The cars : Chrysler 180 development story

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Chrysler 180 encapsulated the confusion, lack of direction and failure to invest in good products that ultimately brought the humiliation of the mighty Chrysler Corporation offloading its European operations to the family-run firm Peugeot for a single dollar.

It was a car that could have been a contender, but instead it lost every battle it ever fought. As did Chrysler Europe…


Chrysler 180: the executive white elephant

The Chrysler takeover of Rootes in the UK had interesting effects. In the UK the effects of Chrysler’s injection of money could be seen everywhere.

One employee said that the immediate difference between before and during Chrysler’s ownership was that wages went up straight away. The same could be seen in the company’s facilities which were soon to include a brand new design centre at Whitley, just outside Coventry.

On the one hand, Chrysler executives ensconced themselves on the board, but on the other hand the Americans decided to leave the matter of running the company to the British.

It was a similar situation to the Rover Group in the aftermath of the BMW takeover in 1994: more money but little pressure for any fundamental changes in the way the company operated. It was not a perfect arrangement, by any means. There was the niggling matter of what to do about the relationship with Simca and how the two companies were to be integrated to form an effective Anglo-French alliance.

Chrysler completes Simca takeover

Across the channel, in May 1970, Chrysler appointee Harry E. Chesebrough replaced Gwain H. Gillespie as the head of Simca. As of 1 July 1970, Simca, like Rootes, no longer existed as an independent company. Since acquiring 64% of Simca in 1963, Chrysler now held 99.4% of shares.

The company was now, logically renamed Chrysler France, and lost forever its autonomy. The name Simca was removed from the front of the factory and the individual letters, S. I. M. C. A. on the cars began to be replaced with a single, smaller rectangular badge.

The first faltering step towards achieving the goal of an Anglo-French branch of the American Chrysler company was the development of Chrysler Europe’s new executive car. The C Car, as it was called, would be a replacement for the Humber Hawk in the UK and a re-entry into this market sector for Simca after a long hiatus from producing big cars.

How to build a range-topping Chrysler

At the end of the 1960s, the top-of-the-range Simca was the 1301/1501, by then seven years old. In Britain, since the demise of the big Humbers in 1967, half-hearted attempts had been made to provide a range-topper with imported Australian Chrysler Valiants.

For the first time, Simca and Rootes were brought closer together by Chrysler management, who felt that shared development would be the way forwards for the company. However, the C car project did not start out this way.

In 1966, Rootes set out on its C Car project, which as Roy Axe, Head of Design at Rootes described was a logical scaling up of the B Car (Hillman Avenger) concept. In France, Simca was working on its own large car called Projet 929 (below). As Roy Axe recalls: ‘At the time Simca was working on a similar project and this was being imputed by the Detroit styling office. There were also inputs to the French project by Bertone’.


Projet 929: Simca’s failed attempts at a new large car

Following Chrysler’s takeover of Simca, it was decided that either Projet 929 or Whitley’s C Car project would become Chrysler Europe’s definitive large car. In the end, Chrysler’s management decided that the British effort was the preferable option and so cancelled Projet 929.

However, the engineering of C Car was taken over by the French, which alienated Rootes Engineers anyway. Simca Engineers had also been alienated by the cancellation of Projet 929 in the first place…

Projet 929 Styling proposals

929 XA: SIMCA's in-house style was pleasing, if a little anonymous... overtones of PSA's later Peugeot 604 perhaps?
929 XA: SIMCA’s in-house style was pleasing, if a little anonymous… overtones of PSA’s later Peugeot 604 perhaps?

929 XB: This was Bertone's effort - a derivative design, but quite pleasing and characterful nontheless.
929 XB: The Bertone proposal for SIMCA’s ill-fated Projet 929: the style may have had some BMW influences, but the engineering would have been all-French. In the end, this and two other proposals (for Projet 929) were passed over in favour of Whitley’s C Car.

929 XC: Chrysler Detroit's proposal represented a simple downscale of current American thinking...
929 XC: Chrysler Detroit’s proposal represented a simple downscale of current American thinking…

However, when Chrysler reviewed the situation, it decided that it was a bad situation to have both concerns develop competing cars. The C Car’s programme was a first for Chrysler Europe. While there may have been differing requirements from both companies, there was enough common ground for collaboration to be worthwhile.

In early 1969, the British and French design teams presented their proposals to the senior men in Chrysler Europe. The Brits showed a fully-specified and costed car, but the French kept the details secret, simply saying that: ‘ours is cheaper and better’. Senior management chose to cancel the French project in favour of the UK’s C Car proposal but with two versions – one for France and one for Britain. With that settled, Chrysler delegated the detailed development of the new car.

The American Dream Comes to Ryton…

In 1969, Rootes/Chrysler bought a new plant in Whitley on the outskirts of Coventry and progressively moved all research and development from Humber Road into this new facility. The Research Centre’s staff first major project was the styling and development of the C Car.

As a Rootes product, the C Car was to have become three cars – a basic Hillman version, a sporting 2.0-litre Sunbeam to be known as the Sunbeam 2000 and a top of the line 2500cc Humber Hawk which would sit at the top of the Rootes range. The Humber marque was reasonably well established as a luxury brand thanks to the reputation of the Super Snipe and Hawk models, produced from 1957 until early 1967.

There was also a proposal to extend the range further, stretching the C Car floor pan to form a D Car, which would have been a high-flying replacement for the Super Snipe. Styling ideas for the D Car were produced by Roy Axe, but the project was canned in 1970.

Rootes V6 engine planned

A new 60-degree 2000 and 2500cc V6 engine was developed by the British for the car and the plan was for the V6-powered C Car to be produced in the UK as well as France. However, on the other side of the channel, ‘Big Sixes’ were not financially acceptable in a market that taxed cars by engine capacity and power, so there was no need for this engine in France.

A Simca designed four-cylinder would be the order of the day over there. Four 2500cc prototype Humber Hawks were built to evaluate the project as a whole. The V6 engine was also tested in Avenger bodyshells, which were extremely rapid but a tad prone to understeer!

British thoughts of fitting a de Dion rear suspension system a la Rover 2000 were abandoned in favour of a coil sprung live rear axle, but MacPherson strut front suspension and four-wheel disc brakes did make it through to the final production car. The five-speed gearbox fell by the wayside too.

Chrysler 180: Shaped in Coventry

At the new Whitley design centre, the shape progressed. First thoughts included four headlamps and a full width rear lighting assembly. Like the B Car (Avenger), the shape was almost pure Detroit, and the cars looked quite similar.

That was down to the influence of Roy Axe: ‘I was Director Design Chrysler UK then and the boss was Gilbert Hunt (now deceased). The Project Designer was Curt Gwinn, who I had hired in. He was a Chrysler USA Designer but not at the time I hired him so he was a genuine UK employee not a transferee. Curt never went back to the USA. He worked for me for quite a time and eventually became the designer in charge of advanced projects for Peugeot in France.’

In early 1970, Chrysler Europe decided to refocus the C Car and have just one version, built in France, for both markets. It retained its UK-styling, but was given a Simca-styled front end. The interior also became the responsibility of Simca. The Rootes flavour of the car was watered down as Simca developed the car.

Ditching the wood inside Chrysler 180

Interior was awash with 1970s vinyl, pleats, velour, fake wood and questionable browns...
Interior was awash with 1970s vinyl, pleats, velour, fake wood and questionable browns…

Real wood trim in the cabin, leather seats and air conditioning were all among the casualties. This was a pattern that would be followed in later years with the C6 (Chrysler Alpine) and C2 (Chrysler Horizon) programmes, although at the time of the C Car the UK operation continued to have considerable engineering input.

The biggest shock, though, was the decision to drop the British-designed V6 engine. According to Graham Robson’s book, The Cars of the Rootes Group: ‘Design was complete and development well on the way, with dozens of prototypes running when, suddenly, at the beginning of 1970, the British end of the project was cancelled. Tooling already being installed at Humber Road for production of the V6 engine was ripped out. The Simca-engined car was launched later in 1970’.

Management regrets over V6

Of the £38m set aside to develop the V6 engine, £31m had been spent when the engines were cancelled and the tools and jigs at the Stoke engine plant in Coventry ripped out and either scrapped or converted for other projects.

In 1975, Harry Sheron, Chrysler Europe’s Head of Engineering, who had been the top Rootes Engineer in 1969, told Autocar: ‘Personally, I am very sorry that the V6 engine was not used. It was a good, smooth, economical, compact unit which could have changed the image of the C7, the Chrysler 180, and made it an even more up market car.’

This was seen as an indication of Chrysler’s increasing unease with the UK operation’s inability to turn a profit. It was also a sad end to the Rootes Group’s successful involvement in the UK’s large car market but, more than that, it proved a hammer-blow to the UK workforce’s and management’s morale, as they saw that the UK operation was being passed over in favour of Poissy.

Launched in Paris…

When the Chrysler 180 range was initially launched in France it met with apathy from most elements of the press. That is not to say that it was a bad car. Technically it may not have excited, but it was up-to-date.

The Chrysler 160, Chrysler 160GT and Chrysler 180 were introduced at the Paris Salon in October 1970. They were promoted as being ‘an American from Paris’, and had been known inside Chrysler France as the Simca 1800 project and replaced the Simca 1501 as well as taking the company back into the luxury sector for the first time since the Vedette went out of production a decade before.

All had four-cylinder engines with transistorized ignition and an overhead camshaft. Performance didn’t set any records but they were comfortable and robust cars. However, they succeeded in European markets primarily thanks to a rather competitive pricing structure!

The 160 – which was in France’s 9CV taxation band – came with a 1639cc, 80bhp motor and had a top speed of 155km/h. Brakes were discs up front, drums out back. The 160GT and the 180 shared an 1812cc 97bhp motor and a top speed of 170km/h. The former was effectively a larger-engined version of the slightly less well-trimmed 160.


Restyling the Chrysler 180: Post-launch proposals

Soon after its launch, Whitley went about producing a restyle scheme; here are pictures of two coupe proposals and a saloon facelift. None of these saw the light of day…


Taxed right for France

Both 1812cc cars were in the 10CV taxation class and had four wheel disc brakes. Transmission was to the back wheels with a choice of four-speed manual or three-speed automatic gearboxes. Front suspension was by MacPherson struts with rack-and-pinion steering. Rear suspension was by a coil sprung live rear axle.

The British launch followed in early 1971 with just the 180 being offered to British buyers. Chrysler’s very public pull-out of the British end of the C Car did not endear it to commentators, who were still very capable of treating British and ‘foreign’ cars in a totally different way in print.

French journalists, too, confirmed that the new car was not a car for keen drivers although, for the long distance motorist, cruising along the autoroutes of Europe, it was a comfortable and relaxing way to travel.

In Motor magazine, Jerry Sloniger came away guarded after giving the 160 and 180 a thrashing at the Montlhery: ‘…the finest feature of this new engine, [was] its very real ability to wind high and sing.’ He continued: ‘It is elastic from 1500 to 6000, an advantage with a sticky gearshift; second proved particularly difficult to find in a hurry. Handling, as mentioned, was never meant for a soaked race track. Not even radial tyres could properly control strong understeer into the bends and read-wheel breakaway despite an eggshell treading throttle foot. Steering is fortunately precise enough to catch the incipient spin…’

…then sunk in London

In France the new Chrysler-Simca did not sell well at all. The Simca 1501 had remained in production for export markets to use up the stocks of parts, but was eventually re-introduced into France in 1974 due to poor Chrysler 160/180 sales! In Britain, the sales story was even worse – it sank without a trace.

At the end of 1972, Chrysler added some pretty chrome strips at the base of the side panes and round the wheel arches. A new type of snap-in metal trim surrounded the windshield and rear window. The power of the Chrysler 180 was increased slightly to 100bhp.

Range extended to 2.0 litres

UK Spec Chrysler 2-Litre: the auto-only flagship was hampered in the UK by a number of factors, not least its lack of UK kudos, a non-prestigious badge and 'anonymous' styling.
UK-spec Chrysler 2-Litre: the auto-only flagship was hampered in the UK by a number of factors, not least its lack of UK kudos, a non-prestigious badge and ‘anonymous’ styling

For the 1973 model year, the Chrysler 2-Litre was introduced at the Amsterdam Auto Show in 1972, in Brussels in January 1973 and to the lucky Brits in April 1973. This luxurious car was available only with Chrysler’s American Torque-Flite automatic transmission and had a full length vinyl roof and spot lights as standard equipment.

It had a 1981cc, 110hp engine and could hit 107mph. Wheel size was one inch bigger than the 180 at 14in. A small logo ‘2L’ on the rear quarter panel was also added to help people know that the car was indeed the top line European Chrysler. At the same time the 160 and 180 (the 160GT having disappeared), inherited the same wheels and hubcaps as the 2-Litre. The vinyl roof became an option for the smaller cars.

In 1977, the Chrysler 180 and the Chrysler 2-Litre – by then built in Spain – became the Chrysler-Simca 1610 and the Chrysler-Simca 2-Litre and, for the first time, the Simca badge appeared on the boot lid. However, the Pentastar of Chrysler replaced the logos ‘160, ‘180’ or ‘2L’ on the grille.

Model evolution: a case of very little

The Chrysler 160 1600cc model became the 1609, had a twin-barrel carburettor to up power to 90bhp. The new model numbers associated with Chrysler’s French products at this time were based on a simple formula. The first two digits corresponded with the engine size of the smallest car in any given range. The second two numbers were the real taxation class given the car by the French authorities.

Taxation class was largely based upon engine size. The 1610, which replaced the 180, inherited the equipment of the 2-Litre, including the vinyl roof and long-range driving lamps. However, the 2-Litre automatic did not change its name!

And for the British market the 1610 remained the 180… All were equipped with Chrysler’s points free electronic ignition system which was about the biggest single mechanical change made to the car throughout its long and undistinguished life!

Chrysler’s European death throes

By 1978, Chrysler was facing a financial meltdown and decided to retrench to its American homeland. It wanted to get rid of its troublesome European operations as soon as possible.

The British end was only surviving thanks to state aid and the French end, while healthier, just wasn’t big enough to succeed against European giants such as Fiat and Volkswagen.

Lots of informal negotiations took place with a multitude of European manufacturers with the French Renault and Peugeot (who had just bought Citroën in 1974) companies being the most interested. Their interest was encouraged by the French Government which didn’t like the idea of the Poissy firm being sold to a foreign buyer. Renault, which had just acquired American Motors Corporation (and who unloaded it in 1987 to Chrysler!) dropped out which left the winner as Peugeot.

From the new world to the old world…

On 10 May 1978, an agreement was signed which stated: ‘the Chrysler Corporation transfers all of its interests in its European operations to Peugeot Societe Anonyme. Peugeot paid one dollar for the mammoth American automaker’s entire European operations. That did, of course, include all the debts and liabilities that went with it. It also included one or two assets…

  • Factories in Coventry, Scotland, France and Spain
  • The Sunbeam, Horizon, Avenger, Alpine and Solara models
  • An image with all the prestige and fizz of a bingo hall.
  • And plans for Chrysler Europe’s new executive car…

On 10 August 1978, Chrysler formally transferred all interests in Europe to PSA and, on 1 January 1979, the Americans packed up and left Ryton and Poissy. The Directors of Chrysler France were now completely French, presided over by Francors Pessin Pellefier, a Peugeot man since 1968. The British end retained some British Directors.

On 10 July 1979, it was announced in France that: ‘Chrysler Europe shall become the Talbot Groupe and that all Chrysler-Simca models (which controlled 11% of the French market) will become Talbot-Simcas’. In Britain, the name change to Talbot was announced at the same time.

In 1979, in France the 1610 received the 1981cc motor with manual transmission. It was not renamed the 1611 which strictly speaking is what should have happened as the bigger engine moved it up into the 11CV tax band. In Britain the 2-Litre was from then on offered with the option of manual or automatic gearbox.

Model contractions ready for the Tagora

The 180 was quietly dropped. During 1979 and 1980 there was some extremely limited ‘restyling’ of the Chrysler. The chrome side trims became thicker and got rubber inserts. The grille had only two chrome strips and the hub caps were replaced by a simplified style.

On 1 January 1980, Chrysler France formally changed its name to Automobiles Talbot and the Chrysler-Simca 1610 and the Chrysler-Simca 2-Litre finally changed to Talbot-Simca. A Talbot badge appeared on the bonnet, but the Chrysler pentastar remained in the centre of the grille!

Six months later, for the 1981 model year the name Simca was permanently abandoned in France in favour of Talbot. In Britain, the car remained a Chrysler, staying listed as such until it was finally dropped from the price lists in the spring of 1981 when its replacement the Tagora lined up on the starting blocks…

The cars : Chrysler Centura development story

Born to die…

Throughout the ten-year life of the 180 series, there seemed to be no policy to develop or support the car. No effort was made to improve or update its equipment to keep pace with the market. Whereas the Chrysler Alpine/Simca 1307 gained electric windows, central locking and an indicator lamp for the hand brake, the supposedly more upmarket 180 got none of this. This negligence and absence of promotion gave the impression that the 180 was an orphan from the beginning.

The French thought it wasn’t French enough. The British – unhampered by taxation based on engine size – opted for the larger Consul/Granada or the more up market Rover, Triumph and, in the latter part of the Seventies, Audi and Volvo cars. Only the Spanish seemed to have any time for the car and even then it was mainly taxi drivers who bought the car, appreciating its comfortable ride and by then low price.

Interestingly, a fair number were sold to Eastern Europe, where the main competition was the Russian Volga… The Chrysler 180 really did begin and finish its life at the bottom of the automotive heap.


Chrysler 180 Coupe: The one that got away…

Sketched by Nigel Garton, this interesting one-off was spotted in the early 1970s: '...on one of my trips to Whitley as an Austin Morris Product Planner, carrying out one of the regular vehicle swops which we used to do with rivals, I saw a two-door 180 driving around! Because of the fairly steep rear window, it looked quite Coupe-ish, but I reckoned it was exactly the same wheelbase and profile as the four-door. I did this sketch of it for my management...'
Sketched by Nigel Garton, this interesting one-off was spotted in the early 1970s: ‘…on one of my trips to Whitley as an Austin-Morris Product Planner, carrying out one of the regular vehicle swops which we used to do with rivals, I saw a two-door 180 driving around! Because of the fairly steep rear window, it looked quite Coupe-ish, but I reckoned it was exactly the same wheelbase and profile as the four-door. I did this sketch of it for my management…’

With thanks to Roy Axe, Nigel Garton. Written with reference to ‘Cars of The Rootes Group’. by Graham Robson. Special thanks to Andy Thompson for the masses of additional information…


Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

63 Comments

  1. In the early 70’s cars were a rare sight on telly(well,before my 8.00pm bedtime anyway!) so the 180 in a Wrigleys chewing gum advert was, for a short time,one of my dream cars. Thanks to this article,they are again-yhat green 2-litre with yellow lights would find a place in my garage like a shot.

  2. We picked a 2 litre up on an L reg up cheap with a leaky autobox that was cured by an O ring costing pennies, it was, nippy reliable, extremely comfortable, and for a 2 litre auto very economical. I got around 35 mpg on a trip to Cornwall and back to North Wales, it would wind up to an indicated 120 mph, and I was sorry to see it go as the tinworm took hold. not bad for less than £100 banger. I would have another if I could find one

  3. I vividly remember these models as a kid, I also remember the Wrigleys advert, the car’s only moment of fame.

    Sometimes the name can make or break a car’s success. At the time, Rootes’s cars had hames like Rapier, Hunter, Stilleto, etc, etc. Why call your new model a “180”? Had it been called a Humber, I feel that it would have been alot more successful. The 180 should have been launched as the “Humber Hawk”, the later 2 lire version being called the “Humber Imperial”. The word “Scepter” was in use at the time on the re-badged Hillman Hunter.

  4. The car that nobody was responsible for styling…. just an Avenger on steriods. Words that spring to mind are: bland, anonymous, dull and boring. According to howmanyleft.com there are only 5 Chrysler 180s and two 2 litre cars left on the road plus another dozen of so on SORN. As many as that?

    I remember a neighbour having one, but he was the sort of person who wore sandals with socks and corduroy twousers. Thankfully rust made short work of it and it disappeared off to the breakers when an MOT revealed major structural corrosion.

    As a kid I always remember this being one of the least interesting cars on the road. At least the Hunter and associated Alpine looked ok!

  5. I had a one owner 1978 2 litre auto (spanish built) that I gave away in 2004 when I intended moving back to Australia. It was walnut with a tan vinyl roof (bit like galaxy chocolate) and had a genuine 49,000 on the odometer. I always liked these cars styling and thought it better than the comparative cortina and victor and better than the twin headlight centura version. They were the last true chrome dome available in Britain as it was available into the 80’s and had chrome plate everywhere. Sadly missed.

  6. It was a bit like the Vauxhall Victor FE – too big to rival the Cortina and too small to challenge the Granada. Like most of Leylands products of the 70s (and 80s,90s and 2000s for that matter!) it sat in an automotive no mans land completely misunderstood by the market. Shame because it wasnt a bad looking car.

  7. IIRC there were plans to sell these in the UK as Humbers, but Chrysler wanted to start merging the Rootes & Simca ranges.

  8. Yes. It says so in the story. Did you read it?

    ‘As a Rootes product, the C Car was to have become three cars – a basic Hillman version, a sporting 2 litre Sunbeam to be known as the Sunbeam 2000 and a top of the line 2500cc Humber Hawk which would sit at the top of the Rootes range. The Humber marque was reasonably well established as a luxury brand thanks to the reputation of the Super Snipe and Hawk models, produced from 1957 until early 1967. There was also a proposal to extend the range further, stretching the C car floor pan to form a D car, which would have been a high flying replacement for the Super Snipe. Styling ideas for the D car were produced by Roy Axe but the project was canned in 1970.’

  9. My Uncle bought a new 180 in dark green not long after it was launched and as I remember it was quite a nice looking car back then, or so I thought at that age (15). He didnt have it long as it was written off in a crash. He replaced it with a Chrysler 2 Litre in Red.

    That lasted longer till he replaced it with a Humber Sceptre. I did think the Chrysler was a good stab at a 70’s Executive car but will always have a soft spot for the “Arrow” Sceptre’s

  10. I wonder if this car would have fared better if it was made in Britain, was badged as a Humber and the V6 version was given the go ahead as the Humber badge was associated with executive cars and Chrysler meant nothing in Britain until the mid seventies. Few people were tempted to buy a car that had an unknown badge and was made in France. Remember economic nationalism was still strong in Britain 40 years ago and 80 pc of new cars were British.

  11. I agree with Glenn. Giving the 180/2 Litre a Humber identity may have helped. I always thought my Uncle’s Sceptre looked more upmarket. He kept it till the mid 1990s and sold it to an “enthusiast” so it may still be on the roads

  12. I’m very curious about the V6 that was dropped. Chrysler was in a poor position engine-wise, and ended up buying in V6s from Mitsubishi during the ’80s for K-car and derivatives like the Voyager, and those engines did not have a fantastic reputation. In fact the Mitsubishi 3.0 V6 in the Voyager gave the vehicle a very bad rep in Europe (where early imports of 2nd Gen models were popular, particularly in the Netherlands) as the car got older.

    I wonder if Chrysler had shown more joined-up thinking, that engine might have been the upmarket unit needed for the K-car and Voyager. After all, the V6 they developed themselves was a single cam OHV model initially, rather than a complex SOHC unit.

  13. I worked at Chrysler in 1975, temping as “internal postman” at the Stoke plant. One of my jobs was to put a standard letter into envelopes addressed to the hundreds of Chrysler 180 / 2 Litre owners who had experienced camshaft cam follower failure at around 2000 miles.
    In effect they were told that failures of this sort were not unusual and therefore nothing to worry about.

    The post room was next to the Big Wigs Offices. The top man had a US Chrysler.The other company cars were mostly Humber Sceptres. Our postal vehicle was an orange Avenger estate. Sometimes we had to push start this down the street in front of the head office. No one seemed to care about the poor impression that would give.

  14. My neighbour with three kids 30 years ago needed a cheap, big saloon in a hurry as his Viva was on its last legs. He picked up a V reg Chrysler 2 Litre for under two grand, which fitted the bill. I can remember it being in metallic green with a green velour interior and loads of fake wood. Not a bad car as it was very spacious, comfortable and quiet, but the rust started to take hold after five years and servicing was difficult as the parts were becoming rare. He decided to follow the herd and buy an Escort estate next, far less exciting and unusual.

  15. I owned a 180 in the late seventies, somehow swapped it for
    an Imp of the same year 1975. Nice looking car in it’s day and out performed most of it’s rivals. But what an unreliable pig of an engine. Poor castings,long timing chain
    and a strange feeling gearbox. At one point I coincidently
    measured a Ford 2.5 V6 I had around to fit in, but the 180 was too new to carve up. To sum up for it age at the time I spent a lot of time on the engine and could never get it reliable. Even the wheel studs sheered and one day it threw out it’s brake pads. Like the Imp a very touchy engine if not treated with care but a flyer too.

  16. “In Britain, the sales story was even worse – it sank without a trace.”

    May I add it DESERVEDLY sank without a trace.

    Blobby anonymous styling, naff interior even for the time, engine components made of toffee, iffy gearchange and rust, and rust and more rust. It wasn’t even blessed with the Avenger’s decent handling.

    All motor museums should have one just to show how bad [some] cars were in the 70s.

  17. My Dad had an early (K reg) 180, which seemed very bland after the fizzy Fiat 125 that preceded it. Chiefly memorable for the powerful static electricity shocks you’d get when leaving the vehicle, due to the interaction between contemporary nylon shirts and trousers with the 180’s upholstery and carpeting. There are more worthwhile things to remember a car for!

  18. My Dad’s Omega seemed generate lots of static, so I would get a shock almost every time I closed the door.

  19. What were Chrysler thinking of? Abandoning the demand in the UK to produce a car for which there was none in France. If Simca thought the French had wanted cars like this, they would have replaced the Vedette.

    France was, to be fair, knocking out cars of this size in the form of the 16, DS (granted a tad larger) & 504 but the market clearly wasn’t big enough for another late entrant. Hardly surprising that PSA retired the Talbot line up.

    • The reason they pulled the UK version were the losses they were incurring in the UK. Having invested in a clean sheet design for the Avenger and retooled Ryton, the unions had raped them over the move of the Arrow to Linwood and the launch of Avenger. The simple reality was that the low margins meant that Chrysler could never recover its investment on its UK production, so they stopped investment until the UK could show some signs of turning a profit. The result was nothing was spent until the Government Bail Out in 75.

  20. It basically resembles an enlarged Americanized Avenger with more derivative / anonymous-styling and no performance model to compensate, which neither the British nor French wanted or cared for.

    Yet it could have been so much better had it possessed the styling of the Bertone proposal for the Simca 929 project (do front-end pictures exist?) and featured a 5-speed gearbox, de Dion rear suspension system as well as the British-developed 60-degree 2000cc/2500cc V6 (with room for larger displacements and other variants), while the French market makes do with 4-cylinders. Had the Rootes Swallow enter production, the alternate Chrysler 180 could of had some decent Coventry Climax-developed 1500-1750cc engines possibly with increased capacity (similar to how the Talbot Sunbeam used a version of the Imp’s engine).

    While understandable given the troubles Chrysler was going at the time through it is still amazing how out of touch Chrysler was with the European market, did they seriously expect to sell cars that could only ever do well in the US market?

  21. I vividly remember these lemons when I was a kid, A Hillman Avenger @ 141% on the photocopier.. I’ve always maintained that the name of a car can make it or break it. Chrysler should have marketed the 180 as a Humber Hawk and the 2 Litre as the Humber Super Snipe. The Scepter name was already in use on the Hunter range up until 1975.

  22. Chrysler’s long term plan was to have a merged European range, so I guess that was why these weren’t sold as Humbers.

  23. It was too bland
    It failed because no Diesel engine was featured
    It was a styling mixture that nobody could identify themselves with, not the French neither the British.
    It was up against a much stronger opposition, Ford and Vauxhall in the UK and Peugeot’s 504 on the continent.
    It was the most American car of the American three made in Europe.

    • In Europe the car was offered with a Diesel engine and many were sold in Spain as taxis, at the time there was no demand for diesel cars in the UK.

  24. I was obsessed with my Dad’s cars as boy and earned my pocket money by cleaning them on Sundays. In 70s my Dad changed his white 240z with vinyl roof, (PYG 11M) but kidded me that it was for a Chrysler 2 Litre. I went mental, slammed doors tears, the lot and he kept it going all evening until giving me this fantastic brochure with cutaway acetates that let you dismantle the engine….it was for a Jaguar XJ6 4.2C(JEE 340P)that was on order. I counted the days.
    I look at the Chrysler now and I like the 70s vibe it gives. But it’s interesting that of all the cars my dad thought about as being offensive to 12 year old that was the one he picked.

  25. Having talked to my Father before his recent death about his time at Roots, Chrysler, Peugeot from 68 – 98 most of his time being at Whitley, (an irony as that was his previous work as an apprentice and in the testing sheds at AWA before it was closed and sold to Chrysler), I have reached the conclusion that the French who are generally blamed for messing up the 160/180/2 Litre is a little unfair. My Fathers view very much was that of the Whitley team that their baby was murdered by the French, although looking at how the car was orphaned at birth I guess Simca team felt the same.

    My logic is this.

    Body Shell

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

    Suspension

    Again I see this as Roots because

    1: It was dictated by the Body Shell
    2: MacPherson struts with a live axle and Panard 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 were leading the Tagora program they went for their classic Wishbone with torsion bars until Peugeot made the use 505 components.

    Powertrain

    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 1800 cc version of the Avenger Engine.

    Noting that it was pre Fuel Crisis and the closeness in size of the Avenger to the Arrow and the Arrow being a stop gap car, the Avenger killed the 1500 arrow, it would make sense that the Hillman 1800 (Super Avenger?) would replace the Arrow 1725. It would make sense as I understand that the planned gearbox for the car was a 4/5 speed high torque development of the alloy Avenger box. So 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 and of course as Whitley took the lead with the Alpine interior that followed I think it has a lot more Roots DNA. Looking at it, it does have a lot of similarities with the Mk1 high line Avenger interior and the also hints face lifted Arrow interior. Some details like the door locking mechanism is very Rootish 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 being still essentially what the Hillman customer would have got, but I guess with those Avenger mark one drum like column switches.

    Conclusion

    With the investment from Chrysler, Roots planned to replace the stop gap Arrow with two mid-market cars as they had had before, the first being the Avenger and the second was what we came to call the Chrysler 180 but with a British drive train. The Sceptre / Rapier high line Arrows being covered off by a V6 2Litre and 2.4Litre. Remember this was pre fuel crisis and would have not been an out of place move as Ford sized up with the Mk3 Cortina.

    What we got with the Chrysler 180 was very much the Hillman version, with a French powertrain, I can guess that had Whitley set up the Chassis it would have been a little firmer and so tighter handling as was the British taste. Engine would have been simpler and less powerful but with a better gear change and probably an option of a fifth gear, but overall the end product would be neither much better or worse than the French effort.

    Would it have succeeded, probably not, sold better as it would have had the attention of the UK business, but as with the Avenger, Chrylser cost cutting which would have limited quality and in particular rust proofing, 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 70’s

    • Graham I think you have the most accurate analysis regarding the 180. I know nothing about the 180 apart from what most people commonly think of the, ‘..err..so it was really a Simca with south Europe grade rotten steel that looked like a big Avenger..’

      Thats the assumption anyone will make.

      If it was built with the same steel that the MK1 Avenger had – with the planned 1800cc (Brazillian) Avenger engine and the Avengers ‘box developed to 5 speed it would have been something special, noteable, would have had an impact over others.

      That just the Hillman model, so to speak, then an efficient V6 as a Humber and ‘Rootes’ would have felt still alive amongst a lot of buyers.

      The 180 orphan was the result Chrysler pulling the plug on Rootes and dumping the product on to Simca, fair judgement?

      Was planned to be a good steele’d Rootes, became a confused Simca.

  26. Surely a car that marketed properly could have challenged the Mk3 Cortina? – Its certainly from the same early 70s fake wood and rouched leather mould. Perhaps with a wider range of Engines, a company car friendly L, GL, GLS hierarchy and without the ageing Hunter getting in the way and confusing things it could have done a lot better?

    • Yeh thats what I thought, surely it was a better driving car than the MK3 Cortina? But, nobody thought of the 180 as a, ‘Cortina,’ or a better Cortina because of lack of familiarity with the Chrysler badge and the (justifiable) notion that the 180 was not a Rootes product.

      Chrysler, it would seem, thought that their name had traction. I mean, still even today after 40 years and hindsight is anyone really sure that the 180’s engine was a Chrysler, Rootes or Simca product?

      We are still confused!

      In the early 1970’s would any of us who like and trusted Rootes Group cars have bought a C180 instead of a MK3 Humber Sceptre?

      Well, the way the 180 rusted, we would have been right to have went for a Hunter with the plush interior and an overdrive!

      If the 180 stayed as (apparently) planned, a Rootes production, it would have made sense, if even only as a Hillman, being a big Avenger with a 5 speed gearbox then it probably would have been a moderate success.

  27. @30 I think it would have sold a lot better with the push behind it in the UK market.

    But I think Chryslers quality issues would have limited sales outside the UK. Also lack of profitability would have seen it kept in production beyond its sell by date and its bulk would have been against it in the post 74 market.

  28. @32 I agree in the end the 180 had a Talbot Badge on the front and back, and a Chrysler badge on the passenger side of the dash.

    They had so many in stock, they would dump them on the employee management car fleet, a needed move as in the early days there was a shortage of Alpines. My dad had one that we think had been at least two if not three years in a field. The little 180 badges had faded and rust spots were appearing in rain gutters.

  29. As usual the vast majority of knockers are people who never drove one, never mind actually owning a 180. I had one in the mid 70’s and found none of the criticisms put forward (with the possible exception of one) to hold water.

    Underpowered? The 180 (1800cc) produced 1 bhp more than the Mk3 Cortina 2 litre. Both cars were only offered with 4 speed gearboxes.

    Poor Braking: The 180 had disc brakes all round whereas the Cortina was discs front and drums rear.

    Poor interior: Well let’s face it…. the Ford was no Van Den Plas either, but the velour of the 180 was less pretentious than the Cortina’s lame attempt to pass plastic off as leather. In fact…. come the 80’s you had to spend a fair amount of money on a car if you DIDN’T want velour seats and trim.

    Exterior styling. Sure… it does look a little ‘Avenger on steroids’ but the same could be said for a lot of other more successful model ranges of the time. Cortina/Granada, BMW 5 and 7 Series. Nowadays it’s become the accepted ‘norm’, only difference is that we refer to it as ‘corporate styling’.

    The car was a victim of the politics that were obviously going on behind the scenes in the US, GB and France at that time, and no doubt the same problems ended up scuppering the company as well as the car in the end. As far as the one criticism of the 180 that actually holds water goes, I have to admit that they do oxidise rapidly, but rusting cars?…. in the 70’s? It’s hard to think of many that didn’t!

    Maybe this is why the Spanish loved the car as it isn’t such a big problem out there and ultimately the lack of sales here, resulted in a very inexpensive car over there.

    Whilst we are on the subject of rusty cars I’ve just gone through a whole reel of welding wire fixing up an ’85 Audi GT coupe. If ever there was a rust bucket these were it. Probably why you don’t see any around any more, but it’s funny how you never here about that.

  30. My uncle had the same model and it was a good car when it worked. It had a terrible reputation for not starting in the wet, the central locking was unpredictable and the electric windows caused endless problems. He was glad to get rid of this moneypit in 1987 when he changed it for a Nissan Bluebird, which was totally faultless.

  31. Hello,

    I had a 2 Litres in the early 70s. One of the best car’s I ever had !!
    Know I restaured a Tagora with the same engine ( 2.2L ) and indeed the same engine noise.
    Rust…. two visits to the ” Dinitrol ” station and I had no problems with the Simca – Chrysler – Talbot & Citroen cars.

    Mister Aylett, my 2 litres had NO electric windows and NO electric locking. What a model did Your uncle buy?

    Best regards

    CB

  32. I doubt a v6 would have saved the 180. It didn’t do the Tagoras-occupying the exact same spot in the market- any favours.

    • The market for the 2.5 would have been limited, but a 2 litre would have had traction in the early 70s premium fleet market. But the key thing missing for the car was in France was European styling and in the UK was local assembly and the 1800 (brazilian block Avenger engine) with a Hillman badge to replace the Arrow (Hunter) as the mid-premium fleet offer.

      Because Simca retained its 1501 and Roots its Arrow range the car was effectively an orphan as they pushed volume with these products, however in Spain where it was promoted it was a popular car.

      • Though the V6 was conceived in both 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre forms, it would have been interesting to see whether the engine could have been produced with 3.0-litre+ variants. Perhaps the 2-litre V6 was originally intended to be a tax special engine for certain markets, while larger displacement versions above 2.5-litres were actually considered pre-fuel crisis?

        It is curious why together with the V6 as well as the Brazilian block and Type 180, Chrysler Europe basically had 3 potentially overlapping engines displacing around 2-litres.

  33. It’s such a shame about this car, as the 180, with a top speed of 104 mph, was faster in 1971 than the 2 litre versions of the Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Victor and faster than an Austin Maxi 1750. Also it was spacious, had cloth seats rather than the sticky vinyl of many of its rivals, was fairly quiet at speed and when the 2 Litre was launched, this was quite a refined cruiser with plenty of power and could outrun its main rival, the Ford Cortina 2000 E, and was just as well equipped.
    However, the main reasons Chrysler’s range topper was a bit of a failure was it wasn’t French enough for the French market, using an unknown badge over SIMCA and looking too American, and British buyers shunned a car that was made by what was Rootes in France. Also a lack of development, serious rust issues if not fully undersealed, poor build quality and lack of a manual option on the 2 Litre counted against it. Surprisingly, though, as late as 1981 when sales had almost dried up, the 2 Litre was still listed in Talbot price lists.

  34. Once I was a kid my daddy bought brand new Chrysler 180 model 1972. Here in Finland it was not a bland car and enjoyed a pretty much higher status compared all those Rekords, Cortinas, Volvos etc. The name Chrysler was something that lifted its profile. After all, it was rarity here and for some reason did not sold well. If I remember right, year 1976 was the last year it was for sale.

  35. I took on a very spacious dark Metallic Blue Chrysler 180 in the early 1980’s with a pale SKY BLUE interior. The front seats could have been perfect “FIGHTER PILOTS” seats. Everything was sleek and looked as though the interior of the car was straight out of the “STARTREK” series. The car was great except I could hear what sounded like early “BIG END” noise so I removed the engine and sent it to an engine specialist. I had been concerned about the regularly documented overhead “CAM-SHAFT” prollers and had been surprised that to remove the camshaft the complete engine needed to be removed as it had been poorly designed with the front of the STRAIGHT FOUR ENGINE, and, directly

  36. Read elsewhere that the Simca Type 180 engine used in the Chrysler 180 was either based on or inspired by the BMW M10 inline-4, which had Simca been willing to move beyond inline-4s outside of France or Chrysler had the means available would have opened up some interesting possibilities.

    Since not only did the BMW M10 inline-4 spawn the BMW M30 inline-6 engines that both remained in production for 26 years, it seems (via the 1982 sales brochure of the E23 7-Series) that BMW planned from the outset and even developed a production ready M10-based V8 that was presumably canned as a result of the 1973 fuel crisis.

    Essentially Chrysler Europe had an unrealised opportunity to develop their own Simca Type 180-based indigenous V8, instead of using the small-block Chrysler LA V8 engine that was too large to be used in any Chrysler Europe cars (apart from the odd Humber Super Snipe prototype with the engine being too large to be used in the Sunbeam Tiger without expensive re-engineering).

  37. Considering the intended V6s were nixed by Ford, it’s interesting that Chrysler Europe would risk another engine based on another company’s design.

    While a V8 sounds technically interesting even a 3.2 litre unit would have been big for European tastes post fuel crises, though it might have gone down better in Australia.

  38. Guess Chrysler Europe could reduce the bore on the 1.6 Type 180 engine from 83.4mm to 75mm matching the 75mm stroke to create a 1325cc Type 180 Inline-4 that could in turn allow for a 2751cc V8, either that or emulate the PRV V6 (and Maserati V6) by creating a 90-degree 2.5-litre V6 from a 3.2-litre V8.

    Then there is Matra’s work on tuning the Type 180 engine via the 142 hp Murena 2.2 S and the 16 valve 180 hp Murena 2.2 4S prototype (along with other Type 180 tuning projects), particularly how they would have applied on the related Inline-6 and V8 engines.

    Given the unusual 2155cc displacement on the later Type 180 engines, it makes one wonder what the maximum displacement for the Inline-4 was.

  39. Very sad, the engines were a lot quieter than the 1442 cc Simca engine used in the Alpine, the 180/2 Litre was quite good looking for the time and the 2 Litre was a comfortable and fairly quick car for the time. However, rust problems, poor build quality and limited promotion after 1975 killed off the big Chrysler. That said, a neighbour had one for two years to replace his elderly Vauxhall Viva and it was a very comfortable car for passengers and easy to drive. Rust and terrible resale made him give it up in 1985 and he switched to Ford.

  40. I won’t accept the Chrysler 180 is bland, it actually looks quite stylish and the vinyl roof gives it plenty of class. I’m still convinced had it been made in Britain as well as France, carried a Humber badge over here, and been better rustproofed, then sales would have been quite high.

  41. Chrysler’s financial state notwithstanding, have to wonder whether the proposed 180-based D Car was to be limited to only the Rootes V6 engine (possibly enlarged to 3-litres+) or whether even larger engines were envisioned?

    Given the Type 180 engine drew inspiration from the BMW M10 engine with the latter in turn capable of spawning a prototype V8, it brings to mind the possibility of a similar European sized V8 engine being developed from the Type 180 engine.

    That is unless Chrysler seriously expected their Small Block or Big Block V8 engines to fit into D car (possibility of similar spec to what was fitted to Jensens and Bristols), like their previous attempt with the Humber Imperial V8 prototype.

      • The Hemi-6 would have probably been too big and unsophisticated for the European market.

        Yet it appears the Chrysler Slant-6 engine had (aside from fairly reasonable displacement at 2.8-litres) plenty of scope for further improvement including aluminum / all-alloy head, OHC, turbo, multi-point EFI, diesel / turbodiesel and Slant-4 variants amongst other unrealised potential. – https://www.allpar.com/slant6.html

        It seems though Rootes were correct in developing the 2.0-2.5-litre V6 as the engine it was said to have drew inspiration from aka Ford Essex V6, was capable of being enlarged to 3.0-3.4-litres with suggestions the South African versions of the Essex V6 were capable of further enlargement.

        Even without a properly developed Rootes V6 being enlarged beyond 3.0-3.4-litre, it would have still complimented any potential Type 180-based 3.2/3.3-4.3-litre V8 from the perspective of what options were potentially available at Chrysler Europe in better circumstances (as opposed to what was feasible in spite of how useful both engines would have been to Chrysler in North America and elsewhere from the 70s onwards).

        Kind of surprised though Rootes / Chrysler UK drew inspiration from the Ford Essex V6 for the Rootes V6 instead of the V6 used in the Fiat 130, since the Avenger engine was said to draw inspiration from the Fiat Twin-Cam (in the same way the Type 180 drew inspiration from the BMW M10). The Fiat 130 V6 engine also happened to form the basis for the Fiat 128 SOHC unit, meaning the old Simca Poissy engines could have been replaced by new SOHC engines derived from a Rootes V6 inspired by the Fiat 130 V6.

      • The most common slant 6, which was popular in America and Australia in the Valiant, was a 3.7, and Chrysler Spain did market a Valiant based large saloon called the 3700 GT in the seventies. Problem was, for all the straight 6 was economical by American standards in the early seventies, it was still a thirsty engine and no more powerful than the 3 litre V6 found in the Granada.

  42. A slant 4 based on the Valiant 3.7 litre engine would have been about 2.5 litres, a little more suitable for European sized cars, pre-fuel crisis of course.

    • @richardpd, also the Valiant six was known for being a very reliable engine and durable. I’d imagine a smaller Europeanised version, around 2.5 litres as you say, being ideal,but maybe a six being better.

    • A Slant-4 derived from the 2.8-litre Slant-6 on the other hand would have featured a displacement of 1859cc, which is definitely suitable for European sized cars.

      What is fascinating though is the potential for a Chrysler Slant-4 derived from the Slant-6 to spawn a related V8 (3718cc+ via the 1859cc+ Slant-4s), which could have been cast in aluminum as well as been used for the Sunbeam Tiger and Humber Imperial.

      • Such a V8 would have prevented a situation where Chrysler’s existing V8s ended up being too large to fit into the Sunbeam Tiger without major modifications and would have easily allowed the Ford V8s used in the Sunbeam Tiger to be speedily dropped.

  43. The sad thing was the 180 was one of the few cars in its class, unless you went to the top of the range Cortinas, that offered so much standard equipment for the money. You bought a 1.8 litre Vauxhall Victor, its nearest competitor, and you got a basic car with no creature comforts and lower performance and higher fuel consumption. In 1972, the Chrysler’s list of standard fittings like a rear demister, cloth seats, rev counter, electric clock, vinyl roof and fitted reversing lights was uncommonon run of the mill European family cars.

  44. Having owned a few Chrysler Centuras over the years here in Australia, I can attest that they are a violent little car that really was unhappy about having a 4 liter Hemi straight six plonked into a chassis meant for a 2 liter 4 cyl. They destroy rear tires and will light up the rear wheels off the line, into 2nd gear even with a 2.92:1 diff gearing. Big smokey burnouts leaving the grocery store or post office as you trundle around town is easy to do. In a car that small and light, it took a deranged Chrysler executive in Australia to allow such a muscular Aussie engine to be rammed into something as light as a Hillman Avenger. You will downright die in the wet. They swap ends very easily in the dry, with an unskilled driver or heavy right foot. Thats why there are no Centuras left anymore. They were all wrapped around poles and killed many family lineages probably. In standard form, a Centura was an SLR5000 killer. Let alone modifying one, it becomes a weapon of a car that you need to be brave to get in, especially as a passenger.

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