In 1970, with the launch of the Hillman Avenger in two- and four-door saloon form, as well as five-door estate, it looked like Rootes-Chrysler had a ready-made range of cars to go head-to-head with Ford in the UK and Europe. The Chrysler B Car, as it was known, was an ambitious project, which cost the company lots in development resources being effectively, an all-new car from the ground up.
Interestingly, the range as know it, was far from complete. We already know about the Ford Capri and British Leyland’s Morris Marina-based Project Condor-rivalling Chrysler R429 Coupe. This car would have built on the Avenger’s undoubted good looks and excellent drivetrain by adding a serious dose of sex appeal, and hopefully gone on to sell at a handsome profit. However, even before the Avenger was launched in the UK, parent company Chrysler was feeling the pinch, so reduced its spending and canned the project before it made it into production. More’s the pity.
But as well as the Coupe, there was also a shorter Avenger in development, known as the Liftback, and known by the codename R424. And in 1970, when the project was well underway, this new smaller model (which was still rear-wheel drive) was being conceived for the urban smart set that wanted practicality in a city-friendly package.
So, what was the Hillman Avenger Liftback?
According to Chrysler UK expert Graham Ariss, the Liftback was conceived early in the Avenger’s development programme. ‘Before Chrysler pulled the plug on the UK investment in the early 1970s, there was plans that the Avenger would spin off a whole range of variants,’ he said. ‘Included in this interesting lineup was a compact liftback variant, which would retain the front of the Avenger, but have a cut short liftback tail.’
Chrysler clearly wanted to make the most of its extensive investment in the Avenger, and this seemed like a logical extension of the range that could have been an early winner in the fledgling supermini market. ‘If you look at the Sunbeam pages on this site, you can see one of the styling proposals (top) was released in the launch brochure for the Chrysler Sunbeam, which is essentially a facelifted Avenger hatchback,’ he added.
Initially, the project didn’t get very far. ‘That was the original intention of the Avenger Liftback. It was proposed as an Avenger spin-off variant before investment from Chrysler was cut in the early-1970s,’ Graham added. That is not to say that this abandoned hatchback project wouldn’t see the light of day long before we gave it an airing on AROnline.
The work didn’t go waste, though
Chrysler UK hit trouble in 1975, and ended up being bailed out by the UK Government, on the understanding that it would be able to produce a new supermini in order to improve its competitiveness. So, at the end of 1975, project R424 was dusted off and the Whitley Design Team, under the leadership of Roy Axe, penned a new body for this older design.
This is one of the main reasons why Chrysler UK was able to get the Sunbeam into production in such a short space of time. It was because they had already done the preliminary work years before on the Avenger liftback, so used this as a starting point.
However, as Graham noted, the newer R424 (which became the Chrysler Sunbeam) shared rather a lot with its earlier forebear. ‘The Sunbeam used a lot of Avenger pressings, including the two-door version’s door skins, but featured all-new glass with a different windscreen angle and a larger glass area – when compared to the Avenger, the Sunbeam had a light and modern interior. The Sunbeam therefore ended up fitting neatly into the range alongside the upcoming front-wheel-drive Chrysler Horizon.’
- Read more: Chrysler UK, a missed opportunity