Concepts and prototypes : Chrysler Diplomat

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Chrysler Diplomat (2)

Diplomat: the Chrysler 180’s big-brother that wasn’t

We’ve long admired the ability of Australia’s engineers to take a European product and make it fit for purpose for their home market. Cars such as the Austin Lancer/Morris Major, Morris Nomad, Austin Apache, and Austin Kimberley showed that with a little development, our Antipodean counterparts were more than capable of building cars that were more than good enough to be exported back to the motherland.

Following Chrysler’s annexation of Simca and Rootes in Europe, the company set about using some of its European line-up for its Australian range. With a new nose, a six-cylinder engine option, and various other changes, the Chrysler 180 was sold (rather unsuccessfully) there as the Chrysler Centura – a victim of circumstance as much as poor product design.

Looking at these pictures, it would appear that rather a lot of that car’s DNA was to appear in the stillborn Chrysler Diplomat – replacement for the Valiant that was being worked-on during the mid-to-late 1970s. Although it isn’t clear whether the car is underpinned by US or Australian chassis engineering, but we like to think that there’s a bit of Chrysler 180 in its make-up.

There’s a further twist to the story. According to Nick Kounelis, the C9 project (Talbot Tagora) could have gone on to form the basis of the Australian Chrysler line-up, had events not got in the way. ‘They imported a talbot Talgora clay/fibreglass full sized replica to be contemporary with the first of the Holden Commodores, and the lighter and more roomier XD falcon range.’

He added: ‘With the local hemi-six fitted to the Centura replacement, I think the Talbot version would of sold well against these cars – especially if it was fitted with the Peugeot four-cylinder engine as well as the 4.0- and 4.3-litre hemi-six engines.’

Chrysler Diplomat (1)

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

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26 Comments

  1. Chrysler NA used the name Diplomat for a Dodge model in the 1977-1991 era as their main RWD large car. Many were used as taxis and police cars. It may have also been used as a DeSoto model in the 1950’s. This Aussie seems to have a lot of 1971-1976 era NA Dodge/Plymouth influences and like earlier USA branded Aussie market models, may have used ex-NA model parts and expected tooling.

  2. It looks to me like they were attempting to recycle already extant Valiant DNA, but took to the front and rear with the corporate ugly stick. The VH Valiant and its successors were a nice car by the standards of big Aussie tanks of the day, and a good example is quite an eye-catcher these days. One lives somewhere near me, a very well-kept vehicle that I spot quite regularly. Less roly-poly tank-like than its contemporary XA/XB/XC Falcon counterpart, and more sophisticated than the Holden Kingswood. Nicer to drive than either, in my opinion.

  3. At a glance, the body engineering hints to me of CM Valiant with a six-light C-pillar and more European front end, and probably intended as a replacement for the CH. The tail looks very similar to the CM as well – to the extent that it almost looks simply like a six-light CM with a new nose and presumably up-spec interior considered.

  4. My best guess is that it was based on Chrysler’s US intermediate (i.e. bigger than an XJ6) B-body as seen here on a ’78 Plymouth Fury, I think the front doors are the same.

  5. In terms of American land yachts the late 70s Chrysler intermediates hung on to there gargantuan proportions longer than GMs offerings and were regarded as being pretty outmoded by ’78. The engine choices were still ludicrously big 440cid works out at 6.6l, producing not much more than 200hp in smog compliant trim.

  6. Quite a good effort!Looks to me like aussie valiant meets xj40 with mk1 granada front.The opera window looks like it always should have been there.The side window frame area is different to CL CM val.
    The flow thru ventilation worked into rear window area is too fussy IMHO (The primitive setup in the CM was hidden)Could have done with less coachlines?

  7. I think that they were trying to update the CL/CM series with this car but again the cupboard was bare(funding wise),the tailights are pure CM valiant with a new garish panel inbetween them. Like I posted earlier, they imported a talbot Talgora clay/fibregalss full sized replica to be contempory with the 1st of the Holden Commodors and the lighter and more roomier XD falcon range. with the local hemi 6 fitted to the centura replacement, I think the Talbot version would of sold well against these cars especially if it was fitted with the Peugeot 4 cyl engine as well as the 4.0 and 4.3 hemi 6 engines. The mock up of the talbot is still at the national automotive museumn near adelaide. Also there i saw a 4 cyl 2.2 hemi 6 cut down that might of been a cheaper engine to produce than the imported french unit.I think that this car would of been a contender untill the wide bodied Magna’s (sigmas and diamantes) replaced them.

  8. I’ve been studying the body carefully, and I’m 100% on it being a variant of the CK-onward bodies.

    The arch profile looks airbrushed to me. Also, if you look at the front… the windscreen looks to have had two square fillers added at the top corner, but the rubber appears to curve as on a CM.

    The side profile does look like the sixth light is there for real, but I’m unsure about the front. Hard to tell with the shadows.

    Tail looks just like a CM. Dark filler panel and CM lights.

    Given how long these ’70s bodies lasted in production, would Australians have adopted the boxy Tagora?

  9. Chrysler pulled out of Australia in 1980 due to the corporation’s massive problems in its home market. Also at this time Australia was suffering from the Japanese onslaught as large, Americanised cars were going out of fashion due to the oil crisis( though these have never completely died out as big Fords and Holdens have a following among patriotic Australians and are popular as taxis).

  10. Hi keith I have no photos of the talbot in the Burdwood museumn, although I would in a non digital formatt but the styling buck is full sized and (identical to what you saw in the UK and French models). it was used for comsumer clinics.
    Hi Richard. I have seen other shots of this car and the Local styling guys did put square mouldings on the normal VH,VJ,,VK,CH, CJ,CK,CL and CM series chrysler Window frame/roof panel, which would of been fitted to the round edged rubber. Chysler did realease a CM GLX which ran body black outs which changed the shape of the side profile without adding deeper side pressings or longer glass that the Valiant needed almost after its introduction!
    I still think that loyal chrysler buyers looking to get out of their 1971 styling ,even on a CM would of stayed loyal to chrysler rather than buy a VB or XD ford.
    I have read elsewhere that the Diplomat was to be released as an update to the CM and if you look at the interior that the 70’s tombstone front seats have been substituted with GE/GH Sigma front seats which would of given the impression of far more interior space and made the centre dicky seat (also used on the Fords) be far more roomy for the front (6th) passenger,used when a column shift auto or 3 on the “tree” manual gearbox was used. Even the 1981 CM valiants were branded Mitsubishi valiants and they were painted the same range of colours that were introduced with the sigmas and colts which were coming out of the Tonsley park factory at the same time.
    Cheers Nick

  11. It’s a tarted up CM Chrysler. Basic body goes back to 1971.

    And no way were they more sophisticated than the contempory
    Holden Kingswood. Not with torsion bar front & cart spring rear suspension they wern’t. They didn’t even have face level air outlets on the dash!

    They underpinnings would have been the same as the VH-CM range. If they couldn’t afford a new body, no way could they afford the underpinnings.

  12. Hi Webby you are correct about this car but look closely at the protoype rear window they were about to adress the lack of flow though ventilation on this model, Holden HQ had it in 1971, XA falcon has it in 1972 ,My Leyland P76 had it on its introduction in 1973 but Chrysler always were lagging (1982 perhaps!) By this time, we are comparing the 3 times updated VH commodore , and the alloy headed and the Watts link XE Falcon. perhaps they realised that it was far too late, and old to launch. Its a pitty that the Talbot Tagora was not able to be launched, It would of been great in 1978/9 especially with the Hemi 6 and french 4 cyl engines!

  13. But the Tagora was awful. Chrysler Australia would have had to do so much to it to make it a robust, pleasant car. The French engines were rattly and not particularly reliable. It was a Centura/C180 replacement, not competitive with the Valiant/Commodore/Falcon but a size below, and I suspect the nose would have to be stretched to fit the straight six.

    Other than as a direction for styling, I can see no realistic way the Tagora would have been relevant or popular, let alone successful and worthwhile, in the Australian market. Hell, it wasn’t in Europe, really. It’s an interesting underdog to view in hindsight, but who would have chosen one new over a Ford or Opel…

  14. The Diplomat was not a new design. All it was was a standard Australian Valiant given new front and rear treatments and with an extra window in the C pillar plus cabin interior changes. It was little more than a design exercise to explore the possibility of extending the life of the existing big Australian Chryslers then being sold, for a few more years. Chrysler Australia was in desperate financial trouble by this time – the only thing keeping it afloat were the Mitsubishi products it was assembling and selling – so there was no money available for a “clean sheet design” by Chrysler Australia. In any case, had the Diplomat got the green light, it would not have sold well. By this time, we Australians had started to turn away from big “yank tank” sized cars like this and add to that the fact that the perception held by Australian car buyers about the quality of Chrysler Australia’s cars was pretty bad, the project was dead in the water even before it was begun.

    By the way Chrysler Australia would have had great difficulty building the Tagora [modified or not] in Australia. Because of it’s french origins, the unions would have put a ban on it just as they did with the Centura and at that point in time Chrysler Australia could ill afford further financial loss by fighting the unions.

    Incidentally the Austin Apache was not associated with Australia in any way

  15. The only reason Australia got a local version of the Chrysler 180 was because at the time Holden and Ford were offering medium sized cars [Torana and Cortina respectively] both of which offered a choice of either 6 and 4 cylinder engines, where as Chrysler had nothing comparable to offer prospective buyers in that segment. The 180 was more or less around the same size as the competition so it was thought that it would make a good candidate. Centuras too were released in both 4 and 6 cylinder versions. Unfortunately the 6 cylinder Valiant engine shoehorned in to the standard 180 body shell was extremely heavy and caused undesirable handling problems. Added to this was the fact that due to industrial action most of the 180 CKD kits sent out from France languished on the waterfront for two years with the result that when the cars finally hit the showrooms they soon developed a reputation for rapidly and seriously rusting from their sojourn spent on the waterfront. Not helping their sales in any way was the fact that they cost almost as much as a big Valiant but offered less interior room. They were also technically wise, at lest 5 years behind anything else being offered in the market place, and in particular when compared to the more fuel efficient lower priced 4 and 6 cylinder cars being offered by Japanese makers. The dilemma Chrysler Australia faced in the 1970s was that essentially the big Valiants were nothing more than a face lift of the previous model facelift which was a face lift of the previous model and so and so on, on a floor pan that had debuted in 1960 and had had very little change since. In terms of physical size, out of Holden’s, Ford’s and Chrysler’s big cars, the Valiant was the biggest in size – a fact which was keeping customers away as the Valiant was seen as being too “yank tank like” in size and looks for most peoples taste.

  16. There was an non-automobile related fact that killed the chances of every French sourced car in Australia in the 70s……the French Government were testing their atomic bombs in our front yard (the Pacific Ocean)and the unions, the greens, the Government and every sensible person treated them like rotten escargot. At the time the Australian Renault assembly plant was assembling Cortina Station Wagons (Estates)and they went down the gurgler even though they were the best assembled Ford at the time.

  17. The article is wrong when it states “the Chrysler 180 was sold (rather unsuccessfully) there as the Chrysler Centura.”
    Centuras had their problems as others here have observed, but they sold moderately well. A lot of people in 1970s Australia were having to downsize to smaller cars. With other brands this meant sacrificing both interior space and performance. The Centura enabled many to downsize from the regular big family sedans without losing out on either. You could buy a more cramped Torana and choose a V8 powerplant or buy an equally smaller Cortina and receive the Aussie crossflow six. But in either case they drank more and weren’t as efficient as the Valiant Hemi six that had been squeezed into the roomier Centura.

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