Chrysler Horizon : American Horizons

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.

Familiar on the outside...
Familiar on the outside…
The Shelby GLHS: A Horizon GTI for the US market powered by a 2.2-litre 175bhp turbo...
The Shelby GLHS: A Horizon GTI for the US market powered by a 2.2-litre 175bhp turbo…

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.

...completely different inside.
…completely different inside.

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…

Like nothing offered by Talbot in Europe.
Like nothing offered by Talbot in Europe.

Pictures supplied by Graham Arnold.


  1. A Golf powered Horizon would have been quite nice over here as well, much better than the tappety SIMCA engine!

  2. Can’t agree more, Peugeot should have fitted the XU engine ASAP, it was possible, XUD was available in the Horizon…

  3. I think the intention was that both cars would use Chryslers new fwd platform. However the French management quite late in the day succesfully made the case of saving money by using the Alpine suspension. This though raised the floor on the car which is why the knee room under the steering column is so restricted on the car, (not an issue on the 1100 and Alpine).

  4. One minor quibble:
    “the Plymouth Horizon and its less plush badge-engineered brother, the Dodge Omni…” is inaccurate, at launch both cars offered identical levels of standard equipment and trim options, this continued to be the case except for the Shelby-tuned models which were Dodge-only.

    Traditionally Dodge had been upmarket of Plymouth; by 1978 the only remnant of this was that larger Plymouths often had their options restricted to avoid competing with Chrysler-branded models sold through the same sales channel.

    • Plymouth was the entry level brand at Chrysler and for all it did make some decent muscle cars, it was probably best known in America in the seventies and eighties for producing cheaper versions of Dodges and Chryslers and V8 police cars like the Plymouth Gran Fury. More than likely, police orders kept the Chrysler V8s alive as most of their other cars had been downsized by the early 80S.

  5. Seem to remember that at the time it was rumoured that the moniker GLH stood for “Goes Like Hell”

  6. I had a ’84 Omni GLH, one of the first sold. At that time of emission strangled engines, its 110HP was a lot. The US Rabbit (Golf) GTI had 90HP that year. The Omni was most definitely in the “cheap and cheerful” category, but at least the GLH had a bit of spritz.

  7. As indicated, initially the N.American Omni/Horizon had the 1.7 litre ohc Volkswagen engine, with a 4-speed gearbox (or 3-speed automatic) which propelled it reasonably well, but it did not come into its own until it borrowed the “bullet-proof” 2.2 litre ohc engine from the heavier K-Cars (Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant) and a 5-speed manual gearbox, at which point, even before the GLH iterations, it became a truly fun car. Yes, cheerful, but not necessarily cheap in terms of trim — top-of-the line versions were very nicely finished inside.

  8. The Horizon was a big success right to the end of its life in America and vital for Chrysler after 1978 when the company’ looked like it was going to the wall. While the European version faded away from indifference and a reputation for rust and poor quality in its early years, not to mention its coarse Simca engines, most American Horizons used the popular and fairly durable Chrsyler 2.2 and boasted a well liked hot hatch version. For Americans who didn’t want a Japanese subcompact, the Horizon fitted the bill and in later life, became a popular used car for novice drivers and poorer motorists.

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