The Hillman Avenger might have been a very British saloon, but that didn’t stop parent company Chrysler from trying to sell it in the USA as an economy-focused sub-compact called the Plymouth Cricket.
However, the model went off sale after just two years, having been outsold by a ratio of 10:1 by its closest rivals from Ford and General Motors.
Plymouth Cricket: The little car that can…
The Hillman Avenger saloon and Estate were all-new cars developed by Rootes using Chrysler’s money, and it was only a matter of time before the American parent company decided to import it into the USA. Three of the big four US domestic manufacturers were busy developing new small cars to do battle with the Volkswagen Beetle – and they duly arrived on the market in the form of the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto.
Chrysler, on the other hand, wasn’t in quite the same position, instead concluding that it made more sense to import smaller cars and sell them through its own dealers. To cover all bases, it settled on a two-pronged attack, developing a Frederalised-version of the Mitsubishi Galant and selling it as the Dodge Colt, and also importing the Hillman Avenger and offering it through Plymouth dealers.
Both cars would hit the US market for the 1971 model year, and were pitched as the perfect alternative to a Beetle or one of the popular new Japanese cars that were taking the US market by storm. Another hopeful that would go on to do battle there was the Austin Marina and that didn’t turn out too well for British Leyland.
Sedan and station wagon offered
As a result, Chrysler sold the UK-built Avenger in the most demanding of markets under its Plymouth brand. A Chrysler Plymouth press release dated 30 June 1970 stated that the Cricket was going to be shown to the automotive press for the first time in November 1970.
The first shipment of 280 Crickets from the UK arrived in the USA on 20 November 1970, just months after it went on sale on the UK. The car was duly added to Chrysler’s price lists on 20 Jan 1971, and was initially offered in 1500cc form. It didn’t take long for the first upgrade to arrive. On 23 Aug 1971, optional twin carburettors were made available on the 1.5-litre engine, adding 15bhp to give it an overall output of 70bhp. The standard engine was now also offered with an automatic choke.
A Chrysler Plymouth press release issued on 23 February 1972 stated that the Station Wagon version was going to debut in early Spring of 1972. Like the sedan, the station wagon was powered by Chrysler’s new 1.5-litre engine. It was fitted as standard with the optional twin carburettor set up of the sedan, with four-speed manual transmission standard, automatic optional.
On sale for just two seasons
Sadly, poor quality and a lack of youth appeal compared with the all-conquering Volkswagen Beetle meant that sales would be limited, despite the booming sales of small cars as the effects of the Energy Crisis started to kick in. To make matters worse, Chrysler was left with no choice but to discontinue the car during the 1973 model year as it couldn’t be made to pass forthcoming emissions regulations without serious investment.
That might not have happened had the Dodge Colt not been such a success in comparison with the Cricket but, as it was the choice, was an easy one – go with the more reliable, cleaner Japanese car over and above its subsidiary’s own product imported from the UK.
The last Crickets were exported to the US in late 1972, literally months after the station wagon had gone on sale, and these were sold as run-out 1973 models. And that was that – what had started out as a project with much promise had crashed and burned in less than 24 months. Total sales were 27,682, which doesn’t sound so bad, until you consider that during the same period, the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto outsold it by a factor of more than 10:1
These press images of the Cricket were used to sell the car in the American market. The Cricket looked little different from its up-spec European cousins, as its 1971 launch precluded the addition of 5mph impact absorbing bumpers.
Plymouth Cricket saloon
Plymouth Cricket Estate
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