In Argentina, the Avenger carved itself a solid image as a reliable car for the middle classes. Andy Thompson tells its story…
Five years after being conceived in 1966 as part of the Hillman Avenger programme, South American production of the Avenger began in Argentina in August 1971 as the Dodge 1500. Made by Chrysler-Fevre Argentina S.A. there was a choice of 1500 cc and 1800 cc engines. The latter, a large version of the standard Avenger power unit, was never sold in Europe. Chrysler Argentina launched the new car with a peculiar pre-launch advertising campaign, in which the car and its name remained hidden until the car finally went on sale. With its relatively compact dimensions (4.2 meters long and 1.6 wide) the new car was remarkably agile, especially when compared to the enormous models that, until that then, had dominated the local market (the Ford Falcon and Fairlane and the big American based Dodge and Chevrolet saloons).
The most visible difference between the Avenger and the 1500 was the back lights – the British hockey stick style was replaced by a more conventional horizontal approach. In England, the Avenger was sold with three different bodies: two doors, four doors and estate. However, in Argentina only the four door and later the estate models were offered.
Initially, three models were available to customers in Argentina, all four door saloons. At the bottom of the range was the standard Dodge 1500 with 72bhp engine. Next up was the Dodge 1500 SPL, with the same mechanical bits but more luxurious trim. Both models had the same 1498cc (86.1mm x 64.3mm) engine. Completing the range was the Dodge GT-90. In 1974 the 1500 SPL Automatic with automatic gearbox was announced along with the Dodge 1500 1.8 which boasted a 92bhp 1798cc version of the basic engine. In 1977, all received their first major restyling which was pretty much the same as that applied to the European Avengers. Bigger headlamps and a different grille were the main changes. Also in 1977, the Dodge 1500 GT-100 producing 105bhp was introduced. It had the 1800 engine, two Stromberg carburettors, a 215mm (8.5″) diameter clutch and a high performance manifold. This model could be had only in blue dark or black with obligatory sports stripes. In 1978, the first estate models – called Rural – were announced.
The model was a success, with an average annual production rate of between 14,000 and 15,000 units. The best years were 1979 and 1980 – 26,148 and 27,627 units, respectively.
Although English production of the Avenger ended in 1981, the car was made in Argentina until 1990/1 by the Volkswagen-Audi Group. In the middle of 1980, Chrysler sold its Argentine subsidiary to the VW. The main changes made at this time to the Dodge 1500 were a restyled grille, front and rear lights, door windows without their quarter lights and a completely new interior with revised dashboard and steering wheel. The car was called ‘Dodge 1500, made by Volkswagen Argentina’. The last four words were shown on a sticker on the back window but later in a metal plate on the front. Mechanically, the car was unchanged.
In 1982, the car received another mild restyling to include new back lights, plastic bumpers and other decorative bits which were aimed at giving the car more of a Volkswagen identity. The name was also changed to Volkswagen 1500. It was the first non-VW design to which the German company gave its name in Argentina.
The new range was made up of the Volkswagen-Dodge 1500, 1500 Full, 1500 1.8, 1500 1.8 Full and 1500 Rural Full. This latter was a Station Wagon equipped with the 1800 engine and air conditioning. During 1987-88 a basic Volkswagen 1500 was announced, being essentially a stripped down economy model. In 1988, a five speed gearbox became available and air conditioning could be ordered on more models in the range.
The car’s mechanical robustness was its main selling point. This inspired the advertising slogan “It runs, it runs and it runs…” A total of 262,668 units were sold until the car was axed in 1990 when it was near turning 20 years. It was a “durito” that knew how to gain the Argentine heart by being a trusty and worthy tool of the middle classes.
Pictures supplied by Declan Berridge, article written by Andy Thompson