The C2 was conceived right from the beginning to be a World Car. The American version was developed alongside the European version, but like most international efforts, plans went a little awry…
Ready for the world
As noted in the Horizon’s development story, the international launch of the Horizon took place on the 7th December 1977. As can be seen from the accompanying photographs, the exterior style of the American Horizons was very similar to their European counterparts, a glance underneath would tell a very different story.
But why had Chrysler decided to embark on a costly federalization process of the Horizon in the first place? In the USA, the range on offer comprised almost exclusively of V8-engined gas guzzlers, but following the 1973 energy crisis, the American government pressured the domestic producers into producing more fuel efficient cars. This was done through the CAFE regulations, and the idea was that each company would need to deliver an average fuel consumption figure across the range; failure to do so, would result in heavy corporate fines.
For Chrysler, the obvious solution was to call upon the European arm of the company to deliver one of its products to America. The result was the C2 was given World status; the intention being that the product would be sold in the same form across the globe.
Indeed, the C2 Horizon was soon treated to a parallel development programme, with the UK, France and USA all being heavily involved. The Horizon’s styling was developed in the UK by Roy Axe‘s team, but was revised slightly by Chrysler in the USA in order to meet local regulations (these were adopted in Europe as well). However, because of production capacity and a limited development potential, the SIMCA engines to be used in the European C2s were passed over for American consumption, leaving Chrysler with the task of finding a suitable replacement.
The answer was staring the company in the face: Horizon was often accused of being a plagiarised Volkswagen Golf, and in the USA, this was especially so. As the German company was already a presence in the US, and was always keen to move as much iron as possible, it accepted an offer from Chrysler to buy its 1700cc “federal” engine for use in the US Horizons. Installation would be a doddle too, as the European car’s torsion bar front suspension had been dropped in favour of a MacPherson strut arrangement, which closely resembled that in the Volkswagen Golf (Rabbit).
So, all the advantages of the World Car programme were negated by the fact that European and American Horizons were fundamentally different under the skin.
That said, the Plymouth Horizon and its less plush badge-engineered brother, the Dodge Omni went on to be huge successes in the USA, selling consistently well throughout the 1980s, until their replacement in 1991. In fact, the Horizon sired a turbocharged performance version, and even a Coupe… glamourous variations that Europe could well have done with during the car’s formative years…
Pictures supplied by Graham Arnold.