The cars : Plymouth Cricket

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…

Plymouth Cricket

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.

Plymouth Cricket styling model at the Whitley Design studio in Coventry. There were few visual alterations made to the Hillman Avenger to make it suitable for sale in the USA.
Plymouth Cricket styling model at the Whitley Design Studio in Coventry. There were few visual alterations made to the Hillman Avenger to make it suitable for sale in the USA

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.

Plymouth Cricket

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

Press Photos

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 sedan

Plymouth Cricket Estate

The stylish Plymouth Cricket Station Wagon was pushed hard by Chrysler, and many of these press images play heavily on its commodious load area.
The stylish Plymouth Cricket Station Wagon was pushed hard by Chrysler, and many of these press images play heavily on its commodious load area
Plymouth Cricket

Press Adverts

Plymouth Cricket advert

Keith Adams

19 Comments

  1. @KeithB
    No, the Cricket was the first foreign captive import to wear the Plymouth name.

    Actually, after the British-built Cricket was discontinued in both the US and Canada, Canadian Plymouth dealers began to sell a Cricket version of the Dodge Colt which had been sold through Dodge dealers in both countries since 1971. Plymouth USA didn’t get another captive import until the 1976 Plymouth Arrow based on the Mitsubishi Colt Celeste. US Dodge dealers didn’t get a version of that car but Canadian Dodge dealers did as the Dodge Arrow.

    However, from then until the 1990s, all US Chrysler captive imports were Japanese-built.

  2. that’s typical 70’s story book: Japanese replaced European “fare” at lowest end of North America’s market. Maybe Chrysler should have imported the ones built in South America, where the workers were proud of their job/achievement, read the NZ Todd operation, it’s quite an eye opener!!!

  3. The Avenger was acceptable for the British market, but would probably be savaged by road salt in the bitter winters the Northern states have. which explained why it only lasted three seasons. Also would American families really want a 1.5 litre basic British saloon when most could afford V8 cars with all the options and effortless performance at the time? Maybe if the Avenger/ Cricket was launched during the mid seventies fuel crisis and recession, it would have stood a better chance.

    • Somehow they wanted VWs, Datsuns and Toyotas and even Pintos at this time and also they somehow wanted the Colt. Poor quality killed it.

  4. @4. ‘most could afford V8 cars with all the options’ ???
    Some could, many bought something more like an old 6cyl Studebaker or an old Rambler. The Avenger was a plain, simple car but one of the more reliable repmobiles available back in those days, fine for short hops. The problem with almost all European cars was that they were unsuited to covering vast distances, often with minimal maintenance.

  5. Linwood? Not until the 1976 facelift, when production was shifted north of the border from Ryton into the space made by the Imp’s demise and Hunter assembly moving to Ireland. Avenger body panel pressing was always done in Scotland, so the move made some sense.

    The Arrow range was sold in north America under the Sunbeam name.

  6. Re: “acceptable for the British market, but would probably be savaged by road salt in the bitter winters the Northern states have”
    Britain uses road salt in winter too. Rust was the death of most ’50s-’70s cars here.

  7. Avenger : best average automobile ever made in Argentina, rebadged as Dodge 1500 and finally as the Volkswagen 1500 & Rural 1.8 ( the estate version ) until year production ended in 1991. This little untroubled engine was and still is venerated in Argentina as the most reliable motor in the car’s history . All Avengers in its 4 series were the favorite car of all budget’s categories , it was the #1 choice both among rich people and poor people . Such a quality in both engine and general structure allowed the Crickets to still survive thousands and thousands around the rough routes and streets around all suburbs in Argentina. The Avenger wasn’t just the car for the city, but it used to be the “emergency boyscout ” in whatever off road situation . Thanks brilliant Brit engineers by giving the Avengers such a positive spirit for an automobile that worths much more than its nominal value

  8. I have recently restored a 1972 Plymouth Cricket. Aztec Gold with a parchment interior. With a vinyl top and rostyle wheels it really stumps them at cars and coffee!

    • They’re rare over here now, Robin, but in America, the Cricket certainly would stump most American classic fans as it wasn’t on sale very long. Also are there any Austin Marinas still running in America as these were another British flop over there?

      • Glenn, there are no Marina’s to be seen in the US. Although I did see one in my favorite wreaking yard in central Virginia. I also found four rusted out Crickets in a yard in PA, bought them all and stripped them. I now have cornered the market for Cricket parts in the US….probably……

        • The Cricket was sold as a Plymouth, so would have had more dealer back up and parts than an Austin, which was a very obscure brand in America.
          I think the Cricket’s problem in America was what was acceptable quality in the UK, where the car was a big seller as the Avenger, wasn’t in America as the car needed to be more robust and better rust protected for the harsh winters in the North. The same fate befell Fiat, whose cars dissolved in America, and many French cars, hence their withdrawal from the American market in the early eighties.

  9. The pictures of the Cricket Estate remind me of an Avenger 1500 DL estate my company had (1972-75). Basic, but went pretty fast even when fully loaded.

    While working in Washington USA in 1978 I saw an Austin Marina saloon – the only one! It looked out of place compared to all the oversize American cars.

    • The Austin Marina with the American bumpers and lighting looked rather odd and in the the subcompact market that was growing in the mid seventies, it would have faced very stiff competition from the Japanese. Also the growth in sales of traditional full size cars as the energy crisis eased after 1975 would have meant a small, obscure European car with no dealer back up outside the major cities had no future. I’m sure the Marina was withdrawn in 1976.

      • In addition to my Cricket, I own a 1969 Sunbeam Alpine coupe with 5,000 original miles on it. Factory original in midnight blue. A really beautiful car. Now all this ex Surrey lad has to do is find a Sunbeam Imp and Arrow to restore! Not easy….

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