Concepts and Prototypes : Chrysler Diplomat

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


  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.

    • Yes, that’s definitely the final Australian Valiant body shell with quarter lights and a nose and tail job.
      It’s not bad, all things considered, and the greenhouse has the odd echo of the original ’60-’62 Valiant.

  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.

    • I very much doubt that was an intended replacement for the CM Valiant, it’s more likely a proposal for the CM that was introduced in 1978. The front end is an amalgamation of the 75-76 Hillman Avenger. Chrysler had pretty much stopped spending money in Australia on new models so a dressed up of the CL was as good as it was going to get before Chrysler totally withdrew. I’m not sure about the moniker Diplomat either?

  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.

    • Chrysler almost went out of business after the 1979 energy crisis due to their outdated products. Fair enough, they did have a Plymouth version of the Chrysler Horizon, but it was too little too late, and even their compacts still used big block sixes and V8s. ( The Dodge Aspen was also blighted by poor rustproofing and reliability issues). Fortunately a government bailout and the K car saved them.

      • Not many people in the UK might know, but after 1969, Neil Armstrong, the first Man on the Moon, became an Ambassador for Chrysler marketing and appeared in press adverts in the USA. He promoted things like a 5 year 50,000 mile warranty on their gas guzzler’s of that era.

        • Interesting . . . another connection between Chrysler and the Us Space Programme, is that Chrysler’s aerospace division built the first stage of the Saturn IB launch vehicle.

          • They had a very successful defence division – designed and built the M1 tank, and M60 before it. Which lead to a few jokes comparing the larger Chrysler products to their sister division, Iacocca sold the division around 1980 to raise fast cash.

        • RichardPD – the Chrysler pentastar represented the 5 divisions of the Chrysler group – it included Aerospace, Refrigeration and Cars

  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.

  18. I had relatives in Perth who had a Holden V8 until the second energy crisis in 1979 persuaded them to go Japanese, as the Corolla they bought was nearly three times as economical, was cheap and very reliable. Ever since they’ve bought Toyotas and Hondas.

  19. Re: the pic of the 1978 Plymouth Fury – the front end reminds me of a 1978 US Ford Granada hire car I was in, back in those days. How huge they were!

    • Quite often if a Plymouth Fury appeared behing you in America in those days, you’d better be sticking to the 55 mph speed limit as the Fury was the police’s car of choice in many states in the late seventies. Also 1978 was the last days of the truly huge V8 engines, some as big as 7 litres, as the following year a serious energy crisis( remember the queues for petrol in the spring of 1979) and a recession saw these massive engines phased out, and by 1982, most of the surviving V8s were no bigger than 5 litres.

  20. “truly huge V8 engines, some as big as 7 litres” .. they ran to 500cui on the Cadillacs which (IIRC) is 8.2 litres!

    • @ Kaith, I forgot about that enormous Cadillac V8 that was in production until 1978. Until the late seventies, when the first serious attempt was made to downsize American cars, you could buy full size cars with engines over 7 litres and even most so called compacts had large six cylinder engines.

      • @Glenn, many years ago I had a 1974 GM “all marques” brochure, 17ft long sub-compacts, 20ft long intermediates and 22ft long land yachts… different times but then again there is a Herald estate two streets away that is dwarfed by the new Fiesta next to it.

  21. In Willem L. Weertman’s book on Chrysler engines, before Chrysler Australia chose the the Hemi-6 two other 6-cylinder options were said to have been considered.

    One was a V6 version of the LA V8 that would have come as pair though ruled out on grounds of cost, the other was the Slant-Six that was dismissed due to its 3.7-litre 225 cu in displacement even though it was said to have been capable of being increased to 246 cu in.

  22. I think was the last repost of a dying Chrysler Australia after the plan to bring the Aspen/Volaré down under failed due to lack of funds. If they had brought the aforementioned model down under I don’t think it would have helped the companies demise, as these models nearly brought it’s parent down

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