Concepts and prototypes : Avenger R429 Coupé (1969-1971)

Ryton’s Capri

Whitley designed a Coupé version of the Avenger, which would have topped the range and gone head to head with the ultra-successful Ford Capri and Opel Manta. It bears a striking resemblance to BL’s Condor project, under development at the same time. Sadly, it was not to be…

Hillman Avenger : Avenger R429 Coupé

The R429 was a fascinating might-have-been. This car was designed as Chrysler UK’s answer to the Ford Capri (and, little did they know, the very similar Condor project, produced by BL at Cowley) and had that similar trans-Atlantic feel which made the Capri such a hit with middle-aged men everywhere.

Unfortunately, the design department could not convince Chrysler management that the cost of producing this car would have justified the extra sales.

Hillman Avenger : Avenger R429 Coupé

Hillman Avenger : Avenger R429 Coupé

Colour pictures supplied by Roy Axe


  1. The R429 Coupé looks right and could have worked for Rootes. However, maybe it was too late for the company by then and it might not have had much success in Simca-dominated France.

  2. Hmm… How about an alternative reality Group Test special as might have featured in a contemporary AutoMotor weekly: Ford Capri vs MG Condor vs Sunbeam Alpine (names assumed!). That would be fun to create… How about it someone?!

  3. That’s definitely very Japanese looking. I imagaine that, as it was based on an Avenger, it would have been a bit on the wild side unless Lotus got their hands on it a la Sunbeam Lotus.

  4. This does look like a very scaled-down American design.

    Were the Avenger Tiger and BRM developed instead?

  5. The R429 Coupé’s a nice looking car, but the picture at the bottom reminds me of a Japanese car rather than an English one – to me, it looks like a Mazda Coupé from the same period.

  6. The Japanese companies, and Chrysler UK, were all using contemporary US designs as a starting point for their own designs in those days – along with many other companies.

    • Valid point, the cars that Chrysler UK were working on in the late 60’s were seen as world cars to go head to head with the Japanese, which is exactly what the Avenger did in North and South America.

      This car would almost certainly have been marketed in the US as a low cost compact coupe, were it would have gone head to head with the Mazda Coupe, Celica etc.

  7. @3: Simca was maybe preponderant in Chrysler Europe, it was for a good reason: they shifted cars by the bucket load, the 1100 was best-seller, so maybe, just maybe, the outlay wasn’t justified for a “niche”, the Rapier didn’t fare so well in its niche, did it?

    • At the time this car was being conceived in the late 60’s Rootes was the more dominant of the two in Chrysler Europe. At the time Simca was turned over on their premium car competitor being forced to take the Rootes premium car and graft on bits from the 1100 / 1500 parts bin such as back axle and gearbox. Only serious investment authorised was to bring the overhead cam engine to production no doubt because new big block (Brazilian)and V6 from Rootes were not suitable for France and Southern European taxation. Of course late 60’s economic problems in UK and productivity problems that led to the massive investment cutbacks and cost savings in Chrysler UK meant we only got the French version.

      As for the Rapier, its failure in market was mostly because it received virtually no promotion. The reason for this was because it was seen by the new Chrysler management as very much a throwback to “bad old days of Roots” with its bodies being made by Pressed Steel Fisher and shipped up to Ryton from Oxford by Truck. The marginal economics of the car were further blown out of the water with the decision to move Arrow production to Linwood to make way for the Avenger. The result was that the Hunter GT got the Rapier sporty bits and profile in the advertising.

  8. Kind of AMC Pacer meets Leyland P76 Coupe meets Avenger. Hint of Datsun. For some reason I like it.

  9. Whilst I admit that the R429 is a good looking car surely Chrysler UK’s development resources would have better utilised elsewhere.

    Instead of designing a replacement for the ageing rear engined Imp or sorting the ills of the poor selling 180- they decided to waste their time on a niche market coupe which would have only competed against their own good looking and underrated Alpine/Rapier.

    Surely it would have made more sense to have developed the Alpine/Rapier into a true Capri competitor with more trim options and an engine range from 1.5 to 2.5. Instead it was ignored completely from the time the H120 was launched in 1968.

    • When Chrysler took over in the late 60’s they launched a complete product renewal program (BMW at Rover?) of which this car was part of.

      This car was killed in the massive slashing of investment in Chrysler UK in 1970 that also killed the premium car apart from the Simca lashup that we know as the 180/2 Litre.

      The Rapier was not developed because it was seen by the Chrysler management as a Rootes throw back. With its body built by Pressed Steel Fisher in Oxford the move of Arrow production to Linwood meant they were no doubt losing money on each one built. I suspect the only reasons it was kept alive was that it was a popular choice with management on the company car scheme (my father had a string of H120) and cancelling it would have been another reason for the “brothers” to down tools even if just out of sympathy with their brothers at Pressed Steel Fisher.

      As for a Imp replacement, well after 1970, Simca as the profitable part of the group had the say and quite simply they knew they did not have a hope in making it a money maker The projects focussed from then on on SWB versions of the Simca 1100 and Horizon, just like the Peug 104 but none were signed off for production.

      The actual replacement the Sunbeam came about because of the bailout by the HMG of Chrysler UK in 75. After the fuel crisis the Government was painfully aware that we had no UK product to meet the European Super Mini’s. But with no worthwhile business case and a Government just looking for a quick cheap fix, the cheapest minimum cost route was taken.

  10. Nice looking car, it would have probably done well with a Sunbeam badge, and the styling looks very American, which was popular in the early seventies. Also the rear lights look very similar to those on the original Alpine.

  11. You do wonder – If your Chrysler and you’ve just launched a new platform for the Avenger and you see how a key rival Ford is cleaning up with the Capri and your design department put this in front of you. What possible reason could you have to say no?

    • The reason was it was 69/70, the UK market had collapsed, productivity at the factories was in free fall and Chrysler UK accountants as a result only needed red pens.

      This car along with the Hillman 1800 (Super Avenger), Sunbeam 2000 and Humber 2400 which would have used the bodyshell we know at the 180/2 Litre were culled in the massive cost saving measures that followed and prioritised Simca (as the profitable part of Chrysler Europe) for investment.

  12. These pictures actually give us some additional bit of information. I understand that this car was being worked on in the late 60’s as part of the product renewal that followed Chryslers final buy out of Rootes.

    We can assume that the car would be marketed as a Sunbeam, and so gives us a clue for the face that would have been used on the Sunbeam 2000 V6 which after the 1970 slashing of investment culled along with the Hillman 1800 (Super Avenger?), Humber 2400 V6 leaving us with the Simca 180/2 Litre parts bin lashup which had little more than a year earlier been forced on Simca when the UK business was the focus of attention.

  13. An interesting car and I’m sure it would have done well at the time against the Capri as long as the build quality was good enough and if there were enough engine size & trim options.
    One (slightly related) question I have: Was the Chrysler/Rootes design centre at Whitley sold to Jaguar at some stage? Or is it just a coincicence that Jaguar have an engineering centre at the same plece?

      • For got to add that it was the old AWA aircraft factory where Whitley bombers were built along as at their site at Baginton (across the A45 road)

        Post war they had contracts from Hawkers to build Sea Hawks and Hunters (Hawker not Hillman), and from Glosters for Meteor Night Fighters and Javelins. They also built the Argosy freighter and did the development work for the Sea Slug missile and initial work on the Sea Dart.

        In the early 60’s they were working on a jet military / civil freighter (a lot like an IL76 which some say is more by KGB than accident), the mock up was in construction at Bagington and they were about to start cutting metal, unlike the Il76 it would have had vector thrust engines like a Harrier for the military versions. However all ended in 64 when the new Wilson Government decided to cancel it along with the TSR2 and Bigger Supersonic development of the Harrier. Once the existing contracts were finished the site closed and was purchased by Chrysler.

        One irony is that Chrysler demolished the pressure testing tanks and the climatic chamber all of which were state of art at the time and had been built in house. A couple of years later my father who had worked in the Test Sheds at AWA and now worked a Whitley was then asked about the climatic chamber and what it would take to build one.

  14. I think people are being a bit harsh on Rootes/ Chrysler. The Avenger was an all new design in 1970, was cleverly marketed to compete with both the Escort and smaller engined Cortinas, and was a big success for several years. Yes it could rust, quality wasn’t that brilliant, but couldn’t the same be said of most cars in 1970, and at least it was an all new design with modern engines. I do know of several people who owned Avengers, even the later Chrysler versions, and apart from some rust issues, which could be sorted if noticed in enough time, and rattly trim, they were mechanically solid cars that were good to drive and cheap to own.
    However, the sad story has to be the Chrysler 180/ 2 Litre. Had this car been made in Britain as well as France with a V6 engine and a Humber badge, and maybe some styling tweaks like a four headlamp front end, it could have done quite well.

    • What you write is very true. The Avenger was a well sorted and well equipped simple car which was exactly what the market wanted in the early 70’s.

      Also the Hillman version of the 180, with what we came to know as the Brazilian block engune was exactly the sort of car your Consul driver would have been looking at owning in 72. Also should note that a lot of Triumoh and P6 owners also moved to the Ford Granada in the early 70s. I have no doubt that a well priced and equipped V6 Sunbeam 2000 would have seemed quite a tempting alternative.

      The problem is that the Unions at Linwood, Stoke and Ryton would never have allowed them to build enough of them well enough to suceed. I found an article written by a Shop Steward at Linwood in a left wing publication in 74. He writes about how he hopes he will be able to force the company into nationalisation and stop making private cars but instead make agricultural equipment for the 3rd world. Can not imagine he would be minded to fit leather and wood into a Humber V6. Interesting to note that when Linwood closed his friends in the Labour party and Unions landed him a cushy number at Strathclyde University doubt many track workers were so lucky.

  15. @ Graham, at last someone who praises the Avenger. Compared with the Escort and 1.3 Marina, these were nicer to drive, quieter, better looking and in GLS form were very well equipped for the time.
    Also I did read about the left wing shop steward. No doubt he spent all day in an office dreaming up utopian plans that wouldn’t work in the real world, dragging out his members on strike while being fully paid by his union, and then, as you say, becoming a lecturer in politics at Strathclyde University. No doubt he would probably be living in a large house in Hillheads discussing politics with the champagne socialists who like this area.

    • One thing that is not recognised is that Avenger sales in the early 70’s were limited by production, the plan was to reskin it in 4-5 years as was the way in the US market that liked fresh metal. This was not an issue as it was going to be sold in the US under the Plymouth and Dodge brands and Sunbeam in Europe. The US dealers just could not get enough in the early 70s and the 1800 Dodge version was put on hold.

      The short supply was because the plans to drop the Imp and replace it with a second Avenger line at Linwood was killed by the way the Unions punished them with the move of the Arrow to Linwood, and the introduction of the Avenger at Ryton.

      No wonder then with the UK market downturn in 69, the Americans effectively pulled the plug on Rootes in 1970.

  16. @ Graham, when the Imp was phased out in 1976 and the Chrysler name replaced Hillman, the Avenger was moved to Linwood. It did seem the factory was safe when the Sunbeam was launched there, but when Peugeot took over and Chrysler UK became Talbot, the plug was pulled on Linwood as it was too far from the core business in the Midlands and France and for all productivity rose and strikes died out in its last two years, it wasn’t considered economic to keep it open. Its closure cost 5000 jobs and also led to the closure of a Goodyear factory in Glasgow and heavy redundancies at British Steel in Ravenscraig.

    • The Imp was losing money from day one, Chryslers plans were to grow Rootes into a major European producer, the Imp would have gone much earlier in the plans pre 1970 as Avenger volume grew.

      All this ended in 1970, with all investment effectively on hold until the business was back in the black, so much was lost in this period, not just the C car and the V6. But the overhead cam and 5 speed gearbox developments of the Avenger powertrain. The only thing that got taken forward was the proposed Avenger reskin which was taken forward by Simca as the Alpine.

      The moving of the Avenger to Linwood and the Alpine to Ryton along with the 424 which became the Sunbeam and the Dodge 50 series and the Spacevan facelift were only carried forward because of the Government bailout.

      The marketing people wanted to make Sunbeam the new brand name with the company relaunch in 76, but Chrysler thought better.

  17. With the stillborn 2.0-2.5 V6 as well as the reputed Vizard-tuned 130 hp non-turbo 1.6 and 155 hp “Turbo Tiger” 1.6 engines, the Avenger R429 Coupé would have made quite a rival to the Capri and Manta.

  18. The rear end looks very like the 1976 facelift Avenger.
    I assume this would be on either the Avenger floorpan or a cut-down version of it which would make it somewhat shorter than the Rapier. Perhaps the latter could have been replaced by a still bigger coupe based on the stillborn Humber, placing that into the same market as Ford’s Granada Ghia coupe.

  19. I agree with comments saying it looked a bit like a Datsun 180B Coupe and other jap cars of the period. In particular the grille, twin headlamps and rear pillars look similar to my Dad’s Mazda RX4 Coupe.

    Actually I think it might have done rather well against the Capri and other opposition back then.

  20. Not so sure the Capri did as well as some are suggesting here; I suspect that outside of Britain it was a very mediocre seller. Id suggest the Manta sold as many or more and was the better car.
    The Avenger really was an excellent vehicle, as stated, it was from the beginning a ‘world car’, that and its simple construction and adequate quality should have ensured a longer life. As well as the Plymouth Cricket, Chrysler produced the Dodge Omni, a reasonably successful version of the Horizon.
    I don’t think this coupe would have been succesful, simply because the market was already saturated with similar products, not just GM and Ford- think Japanese. Plus the era of the hot hatch would ultimately blow them away.

  21. The Mk1 Capri sold over a million worldwide, thinks it in being sold stateside through Mercury dealers.

    The peak sales were 233,000 in 1973.

  22. Yes, you’re right! A million cars was a lot even back then, I guessed maybe a third of that and mostly in US/UK.

  23. Following the thread its, Chrysler lack of engine development struck again!

    The Avenger was a competent car that didn’t get the development deserved. As far as I understand the Avenger engine was designed to eventually get an OHC (and alloy?) head then add a 5-speed gearbox and there would/could have been the car to trump the Toyota and Datsun’s of the time.
    Comparing an Avenger to (say) a MK1 Corolla the Avenger wins on handling over the early Corolla’s leaf springs and rather high transmission line, but the Japanese engines were more economical and smooth (although for an all-iron OHV the Avenger engine was pretty good.)

    The Hillman 1800/Super Avenger likely would have had a better time in the States than the low-compression 1500cc Plymouth Cricket and I didn’t realize the 1800cc version of the Avenger engine was around, or planned, at the time of the Avengers launch.

    Perhaps Chrysler didn’t see just how they actually had the answer to the Japanese invasion of America after the 1973 oil price shock.
    The Avenger did well in Latin America as the Dodge Polara/Dodge 1500 while still under Chrysler ownership! How cheaply and easily could Chrysler have imported the Brazilian 1800cc Avengers to the states!
    Have we figured out one of most un-noticed mistakes Chrysler ever made? – And boy but didn’t Chrysler male a lot of mistakes down through the years!

    Even without development of that tough Rootes engine to OHC, surely a low-compression (for emissions sake) Avenger 1800 engine would have been what Americans wanted rather than the early 1500cc Avenger engine in low-compression form which was what made the Plymouth Cricket a bit of a joke.

    I have no doubt the R429, badged as a Sunbeam 1800 would have been a hit in countries where Avengers were popular, however in the States it just may have been able to hold back the gains Toyota, Datsun and Honda made in 1970’s America.

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