The cars : Hillman Avenger development story

The Hillman Avenger was all-new from the ground up, and the first Rootes Group car to be developed under the leadership of Chrysler Europe. An excellent all-rounder, but one which probably didn’t get the break it deserved thanks to strong opposition, and the politics of the 1970s.

Here’s its development story, from conception to the end in 1981.

Hillman Avenger: Detroit meets Coventry

According to former Rootes Group Styling Director, Roy Axe, the first formal thoughts on the makeup of the Avenger were recorded for appraisal in January 1963. The idea had been to produce a replacement for the Hillman Minx, which then was Rootes’ best-selling car.

However, the Arrow project was already in full swing by this time (becoming the Hillman Hunter in 1966), meaning that the majority of the company’s development resources would be concentrated on this car. The Arrow range would use a large amount of existing components, clothed in a conventionally styled smart suit, and it was that car which would be used to replace the Minx and Super Minx as well as their badge-engineered derivatives.

Despite the new car being pushed aside for the Arrow, company executives still saw a need for a smaller, smarter model in the range.

Rootes’ much-needed mid-line challenger

The new car would be produced to bridge the gap between the Imp and the larger range and to fight head on the Ford Cortina, which was selling in increasingly large numbers at the cost of Rootes and BMC. In November 1965, the product guidelines for a new car to meet this challenge were laid down.

The ‘B Car’, as it was later called, would need to be compact, smart, roomy and quick. It would need to offer that little bit more than the opposition because, during the boom years of the late 1960s, car buyers’ expectations were rapidly getting higher and higher.

Rootes also wanted to be in a favourable position to cash in on the advent of the ‘company car’ as a popular way of rewarding employees.

Chrysler Avenger: A brave new style

The new B Car would prove to be a departure from the last all-Rootes model to precede it, the Hunter. The main difference was the emergence of a Detroit style and a more youthful direction.

Much time and effort went into ensuring that the car was exactly what the company’s customers wanted from it and, more importantly, it was designed with an eye on taking sales from Ford. Here are some images taken during the development of this vitally important new car.


Early styling sketches of the B Car showed very clear Detroit influences, but also an identifiable semi-fastback style that would soon become an Avenger trademark.

The proportions are a little more daring than the final model, but the character of the Avenger shines clearly through.
The proportions are a little more daring than the final model, but the character of the Avenger shines clearly through
Again, pure Detroit, and none the worse for it - this picture could have been produced by any of the US producers as a styling sketch for the mid-1960s.
Again, pure Detroit, and none the worse for it – this picture could have been produced by any of the US producers as a styling sketch for the mid-1960s

Another Avenger trademark, the L-Shaped rear lamps were clearly designed in from an early stage in the project.
Another Avenger trademark, the J-Shaped rear lamps were clearly designed in from an early stage in the project
The first quarter scale clay model is worked upon by (right to left) lead modeller, Ray Key, exteriors modelling supervisor, Matt Muncaster, exterior chief stylist Reg Myatt and Roy Axe.
The first quarter scale clay model is worked upon by (right to left) Lead Modeller, Ray Key, Exteriors Modelling Supervisor, Matt Muncaster, Exterior Chief Stylist, Reg Myatt and Roy Axe.

Rootes B Car: Full-size clays

One of the proposals that went to full-size clay for submission to management. This version was passed over in favour of the shapelier version pictured below.
One of the proposals that went to full-size clay for submission to management. This version was passed over in favour of the shapelier version pictured below

The model that was signed off by the management. Some fine tuning was still required at the front of the car, but the shape was now settled. The di-noc'ed version of this car was given the green light on the 16th November 1965.
The model that was signed off by the management. Some fine tuning was still required at the front of the car, but the shape was now settled. The di-noc’ed version of this car was given the green light on 16 November 1965.

Rootes B Car: Interior schemes

Two styling themes for the interior, as produced under the guidence of Executive Styling director, Bob Saward.
Two styling themes for the interior, as produced under the guidance of Executive Styling Director, Bob Saward

In terms of styling, it was obvious that the designers of the B Car were looking towards Detroit for inspiration, as early styling sketches had revealed the car to be an almost pure slice of Americana. The style might have looked good on paper, but the difficulty imposed by this decision was that of proportioning.

The demands of a compact overall package and maximized passenger compartment meant that short overhangs would be the order of the day and, that being the case, a great deal of thought went into ensuring the car did not end up with an, over-cabined appearance. Cleverly, the B Car was styled around a shape that was more integrated than past efforts, one that dispensed with the traditional waistline. This meant that the shorter car would not look in any way stunted in comparison with the Arrow range, which at the time was being readied for launch.

With the styling scheme narrowed down, several quarter scale clay models were produced in December 1965 and then taken to the company’s portable viewing tunnel for life-sized evaluation.

Going for the fastback scheme

As a result of these viewings, the favoured choice was that of the semi-fast or flow-back roofline that eventually appeared on the production model. The removal of the waist level feature line meant that the top and bottom halves of the car flowed pleasingly into a single curve, but to avoid the appearance of heaviness, side feature lines were incorporated towards the rear.

In January 1966, work began on full-size clay models, which developed the theme of the favoured quarter scale models. Sophisticated modelling techniques were employed to enable the Styling Department to present some highly finished clay mock-ups to the company’s management and, on 16 November 1966, their final approval was given to the model that looked remarkably like the car launched in 1970.

One important advance was the use of computers to design the bodyshell – indeed, the Avenger was one of the first cars ever to be designed in this way.

…and a modern interior

The full-size facia mockups used during the design evaluation phase. As can be seen, there was some variation from model to model, as well as some interesting steering wheel designs, that were not followed up.
The full-size fascia mock-ups used during the design evaluation phase. As can be seen, there was some variation from model to model, as well as some interesting steering wheel designs, that were not followed up

The interior of the car lagged behind the exterior design, starting in August 1966. The facia design was soon rationalised, so that the first idea of providing three separate designs was met by using a single sheet metal facia, onto which three individual plastic mouldings could be mounted. The different mouldings would give suitable differentiation between the planned De Luxe, Super and Grand Luxe models.

The rest of the interior was mocked-up, and a full set of tests was performed to come to the correct ergonomic solutions. The results of these tests revealed that the best place to site all the major and minor controls would be around the column area and, as a result, the design team set about creating a set of controls to match these ideals.

It was important to the design team, that the three trim levels would be suitably different across the entire interior and three interiors were mocked-up to make sure the greatest uniqueness of each model, whilst retaining as much commonality as possible. The interior was subject to a continual programme of improvement, and it was not until 10 November 1967 that management approval was given.

Perhaps more than any other UK maker, Rootes gave much consideration to the needs of the female buyer. As a result, the Design Department employed the services of several fashion consultants during the design of the Avenger’s interior. These ladies were employed by the colour and trim studio to predict material trends, and how they could be applied to the interior of the new car. Their findings, which encompassed all aspects of fashion, interior decoration and industrial design, would be used in the formulation of all the company’s later products.

Design: the old and the new

The B Car was an ambitious programme for a UK manufacturer of the time. The inward investment from Chrysler in the USA was beginning to bear fruit, and their keenness to expand their European operations was demonstrated by the expansion of the Rootes design facility in Coventry. A lot of work was put in to testing all available suspension and transmission layouts and engine configurations. Much comparative data was produced during the design process in weighing up the pros and cons of flat-four, vee-four and inline-four engines. Cast-iron and aluminium were compared (cost-vs-function) for head and block material.

The company’s eagerness to try new ideas also extended to the suspension system, and research took place into alternative springing media, such as air and rubber (thanks in no small part to the lead taken by BMC and Citroën). In the end, the layout of the car eventually chosen was a conventional one: costs dictated this to be the case. However, the very fact that Rootes had looked at these ideas showed that the company had not been completely put off new ideas after the problems caused by the Imp.

Hillman Avenger: The Final Countdown

The B Car’s layout would be a conventional front mounted in-line four-cylinder engine and transmission with rear axle mounted on a four-link coil spring suspension. The reasons for this layout were justified in the table below, but it also must be noted that the car it was aimed at, the Ford Cortina,was also a very conventional, if an impeccably lightweight and well-costed motor car.

One The B Car was being developed with world markets in mind, and such a conventional layout would facilitate the use of locally-produced engines and gearboxes. This modular approach to car design would become more widespread in later years.
Two Costs were an almost overriding factor: in order to follow the modular approach, the simplest of mechanical layouts would need to be employed.
When crashed into a 100-ton concrete block at 30mph, the B Car showed admirable impact resistance, compared to its larger brother, the Hunter. The centre section remained virtually undamaged, while the steering wheel movement into the passenger was well controlled, and well within the limits of the test.
When crashed into a 100-ton concrete block at 30mph, the B Car showed admirable impact resistance, compared to its larger brother, the Hunter. The centre section remained virtually undamaged, while the steering wheel movement into the passenger was well controlled, and well within the limits of the test

The results of this philosophy were that, in the end, the B Car would prove to be lighter and altogether cheaper to produce than the Hunter (Arrow). There were fewer panels in total, they needed fewer welds and there was a much smaller amount of sheet metal used in its construction.

The chassis received a great deal of attention during the development of the car, and the four-link rear suspension offered many advantages over the leaf spring system common in the car’s many rivals. The rumour that this system was chosen over the leaf spring system because the car’s rear end styling revealed too much of the leaf springs is one that has now entered the realms of motoring folklore. Because of the intensive development programme, the front end received much attention too and, as a result, front anti-roll bars were offered as standard on all models. The effects on ride and handling have been well documented in the generally favourable road tests that appeared soon after the car’s launch in 1970.

The engines were also all new: the B Car would eventually use the inline-four unit in 1248cc, 1295cc, 1498cc and 1599cc versions. There was also an 1800cc unit for South America. The camshaft was located much higher than the competition’s overhead valve engines, meaning that the pushrods for valve operation were as short as possible. Indeed, it was perhaps as close as could be got to an overhead camshaft engine without going all the way. Interestingly, South African-assembled models were fitted with a Peugeot unit to meet local content rules.

The Hillman Avenger hits the Streets

In February 1970, the Hillman Avenger was launched to the public, and immediately the press was taken by its overall competence on the road, and smart contemporary styling

There was a real sense that the car offered the ailing company a shot in the arm, and that under Chrysler’s direction, what was the Rootes Group would go on and prosper in the emerging company car market. Certainly, the signs were good with the Avenger, as it was quite demonstrably a car for the time, and one that people wanted.

Although the Avenger was very similar in size to the Arrow range, these sold in a higher price class. Also, the larger cars were available as Singers and, at the very top, as a Humber, all of which were trimmed with wood trim and chrome in a luxury style. In those days, visual opulence sold well, with people enjoying the envious glances that such showings of visible extra expense brought.

In contrast to previous Rootes practice, which offered each car as a basic Hillman, upmarket Singer, sporty Sunbeam and plush Humber, the new Avenger was always to be just a basic Hillman. No frills, but a low price and conventional (yet contemporary) technology.

Contemporary, yet traditional specification

As such the car featured a live coil sprung rear axle, a four-speed manual gearbox, four-door saloon body and overhead-valve all-iron engine of 1250cc or 1500cc capacity. Compared with the Austin Maxi, a competing product launched the previous year with five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive, overhead cam engine, hatchback body, independent Hydrolastic suspension, the Avenger really was a conventional car. Yet it was just right for the British public who were scared of new-fangled technology and it is said used spark plug access and cheap exhaust replacement as the primary considerations when choosing a new car!

The road tests were positive, and the Hillman Avenger did carve itself a favourable niche with the motoring press. The launch engines were the 1250 and 1500cc versions, and trim levels were DL, Super and GL. The Deluxe and Super had a simple dashboard with a strip style speedometer but the GL was equipped with a round dial dash, although the effect was rather spoilt by conical instrument covers that distorted the readings. The GL was one of the first British cars to have as standard brushed nylon seat trim. A high-powered twin carburettor 1500 GT followed in October 1970 with bizarre dustbin lid shaped wheel trims and go-faster sticker tapes down the side of the doors.

Critical acclaim followed the launch of the Avenger and, although the car never really competed with the big boys such as the Cortina (what could?) and the Marina, it proved a sizeable hit for the company. According to Graham Robson’s book, Cars of the Rootes Group, the 50,000th Avenger was produced in August 1970 and, by the end of its life in 1981, a total of 638,631 Avengers had been made.

A drubbing at the hands of Uncle Henry

During its life, the Avenger (rather like the Morris Marina) suffered at hands of the Cortina, which although similarly sized in Mk2 form, would grow in size with the advent of the MkIII in late 1970 and the MkIV in 1976. This led the Avenger to fall somewhat below the centre of the company car market. Although the Hunter was a larger car, this also was handicapped by the fact that its largest engine displaced rather less than the 2.0-litres that would be found at the top of Uncle Henry’s all-conquering Cortina.

The range slowly developed with the announcement of the estate version in March 1972. Deluxe and Super versions were offered, with a choice of 1250cc and 1500cc engines.

Stripped out fleet models came in February 1972 as well. Called simply Avenger, these didn’t even have a sun visor for the passenger but still offered a choice of 1250cc and 1500cc engines. At the opposite end of the scale, in September 1972, the GT was replaced by the GLS – an altogether more luxurious car with a vinyl roof and proper Rostyle wheels.

Motor magazine concluded in its road test that: ‘the GLS must appeal to those drivers who want a refined, comfortable car that is well-mannered and not too big.’ A two-door version arrived in March 1973, reviving the GT badge with a 1500cc-engined model distinguished by a three-quarter length vinyl roof, but sharing rectangular headlamps with the cheaper models in the range. The 1500 GT was described by Motor as ‘thoroughly enjoyable’.

Other two-door models were the basic fleet model, a Deluxe and a Super. All the small-engined Avengers lost their front anti-roll bar at this time and in a retrograde step drum brakes replaced the front discs.

A Tiger in the Avenger’s tank…

The fire-breathing 100bhp Hillman Avenger Tiger was aimed at the motor sport market and, in competition form, made a fairly respectable rally car. Offered mainly in the famous Sundance Yellow paint colour, the Tiger cut a dash on the high street, even if it was not in tune with the times.

The sporting Avenger Tiger was offered in the mid-1970s; the Tiger I and Tiger II being announced in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The Tiger was developed by Des O’Dell, boss of Chrysler’s Competition Department to generate interest in Chrysler’s motor sport programme and draw customers to Chrysler showrooms. Both versions had a hot 1498cc engine that produced, in standard form, around 90bhp (net) or 107bhp (gross) at 6100 rpm, 90lb ft torque at 4200 rpm.

The engine differed from the standard Avenger GT unit in that it had a big valve, ported cylinder head fed by two Weber 40DCOE carburettors. Suspension was standard Avenger apart from heavy-duty rear dampers and lowered front springs.

Detailed: Hillman Avenger Tiger I

Externally, the Tiger I was only available in Sundance Yellow, with a broad black stripe, a bonnet bulge and a rear spoiler – one of the first production cars to feature such a piece of kit. Quarter bumpers and four Lucas fog and driving lamps at the front completed the picture. The first three were white with a blue stripe.

Only 100 were built initially, but such was demand a further 100 were built. The Tiger I was based around the Avenger Super, which meant they sported rectangular headlamps and a strip style speedometer – supplemented by a pod-mounted tachometer on the top of the dashboard. Restall bucket seats were the only other interior modification.

Detailed: Hillman Avenger Tiger II

The Tiger II was based on the Avenger GL and had four round headlights and a fully-equipped dashboard with round instruments. The bonnet bulge and four Lucas lamps were gone but in their place was a matt black bonnet. Much cheaper Exacton alloy wheels replaced the magnesium Minilite wheels. Wardance Red was an option to Sundance Yellow. The Tiger returned 19mpg but could reach 105mph. When the model was dropped in late 1973, 200 Tiger Is and 450 Tiger IIs had been built. It is thought that as few as 20 survive today.

In a quest for even more rallying power BRM developed some advanced twin-cam 16-valve heads around British and Brazilian Avenger blocks, with up to 205hp available from 2.0-litres. These cars were campaigned in the UK from 1974 to 1977.

Range updates in 1973

In October 1973, the 1250cc version was extended to 1300cc and the 1500cc version, to 1600cc. The cylinder head design was revised too to improve fuel economy. The automatic option was now the new four-speed Borg Warner BW45 gearbox rather than the previous three-speed model. The fleet Avenger was dropped and the GL was offered for the first time with the smaller engine and the two-door bodyshell. A 1300GT producing 69bhp was also launched. In a fight back against the better-equipped Japanese cars which were rapidly gaining popularity with British buyers, all Avengers gained radial ply tyres, a heated rear window and an alternator.

The 1300 and 1600 Avengers had been slated for a July 1973 launch. However, another of the seemingly endless industrial disputes that plagued Britain’s car industry during the 1970s meant that the announcement was delayed until October. Larger engines were built for and installed in what were officially labelled 1250 and 1500 cars in the last weeks of the old model’s production run. Some lucky Avenger buyers in autumn 1973 got more than they bargained for!

October 1974 saw the end of the 1300 GL models but the addition of a 1600GL estate. January 1976 saw the end of the slow-selling 1300 GT and, in April 1976, the range was rationalised as part of a general ‘value-for-money’ campaign. The GL series was dropped but the Super models were all upgraded to GL levels of trim without any increase in price.

A new Chrysler Avenger: thanks to Whitehall

In August 1976, the first and only major change was made to the Avenger. Chrysler had become increasingly impatient with the consistent losses that had been returned by the UK arm of the company. As part of a Government-backed rescue plan for Chrysler UK, there was a major re-shuffle of models and factories. Without the Government’s financial backing, Chrysler had been ready to pull the plug on its British operation meaning no more Avengers and 25,000 lost jobs.

Production of the Chrysler Alpine, using French kits, started in Ryton and, as a consequence, Avenger production was moved to Linwood in Scotland – which was where its body panels had been pressed for years – an agreeable rationalisation in one respect. The Hunter, which had been built at Linwood since 1969 (having been pushed out of Ryton to make room for the Avenger) moved to Ireland. The Hillman Imp, after a long and largely unfulfilled life, died at this time. In the process, the Avenger lost its Hillman badges and became a Chrysler. The Hunters were now the sole remaining Hillmans although they too became Chryslers in the autumn of 1977.

A fairly comprehensive facelift, which gave the Avenger a new front-end and dashboard, was rolled out in 1977 – in both cases, copying the newly-launched Alpine model, which was earning praise across Europe, and creating a new look. From a distance, and head-on, the new grille/headlamp treatment looked similar to the Alpine’s.

A new interior – with a familiar look

The new dashboard brought the interior of the newly badged Chrysler Avenger back up to date in 1976. The interior trim on this model does look rather hard on the eyes however - and the exterior style was not nearly enough modified to compete with new models such as the Ford Cortina IV and Vauxhall Cavalier.
The new dashboard brought the interior of the newly-badged Chrysler Avenger back up to date in 1976. However, the interior trim on this model does look rather hard on the eyes – and the exterior style was not nearly modified enough to compete with new models such as the Ford Cortina MkIV and Vauxhall Cavalier

The dashboard was also frighteningly similar, but again, that was no bad thing, as once again, the interior ergonomics were brought right up to date. One of the Avenger’s most identifiable features – the J-Shaped rear lamps were lost – being replaced by slim horizontal affairs that made the car look a little more modern, if somewhat less distinctive. However, this change was done on the cheap. Instead of new rear wing pressings, Chrysler simply fitted rather ill-fitting metal caps in the space where the lamps had previously been. Buyers noticed…

CAR Magazine’s Giant Test, which pitched the new Avenger against the Ford Cortina MkIV and the Vauxhall Cavalier,concluded: ‘if the rival manufacturers in this Giant Test had made such a transformation to one of their products, they would have ballyhooed it as a new model.’

All the sports models were gone with rallying attention focused on the smaller, but still Avenger-based Chrysler Sunbeam, released in mid -1977. The Sunbeam would be developed to include two sports models. The Ti featured a 100hp 1600cc version of the Avenger Tiger engine. The second version won the World Rally Championship outright in 1980. This was the Sunbeam-Lotus (above), which developed 160bhp from the Lotus 2.2-litre 907 engine; this car was good for 0-60mph in 7 seconds and a top speed of 125mph. However, there remained the mystery of the Avenger GT, which disappeared from the catalogues, but remained listed for some time in the price lists published by Britain’s motoring journals. It seems as if the facelifted GT was only available to special order to those in the know…

The end of the Avenger: undignified and drawn out

Unfortunately, after this nothing more than oblivion awaited the new Avenger, as Chrysler saw a car that only appealed to the Brits. Exports were negligible to the rest of Europe. As the UK was the only market that bought the car in any significant numbers it was now on the fringes of the Chrysler Europe range. The Chrysler Alpine represented the company in the mid-range and, although it was designed in the UK under the leadership of Roy Axe, it was heavily based on Simca hardware and owed little to the engineering talents of the Development Engineers based in Coventry.

The Avenger was left to wither on the vine with just the odd minor specification change to keep it alive. In August 1977, LS and GL labels replaced Deluxe and Super respectively. The GLS lost its Rostyle wheels in favour of cheaper sports-style wheel covers. For 1979, the LS lost its hubcaps and the two-door models bit the dust. The Talbot badge appeared in October 1979 for the 1980 model year, the GLS was dropped and all got that rapidly fading style icon the vinyl roof fitted as standard. In March 1980, the GL models got sports-style wheel trims and the GLS returned to the range, but this time as an 80bhp estate complete with chrome roof rails.

Chrysler’s replacement for the Avenger was the Solara, effectively a three-box version of the Alpine; and when the company sold its European assets to Peugeot-Citroën in 1978, it was quite clear that there was no future left in the Avenger. Although it did become a Talbot, its future was inextricably tied to that of Linwood. When Peugeot announced that it was rationalising its factories, it came as no surprise that, among the casualties, Linwood was prominent. Closure came in early 1981, and with it came the death of the Avenger – a car that had performed admirably for the company somehow deserved a better fate…

Hillman-Chrysler-Talbot Avenger in retrospect…

The Avenger undergoes its third marque name change: following PSA's takeover in 1978, all Avengers became known as Talbot Avengers during the summer of 1979.
The Avenger undergoes its third marque name change: following PSA’s takeover in 1978, all Avengers became known as Talbot Avengers during the summer of 1979

The Avenger was styled for its time, opened up new markets for Rootes and Chrysler and was generally what people in the 1970s wanted. There were problems with the car, although most of these could not be aimed at the design, but at the manufacturing. The car’s production was too dispersed (Linwood and Coventry are 300 miles apart) and it was blighted with industrial unrest which cost the company countless lost cars, and therefore, sales. Also, the Avenger suffered from below par build quality (this especially affected sales of the Plymouth Cricket-badged version in the USA) and poor protection against rust. Instead of using underseal, to save weight electrolysed paint was used to coat the floors. As a result, the front floors could rust out very quickly.

The engine, all-iron with a pushrod valve, seemed low-tech, but was strong and quiet and could rev to 7000 rpm. They gave good performance and economy and, although they became noisy with high mileage, rarely failed. Their inherent toughness came to the fore in the Hunter Arrow series made under licence in Iran as Paykan. From the mid-1980s, the Avenger engine was used instead of the Rootes 1725cc engine. Transmissions were bulletproof. Servicing and repair (bolt-on front wings, for example) was cheap and easy. The design of both engine and suspension was carefully thought out and executed.

The Avenger was a lightweight car with a computer-designed body shell that resulted in the strength and rigidity necessary for good handling. A well-kept Avenger will still delight its passengers with a quiet smooth ride and entertain the driver when the twisty bits loom on the horizon. The larger engined 1500 and 1600 models are even better at high-speed as they have a higher final drive ratio.

Avengers were designed and made in Britain in the days when that meant something. All in all, almost three-quarters of a million Avengers were made. The most popular export area (after the US-badged Plymouth Cricket) for the Avenger was Scandinavia, where the car was badged as the Sunbeam 1250/1300/1500/1600. However, the vast majority were sold in the UK. More than you would think survive today and there is a thriving owners’ club dedicated to the Avenger and its Sunbeam sibling.

With thanks to Andy Thompson for his extra information.

Keith Adams


  1. Always thought Avengers looked ungainly and unbalanced, and they haven’t improved with age. I learned to drive in one; it was bright orange and had that strange half-vinyl roof which no other manufacturer ever copied.

    Avengers weren’t bad to drive once you were inside, with decent handling and performance; I’ve driven many worse cars since those days.

  2. When I was driving lots of everything in the early 70”s the Avenger fared well in many people’s view – and the motoring press rarely kicked it hard, preferring to come down on the side of style, value for money, practicality and reasonable performance. (I think even the boys at CAR rated it well)
    My own view was that the Fiat 124 and the Vauxhall Viva were infinitely more fun to drive. The Fiat particularly just begged for you to slide the seat back, put on your Paddy Hopkirk driving gloves, wack the heater up, drop the window and enjoy the next 200 or so miles. Oh’ happy days!

  3. An under-rated and largely forgotten car. No great shakes on the looks front but they were robust and reliable. My dad nearly bought one but with 3 kids there just wasn’t enough rear seat space and we opted for an older Triumph 2000 instead (probably a lucky escape as the Triumph served us well).

    Never thought much of the strip speedo interior which was distinctly low rent when compared with the MkVI Minx that we had at the time (also with strip speedo but much bigger inside). I always felt that the Avenger competed more with the Escort Mk2 in terms of passenger space.

    I also never felt that the Chrysler front and rear end facelift was a definite step backwards, especially with the bug eye headlights and chrome grill. The Avenger estate was a pretty useful tool with decent interior space. I can recall loading boxes into one when a friend moved house.

    The Avenger was also much better built than the subsequent Alpine which had bodwork with the durability of cheese and I remember seeing several well rusted Alpines parked up in a breakers along with a much better looking and 5 year older Avenger!

  4. The Avenger-adventure for me started up with my dad buying a new in 1974;a 1300 DL 2-door.They were cheap here (Denmark) and actually they sold very well;more than 16.000 were sold between 1970-76……..Most of the time it was on the top-20 saleslist.
    Today I own 10 Avenger’s (and a 424) but apart from mine;there’s almost no left;less than 10 still running.
    I’ve always liked the handling of an Avenger;I’ve owned Marina,Taunus (Cortina mkIV) and Corona RT61,and the Avenger is far the best to drive and handle……….And especially the mkI I think is well-designed.I like the styling with the hockey-rearlights……
    Now I’ve got a ’78 Avenger 1600 Super as my dailydriver through the summer,and I’m happy everytime I sit behind the wheel 😉

  5. The Hillman Avenger, I suppose you could say it was a smart child with bad parents.

    I’ve been driving a 1300 MK1 Avenger now for three years and after about 12,000 miles I can say they were reliable for their era (it always starts – always) and the B-road handling characteristics are very good as various critics have mentioned. The steering into a sharp crazily cambered corner is as good, if not better as anything costing £30,000 today. Its a car that really tells you what cambers of the road actually are rather than the vague message a modern FWD advanced suspended eurobox gives you, which tricks many’s a young driver into driving way too fast on our lumpy bumpy roads here in Ireland. Where you point the Avenger, it goes without fuss.

    I always liked Avengers since I was a boy and a faded memory of sitting on my Grandas lap ‘driving’ his 1600 Super down a lane created a romantic liking for the Rootes/Chrysler Cortina so I am probably not the most objective critic!

    Anyhow the Avenger was a good driving car. The low transmission line thanks to the hypoid diff gives them a low centre of gravity and with their all coil sprung suspension (yes, MK1/2 Escort owners no leaf springs) there is no rear axle skipping or tramp. Also the low transmission hump really puts the Avenger into the Cortina sized car rather than the Escort for comparisons sake.
    The engines are very strong and to call the Avenger engine, a pre-crossflow type OHV is another point that a lot of people assume the Avenger is.
    Low skirt line block with a five bearing crank, short push-rods and made with a good grade of SG iron. Lubed with Duckams Q I have heard stories of 220,000 miles gotten from Avengers without fuss or even so much as blowing a head gasket.
    I’ve noticed often just how smooth an Avenger runs compared to others of the era. Careful design of how stresses run through the block and gearbox certainly paid off. Possibly also Rootes being thin-wall casting specialists created an engine/gearbox unit that was as vibration free as possible placed into a well designed chassis made the Avenger the one to have as I have heard some say.
    The engines in 1300/1600 post Oct’73 are torquey affairs and when tuned correctly give 30-35 mpg. More reliable than a Leyland, easier on petrol than a Ford as some used to say.

    As for rust the bad point was the lack of underseal but the quality of steel (at least on the MK1) was good and in the 1970’s you either undersealed a new car if you were dilligent or just didn’t care and let it rot.

    Of course I am highly biased, however its clear that the Avenger was a much better car than people perhaps assume.

    They are quite a smooth car to drive and I can only imagine what it must have been like stepping into a new 1500 Avenger in 1970 after climbing out of a Morris Minor or Ford Anglia. They were a mile ahead of the competition at the time in suspension, engine and styling design.

    The bad parents though.

    In mid 1970 Rootes officially became Chrysler UK after years of investment from Chrysler. Whats pretty clear with hindsight is that Chrysler Europe (Simca + Rootes) was established behind Simca and they just were not interested in the Rootes legacy cars. So no major development went ahead with the Avenger or Hunter. All the Rootes cars needed was development of the engines to OHC and a five-speed gearbox. Particularly with the Avenger body and suspension development was already where it needed to be. I wonder just how much better the Avenger could have been if it got this further investment. After all the Morris Minor in Ital form made it all the way to 1984, so could an OHC five-speed Avenger have cut the mustard in the mid-1980’s? A relatively cheap but competent competitor to the MK3/4 Escort/Orion or a smaller Sierra equivalent?

    I also notice that when reading BL’s Triumph-Morris proposals in the mid-1970’s that I kept thinking Avenger when looking at the size and specifications of the proposed Marina replacement. Was the TM to be Leylands Avenger?

    • Chrysler focused on the FWD cars as it was the way forward, hence both UK saloons rwd were seen as past their sale by date, it proved true, 1980’s saw a shift to fwd for the big US firms-except the Sierra-
      What suprises me is that the UK engines were not put in the Horizon and Alpine. From what’s written, they were more refined than the French ones…(which engine could be less!!)
      I,too, thought the Sunbeam(as known in France) was more Escort than Cortina MK3 rival, this was more the Hunter territory, but the MK3 surprised everyone by its serious groth in size and Ford had to leave some space for higher spec Escorts.
      This leaved the Avenger and Marina sitting in between both Fprd’s best sellers.. Rest is history..

    • Chrysler focused on the FWD cars as it was the way forward, hence both UK saloons rwd were seen as past their sale by date, it proved true, 1980’s saw a shift to fwd for the big US firms-except the Sierra-
      What suprises me is that the UK engines were not put in the Horizon and Alpine. From what’s written, they were more refined than the French ones…(which engine could be less!!)
      I,too, thought the Sunbeam(as known in France) was more Escort than Cortina MK3 rival, this was more the Hunter territory, but the MK3 surprised everyone by its serious groth in size and Ford had to leave some space for higher spec Escorts.
      This leaved the Avenger and Marina sitting in between both Ford’s best sellers.. Rest is history..

    • OHV engines were still in Talbot designed cars until 1991 so there was no chance that cash strapped Chrysler Europe would have been converting an already competent engine to OHC.

  6. “A well-kept Avenger will still delight its passengers with a quiet smooth ride and entertain the driver when the twisty bits loom on the horizon.”

    None of the Avengers I’ve ever driven had good handling, well not in comparison to an Escort of the same period.

    I used to work for a garage that bought up an Avenger (from an old boy/customer) and it was used as a loan car etc, admittedly it was an automatic, but the handling was not good and performance wasn’t anything to write home about either.

    I’m sure this article was written by an enthusiast, but maybe you take the rose tinted specs off before publishing a piece.

  7. My dad had a 1970 H reg 1250cc Avenger, in about 1977 so it wasn’t that old. Metallic brown with a bright yellow roof (!) I think it lasted until ’78 before it blew it’s bottom end out. My only real memory is of scorching my legs on the blisteringly hot vinyl seats.

  8. The Chrysler Avenger and the Sunbeam derivative had a big following in Scotland as these were made in Linwood. Indeed the Scottish link was put to good use in 1978 when the ill fated Scottish World Cup team were used to promote the Avenger in a series of adverts on ITV. Could this be a case of tempting fate as the team, who were tipped to do very well in tournament crashed out in the first round, and Linwood itself closed three years later, ending 11 years of Avenger production.
    I often wonder if Linwood, which employed 8000 workers at its peak, could have had a future as by the time it closed, its industrial relations problems were dead and buried and productivity was rising at 12 per cent a year. Also wage levels were lower than in Coventry and all that was needed to be done was to run down Ryton( the Stoke plant could have continued making Peykans) and concentrate production in Linwood. After all, it was close to Ravenscraig for producing bodies and there were car component factories in the area, so the plant wasn’t the remote irrelevance Peugeot Talbot thought at the time.

  9. I always thought the Avenger looked much smarter than the Hunter, it seems strange that the Hunter wasn’t replaced with something more stylish looking.

    Instead we got the Chrysler 180 which was too large to be a Cortina rival, and too ordinary to be an executive car!

  10. @ Jamie
    From my experience the Avenger was the best-sorted of the standard RWD small/medium British saloon from the 70’s, (Marina, Escort, Cortina, Viva, Dolomite) – and not seriously challenged in the handling/ride/traction departments until the rather smaller Chevette saloon came along in about ’77.

    An Escort could be fun in a predictable slidey sense, but had a pretty awful ride and didn’t have the grip nor composure near it’s modest limits unless suitably modded – a noisy, unrefined car good at making you think you were going fast without ever really achieving it. Many rose-tinted specs belong to old Ford enthusiasts from what I read…

    A bigger issue though was those few well-sorted pesky FWD euroboxes, the FIAT 128, Alfasud and Golf made them all look passé – shame BL couldn’t/didn’t bother to make the ‘modern’ Allegro do the same..

    • Never liked the Mark 1 Escort, a hard riding, nasty looking car with nasty engines and completely basic until you went to the top of the range. Must admit the Mark 2 was a lot better, the styling was nicer, the engines seemed quieter and the Ghia and GL models were well equipped for the time.
      Yet while I can’t stand the Allegro, I still think the best British car in the light medium class in the early 70s was the ADO 16. It might have been getting on a bit, but nothing handled as well due to FWD, the GT and Vanden Plas were capable of nearly 100 mph( about 10 mph faster than an Escort 1300), it rode well, the Vanden Plas was like a mini Rolls Royce and reliability was good for the time.

  11. The end of the Linwood factory marked the end of 18 years of car production in Scotland. It was no wonder in the sixties and seventies that Hillmans were common sights in the country as they were seen as Scotland’s cars. Also the closure of Linwood led to the loss of 5000 jobs in the town and Linwood took years to recover, and led to a big fall in sales of Talbots, the successor marque to Hillman, as many Scottish car buyers boycotted their products in protest.

  12. Forgetting about the turmoil within Chrysler as well as concerns about the fate of convertible sports-cars in the US, could the Hillman Avenger have also formed a suitable basis for a Chrysler (or Sunbeam) badged 2-seater sports-car / coupe to directly succeed the Minx-based Sunbeam Alpine instead the existing Arrow-based Sunbeam Alpine “fastback”?

  13. In Chrysler form, the Avenger looks quite stylish and also as it didn’t use SIMCA engines, was more refined in 1600 cc form than the Alpine. Also it was the last of the Rootes era cars in the Talbot range and still used mostly British parts, while the Alpine and Horizon were mostly assembled from PSA parts.

  14. Alongside the project Arrow (Hunter), Rootes later relaunched the Minx 1500 using the Hunter’s bodyshell with more basic trim and less power. There was a Singer Gazelle badged equivalent too.

    So the Avenger was launched in 1970 into a different market sector as indicated here. A former employer had a 1972, Avenger 1500DL Estate, which despite basic trim and no rev counter did motor along quite fast, if boomy at top speed!

  15. A good car badly marketed and positioned. Rootes/Chrysler obviously used the same Midlands calibrated tape measure that BL used and ended up with a car too big to be an Escort and too small to be a Cortina. To compound this problem it sat alongside the identically sized and engined Hunter, no wonder that in comparative terms it bombed. Chrysler then did exactly what BL would have done, ignored it and left it to fester with no real development well past its sell by date.

    • When the Avenger was conceived it was the right size for the volume fleet market dominated by the Cortina Mk2 with the market centre of gravity being 1200 to 1500, the 1600E was the halo model. The Arrow (Hunter) when it was conceived sat across both the Cortina and Consul market with 1500 and 1725 engines, when the Avenger came along the 1500 was dropped, and it was planned that in 71 the Hillman 1800 (using the d´body shell we know as the 180/2Litre) along with the Sunbeam / Humber V6 variants would replace the two cars.

      In its early years the Avenger did not bomb commercially, the problem was that Ryton could not produce enough to meet the demand. It was the failure of Chrysler UK in 69/70 to hit productivity targets and contain the costs of the Avenger introduction to Ryton and the Arrow to Linwood which led to the decision to suspend investment in the UK by the US parent company, at the time Ryton and Linwood were working 24hr 3 shift system to meet demand of Avenger and Arrow.

      It was only after 1971 and Ford decided to consolidate the Cortina and Consul using the Taurus or as we know it the Cortina Mk3 that the fleet market shifted and so the Avenger appeared wrong sized. But we should also remember that the Cortina Mk3 struggled initially to gain traction in the market as it was seen as a left effective proposition as a 1.3 and it was took some very aggressive pricing by Ford to turn this around.

  16. The Avenger GT introduced me to Production Saloon Car racing and on our first outing at Oulton Park we came 3rd in Class after the Works cars largely thanks to Sue, one of the Kirby’s of Liverpool mechanic’s girlfriends who kept up a constant supply of burgers! We towed with an ancient Commer Walkthru’ van in which bunks for 6 and room for a pram and 2 kids were fitted. At the end of that season both I and the Works Team moved up to the Hunter GLS, in my case sponsored by Shellsport, and during the Avon Tour of Britain on the last lap I overtook Graham Hill in his Datsun Bluebird at Woodcote Corner, Silverstone (when it used to be a corner). My elder son, Matt, who was about 4 at the time went running over to Graham Hill and said “my Daddy beat you” to which he sat him on his lap and replied “Did he? We’ll have to stop your pocket money then!”

  17. My first company car was an Avenger 1500 Super Estate, which I chose after looking at Cortina and Maxi. It did everything required of it including carrying large loads of boxes as I was manager of a group of shops. Coincidentally, I inherited a 1500 Super Saloon, automatic, when working for my next company, which was one of the ones with the 1600 engine but older auto box. Again, it was extremely reliable and provided excellent service although not exactly exciting to drive.

  18. From memory the Avenger was a pioneer of the use of adhesives in Body In White construction.
    Might be worth adding a postscript on the Avengers built in Argentina which ended up with VW badges on them when the factory was taken over?

  19. The Avengers with twin round headlamps look quite good, though I don’t recall seeing as many as them on the roads. I seem to remember a sketch from “One foot in the Grave” where Victor Meldrew phones his garage and mentions his Hillman Avenger.

  20. The Avenger had a very long afterlife in Argentina, where it became a Dodge and then, ultimately, a Volkswagen. Production finally ended there in 1990.

  21. Given the choice between a 1.3 Marina and a 1.3 Avenger, I’d choose the Hillman every time. It looked better, was more economical, the engine was quieter and the GL model was a lot better equipped than a Marina Super. Also the Avenger was roomier and better looking than the Mark 1 Escort and had a bigger model range than the Viva.

  22. Given the choice between a 1.3 Marina and a 1.3 Avenger, I’d choose the Hillman every time. It looked better, was more economical, the engine was quieter and the GL model was a lot better equipped than a Marina Super. Also the Avenger was roomier and better looking than the Mark 1 Escort and had a bigger model range than the Viva.

  23. I must admit to liking the 4 door Avenger’s to the Chrysler Sunbeam that followed. Also I liked the Horizon better too… for all its shortcomings

  24. The Avenger lasted 11 years and was still selling in reasonable numbers when it was cancelled with the closure of Linwood. It was probably closest in design to the Morris Marina and Vauxhall Viva that it competed against for most of its life, a simple, rwd light medium car that most people could understand was made in Britain, when things like that mattered. However, Peugeot and more demanding car buyers saw the Avenger as a bit of an antique by 1981 and it was falling behind the pack by then, as its techonlogy had nothing in common with the French based Talbots in the rest of the range and Linwood was too much of a liability.

  25. Notwithstanding how events panned out for Chrysler Europe, though cannot help but think about the short-lived Chrysler UK proposal for what became the Chrysler Alpine to utilizing a FWD conversion of the Avenger estate platform with strut front and a dead beam rear axle.

    Would the Avenger let alone the Sunbeam (along with a larger C/D-Car model), have benefited from their replacements making use of a FWD Avenger-derived platform had Chrysler UK been in a better position (or in the case of the Sunbeam featuring FWD from the outset with improved rear legroom)?

    Was the Avenger platform too long in the tooth by that point in the mid/late-1970s for a FWD conversion to be justified or could it have been updated in the same way both the Alpine and European Horizon were derived from the Simca 1100?

    Not suggesting it was a possibility rather curious whether a FWD conversion would have improved the Avenger platform’s production life for a bit longer.

  26. The Avenger did receive an update in 1976 when it became a Chrysler as part of a government plan to save Linwood, but underneath, nothing changed and Chrysler’s problems meant any new money was spent on the Sunbeam and Horizon, the Sunbeam itself being based on Avenger technology. I think by the time of the Peugeot takeover, only healthy sales in Britain to conservative buyers who distrusted fwd and hatchbacks kept the Avenger alive. Yet by 1981, when the Avenger was cancelled, it was an old design and had fallen well behind its competitors.

  27. Way back in 1981 I reluctantly bought a ’73 Avenger. I say reluctantly as it was not exactly the last word in cool. I was gradually moving on from bangers and the Avenger was the best that I can afford at the time. Much to my surprise it proved to be a terrific buy. No trouble, no rust in the 2 years I had it. Nice car to drive, very good road manners and superb gear change. My abiding memories – steering wheel that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the bridge of a cross channel ferry and those kids toy like (suction pump) screen washers. Wonderful times.

  28. The Avenger was a good car for its time and for all it could rust if it wasn’t undersealed every year and build quality wasn’t the best, mechanically it was a strong car and drove well. I always liked the GLS and GT models from the Hillman era with their four headlamps, metallic paint and vinyl roofs that made them stand out. Chrysler era cars didn’t look as distinctive, as there was some cost cutting at Chrysler, but they were still a valid alternative to an Allegro or Escort.

  29. One of the last Talbot Avengers, a W reg 1.6 LS estate, is an exhibit at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. The owner kept the car until he gave up driving in the noughties and donated it to the museum. Interestingly, the car has a non standard top of the range radio/cassette and optional rev counter fitted as the owner liked his jazz cassettes and needed to know how many revs the Avenger was using on motorway journeys.

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