The cars : Chrysler Alpine development story

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Chrysler Alpine or Simca 1307/1308, as it was known in Europe, was a genuine step forward for its maker. In a nutshell, the Anglo-French Alpine was styled in the UK and powered by Simca running gear.

It was conceived to take on the might of Ford and Vauxhall in the company car market in the UK, while remaining a progressive alternative to the Citroën GS/Renault 16 in France. It could be argued that it failed to meet both challenges during a long production run.


Chrysler Alpine: Hatching a new approach

The Alpine was born through the desperate need for Chrysler to replace the aging Simca 1500/1501 in France. As late as 1972, when the project was instigated, there was still no clear pan-European model strategy at Chrysler: the British range consisted of the Imp, Avenger and Hunter, while the French operation boasted the 1000, 1100 and 1500.

Considering that Chrysler had complete control of the Rootes Group and Simca since the mid-1960s, it seems odd that very little managerial effort had gone into model rationalisation. What was needed was a blanket Chrysler-badged range. However, the Alpine did signal a change in direction, even if this policy revision was rather late in the day.

Although what was known as the Project C6 was developed as a Simca 1500 replacement, and the technical development of the car took place at Poissy in France, the styling was led by Roy Axe’s team at Whitley. However, the way in which the project arrived there was not that straightforward.

How the styling and engineering were chosen

According to site contributor, and industry executive, Graham Ariss, the design process was an interesting one. He said, ‘Chrysler requested for submissions from Simca and Whitley. The UK proposed a re-skin of the Avenger estate, which would be developed into a five-door fastback.’

The proposed range from Chrysler UK would look like this:

  • Hillman-badged mid-range models would be offered with the Rootes high-cam engines in 1.6-, 1.8- and 2.0-litre forms. The larger capacity versions would be developed using the Brazilian engine block. This would make use of the power unit originally conceived (and not eventually used in) the Chrysler 180.
  • Sunbeam/Humber-badged top-end versions using a volume version of BRM twin-cam engine that had been developed for the Avenger rally and race cars. Both cars would use the existing (and very good) alloy-cased gearbox from the Avenger with five-speed internals.

The French proposal was based on, and would utilise the drivetrain from, the 160/180/2-litre. There was no question that the five-door fastback styling was the best all-round solution, and was rapidly accepted as the way forward. The UK management liked this solution because it saved the costs of developing separate saloon and estate models, while Simca liked it because of internal nervousness about rival fastback saloons that were on their way in the marketplace.

Graham added: ‘However, Simca was adamant that the car had to be front-wheel drive in order to be acceptable to the European market, but the UK was adamant that Project C6 needed to be rear-wheel drive so as to be acceptable to the UK fleet market.’

How the Chrysler Alpine design evolved

The new car would become the first in a range of neatly styled European cars, a subject close to Roy Axe‘s heart. It was a development policy that also paved the way for the Horizon, Tagora and Samba. The one anomaly was the Sunbeam, but that car was only created to stop the Linwood factory from closing while, as a bonus, establishing Chrysler’s presence in the rapidly emerging supermini market.

The clay modellers at Whitley hard at work...
The clay modellers at Whitley hard at work…

Three schemes for evaluation…

Three early full-size proposals from September 1973 for the C6 (known at this time as Super 1100/ Super 1300) shows that the hatchback configuration had been decided on at a very early stage. The proposals sow a level of experimentation with the side window arrangements. Notice that the nose is "lean back", on the top styling model, predicting the style of the 1979 facelift (Talbot-SIMCA 1510).
Three early full-size proposals from September 1973 for the C6 shows that the hatchback configuration had been decided on at a very early stage. The proposals show a level of experimentation with the side window arrangements. Notice that the nose leans back, on the top styling model, predicting the style of the 1979 facelift (Talbot-SIMCA 1510)

A classic case of an unhappy compromise reached

At the beginning of the C6’s development, there were plans to produce a rear-wheel-drive version for the British and north European markets, with France and southern Europe getting front-wheel drive. According to Ariss, the decisions about which way Project C6 was going to go weren’t always based on logic. He said: ‘This is where the politics of Chrysler Europe kicked in. It was headed up by US executives on the career ladder, transiting through the UK and France on short-term two-to-three-year placements.

‘Looking at their careers, they did not like risk and certainly did not like expensive decisions that might come back to haunt them. So, expensive new product developments were always doomed against quick-win cost savings they could put on their CV.’

‘This is where the politics of Chrysler Europe kicked in. It was headed up by US executives on the career ladder, transiting through the UK and France on short-term two-to-three-year placements.’ – Graham Ariss

Initially, the plan was for the French C6 to sit on a development of the Simca 1100 platform that was powered by the Chrysler 160/180/2-Litre engines mated with a new five-speed Simca gearbox. A separate UK C6 would be produced, based on the updated Avenger estate platform. This strategy was soon shelved on cost grounds, and both UK and French models would need to share the same platform.

There was still competition between the divisions, as the UK proposed one solution, and the French another. The British said that the Avenger estate platform could be made front-wheel drive, with McPherson strut front and a dead beam rear axle suspension setup. The Simca gearboxes could be mated to all engine options in order to ensure local market buy-in.

On the other hand, the French proposed that the C6 should be underpinned by their platform and powered by a mix of engines. Simca engineers were reluctant to re-engineer the engine mountings to accept both British and French engines, claiming that to do so would put the launch date back by a further six months. In the end, Chrysler said that the French arrangement was the better (cheaper) solution, so it was this scheme that was adopted for the C6.

Chrysler Alpine: not really a brand-new approach

Further Chrysler cost-cutting resulted in the UK engines being dropped from the programme, along with the new five-speed gearbox. That meant that the new car lost the capability of being able to run the larger Simca engines.

So, in effect, the Chrysler Alpine ended up being an upward extension of the Simca 1100 concept – which, for the French, was good news, as technically, it was still very much a contemporary design. The French loved hatchbacks unlike in the UK, where there seemed to be a buyer aversion to the format. The rival Austin Maxi had proved to be a bit of a non-starter, although its packaging probably was not to blame. A larger five-door to match the Renault 16 seemed to be just the thing Simca were looking for.

The Alpine/1308 laid bare: this model was shown at the 1975 Paris salon, impressing showgoers with its interior space. (Photo used with permission: www.1307-1308.org)
The Alpine/1308 laid bare: this model was shown at the 1975 Paris salon, impressing showgoers with its interior space. (Photo used with permission: www.1307-1308.org)

That left the C6 designed to use the 1294 and 1442cc versions of the Simca 1100 engine, while gearboxes and many suspension components were carried over pretty much unchanged. Technically, the C6 owed almost nothing to the ex-Rootes range, even though the plan had been to produce the car in both Britain and France.

Was the Alpine designed to fail in the UK?

However, in choosing the cost-constrained French solution, Chrysler Europe probably compromised the C6’s chances in the UK. British buyers at the time were a conservative bunch, and the best-selling cars in the C6’s anticipated sector were the Ford CortinaMorris Marina and Chrysler’s own Hillman Avenger.

Deciding on developing a range that encompassed a single five-door car, effectively shut Chrysler out of this market. The C6 project was still a long way away from being the pan-European motoring ideal. Manufacturing-wise, though, it was very much a step in the right direction. Production would take place at Poissy and, later, at Ryton as well. That would mean the Avenger could move to Linwood at last, bringing the production of the bodies under the same roof as main assembly.

The Hunter would be displaced from Linwood and shunted off to Ireland to see out its remaining days. Why the decision was made not to replace the Avenger at the time of the C6’s launch (thereby eliminating one almighty model overlap) could be put down to Chrysler UK wanting to keep the Linwood facility while maintaining sales with a tried, tested and relatively young car.

Simca 1307/1308 launched: French enthusiasm

Roy Axe proudly sits on the bonnet of his creation: the Alpine may have sold in moderate numbers in the UK, but it was a success in France, and part of this must have been down to its contemporary, crisp styling.
Roy Axe proudly sits on the bonnet of his creation: the Alpine may have sold in moderate numbers in the UK, but it was a success in France, and part of this must have been down to its contemporary, crisp styling

The Chrysler-Simca 1307 and 1308 were introduced at the Paris Salon in October 1975 with the new ‘Bienvenue à bord’ slogan. They were the first of the Chrysler-SIMCA cars, with the Chrysler badge on the bonnet and the Simca badge at the rear. The Chrysler-Simca 1307 GLS, 1307 S and 1308 GT range appeared with transistorised ignition. Top speed for the 1307GLS was 94mph.

The new models were initially offered alongside the Simca 1301, by then quite an old design, but a justifiable decision bearing in mind that there was no saloon or estate version of the 1307/1308. The 1308GT was refined and rapid, offered with electric windows and had a top speed of 102mph. It was equipped with a 1442cc motor which developed 85bhp at 5600rpm, while the 1307 GLS had the same 1294cc engine as the 1100 Special, with 68bhp.

In between the two, the 1307 S used the 1294cc engine of the Simca 1100TI, with two carburettors and produced 82bhp at 6000 rpm. The 1442cc engine was an enlarged version of the venerable Simca engine used in the 1100. The stroke was increased from the 70mm of the 1294cc to 78mm, while the bore of both engines remained the same, at 76.7mm. A total of 32,836 Chrysler-Simca 1307/1308s were produced in France during 1975 – not bad bearing in mind that production only started in September.

The five-door full-size family hatchback: a format that really did not take off until later years with the GM J-Cars (Cavalier II/Ascona C) in 1981 and the Ford Sierra of 1982. By that time, the 1976 Alpine was over the hill...
The five-door full-size family hatchback: a format that really did not take off until later years with the GM J-Cars (Cavalier II/Ascona C) in 1981 and the Ford Sierra of 1982. By that time, the 1976 Alpine was over the hill…

The 1307/1308 range marked the start of the rapid Chryslerisation process of the Simca range. The original three car range made quite an impact and, although its ex-Simca 1100 front-wheel-drive platform was seen as quite long-in-the-tooth by some, its layout in that sector of the middle market was still seen as something of a novelty. The slightly more upmarket Renault 16 now had something to fear…

Chrysler Alpine launched: cautious optimism in the UK

In the UK, reaction at that year’s London Motor Show was also very positive. The UK moniker chosen was Chrysler Alpine, a name that obviously drew on the heritage of the Rootes Group. There were management concerns that the plan to kill the Hillman marque in 1976 would affect sales.

However, there was some confusion as to where the Chrysler Alpine was going to fit in the range, and how it would affect Avenger sales… The official line, though, was simple: these cars were complementary, and the older car would remain in production for the foreseeable future. It was a curious situation and, yet again, demonstrated that the lack of a clear model policy would cause buyer confusion.

The Alpine was put on sale in Britain in January 1976. Two versions were offered – a 68bhp 1294cc GL and an 85bhp 1442S. In March 1976, 1690 Alpines were sold, compared with 2400 Avengers, 2000 Hunters and 2882 Austin Maxis

How the Simca and Chrysler fared at home

Following the launch flurry, the Alpine went on to endure contrasting fates in the UK and France. On this side of the channel, sales started slowly and remained that way, possibly because the engine and trim options were limited compared with the all-conquering Ford Cortina.

For a car that was aimed at a market so fixated on these details, the lack of 1.6- and 2-litre engines was seen as a major handicap. Advertising in the UK played very much to the Alpine’s practicality, using the strapline, ‘The seven-days-a-week car’.

In national advertising, William Woollard was drafted in to explain why the hatchback was just what we all needed and that, even though its engines were dimensionally challenged, they were equally as capable as its larger-engined rivals. It was not an inspired advertising campaign…

Alpine interior was commodious and smart.
Chrysler Alpine interior was commodious and smart

In France, however, the Chrysler-Simca 1308 met a far warmer reception, and immediately started selling in large numbers. In the first twenty days that the car was on the market, 20,000 were ordered by eager French motorists.

The new car was pitched at the very heart of the 7/8CV market, where the majority of sales lay, and where there was a dearth of contemporary five-door cars to choose from. The top-of-the-range 1308GT was particularly well received in France, where the combination of lively performance (thanks to 85bhp from 1442cc), practicality and capable chassis were seen as something genuinely new in its class.

Chrysler Alpine: Car of The Year 1976

The Car of The Year panel agreed, and the 49 strong team of judges from 15 countries duly awarded the Alpine/Simca 1308 the coveted Car of the Year award for 1976. Although the Simca 1307/1308 was commercially very significant in France, it did not enjoy international appeal.  Some cynics said that it won by default, thanks to there being little competition that year. One only has to look at the previous (Citroen CX) and next winner (Rover SD1) to see where they were coming from!

Even the Car of The Year website is lukewarm in its description: ‘Produced under Chrysler control, the top of Simca range told the story of scarce investments by the mother company in its French subsidiary. Looks were appealing, hatchback layout very practical, room and load area generous. The car also offered driving pleasure, with a safe road behaviour. But push-rod engines neared obsolescence, limiting performance and fuel efficiency. Double denomination corresponds to 1.3 and 1.4 versions of the veteran OHV engines.’

Other awards included Scandinavian Car of the Car, courtesy of Norway, Finland and Sweden. Denmark and Belgium also gave it their Car of the Year awards.

Early days: demand exceeds supply

Chrysler Alpine interior
With an interior like this how could French car buyers not fall in love with the Simca 1307?

At the start of 1976, production at the Poissy plant was running at 900 units a day – still not enough to satisfy demand. On 2 April 1976, the 100,000th Chrysler-Simca 1307/1308 rolled off the French production line. Production increased from May to 1050 a day and on 16 November the 250,000th example was built. In 1976, the Chrysler-Simca 1307/1308 accounted for 7% of total French car sales – more than the Renault 12, Citroen GS, Simca 1100 and Peugeot 304 together!

In France, in 1976, the Chrysler-Simca 1307 GLS sold for ff22,920, the 1307 S sold for ff25,120, and the 1308GT sold for ff26,920. By comparison, Simca 1000 prices ranged from ff13,860 to 20,060, whilst the Simca 1100 ranged from ff18,080 to 24,200. The veteran Simca 1301 Special sedan could still be bought for ff20,560, while the unloved Chrysler 160 range tried to sell for ff24,610 to 28,740. A total of 218,126 Chrysler-Simca 1307/1308s were produced during 1976; it was the marque’s most popular model.

Success in France continued into 1977 even with price increases across the board. The 1307 GLS sold for ff25,570, the 1307 S for ff28,290 and the 1308GT for ff30,300. However, a total of 258,195 1307/1308s were produced in 1977.

New arrivals in the range for 1978

The Chrysler-Simca 1308S was introduced in January 1978. It had the finish and features of the 1307 S, but with the drivetrain of the 1308 GT. For 1978, the 1307 GLS sold for ff26,980, the 1307 S for ff29,950, the 1308 GT for ff32,100 and the new 1308 S for ff30,350. However, the car’s popularity was starting to wane – just 156,875 1307/1308s were produced in 1978, although to a certain extent the new Horizon had stolen sales from its older and bigger sister. Indeed, Horizon production in its first full year exceeded that of the 1307/1308!

Chrysler-Simca 1309SX in France – Chrysler Alpine SX in the UK. Soon they'd both be Talbots.
Chrysler-Simca 1309SX in France – Chrysler Alpine SX in the UK. Soon they’d both be Talbots

By 1979, Chrysler-France held an 11% share of the French market. The range-topping Chrysler-Simca 1309SX Automatique (above) debuted for 1979. Although the 9 at the end of the name was meant to indicate that it was a 9CV vehicle, new French tax laws took effect at the same time and this car was actually considered 8CV. It had a new 1592cc engine created by stretching even further the original Simca 1118cc engine.

The new engine produced 88bhp at 5400 rpm and it could hit 102mph. In March 1979, the limited edition 1308 Jubilee appeared. It featured a two-tone paint job and body coloured bumpers. The glass was tinted, the front windows electric, the upholstery velour and the wheels light alloy. The inflation-riddled 1970s showed in the steadily rising cost of motoring. In 1979, the 1307GLS sold for ff29,600, the 1307S for 32,900, the 1308GT for ff35,200 and the 1309SX for ff41,650. The limited edition Jubilee sold for ff39,950. A total of 112,966 1307/1308/1309s were produced in 1979, continuing the slide that had started in the previous year.

However… trouble in England…

During this time, the British end of the Chrysler Europe operation went through extremely hard times. The British plants survived thanks only to a major injection of Government cash, a condition of which was that production of the Alpine should start at the Ryton factory near Coventry. The original plan to build the car in both countries had been abandoned as a result of Chrysler UK’s shrinking market share and the American management were sick to death of the endless strikes and stoppages that plagued the British factories.

In August 1976, the first Coventry-assembled Alpines had rolled off the line and, allied with local production of its engines, UK content of the Alpine was about 50%. In many ways, the Alpine was more of a domestic choice than the Ford Cortina or the Vauxhall Cavalier (many were imported from Europe at this time to compensate for strike-bound UK plants) and yet it continued to fail to capture the public’s imagination. The launch of a luxurious Alpine GLS in September 1976 failed to awaken the market’s interest. In September 1977, the option of the 1442cc engine was added to the GL option list and in December 1978 LS 1300 and 1442 models joined the price list. The S model was dropped at this time.

The range was extended, like its French counterpart, over the next couple of years to embrace the 1592cc version of the Alpine’s aging pushrod engine, but it was Chrysler’s own problems in the USA that affected the Alpine/1308s destiny from this point onwards.

Enter Peugeot, exit Chrysler

Chrysler in the USA was in deep trouble, and had been since 1976. Falling sales and mounting losses forced Chrysler into a policy of consolidation. The European operation was outside of its core business and, thanks to the failure to arrest a falling market share in the UK, Detroit made the decision to shed Chrysler Europe.

Even though the Simca 1307/1308 range had been expanded to encompass the new 1592cc 1309SX derivative, production rapidly began to slide. The introduction of the Renault 20, Renault 18 and Peugeot 305, had adversely affected sales of the Chrysler-Simca range in France, while the Ford-BL-Vauxhall stranglehold of the fleet market did not allow Chrysler to capitalise on the qualities of the Alpine in the UK. Public perception was not helped by Chrysler’s well-publicised financial problems, which put further downward pressure on sales.

Following considerable pressure from the French Government, at the end of 1978, Peugeot agreed to take Chrysler’s European burden away, creating for itself a huge logistical nightmare. Following the re-branding of Chrysler’s existing model range (PSA made the announcement in July 1979 that ‘Chrysler Europe shall become the Talbot Groupe and that all Chrysler-Simca models would become Talbot-Simcas’), Peugeot began work on untangling its product-planning dilemma.

After Peugeot: the changes come quickly

In the case of the Alpine/1308 range, the 1979 cars were renamed the Talbot-Simca 1510 in France and Talbot Alpine in the UK. Both proudly wore the Talbot ‘T’ badge prominently on its radiator grille and in France the Simca badge on the rear hatch.

At the end of 1979, the Alpine received its first facelift. This incorporated new trim/colour combinations and a stylish lean back nose which gave the range a much more modern appearance, and it was hoped that sales would take an upward turn. Certainly, Talbot’s range was finally beginning to look like an Anglo-French family, thanks to the shared faces of the Sunbeam, Horizon and Alpine/1510. This facelift would also pave the way for the first new body variation, one that it was hoped would finally allow the range to make a proper impact in the UK.

The 1980 Alpine range for Britain was launched in January 1980, complete with the new grille. Choice was extended to encompass a 66bhp 1300 LS, 1500 LS, GL and GLS models, all producing 85bhp. There was also a top of the line 1600SX with a standard three-speed automatic gearbox.

Hello to the Talbot Solara

Talbot Solara was launched in the UK in March 1980, and represented a logical extension of the Alpine range for the conservative Brits... (Photograph: MOTOR magazine)
Talbot Solara was launched in the UK in March 1980, and represented a logical extension of the Alpine range for the conservative Brits… (Photograph: Motor magazine)

In April 1980, Talbot unveiled the Chrysler-planned Solara, a handsome four-door, three-box version of the Alpine/1510, which had been conceived originally to replace the Chrysler 180. At 170-inches in length, it was three inches longer than the Alpine with a floorpan modified aft of the rear seats to accommodate a huge boot and a whole half inch more rear legroom than the hatchback.

Sporting the new, sleeker, front end and available in some appealing colours, the new car was not short of showroom appeal. Without doubt, the Roy Axe design translated very well, and managed to look modern some five years after the launch of the original car. Available in 1.3- and 1.6-litre form in the UK and (1.4- and 1.6-litre form in France), the Solara was pitched right at the heart of the company car sector, thanks to its competitive pricing.

However, the road testers were less than convinced by the overall competence of the Solara making some very unflattering remarks about its pushrod engine. Despite its good looks, it did not score too well when lined up against the Cortina and Cavalier.

The end of the line for Simca

The Talbot Groupe did not last long – formed in 1980, it was disbanded only a few months later. With its demise, went any real hope of the marque continuing as an independent entity under Peugeot, given the profusion of overlapping model ranges.

In July 1980, the Simca name was abandoned completely in favour of the Talbot name. At the end of 1980 Jean-Paul Pareyre, President of Direction for Groupe PSA announced that the commercial resources of Talbot and Peugeot would be brought together. In France, this translated into a decision to abandon 75% of the country’s 488 Talbot showrooms between 1981 and 1983.

In 1980, a total of 47,304 1510s and 69,226 Solaras were produced in France. It seemed as if the Solara, instead of increasing net Talbot sales, simply poached hatchback customers. The Talbot-Simca 1510LS (1294cc) sold for ff33,950, the 1510GL (1442cc) for ff37,200, the 1510GLS (1442cc) for ff40,600 and the 1510SX Automatique (1592cc) for ff46,200.

The Talbot-Simca Solara LS (1442cc) sold for ff36,600, the Solara GL (1442cc) for ff39,600, the Solara GLS (1592cc) for ff43,600, the Solara SX (with Citroen five-speed gearbox – the same one used in the Citroen BX) (1592cc) for ff46,750 and the Solara SX Automatique for ff48,750.

A quiet end – and many missed opportunities

The Simca name was finally dropped from all models in 1981 and only the Talbot name remained on the Talbot 1510 and the Talbot Solara. The factory at Poissy was restructured with the loss of 4000 employees. The result was a loss of French public faith and confidence in the Talbot marque replicating the situation that had dogged the brand in Britain following the closure of the Linwood plant in 1981.

The limited series 1510 Executive was introduced to France in March 1981 with the SX motor and five-speed transmission. It featured a bronze metallic paint job with matching light alloy wheels. A similar car was introduced in Britain at the same time – a manual transmission version of the existing 1600SX. A total of 18,122 1510s and 42,387 Solaras were produced in 1981. French production fell further in 1982 to 10,327 1510s and 33,281 Solaras.

In Britain, a half-hearted attempt was made in September 1981 to ginger up sales. The 1500LS gained extra kit and two 89bhp 1600 models – the GL and GLS – were introduced. The GLS gained a five-speed gearbox as standard. In March 1982, an old Rootes model name was revived with the limited edition 1600 Arrow version of the Alpine with matt black trim and very little else.

Special editions fail to revive past glories

Series Two models were launched in Britain in October 1982 – the new range was made up of LE, LS, GL and GLS trim levels and a choice of 1300 and 1600 89bhp engines. Across the Channel, the last of the French Talbot 1510s was produced in the spring of 1983.

The limited edition Solara Pullman and Solara Executive were introduced in 1983. They featured tinted glass, velour upholstery, light alloy wheels and metallic paint (two-tone on the Pullman). France produced a total of 26,892 Solaras in 1983; this fell dramatically to 7704 in 1984.

A 1981 Talbot Alpine SX resplendent with its metallic paint and alloy wheels. It also sported a natty trip computer ("Ordinateur de bord" as its evocatively called in French) and cruise control.
A 1981 Talbot Alpine SX resplendent with its metallic paint and alloy wheels. It also sported a natty trip computer (“Ordinateur de bord” as its evocatively called in French) and cruise control

In conclusion: was the Alpine/Solara that bad?

Of course not… It was handsome, quite advanced in its specification (if not execution – that engine really did put off many buyers, and the lack of anti-rust protection was truly shocking) and predicted the popularity of the hatchback in the upper-middle market by about a decade. However, it was developed on a budget, which harmed refinement, and then became overshadowed by the politics surrounding the company that built it.

This atmosphere of turmoil was reflected in the generally poor build quality and unreliability of the range. Motor magazine’s experiences after running one of the first Alpines for 20,000 miles did not auger well. The car’s first keeper, journalist Rex Greenslade: ‘was glad to see the back of it.’

The car was also hampered in an increasingly aspirational market place by its limited engine choice. The biggest engine offered was 1592cc, whereas all its rivals could stretch to at least a 2.0-litre variant. The 1600SX top of the range models really suffered from this, as their price pitched them right in the heart of a market dominated by much bigger rivals.

Motor magazine’s road test of the Alpine 1600SX noted that all the standard kit of the SX was not enough when its price put it up against such cars as the Princess 2200HLS, Ford Granada 2300GL and the Cortina 2300 Ghia – all of which had six-cylinder engines. The Solara and Alpine had the potential to clean up in the UK, but sadly did not. A lack of product development exacerbated the impact of a cut-price design, based on a sound but ageing car.


With thanks to Andy Thompson, Roy Axe and Graham Ariss for their significant input into this story.

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

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

86 Comments

  1. A book has just been released here in France about this car . I guess there’s no translation in English, it does complete this remarkable very well:

    Name: ‘Les Simca 1307/1510/Solara de mon père’
    Author: Gilles COLBOC
    E-T-A-I éditions

    My parents had a 1981 Solara SX. It was a great comfortable car ( though a bit noisy), the online computer was a pure gadget but fun….

    One more forgotten car to rediscover…

  2. I owned 3 Alpines and a Solara from 1982 until 1993. Unfortunately 2 of them suffered with the usual rust in the rear inner sills spreading into the area where the rear suspension was mounted. On one the actual suspension pulled straight out of the floor! Fortunately I was in the process of parking at the time. This is the reason why so few survive today as it affected most cars around 12 years old. I did see it on one I was looking to buy at 10 years old.

    The other major problem was the bottom ball joint in the steering. If it went (and it did happen to me twice) the wheel complete with strut would swing away from the wishbone and the front corner of the car would drop to the ground.

    Apart from these issues they were good reliable cars. One year I did 27000 miles in one of them.

  3. Quentin Willson once described the Horizon/Alpine/Solara as having “engines that sound like a machine gun fired from a concrete pill-box”, and there was the issues of gear levers that came off in your hand. The clattery engine is the one thing the first thing that I always remember about these cars. Funny though, I saw a B-reg Horizon on the streets a while ago, still in really good nick (mind you it was dark brown in colour….which may have been hiding the rust), so they are still around if you look hard enough.

  4. I haven’t seen one on the roads for years- a good one (and it really would have to be a good one) would have some ‘retro’ appeal.

    I had a V reg 1.5 once and it was a complete dog- anything that wasn’t rusty was threadbare (seats, carpets and tyres), or barely functioning if it worked at all. It had all the directional stability of sailing ship in a hurricane, but with less weatherproofing. And yes, the engine did sound like a washing machine full of gravel.

    Horrid, horrid, horrid.

  5. I love Brits…you’re one of the fews who still speak about those cars. We, French people, have forgotten the Talbot/Chrysler/Simca for ages…

    My parents owned a 81-registered Solara SX for 10 years. What a great car for a kid. It had large comfortable velvet seats, a ‘ Back to the Future’ online computer, electric windows, 5-speed gear…while French cars looked cheap in comparison.

    Of course, it was so noisy and whimsical ( a bit like French people I guess) but it was a nice rider. I remember my dad driving on the 5th gear at 110KPH on our French ‘autoroutes’…and it was a pure delight for a kid: large windows, comfortable seats and I kept watching at the computer’s screen….

    Like most of the cars of its time, it ended up as a wreck, eaten up by rust and too expensive to fix…. then my parents bought a more rigid and dark Volkswagen Santana… same space sensation but my back started aching and I had no gadgets left to bring some entertainment in that dark car…

    There was so Brit spirit in the Solara and the awkward marketing sense of the French…

    Sometimes I miss that car, hoping one day French people will rediscover them…

    Thanks for the comprehensive article! You’re doing a great job!

  6. I worked near a Chrysler dealer in 1975 when the Alpine was introduced. For the time they had very modern, clean lines and they scored highly for styling. But even back then you could hear them coming from a long way down the road with their soundtrack of the rattling engine.

    There is still one on a driveway not far from where I live, and what you notice most is how relative small, frail and lightweight it looks compared with anything modern.

  7. We had one of those when I was a kid, a 1979 T plate Chrysler GLS in Peony with a black vinyl roof! Replacing a Maxi 1750 it was awesome, sliding roof, velour seats, cassette player and electric windows! I remember visiting my grandparents, pulling up and buzzing the windows down – they were very impressed! We bought it used in ’83, and although Dad bought a Sierra in ’87 we kept it as a second car till we part ex’d it for a brand new Citroen Ax in 1990.
    Yes it had a rattling engine and was full of rust by the time it went, it had given reliable service for over 7 years and my parents still speak fondly of it.

  8. Interestingly my Motor road test year book from 1977 includes a test of the GLS model added after launch with electric windows etc. They give it a good write up and reckon the small capacity engine goes well enough to compete with larger engined Cortinas and Cavaliers. It also mentions strong interest in the Alpine from UK fleet operators. A pity the apparent strong pan-european sales of the car didnt translate into profits to allow it to be replaced after 6/7 years with a proper Sierra/Ascona/Cavalier competitor.

  9. And it’s even been immortalised in 1600SX form in 1/43 scale…

    [url=http://www.servimg.com/image_preview.php?i=384&u=16091755][img]http://i49.servimg.com/u/f49/16/09/17/55/alpine10.jpg[/img][/url]

  10. If I am right, the Alpine was marketed as “The worlds first 7 day a week car” and had electronic ignition as a first. One of my colleagues had a 1976/77 model in a metallic yellow/gold. Actually looked nice but I dont remember ever riding in it so cannot make any positive or negative remarks.

  11. Better than people might think, my family had two, and apart from being noisy at idle with a rattling dashboard and some rust starting at 4 years old, the Alpines were quite reliable and, apart from some electrical problems, caused no other trouble. However, the slack four speed gearchange( five speeders were miles better), poor trim and noisy engines at idle or in lower gears were a let down.

  12. Just out of interest, how much sheet metal was changed to provide the facelift model – looks like a reasonably simple (but in this case effective) replacement of bumpers, lights, grille and inner panelling – were the front wings and bonnet as per the original model?

  13. It was simply a headlamp/grille and bumper mod as I recall. I did it with Gerry McGovern – and I think the first clay he worked on,and probably my second.I remember a funny story about the time we moved to France – a small Brit studio was established at the factory at Poissy,and an engineer called Michael Chastannier took a prototype Alpine down the autoroute for a blast. He took it to it’s maximum speed and then for some crazy reason decided to put it into reverse – of course the whole gearbox exploded into a million pieces. Later the car was recovered and the tech guys made a detailed examination but just couldn’t understand it. Not a single fragment was recognisable. I think Michael gave them a bollocking for releasing a car in such a shoddy state and no one was any the wiser.

  14. I believe this was voted the Car of the year in 1976 , however the VW Passat which came out at around the same time took it to the cleaners for comfort and build quality.

  15. “rob in kirkby malzeard – December 9, 2012

    We were threatened with these as company cars in the mid eighties, ended up with an Orion…”

    Rob, that’s a choice between the frying pan and the fire!

    I had a go in one of these in the early 80’s it was metallic green with brown interior. I remember that it looked pretty stylish and had loads of space inside. But, when the engine started the din was pretty horrible. Performance was just about adequate (I think it was a 1500) but it was understeer al the way on the handling front.

    The minimalist interior was not to my taste (I had a Dolomite at the time) and thank goodness I didn’t buy one because the rust got a grip on them very quickly even by 1980s standards.

    In short, I loved the looks, the big glass area, hatchback and interior space which puts most modern cars to shame. On the down side, the bucket of nails engine and shoddy build quality plus endemic rust meant that these were never going to be a favourite with British buyers.

    Very much another missed opportunity for a might-have-been great car.

  16. All they needed were better engines( Peugeot could have helped out with this after the takeover), better rustproofing and better build quality and they would have cleaned up. The Alpine was fundamentally a good car let down by its engines and rust.

  17. I remember seeing these discribed as an update of the thinking behind the Renault 16 by 10 years.

    The basic concept is good but the lack of build quality, handling & aging engines let them down in the long run.

    Peugeot engines would have helped for a mid life facelift, but were PSA afraid of loosing 305 sales? which lacked a hatchback.

  18. They were probably no worse than what British Leyland was churning out at the time and in some ways the Alpine was ahead of Ford, offering fwd, a hatchback and better economy with similar performance to a 1.6 Cortina.
    As for the noise issue, yes they were noisy on idle, which often caused the dash to rattle, but at speed the engines were reasonably quiet and when a five speed gearbox was used, this made the Alpine more refined and economical.

  19. I’ll continue to defend these cars as my family had two Alpines and a Solara, and none of them gave us any serious grief and were far more economical and spacious than their Ford rivals. As for the rust issue, remember the total rotboxes that came from Italy and the Lancias that had the lethal habit of dropping their engines after three years. At least Alpines didn’t do this.
    Given the choice between a 1.6 Ghia Cortina and an Alpine GLS in 1981 I’d have chosen the Alpine as it was better equipped, cheaper and did 10 mpg more and looked more modern.

  20. I have had 5 alpines, 2 5-speed SX models the most recent I sold last year when I brought a Peugeot 406 coupe, Before I was driving an 89 Toyota GLX hatch, which made an intersting comparison. The toyota had a smoother engine, but handled no better and felt cheap, the Sx on the other hand had much better road holding (less understeer) and was far more solid, steering felt far more direct. It made the Toyota feel ‘tinny’ in comparison. It was great on gas. I found it a nice daily driver with lots of ‘driver appeal’. In New zealand there was nothing like it at the time. it was streets ahead of the Allegro and the Avenger. Expensive next to the Cortina (which was by far the top selling car) compared with the jap cars of the time its handling ride combination was out of this world…and far safer! (jap cars of that era where truly appalling (but NZers liked there reliability) People either loved or hated the Alpines. They sold reasonably well though. I regret selling mine, I would have another one tomorrow. They remain a cheap hidden treasure. While escorts are sort after. It took the Japanese another 30 years to make a better handling car, (I used to get sick of my Toyotas falling off the road) which really says something. Long live the Alpine!

  21. Most writeups of the Alpine reckon the handling was fairly dull, so the Japanese cars of the time must really have been bad!

  22. From memory, did the Alpine suffer a serious defect in the transmission? A defect which destroyed the gearbox in entirety at modest mileages, The defect was so prevalent it was not a case of “if” but “it will”

  23. @ mm, don’t know about the gearboxes dying early, but the four speed Alpines had a rubbery gearchange and no doubt some people could have damaged the gearboz by being too ham fisted. The main letdown to me of these cars was rust, if not caught early on, by five years old the cars were riddled with holes, particularly in the wings. Still Italian cars were even more vigorous rusters.

  24. I had an Alpine S from new in August 1978, two years of great comfort, super performance and brilliant reliability apart from a thirst for new headlamps. It was driven very hard, and I was sad to see it go, although I loved my replacement Princess HL.

    • I never get the argument that Alpines and Solaras were unreliable. They might have rusted( the problem was mostly beaten on X reg cars onwards) and had rattling trim as they got older, but mechanically they were strong cars. My family had three and the only faults we had were, like yours, an appetite for lightbulbs and some trim coming apart. Even the rust issue wasn’t major as we had the cars undersealed at each MOT and the rust that appeared was treatable.. We were never stranded once and all three cars started first time in all weathers, something Fords weren’t known for in the early 80s.

  25. My mate Dale had a late model high spec Solara (can’t remember the badge) as a second hand runabout. It managed to swallow two kids, and all their kit, and a dog. Engine used to clatter like a cement mixer full of empty tin cans, but never missed a beat. Really comfy car, rolled a bit, but cornered well enough to be interesting. I had a Saab 900 at the time, which his kids would fall asleep in after about 50 yards, so when the Solara biodegraded to same colour as it’s paintwork, I sold him the 900. Two totally different cars, but loved them both. Happy Days.

  26. I do remember the bursar in the university halls of residence, who lived in the halls in a 19th floor penthouse flat with views all over Coventry, trading in his eight year old Rover 2300 due to serious reliability issues and rust developing, and buying a B reg Talbot Alpine as a cheap replacement( in 1990 the used values were on the floor). Being one of the run out models, don’t know if it was a Minx or a Rapier, it had two tone paint, plenty of standard kit and unlike the Rover, seemed to be reliable and hadn’t been attacked by rust. Also an extra 10 mpg made a difference when driving around Coventry.

      • Thankyou, I can remember him buying the Alpine Rapier for £ 700, a bargain even in 1990. Also since Alpines were produced in Coventry until 1985, many were bought by Talbot employees on discount and they were still a common sight in the city.

        • I know, I ran one of the last Horizons until 92, when it was replaced by a 306, which was replaced by a 206. All Ryton built cars 🙂

  27. The Alpine’s image seemed to go from near-premium to cheap-and-cheerful in a very short time. The re-branding to Talbot was a key part of this.

  28. Was consideration ever given to installing the new 1.6 XU engine (launched in 1982 in the BX) as that would surely have given the range a boost, given that the Solara was effectively not replaced until the 405 was launched in 1987?

    • Peugeot probably saw Talbot as their budget brand in the early 80s and the cars were mostly left with ageing Simca engines and only given minimal improvements in order to keep costs down. it’s a shame as the Chrysler Alpine in the seventies was priced quite highly in its class as it was considered a more advanced car than a Cortina and top of the range models had equipment like electric windows and headlamp wipers that weren’t available on the Cortina. However, due to less than spectacular sales, Peugeot downgraded the Alpine’s status in the eighties.

  29. A pity the Alpine / Solara (along with the Horizon) never merited to feature Avenger engines, which is what was suggested during the development of the Chrysler Alpine only to be undone by the unwillingness of Simca engineers to re-engineer the engine mountings to accept both British and French engines.

    Not sure how a British built RWD version of the Chrysler Alpine (let alone a hypothetical RWD Horizon) would have fared, at least it would have justified the use of larger engine though the same could be said for the existing FWD Alpine / Solara especially with the Avenger engines being capable of further enlargement to 1.8-2.0-litres.

    • The Horizon would never have been RWD, by the time they started work on it, the Alpine had long since been signed off as FWD. My father worked for Roots / Chryslers at Whitley so I have from him some incite to how it all panned out.

      The Avenger and what became the 180 / 2 Litre where conceived as only having 4 to 5 years life before being re-skinned in line with Detroit practice so there was already plenty of work already done on re-skinned follow on models as well as spin off niche models , however all this fell apart when in 1970 the US realised that the cost of putting the Avenger into Ryton and moving the Arrow to Linwood had been so great that they could never build enough cars to turn a profit. So the UK end of the 160 / 180 / 2 litre (a project which had been up until then Uk led) was scrapped along with all other future model plans until the UK could show itself as a viable business.

      However there was still a business to run and the failure of the 180 / 2 Litre meant they needed to find a replacement for the Simca 1500 and Arrow that had had to remain in production. Submissions were asked for from Simca and France, and the UK proposed a Reskin of the Avenger Estate into a 5 door fastback. They proposed as with the Arrow to cover off both the mid-range and premium range by offering cooking “Hillman” version with 1600 / 1800 / 2 litre Roots high cam engines (larger capacities being the Brazilian block and originally conceived for what became the 180 along with its V6s) and a Sunbeam / Humber versions using a volume version of BRM twin cam engine that had been developed for the Avenger Rally / Race Cars. Both cars would use the existing (and very good) allow cased gearbox from the Avenger with a five speed development. Simca version would utilise the drive train from the 160/180/2 litre.

      The 5 door fast back styling was accepted as the way forward, UK like it because it saved the costs of developing saloon and Estate and Simca were apparently nervous about what they were hearing about the Lancia Beta which was also in development at the time, so the UK styling was accepted early on. However Simca were adamant that the car had to be FWD to be acceptable to the Continental market however the UK was also adamant that the car needed to be RWD to be acceptable to the UK fleet market.

      This is where the politics of how Chrysler Europe was run, it was headed up by US Executives on the career ladder transiting through the UK and France on short term 2 to 3 year placements. Looking at their careers they did not like risk and certainly did not like expensive decisions that might come back to haunt them, so expensive new product developments were always doomed against quick win cost savings they could put on their CV.

      So initially it was planned the car would sit on a development of the Simca 1100 platform using 160-2 Litre engines mated to a new 5 speed Simca gearbox from the Simca proposal and the UK on the improved Avenger estate as described above. However pressure came to cut costs and do a single platform. UK proposed making the Avenger estate platform FWD with strut front and a dead beam rear axle (note in the Avenger Estate the rear axle was controlled by a Panard Rod unlike the 4 trailing links in the saloon) and using Simca gearboxes mated to the different countries engine to ensure local market buy in. The French proposed that they should use their platform but with a mix of engines, the French solution was seen as cheaper so the switch was made.

      However further cost cuts saw the UK engines go along with it the 5 speed gearbox and with it the ability to run the bigger Simca engines.

      The irony is of course that when Fiat launched the Fiat 131 as their mid-range car, a RWD car with a strut front end and panard rod live axle rear, along with a high cam OHV engine just as Whitley had proposed and subsequently going on to add a twin cam premium versions, something that at the time led to a lot of finger pointing between the UK and France. As well as of course the Lancia Beta turning out to be very similar in architecture to what you would have got with the FWD development of the Avenger Estate.

      The Horizon was always going to be FWD and was intended to have like the Maestro a reverse engineered Golf platform from Detroit, however again in a “cost saving” exercise it was decided to build the car on two platforms utilising a cut down version of the Alpine platform.

      • Understand, was just thinking that both the Alpine and the Horizon would have benefited from the Avenger engines ranging from 1100-2000cc (including Brazilian block units). Seem to recall you or someone else mentioning the Avenger engines drew inspiration from the Fiat Twin-Cam and OHV/SOHC Fiat 124 Series units.

        While it was already the case with the RWD Sunbeam (and its stillborn Imp-replacing precursor), could the lower displacement Avenger engines have been utilized in a FWD supermini like the C2-Short in a similar manner to the 1100-1300cc Simca engines that found their way into the Peugeot 205 and 309?

        Did not know the Horizon was originally intended to feature a new platform that was in essence a reverse engineered Golf, in theory it (along with an alternate C2-Short) would have allowed it to be similarly good to drive.

        Read the Horizon-based Chrysler K platform remained in production until 1995, though not sure how much truth there is too rumors alleging the Chrysler Neon is distantly related to the Horizon.

        • The US Horizons used that platform, its the reason the European Horizon suffers from such little space between your legs and the steering wheel, because the floor was raised to accommodate the torsion bars.

          I am told the US ones did not drive so well, but that was because of the soft underdamped suspension and US tyres. The Rabbit the US Golf also did not drive well for the same reason.

          There were plans for a lift back swb Avenger as an Imp replacement in the original plans for the Avenger although I think it only ever existed on paper. One of the reasons the Sunbeam coukd be developed so quickly, reality was a refresh of that project. That envisaged an 1100 Avenger engine, However the Sunbeam retained the Imp engine, because with the run out of the Avenger along with the ending of the alloy headed Arrow engines there was a desire from the politicians to keep the foundry at Linwood open where they were cast before be shipped to the Stoke plant in Coventry for machining and assembly and then back again to Linwood.

        • To close on your point, with Simca having good engines from 1000cc to 1442cc there was no need and I suspect little thought given to a Fwd use of the Avenger engine beyond the somewhat desperate attempts to keep the UK Power train side alive in the early 70s against the aggressive cost cutting.

          I think what we forget from the UK was the French were hurt just as much, their engines were efficient and they had plenty of development potential. Peugeot quickly resolved the tappet noise for the 309, with nothing but tightening up manufacturing tolerances.

          • I see. Find it difficult to believe the Chrysler higher ups could not see the cost benefits of using the Avenger engine in a large variety of displacements to cover a wide range of British built largely FWD cars, though a 1100cc Avenger engine was envisaged one wonders whether there was further room to shrink the engine down to a 1000cc unit.

            Speaking of Simca while the French felt little need for a 6-cylinder+ engine like the British with the Essex inspired V6 due to domestic market conditions and the fuel crisis, did they at least investigate larger engines beyond the U8 project?

            Read the Simca 180 engine for example drew inspiration from the BMW M10 4-cylinder that itself spawned the M30 6-cylinder along with stillborn (M10-based) V8 and (M30-based) V12 projects, which finances notwithstanding opens up a lot of possibilities.

            Also did Chrysler Europe also have their own diesel projects outside of Barreiros or the post-PSA takeover XUD diesel in the Horizon? Since Fiat managed to develop a range of 1300-1900cc diesel engines from the Fiat 124 / Twin-Cam engines, before later evolving into the Fiat Pratola Serra modular engines.

          • I would imagine at the time the Chrysler higher ups were struggling to see the point of a UK operation as it never showed any realistic prospect of not losing money and Simca also began to struggle after the Fuel Crisis ending in 79 with both operations being sold for just 1 dollar (although that is £500 million more than how much in reality BMW sold MG Rover for), sadly thus it is very unlikely there was much thought given to providing a wide range of UK FWD cars, given also that the UK sales team were telling them that they needed a RWD car for all important the UK fleet market.

            The French car taxation system did not favour high capacity cars and without the export markets that the Italians had traction with in Northern Europe and US where larger capacities were acceptable they had little reason to invest in larger capacity engines. This is why you see PSA, Renault and Volvo collaborating of their V6 and prior to joining PSA they looked at using a straight 6 Mitsubishi engine in the Tagorra.

            For Diesels, they had a diesel version of the 180/2 Litre that had been developed in Spain by the truck division for the taxi market where they had basically turned the Simca engine into a diesel, I recall my father saying it was as rough as a bear’s bottom when they had one to evaluate at Whitley. The CV and LCV engines were sourced from Perkins. Of course diesels cars in the 70s with the exception oddities like the 1500 Golf Diesel, were in mid-sized Mercedes and Peugeot’s, it can be likened in the way that we have Tesla electric cars now pointing us to future of cars with the Nissan Leaf and I3 as until recently a somewhat eccentric choice. Whilst I am sure the teams in Chrysler Europe could see how things were developing, they did not have enough money to develop their petrol engines let alone commission development of diesel engines.

          • Had British built versions of the C2-Short, Horizon and Alpine / Solara in mind when thinking of a wide range of FWD cars (assuming the RWD Alpine was not an option), each with some version of the Avenger engine (though one could argue the Imp engine would have been better suited for the C2-Short).

            The Mitsubishi straight-6 does not seem to have been worthwhile compared to the 180 and PRV V6 engines, apparently Volvo had their own straight-6 and V8 engine projects before deciding to become involved in the PRV project.

            Did they ever at least look into a turbocharged version of the Simca diesel?

          • The C2 short never got very far I understand, it was something driven out of desperation given the short shelf life of the Sunbeam and was quickly overtaken by events when they were taken over in 1979. But by the time the C2 was conceived the idea of further developments of the Avenger engine had been abandoned, the C2 had a ready to go FWD engine option from 1000 to 1442 and soon 1592 so little to gain to be engineering a new powertrain. As for the Imp engine, at 930cc it struggled to move the Sunbeam so would have been killed by the extra weight of the Horizon based C2.

            I am sure somebody in Spain would have had in mind thoughts of turbo charging their diesel, the engine was strong and Peugeot used a turbo petrol version for the 505. However the diesel was a local “lash up” to provide a local product for the Taxi market and there does not look like there were any plans to carry it forward to the Tagora.

            At the time the PRV V6 engine was not an option because they would not sell it to Simca, given that the Tagora principal markets were the UK where Volvo had significant and growing traction and France which was divided between the FWD Renault 30 and RWD 604. So they needed to look for other supplies for a big engine halo model, a Mitsubishi was part owned by Chrysler they seemed an obvious source.

          • Was under the impression the C2-Short supermini was to be of similar dimensions and weight to the Samba / 104 by the time it was shelved?

            Was speculating in the event Simca engineers did take the time to re-engineer the engine mountings of the Alpine to accept both British and French engines at the start, which would have potentially carried over to both the Horizon and C2-Short (had the latter been produced).

            Unfortunate the Mitsubishi Cyclone V6 did not appear earlier than 1986, am somewhat surprised Simca never looked at inline-6 versions of the (1442-1592cc) Poissy and (1639cc) 180 engines (similar to the E-Series or even Renault’s A-Type unit via project 114) given they looked at the blind alley that is the U8 project.

            While likely doubtful, is it known whether there was any scope for further enlargement of the Poissy unit beyond 1592cc given the engine’s Fiat roots?

            More curious to know though what the story was behind a water-cooled all-alloy 950cc Flat-Four for the Simca 1000 that was apparently developed alongside the existing Poissy engine, which was mentioned somewhat online as being at the CAAPY Museum in France.

            Thanks by the way for clearing up things with regard to Chrysler Europe.

          • French cars at that time were notorious for being underpowered and having small engines. French drivers usually compensated by driving flat out wherever possible but in most export markets this approach increasingly didn’t work anymore. But building an inline six version of an existing four is one thing, having a car to fit this engine into is another. Even the Talbot Tagora had an engine compartment that would have been too short for fitting an inline six, just as was the case with the Peugeot 604. Both had to make do with the PRV V6 instead. So far speculations on what engines would have been possible are fruitless because they either had no car or certainly they had no money.

            The U8 was a strictly Matra-only skunkworks operation for the Bagheera and not a Simca development.

          • The C2 was a SWB version of the Horizon (like the 104 5/3 door), which was weighty beast (by standards of those pre NCAP days) at 990kg, with a Samba weight was 740kg, whilst taking 200mm or so out of the wheelbase and switching to a glass (Sunbeam like) tailgate would have saved weight it would not have amounted to anything like the 250 kg difference.

            Obviously if the Alpine had received Avenger engines (idea was touted at one stage to use the BL E Series), then yes a C2 short with an Avenger engine would have been a distinct possibility.

            The Mitsubishi issue for the Tagora is not clear cut, reference is made in many places to them looking at a 6 cylinder engine, but I wonder if that was an assumption that it had to be 6 cylinders in line with the then European market. Looking at what Mitsubishi had in production they only had a straight 6 engine of 2 litre in the relevant period. However they did make a 2.6 litre 4 the 4G54 that was used in the Mitsubishi Debonair. This would explain why it was rejected as being unsuitable. I don’t think in those dying days of Chrysler Europe there was any money to contemplate developing their own 6 cylinder engine in Europe, but had they, a straight 6 version of the 160/180/2Litre would have been the most likely way to given that they could have referenced the architecture of the BMW engine that inspired it.

          • In those days France had a car tax threshold at two litres and charged an additional 33 percent luxury tax on the price of cars with more than 2.7 litres – that’s why the PRV had exactly that capacity and why there were so few French cars with more than two litres.
            The French market for these larger cars was more or less owned by Citroen with the bigger DSs and CXs and it wouldn’t have made too much sense to develop an engine for a car that would sell in negligible numbers, particularly not for a manufacturer suffering from severe lack of money already.
            It would be interesting to find out what led to Simca’s failure. They once were France’s biggest car manufacturer and simply (Simcly?) faded away. The fact that the too American 160/180/2L bombed in the market truly big time surely was one factor but there must have been others.

          • I think they suffered just as much as Roots from Chryslers management policy of rotating executives on career fast tracks through the business on 2 year placements. These ambitious people were eager to make their mark and unwilling to leave anything behind that might later reflect badly on them.

            So they focussed on what they could deliver while they were in place, which meant they liked to be able to deliver cost savings in manufacturing and product development. Certainly they would have been unwilling to drive through big investments in things like new platforms and powertrains that would only deliver any benefits after they had left and of course may later prove an embarrassment.

            If you look at Roots and Simca’s history of Chrysler ownership there was an initial investment when Chrysler got a controlling stake which crystallised as the Avenger and Simca 1100. But after that you see issues with quality as cost savings were sought in manufacturing and new product developments were secured with the minimum investment required to put new metal on the showroom floor.

            The Horizon is a good example of what was wrong, with them going from the premium class leading Simca 1100 / 1300 to the Horizon which was pitched as a “value” product below Escort mk3, Golf, Astra / Kadett. They simply faded away just as Austin etc did as there products became less relevant to the market.

          • That surely is bitter truth. SImca/Rootes suffered from much the same things as Opel did a bit later.
            The Horizon is a car that does nearly nothing better than its predecessor, let alone its post-Golf competitors. Small wonder it didn’t become a sales hit.
            Trying to sell a very American style car like the 160/180 in a European market that moved to distinctly European looks as shown by the pre and post facelift Cortina MkIII/IV can’t have helped much, also.

          • Dave I think you point you miss is that they never set out in Chrysler Europe to make the Horizon a second best option, it was something that was forced onto them by the demands of a management culture that promoted short term cost savings above all other demands.

            Also you forget that the 160/180/2 litre was launched in 1971 (had been planned originally for a 1970 motorshow launch before it all got pushed to France), at this time its styling was what the market wanted and as it was planned to be reskinned on a 4 to 5 year cycle it was never intended to be trying to shift them a decade later.

            Its important to remember that the French were equally unhappy about the 160/180/2Litre as the UK. While the UK lost its big car and V6 engine, the French had, had their car killed in favour of this UK “Yank Tank” which they now had to graft their mechanicals onto, with the pressure to do it as cheaply as possible, to help polish a US directors CV.

          • So in a sense the C2-Short supermini would have been similar to the mk1 Seat Ibiza, which was based off of the Seat Ronda / Málaga aka Fiat Strada / Ritmo?

            Perhaps the “Golf-inspired” US Horizon L platform would have form a suitable basis for a supermini had Chrysler not set out to impair its European operations by their short-termist cost cutting, since the related Chrysler K platform displayed a remarkable ability to spawn a plethora of bodystyles (in various sizes) and badged engineered models that could have potentially possessed a similar capability of producing related SWB superminis if the platform was available in Europe.

            Despite needing more refinement (especially in terms of styling and needing a hatchback), would say the 1963(?) Simca 936 “Isabelle” prototype should have replaced both the Simca 1000 and Hillman Imp had Chrysler been willing to give its approval since it could have really given the Mini a hard time.

          • The US version of the Horizon I believe carried even more weight because of the need to meet the then US crash requirements (as did the US Rabbit(Golf)).

            The 936 seems very much along the lines of a French Mini, interesting but like the Mini, Imp etc they would have struggled to make it with a profit.

            But here is another one, in 78 they had at Whitley for evaluation the Mitsubishi Colt (Mirage) 3 door sold from 78 to 83. My father recalls that they were very impressed with it, not sure how far if anywhere talks went with building it in Europe.

          • Not sure how to feel regarding Chrysler Europe building rebadged Mitsubishis like in the US, there is some appeal to the idea especially from the mid-80s onwards (with an up-engined Minica replacing a hypothetical production 936 and the Tritec powered Mitsubishi Colt-based? 1999 Chrysler Java concept replacing whatever supermini is available at the time) then again so is the idea of a more financially stable Chrysler collaborating with PSA during the latter’s best years prior to the Peugeot 206.

            Have to agree the 936 would probably not have made much of a profit especially with the 10-inch wheels used on the prototype, yet it would be a close call due to featuring 4-doors (with possible scope for a 5-door hatchback) unlike the Mini and engines with potential to grow as much as 1592cc (and that is without even mentioning the tuned engines which powered the Simca 1000 Rallye).

            In a way had Chrysler been in a better position, it would have made more sense for the European Horizon to be shrunken down into one of the larger contenders in the Supermini class (and adopting a different model name) alongside the likes of the mk1 Seat Ibiza, while some version of the Golf-inspired US Horizon (albeit more adapted for the European market) ends up directly replacing the Simca 1100.

          • I am thinking the opposite, bearing in mind that Mitsubishi after Chrysler bought into them in 71, they took over the role that had been intended for Roots, in becoming the source of their compact cars. The Galant and Lancer not only replacing the Cricket, but also taken in preference over the Avenger in Australia and eventually replacing both Avenger and Arrow in New Zealand. I suspect that this was no accident, Chrysler pulling the plug on Roots in 1970, motivated them to turn to the Japanese.

            But this opens up an alternative history, what if rather than trying to merge Roots and Simca, they used the one world class thing they had in the UK, the styling studio at Whitley and put Roy Axe’s team with the Japanese to build cars with European Style and Japanese production engineering, effectively a decade before the Honda / Rover partnership attempted the same, interestingly with what was effectively the same styling team.

        • Just to clarify as I have not been clear.

          The US Horizon continued with the Golf copied platform, the European car asca cost saving measure received the Alpine based platform and so had the raised floor.

          • The Horizon must be the only car using two different platforms under identical looking bodies, just the opposite of common practice (and sense). Maximum effort for minimum or no effect.

          • I agree, it seems a odd decision and was not the original plan, however I think that by using the Alpine platform in Europe they could build save investment by building it on the existing production lines and using existing supply chains rather than having to tool up for a new platform.

            Also think as the US platform was built to meet the then strict US crash tests that added cost and weight.

            I would think that some US Exec on an expat contract in Europe scored lots of brownie points by taking out a significant cost from the project and of course removing all the difficulties with the French and UK Unions of putting a production line with changed procedures etc.

  30. Ideally it would have made the Alpine and Solara more modern if Peugeot ditched the Simca engines in favour of 1.3 and 1.6 litre engines used in the Peugeot 305. These engines would have made the cars far more refined and better to drive, particularly when mated to a Peugeot five speed gearbox( which was fitted to most Talbots from 1982 onwards). Yet I suppose Peugeot saw its cars as far more upmarket than Talbot and the elderly Simca engines lived on until the mid eighties.

    • Vauxhall moved away from their Americanised styling that had been such a big part of their design from the late fifties onwards when the Cavalier and Chevette arrived in 1975 and sales of their cars started to increase. Obviously there was the rationalisation at General Motors and the need to have a coherent design policy, but there is a world of difference between the distinctly European 1975 Vauxhall Chevette and the American apeing late sixties and early seventies cars.

  31. The Horizon and in some European markets the Alpine / Solara got the 1.9 litre XUD diesel engine that was used in the 305, but originally the 305 used the laid back gearbox in sump suitcase engine as per the 104, the later XU end on gearbox engines for the 305 came with the “smiley face” facelift these came along at the end of 82 , for the 83 model year, by which time the Alpine, Horizon and Solara were at the end of their lives. Given limits of production capacity with engines demanded for 205 and 305 and not wishing to create home grown competition with the 305 with the end heavily discounted Talbots they would not release the petrol engine for use in the old Talbots.

    Noting of course that the slightly reworked 1.1 and 1.3 Simca engines went on to live with some success in the 309 minus a lot of the tappet rattle, which makes one wonder why the issue was dealt with by Chrysler (K Series head gasket?) earlier.

    • The 1.3 litre engine used in the 309, while not the most refined or powerful engine in the world, seemed to work quite well in the 309 with some improvements and also proved to be reliable. Mind you, once Talbot fitted most of their cars with five speed gearboxes from Peugeot( replacing the stodgy four speed Chrysler units), engine noise was cut considerably.

      • I agree, it was not a bad engine, lot more pokey than an A Series and so ran well when liberated by the 160kg lower weight of a 309.

    • The 305 never used the “suitcase” engine from the 104.
      The 305’s engine was derived from the one used in the 204/304 and was not laid back, but nearly upright with a forward tilt of around 10 degrees, making it very tall because it was a gear in sump design. The 104’s “suitcase” engine shared many design characteristics with this older one like chain driven camshaft, V-angled valves, all alloy block with wet linders and the gears in sump gearbox. This newer engine was tilted backwards by 72 degrees and gas flow was in the opposite direction from the larger engine. The 204/304/305 engine had its carburettor facing the bulkhead and the exhaust facing forward and the smaller engine had an intake tract that was an integral part of the head and on top of the engine with the exhaust facing downwards.

    • Keith

      One point I would add is that my father said that nobody really believed at Whitley that the Alpine would reach the market in both a fwd /rwd form, that very soon the management would be forced to accept one or the other solution. I am not sure how far it got, but it must have crystallised once they started the engineering, as both sides would have needed to have significantly revised and compromised their designs (and add cost) by having to accommodate the others requirement ie dimensions of the engine bay.

      • 5dr RWD hatchbacks are a rare breed, especially mid sized ones. It does seem slightly pointless, if you consider the first such hatchbacks (the R16 and Maxi) sold on their space efficiency and modernity, which RWD rather spoils.

        Similarly the “conservative” buyer, not wanting that new fangled FWD technology, would presumably prefer to have conventional saloon styling as well!

        Indeed other than the Sierra, I’m struggling to think of too many others

        • They were rare, weren’t they, excluding oddities like the FSO Polonez and Hyundai Pony the Sierra is the only attempt in this sector that I can recall coming to market. However we should not forget that in the early 70s a couple of miles up the A45 from Whitley at Canley they were working on the SD2 and a dozen miles further on at Solihull the SD1, so you had three 5 door fastback RWD cars being prepared.

          You can see the logic of their thinking, because these cars were never conceived as ultra-efficient family transports like the Renault 16 / Maxi, but cars aimed at the UK Company Car market, which did not trust FWD; the 5 door fast back styling also appealed to these cash strapped projects because it provided the opportunity to cover off Saloon, Estate and Coupe market sectors with a single body shell.

          • An avant garde high tech FWD hatchback makes marketing sense, you’re selling modernity

            For conservative buyers in the mid 70s, conventional saloon styling just makes more sense. Estate car sales are relatively small anyway, so you can always skip that market is really short on cash, rather than producing a compromise hatchback.

            To me SD2 is exactly the car JRT should have launched, but with completely the wrong styling. I think British styling studios went down a blind alley with this obsession with wedges and hatchbacks!

          • I think you need to look at this from a fleet buyers perspective, the estate was the staple issue to anybody who went by the title “service engineer” and so you needed to have one or have that sector covered if you wanted to make an offer to many big fleet buyers as they wanted a one stop shop. You also miss the point that in the case of the three examples, was that it covered off the Coupe market as well with their fast back styling, small yes, but carried a price premium.

            I don’t think the SD1 lost any market appeal because it was a hatchback so I do not think the SD2 would have either (I cannot understand why they did not carry the SD1 styling over though), I question with the 800, just because having reverted to a 3box saloon an estate was the next logical step. Also looking at the Lancia Beta which sold very well before the rust issue, and I do not think it gained much if anything (like the alpine) in packaging from being fwd, and its customers were more interested in it being a twin cam than it being fwd.

  32. Story now updated to include Graham’s comments, as well as to clear some terrible typos, and improve the SEO. In time, I hope that when someone pops in ‘Chrysler Alpine’ into Google, we at – or near – the top 🙂

  33. Fascinating. Thanks for the comprehensive update. I really love the AROnline articles with all these details and pictures of design studies and prototypes.

  34. With regard to estate cars, where would owners of show dogs be without their Volvo estate cars? I doubt a pedigree Dogue de Bordeaux would take kindly to being in the boot of a small hatchback for 100 miles.

    • Don’t know what a dog would have made of it, but once we transported a goat in the boot of a Simca 1100.
      With the rear seat folded and the parcel shelf taken out the goat was lying flat on the floor but jumped up everytime the driver hit the brakes.
      The poor Simca was a bit smelly after that drive…

  35. Very interesting – They also dragged the old Rootes names “Rapier” and “Minx” out of the store cupboard for versions of the Alpine/Solara towards the end in the UK if memory serves right ……

    • Correct they at the end they loaded up the spec to sell them with the Minx taking broadly the GL Series 2 spec (90 ish bhp, power steering, tinted glass 5 speed gear box, radio cassette player – AM/LW) against Sierra 1.6L (which had a specification little better than a cave and a dood deal less poke than the Talbot) and Rapier taking GLS Series 2 (as above plus 2 tone paint, front electric windows, alloy wheels and seats that looked like they were made out of Teddy Bear skins, radio cassette player – AM/LW/FM) against the Sierra 1.6 GL which was still quite basic.

      • On value alone, the Alpines and Solaras in their last Rootes named form were worth considering as you got a lot of car for the money, and the modern Peugeot five speed transmission made the cars a lot quieter on longer journeys. Also Series 2 cars were a lot better protected against rust, and Talbot was offering an anti rust warranty. Actually Talbot experienced a moderate rise in sales for these run out models before Ryton was turned over to producing Peugeots.

        • Agree
          My parrents wanted one of the last batch of Horizons, the high end one came with the GLS trim plus power steering, but were all sold out in March 85, so took the basic which offered a very nice spec of car (basically a 1.3 GL Series 2) with the Peugeot 5 speed box that solved the one of the big weakness the poor Simca gearbox, however lacking the power steering it still suffered from the low geared heavy steering. All in all you got a better car as foir the money you would have struggled to get much better than an Escort 1.1L.

  36. Yes I remember the run out Solara Minx & Rapier versions with better trim & spec. That was at the time when alloy wheels & elec windows were still rarish on cars as standard and 2 tone paint was coming into vogue… pardon the pun – I don’t mean Singer Vogue!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*