Concepts and prototypes : Heuliez Chrysler 180 Break

Words: Keith Adams Picture: Andrew Elphick


The idea of building an estate version of the Chrysler 180 was really quite obvious to take for French coachbuilder Heuliez. For those customers loyal to their local Simca dealer, and who wanted to upgrade to a larger estate than their current 1501, there was no option, other than to defect to Peugeot or Citroen. The car that emerged in Heuliez’s sketches is certainly handsome, and it also looks usefully large – and knowing the company’s intelligent construction methods, it would not have cost a significant amount of money to produce.

If it would have been made in the same way as the subsequent Citroen BX Break, partially completed cars would have been sent directly to the factory from Chrysler, and Heuliez would have added its own bespoke rear panels nd tailgate before finishing off the car. It worked well in the medium volumes required for Citroen, and there’s no reason to believe the same case wouldn’t be true for the 180. However, Chrysler chose not to take up the Heuliez option (or the Coupe, either), instead limiting itself to the standard four-door saloon.

Interestingly, the Chrysler 180 Break makes an interesting comparison with the equally still-born Princess Countryman.

Keith Adams


  1. I agree with Richard… the car has an “Australian” look about it. One wonders if, had it been produced, would it have generated more interest in the saloon versions also?

  2. Reminds me of the P76 estate.
    Attempting a range of models should have helped the 180.
    This wouldn’t have been so bad as a Humber estate; a lot of Chrysler Europe’s trouble was in having so many models so close together (Avenger/Hunter/180)
    It also looks better than the Spanish version which was actually produced!

  3. What Richard Kilpatrick said.

    Surprised that the BX estate wasn’t completed ‘in house’- seemed to sell quite well, so taking half-built ones elsewhere to be finished didn’t appear to make a lot of sense. It does, however, explain the somewhat awkward styling- forgivable when the hatch version wasn’t exactly pretty (although the 16v with their subtle styling addenda was a bit kinder to the eye- much like the Delta Integrale vs its plainer basic incarnation).

  4. OK, so I’ve admitted elsewhere that I’m a Vauxhall fan, but I have to say that the car in the picture has a distinct FD Victor look aboout it, especially the doors…

  5. It also has similar lines, especially the doors and roofline to the Hunter estates too.

    Other manufactures outsourced their estates as well, such as the Triumph 2000 which was done by Carbodies.

  6. I am not surprised the 180 / 2 Litre was not taken up by Chrysler Europe. The car was simple unloved by both Roots and Simca having effectively been forced on them by the US management insisting on taking the weakest elements of each companies C car plans.

    For the French the Roots styling, car was ovely large and too american in styling and for Roots the french oily bits and interior was too low rent to go head to head with Ford let alone the Rover P6 / SD1.

    Result was the only market that developed it was Spain who created a Diesel Taxi version.

    One wonders what could have been if the US management had taken the best of the C car plans, so taking the more compact Bertone styled body from Simca and the Roots V6 and De Dion suspension.

    Certainly that body with the Simca running gear would have made a good Hunter replacement and much quicker to maket than the Alpine. The plans for wood and leather and V6 engines etc from Roots would have made some interesting high line Humber and Sunbeam derivatives and gone head to head with Triumph and Rover offerings of the early 70’s.

    • ” . . The (180 / 2 Litre), car was simple unloved by both Roots and Simca having effectively been forced on them by the US management insisting on taking the weakest elements of each companies C car plans.

      For the French the Roots styling, car was ovely large and too American in styling and for Roots the French oily bits and interior was too low rent to go head-to-head with Ford let alone the Rover P6 / SD1 “.

      True. Sadly, very true!

    • ” . . One wonders what could have been if the US management had taken (for the 180/2 litre), the best of the C car plans, so taking the more compact Bertone styled body from Simca and the Roots V6 and De Dion suspension.

      . . . The plans for wood and leather and V6 engines etc from Roots would have made some interesting high-line Humber and Sunbeam derivatives, and gone head to head with Triumph and Rover offerings of the early 70’s”.

      It would be appreciated if someone could direct my to information concerning “the Roots V6”, and also when Rootes (ever) used a “De Dion suspension”.

      • I’ve also interested to know more about the V6’s, I only know they were supposed to be based on Ford units, & were cancelled when Ford found out.

        • Would also be interested to know aside from the V6s being developed in 2000cc and 2500cc forms as well as speculate regarding the V6’s development potential.

          Have heard the rumors that the Rootes V6 was derived from a Ford V6 though unsure whether it was the Cologne V6 or the Essex V6.

          Whatever the case it is difficult to see how the reputedly potent Rootes V6 is related to either Ford V6 unit given the pathetic power outputs at the specific engine displacements, the 2.0 Cologne V6 putting out 85 hp and the 2.5 Essex V6 putting out 118 hp.

          • Nate I was talking to one of the old Rootes Apprentices at one of our Imp Nationals a while ago. The V6 was indeed The Essex engine but had its design reversed in a similar fashion to The Reliant engine that was based on The Austin 7 engine.
            Apparently if you reverse a design then you get around the copyright somehow? However He didn’t say why it got cancelled but guessing Ford found out and made Chrysler rip the tooling out as it was allegedly in place ready for production.
            Chrysler/Simca already had the 2.0 ohc engine so would perhaps only go down to 2.3 and upto 3.0 ?

          • dontbuybluemotion

            Still to have spent £31 million out of £38 million on the development program only for the V6 to have been scrapped, it must be more then simply the Rootes V6 being derived from the Essex V6 since Chrysler seemed to go out of their way in effectively sabotaging Chrysler Europe.

            A 2.3 version of the Rootes V6 would also have to be a cut above the 110 hp 2.0 version of the Simca 180 (along with later 115 + hp 2.2 Simca 180 engines), so maybe around 125-130 + hp for a 2.3 Rootes V6?

          • dontbuybluemotion

            Was thinking of the overall development costs of the C Car which the tooling of the Rootes V6 was already installed when it was cancelled.

            Ford were not really in a position to talk given that their Canadian Essex V6 was essentially a copy of the Buick V6.

            Obviously had the Rootes V6 reached production then the designs of the Rootes V6 and UK Essex V6 would have differentiated themselves to the point where the relationship between the two engines would not be obvious.

          • Nate not sure of the cost figures but it wouldn’t have been cheap to install, then scrap the lot. The Ford lumps were built more for lazy Torque rather than power, hence they moved onto The German Cologne V6’s.
            Whilst The Simca OHC engines actually punched well above their weight.
            Chrysler moved in very mysterious ways back in the 60/70s, they also employed lots of ex Ford people both in The US and the UK, whether there was some internal sabotaging going on (as possibly BL?) remains to be seen.

          • The OHC engines seemed to be the thing to come from the project, it’s a shame some smaller units weren’t developed for the Alpine & Horizon, rather than continuing to use the OHV engines.

            There’s been a few cars over the years with an engine better than the rest of the car, & vice versa.

  7. The 180 was a total stodge bucket. IMHO, one of the bottom 20 of all mass produced cars. From memory, they didn’t handle, accelerate or brake particularly well, the interiors were poor even by 80s standards and early rust was endemic. Never mind that fact that the outside looked like a bloated Avenger, an estate would have made no difference to the fundamental issues that the basic car had.

    Evidently there are only 2 left in 2012 according to “”. Hopefully these will be consigned to a museum somewhere as an example of the worst of car design from the 1980s. Equally, there are no Talbot Tagoras left on the road. I wonder why?

  8. Tony

    The 180 of course was outdated by 80’s, but it was a 1971 car and its performance, finish was no worse than the similar offerings from Ford and GM and its engine was better than their mid-sized 4 cylinder units of the times. The same unit in 505 GTI was still spot on the market in 83.

    Not an exceptional car, but like the Tagora, adequate for the task but badly positioned in the UK and French markets and unsupported by its owners.

    • Graham, only petrol turbo charged 505 used the Chrysler block, 2L AND 2.2l n-a used the Peugeot-Renault OHC Douvrin block, I guess that the same 2165cc displacement on both “2,2L” induce confusion. The use of the Chrysler block for turbo charged 505 was due to the fact the Douvrin engine couldn’t handle the extra power/torque as far as what I’ve read.

  9. From 1975 to 1982, it was a difficult and thankless task trying to persuade the franchised car distributors (that I was responsible for), to take one of these saloons into their own showroom stock . . . knowing that after a 90 days free credit period, they would STILL have it in the showroom, and then be required to pay CUK for the damn thing.

    That estate version is one that I have been unaware of for all these years . . . and, it is probably something even the smaller, family owned, rural Dealerships would have been more that happy to stock and sell to their “well-heeled” and rustic, farming, community.

  10. My father considered the Chrysler 2 litre along with the Granada Mk2 2 litre, Carlton mk1 2 litre and Princess 2 2200HL. He chose the Princess as he was coming from an Austin 1800 and liked the comparatively short rear overhang for towing the caravan.

    My recollection is that Dad quite liked the Carlton but ruled it out because its pointy nose and large rubber over riders just put it into the next price band on cross channel ferries.

    The things I remember about the Chrysler were the horrible dash and the published power output was 110bhp like the Princess 2200 whereas the other 2 litre cars were 100bhp.

    The Princess was T reg so this is 78/79. I passed my test in September ’78 so I took even more interest than normal in the new car selection.

    The Austin 1800 stayed on the family fleet until it was replaced by a Mini just after the launch of the Metro. My mother was having problems with her wrists and it was thought a smaller car would help. I was despatched with her to go and test small cars. When we went to the BL dealer it was to test the Allegro which was OK but I only had to drive the Mini off the forecourt before I was saying to my Mum that it was the car.

  11. A shame Chrysler couldn’t develop a car that could take on the Ford Granada and Rover 2000, as they had nothing bigger than the Humber Sceptre at the time, and the 180/2 Litre range seemed to fall between the Cortina and the Granada and being French with a little known badge in Britain at the time, it was bound to fail.
    Ideally if the car was British built with a V6 and sharper styling, plus this estate option, it could have done really well.

  12. @Tony Evans…… Did you ever own one? Your criticisms of the 180 can only lead me to believe you did not. Acceleration for what was a large saloon was adequate for an 1800cc. IIRC the engine produced 2 more BHP than the Cortina 2.0 and the performance figures were similar as you would expect. Not bad for an 1800cc car. as for the braking system the 180 had discs all round and were one of its better features. Certainly more efficient than the rear drums you would have found on the Cortina.

    Your comment as to the styling resembling a ‘bloated’ Avenger. BMW have been very successful with their 7 Series which resembles a ‘bloated 5 Series’, which itself looks like a rather ‘bloated 3 Series’. It’s called corporate styling and can be seen in most all the ranges of the major producers these days.

    IIRC the 180 also had electronic ignition as standard which was another thing that wasn’t often found on bargain basement saloons back in the 70’s. The only point you have made that I’m in accordance with is their tendency to oxidise rapidly. Certainly more suited to the warmer climate of Southern Europe than the cold and damp conditions we get here.


  13. Talking to various engineers who worked at Stoke and Whitley in the late 60’s and 70’s you realise that Chrysler had great plans to take on Ford and GM in not only in Europe with the Rootes group, but as compact cars to be sold in emerging markets such as South America, hence why the Rootes designed 180 got the go ahead over a Simca car.

    The plan was to drop the Imp that had never made money and return Rootes to a two core volume models (ie Minx and Super Minx) with then various derivatives and badge variants, and commissioned two “clean sheet” cars from the Rootes team the first being the Avenger and the second being what became the 180 / 2 Litre. These would be powered by a small (1.3/ 1.6 engine in the avenger Sunbeam) block and large (what became the Brazilian) block 4 cylinder engines for cooking Hillman models plus a 2.0 and 2.4 litre V6 for Sunbeam and Humber variants, Simca would be restricted to embellishing the larger car for the French and Southern European markets where taxation favoured then small high powered 4 cylinder engines. One key point to note of these cars is that they were expected to have short shelf life of 4 to 6 years before reskinned and updated.

    The problem was that the costs of bringing the Avenger to Ryton and moving the Arrow to Linwood to make way for it was so excessive in no small part because of the aggressive behaviour of the Unions, made the car totally unviable and the US froze further UK investment until the business could show it was viable (something it was never to do). This meant that the large car was left to Simca to develop it into 160/180/ 2 Litre, which essentially meant using their new engines, and fill the role of the now cancelled UK underpinnings (uprated Avenger in the cooking models plus 5 speed, Deion RS in the premium) with uprated Simca 1500 parts.

  14. While aware of the Rootes Groups problems, what were the main causes for Chrysler’s problems in the US which further exacerbated the Chrysler Europe’s own problems as well as prevented the UK and European divisions of Chrysler from receiving the necessary funds to bring their various shelved projects from reaching production?

    What plan was in the works to eventually integrate both Chrysler UK and Chrysler Europe and how would they have gone about it?

    Interesting to note that Simca actually had a transverse-engined FWD Mini-rivaling project roughly the size of the Renault 5 and Fiat 127 called the Simca 936 intended to replace the rear-engined Simca 1000, which was quickly canned by Chrysler after the latter chose to keep the existing Imp in production.

    A UK built “Chrysler Super Imp” badged version of the Simca 936 powered by both existing Imp engines and a taller block version of the Imp units would have been an interesting idea instead of as an entry-level engine in the later Talbot Sunbeam.

  15. The 936 was the same size as the mini and had four passenger doors – but it looked pig ugly so this may have been the reason behind it being dropped by Chrysler? However sicking in the engines from the Imp, which were brilliant but fragile would probably made the car a financial liability for warranty claims like the imp.

  16. To be fair would imagine the production version being significantly restyled, you have a point though the 936 would likely use the existing Simca Poissy engines, still would want to see the Imp engines to live on a bit longer.

    Perhaps Chrysler was being shortsighted and ignorant of the European market as usual in seeing little future for small cars prior to the Renault 5 and Autobianchi A112 / Fiat 127, so decided to can the Simca 936 while letting the Imp production continue with little to no development.

  17. @ Richard

    Yes, the car was intended to replace the 1725 end of the Arrow range, with the 1500 part of the range replaced by the Avenger.

    The cooking 1725 Arrow would be replaced by the “Brazilian blocked” 1800cc engine.
    The premium 1725 Arrow replaced by the Sunbeam 2000 (Hunter GT), Humber 2000 (Sceptre)
    The 2400 would extende the range upwards in the same way the Avenger 1300 extended the range downwards.

    It was planned the car would go to Ryton, with Linwood becoming home for an expanded Avenger range (coupes etc) and the Imp which never made money would be dropped with some thought given to a 1100 cc two door Avenger lift back in the late 60’s to replace the Imp and so one of the reasons they made such quick progress with the Sunbeam in 75.

  18. @ Graham

    Was the 1100cc engine intended for the 2-door Avenger liftback based upon the Avenger engine, a Simca unit or the tall-block Imp unit?

  19. @Nate

    my understanding that it was to be based on the 1300 / 1600 Avenger engine.

    At that time there was no real communication between Roots and Simca, that did not take place until after the 1970 rationalization and the C cars. In the late 60s Chryslers ambition for Roots was to develop there range of compact cars to take on Ford/GM and take on the emerging Japanese both in Europe and developing markets (hence the Avenger being built in Brazil).

    • Going back to the 1100cc Avenger engine, had it been necessary would it have been possible for lower displacement versions of the Avenger engine to be built for smaller cars.

      Using the 1248cc Avenger engine as a example it would seem the lowest displacement the Avenger engine was capable of had it featured the same bore and stroke was roughly around 835-850cc.

  20. Well to me the Chrysler 180/2 litre is one of the great automotive turkey’s of all to me but the Heuliez wagon is a lot better than the saloon that it sprang from. Had Chrysler Europe taken this on board it could well of taken sales from the estate versions of the Citroen DS & Peugeot 504 and increased to sales potential for the 180/2 litre

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