 1200 Climax unit sounds good but was expensive and quite a Heavy unit (though still light for its size) It may have upset the Handling? Also The Gearbox would need strengthening (The Simca 1000 was available up to 1300, apparently a Scary Beast in corners and not the best of gear change, but could of been used), However the two cars were never amalgamated, you get the Impression Chrysler couldn’t be bothered with them .

    Chrysler did move in Mysterious ways, handing over money for Rootes to develop the Avenger Engine and Simca the 180 type Engines, (as far as I know was a decent lump but a few on this website have stated Valve Gear damage) perhaps they were meant to replace the existing units but somehow they never did. Bit like BL with the Triumph OHV, Slant 4, E/R/S series, O series, A series etc.

  11. dontbuybluemotion

    The stillborn FWE-based 1250-1750cc OHC Swallow project engines would have probably powered the likes of the Avenger, Hunter, 180, maybe the Simca 1100 (in 1500/1750cc form) and possibly the Sunbeam or some other car to replace both the Imp and Simca 1000.

    At best, the Imp could have probably been powered by the 1250cc unit as a range-topper above the existing 875/928/998cc engines as well as spawned other Fiat 850-aping/based variants (like the 4-door Fiat 850 Lucciola Francis Lombardi or Fiat 850 Spider) beyond the existing Rootes Asp sportscar and forward control van / minibus project (partly inspired by the Fiat 900 van), the latter mentioned in Apex – The Inside Story of the Hillman Imp.

    Btw, where I find information on the Imp 928 Automatic project?

    As for the Simca Type 180 engine it might have been more useful in 2.0-2.2 forms in-between the 1750cc Swallow and 2.5 V6 engines with the 1500-1750cc Swallow engines taking over from the 1.6-1.8 Simca Type 180 units.

    While hindsight is a wonderful thing, Rootes / Chrysler UK did potentially have a competitive engine line-up that under better circumstances and continued development could have possibly seen Chrysler UK / Europe through to the late-80s instead of the existing Avenger / Hunter OHV units.
    Hillman Imp units: 875-998cc
    Rootes Swallow units: 1250-1750cc
    Chrysler 180 60-degree V6 units: 2000-2500cc

  12. 180 only half a 360? they should have called it the 720…especially in the wet..I never liked the (toxic) avengers alex

  13. Nate

    You have to remember that the Rootes Brothers money was running out at an alarming rate! The purchase of Singer in 1955 (roughly when the Apex was started) had cost them dearly but with little gain, 1959 The Mini and Ford Anglia took most of Rootes Minx customers, Also The Bedford TK stole most of the Commer QX sales along with the lucrative Army contracts (The real profit from the Group), Then in 1961 The Rootes owned British light Pressings Strike had nearly Bankrupted them, The Minx replacement (Super Minx) in 1961 was hardly a sales success so The existing Minx was kept in production, 1962 The Ford Cortina and BMC 1100 left only a handful of sales to dedicated Rootes customers, by 1963 with a huge Debt building up, The Imp really was the last throw of the Dice.

    If The Imp had been a success and you can see by the Swallow, they really thought their nightmares were going to be over, then it was possible Rootes could have a range of Climax based engines (At Linwood they even built an Aluminium Die Casting Plant, Rootes unlikely to have spent millions for just one engine…but it ended up that way) Sadly The Money ran out, In 1964 Chrysler Steps in with a major stake.

    In 1963 Vauxhall launch the ever so normal Viva, which had just as nice gearbox (reverse is easier to find) it handled OK (ride was something else) but was totally conventional so anyone could fix it, was cheap to build and made lots of money for GM, it managed to sell nearly as much in 4 years as the whole Imp production in 13 years. The HB would double those sales again, The Viva helped push Rootes from 3rd biggest in UK to 4th or 5th behind Triumph.

    Looking through History BMW who were building Bubble cars were in a mess 1960 ish, They made a decision to make sporting saloon cars at over the top prices… They have never looked back since ! With Hindsight I would have done the same, by pushing the Imp upmarket, calling it a “sports model” and using the 1.2 climax engine as the base model but fitting bigger engines (Climax had a brilliant 1.5 V8) and giving it Minx prices (if the Imp was slightly bigger, although there isn’t as much legroom in a Minx as you would think). And as much as I am fascinated by the rear engine layout, It would have to be front engined for sensible reasons, though it could still have used the modified rear transaxle (like 1970s Alfa’s /Porsche 924/928), but this is just my Mad ideas.

    The Imp Auto used an off the shelf Gearbox as used in Simca 1000 and Renault rear engined cars, It was wasn’t the best so was abandoned, The Imp Club actually has one of those Auto Gearbox’s but as yet never been fitted.

    The stillborn V6 unit was (allegedly) a reverse copy from the Ford Essex ? This was to get around the copyright from Ford, bit like the Austin 7 engine and the Reliant engine, internally all parts are interchangeable, So it would have been 2.3 or 3.0, or 2.5 from the Zephyr ? Perhaps Ford found out and made Chrysler rip out all of the Tooling? We may never know.

  14. Those space robbing seats which were super comfortable, fitted straight into the Avenger and robbed even more space! I stripped the velour off the 2-litre rear seat too, sewed up the arm-rest and trimmed the rear seats of my avenger so that they matched. Imperial red Avenger with an orange velour interior… only in the 80’s.

  15. Reading the comments above its important to note that once Chrysler started to invest the plans had changed. The Avenger was a new start, a simple but well engineered car designed to be built across the world. Not only was it to go head to head with the European products from Ford and GM, but also fight the emerging Japanese products who were starting to make progress in EFTA and South American markets.

    The 180 was the logical next step sitting above the Avenger, however they fell into the same trap as BL of trying to cover off more than one market segment with the intentions of replacing not only the Hunter and Sceptre but also the Hawk so the end product was too big for the markets taste.

    The Hunter and Imp had no place in the Chrysler plan, the Hunter would go once the Avenger and the bigger car arrived. The Imp never made any money, I think it was only still being built because killing would have cost a lot more in lost Hunter sales from the industrial actions which would have followed. I would imagine both the Imp and Arrow lines would have been moved over to Avenger production and the bigger car going to Ryton.

    However it all went wrong for Chrysler UK, continued industrial problems and high losses made them merge Roots and Simca starting with the two manufacturers large car plans. As the Simca was a smaller car, one can wonder what if it had been the French body with the UK powertrain.

  16. @17 I think you make a good point about BMW moving up market as I think Chrysler made an error to go head to head with Ford and GM in Europe. Both Roots and Simca products were a cut above the Ford and Renault products in their home markets. I think they would never have been able to achieve the volumes to be competitive.

    When they decided to do a clean sheet car in Europe, the result being the Avenger, they should have taken the opportunity to go for something more upmarket and sophisticated. Talking to my Father he recalled that there was a big push from the European management to make the Alpine a competitor with the Passat and Lancia Beta with twin cam engines and 5 speed gear box. But Chrysler American management based in Europe on short term expat contracts wanted quick pay back so took the cheapest route of stretching the 1100 oliy bits.

  17. So… It was Chryslers fault then? Ex-pat managers after a quick bonus? Rootes>Talbot reads like a private-sector mirror image of BL!
    Rootes were bust and in many ways incompetent. The Rootes pitch of selling ritzy cars that were a cut above Ford and BMC worked until Ford did their Anglia and GM the Viva.

    It appears that Rootes didn’t know how to design and build a small-medium cheap car? Looking at the Audax Minxes and Rapiers they are pretty much hand built compared to 1960’s Fords and Vauxhalls.
    No money to refit a factory so in came Chrysler. Now, some say and with good reason that Chrysler were the victim rather than the villan. Rootes Bros’ seen a way of dumping a decade of under-investment on to a larger corporation.

    So if I have gotten this correct, Chryslers plan for Rootes was to build two new cars. The Avenger was a moderate hit, the C180 was not. There is much talk of the mixture of Rootes and Simca in the C180. The end result was the Hillman body with a Simca engine? The V6 was dropped and so the development of the C180 was aborted, hit and hope at launch I guess.

    As some say, if the Hillman 1800 was to be the C180 with a brazilian blocked Avenger engine with a 5-speed box’ instead of the Simca developed OHC unit it got then who exactly made the decision to invest $$$$$’s on the Simca OHC units development?
    Seems to me that Chrysler wasted a lot of money developing the Simca OHC only to be used in the C180 and then wasted more money in dropping the V6 so late in its gestation.

    Was the elephant in the Chrysler Europes sitting room circa 1969/70 the observation that instead of developing a Simca OHC and a new V6, how much more cost effective would it have been to take the (then) new Avenger engine all the way to alloy headed OHC. The Avenger engine was apparently designed with this in mind.
    What difference could that decision alone have made!?
    An OHC 1500cc Avenger at launch with a 5-speed ‘box option. 1250ohv 4-speed as the base option.
    The Hillman 1800, OHC & 5-speed. Sunbeam 2000 with better frontal styling. Assuming also a better chassis then Ford and GM would have something to worry about.

    Something really stinks about Chrysler management at the time. How to waste lots of money rapidly!

  18. IIRC Ford cried foul over the V6’s claiming they were knock-offs of the Essex units, or is that an urban myth?

    Was it a case of “jobs for the boys” to have a separate range built at Poissy rather than attempt to do more with the Avenger block?

  19. The “180 engine” lived on for quite a while after the car disappeared. In the Tagora GL/GLS in 2.2L form, the Matra Murena in 2.2 again 118/142BHP also PTS(Peugeot Talbot Sport)added a turbo to make the 505 Turbo, 200Bhp on tap… The chrysler 180 was a dreadful car, any way you look at/drive it, it seems that Chrysler didn’t have a grip on the European business. It took too long to try and harmonise UK-France ranges of cars, the Simca 1100 engine should have been replaced by the 1250cc from the Sunbeam, this should also have been put under the 1307/8-Alpine bonnet, to avoid the joke these cars became later in their life. No wonder Peugeot SA rationalise and killed what was left of the Rootes-Chrysler “legacy” ASAP. It was a shamble, it’s hard to believe that Chrysler tenure failed to really rationalise the ranges across Europe after 15 years there. Anyhow, Linwood is a shopping centre, don’t know about Ryton but I guess it is also, as for Poissy, it’s due to close, China is the next place…
    Just like MG!

  20. As far as the UK is concerned, the 180 suffered the same fate as the Victor FE and Princess. Too big to compete properly with the Cortina and too small to rival the Granada. (sadly for these same manufacturers the Avenger, Viva and Marina committed the same sin in relation to the Escort and Cortina). Limited engine and trim options compounded the problem and killed the car stone dead.

  21. @ Paul, I think the 180 was aimed at the upper end of the Cortina market, or maybe pitched against the Vauxhall Victor( which was a 1.8 as well after 1971), both of which had grown in size since the sixties, with the Victor FD being a whole size above its predecessor. Family cars were becoming bigger, drivers demanded bigger engines and better performance, and there was a boom in new car sales when the 180 was launched in 1972.
    The car could have done better if it was made in Britain, badged as a Humber as Chrysler meant almost nothing at the time, and maybe seen as a replacement for the big Humbers that had been scrapped in 1967. Giving the 180 more luxurious trim, better front end treatment and a tad more performance could have made this car sell. Instead we got a French built car with a little known badge, a front end as dull as a Viva and only one trim option.

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