History : Labour’s bailout of Chrysler (UK) – death of a dream or vital lifeline?

Keith Adams recalls the UK Government’s bailout of Chrysler (UK) following the US company’s threat to pull out of the UK, potentially costing 25,000 jobs.

At the time, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party was heavily criticised for performing two automotive rescues – was it the right thing to do?


Chrysler UK’s last chance saloon: the full story

Chrysler UK

In the end, the death of Chrysler’s ambitious UK dream ended on a mild and dank winter’s day in London. The announcement that Harold Wilson’s Labour Government had bailed out the embattled carmaker with a payment of £162.5m on 16 December 1975 came hard on the heels of the British Leyland rescue that was being overseen by Sir Don Ryder. In all, it was a bruising year for the British car industry.

The rescue plan was hastily negotiated in the wake of mounting losses posted by Chrysler (UK), and was a remarkable change in fortunes for the company. The US car giant had taken a financial stake of the Rootes Group as part of an ambitious expansion plan in 1964, increasing its investment into a controlling stake in 1967 before creating the optimistic new Chrysler Europe operation in 1970. Its new subsidiary, now called Chrysler (UK), was combined with Simca in France and Barreiros in Spain in an attempt to compete with General Motors and Ford’s European operations.

By September 1975, a disparate range of models built in the UK and France was brought together under the Pentastar banner, but the lineup was far from streamlined. The ancient Simca 1000 competed with the equally aged Hillman Imp in the market sector crying out for a new supermini and, although there were moves to integrate the rest of the model range throughout the 1970s, it hadn’t been a smooth process, with the Chrysler 180 (below) not really landing in either of its ‘home’ markets, despite being so promising on paper.

Troubles in the UK

The real mess was in the mid range, where the firm offered the Simca 1100, Chrysler Avenger, Simca 1500 and Hillman Hunter. Only in 1975 did the clean-up begin, with the arrival of the Chrysler Alpine, but that car’s conception and development was hardly a smooth process, as the UK operation ceded its technical dominance over the project to the French, which meant that the stylish new family hatchback was primarily based on the Simca 1100, and ended up not replacing the Avenger.

In terms of scale Chrysler (UK) was the smallest of the ‘Big Four’, which also included British Leyland, Ford and Vauxhall. However, it wasn’t an insignificant player, with significant production capacity in Coventry and Linwood, where in 1975 the Imp, Avenger and Hunter were built, alongside a number of Commer-branded commercial vehicles. In total, it employed 25,000 workers. Sales were struggling, not only because industrial action was causing difficulties meeting customer demand, but also because of an increasingly uncompetitive model range which didn’t stack up in the midst of a recession.

From the time Chrysler Corporation took full financial control of Rootes in 1967 to the end of 1975, Chrysler (UK) was expected to have a cumulative trading loss of £80m, with the expectation of losses continuing at a substantial rate into 1976.  These pressures took their toll and became intolerable for Chrysler in the USA, which was also being battered in its home market – so much so, that the Chairman and CEO, John Riccardo (below), confimed that the future of Chrysler (UK) was in jeopardy during a press conference at the end of October 1975.

Hasty negotiations

The UK Government was already in contact with Chrysler (UK) and was well aware it was in a mess, and the-then Secretary of State for Trade Tony Benn had been in talks with the company’s management since January of that year. However, following Riccardo’s announcement, Benn’s replacement in the trade role, Eric Varley, ramped up discussions. It wasn’t enough – and, on 3 November, Riccardo’s team informed Prime Minister Wilson and Varley that the Board had decided the firm would provide no further funds for Chrysler (UK).

Varley told Parliament, ‘the Board of Chrysler Corporation had decided they could not continue to meet such losses from their own resources. Accordingly, they told us they would start liquidating Chrysler (UK) from the end of November – that was in under four weeks’ time from that meeting – unless Her Majesty’s Government in the meantime took it over.’ Time was therefore of the essence.

What followed was seven weeks of intense negotiations with what was pointedly described at the time by The Mirror as a management team that resembled a group of Hollywood-style gangsters,  ready to pull out their violin cases.  Clearly, liquidation would put 25,000 people out of work in Chrysler and, with the economy in freefall, this was not a situation the Government could tolerate. As Varley recalled, ‘We would lose the important contract to supply car kits for assembly in Iran, and the gap left by the disappearance of Chrysler from our own market would cause serious damage to our Balance of Payments.’

Stopping short of a full takeover

However, despite the Government’s fondness for nationalisation, this was not seriously considered. ‘Just to take over Chrysler (UK) completely – even with a £35m payment which Riccardo subsequently offered – would have passed over very substantial existing liabilities and heavier still prospective financial commitments,’ said Varley.

However, the negotiating team investigated a number of options in 11 meetings before coming up with a plan on 8 December  – an admirably swift timeframe. In return for a Government bailout, Chrysler (UK) would continue operations in the UK, but with a streamlining of the workforce, production and model lines. There would be 8000 redundancies, which would guarantee the remaining 17,000 jobs. The majority of the redundancies were in the Midlands.

Based on a predicted loss of £40m for 1976, the Government offered to meet up to £20m in 1977, £15m in 1978 and £10m in 1979, making a total commitment to provide up to £72.5m over these four years. In addition, Chrysler (UK) was offered a loan of £55m towards plant and model development. ‘This loan will be at a rate of interest no less than the Government lending rate,’ said Varley. ‘The Chrysler Corporation in return will guarantee the first half of this amount, amounting to £28 million.’

New model plans for the UK

Chrysler also agreed to provide £10-12m towards the Alpine’s production move to Ryton, initially from CKD kits imported from France, but with a view to increasing local content to 100%. This would involve a further capital development programme for Chrysler (UK) of about £23m, and meant that Ryton would remain busy as the Avenger moved to Linwood in Scotland. It also spelled the end of the Imp, production of which would be wound down.

Varley added: ‘Chrysler (UK) has not been able to convert its short-term liabilities into medium-term finance. The London and Scottish Clearing Banks have agreed in principle to provide a medium-term loan up to £35m against the guarantee of Her Majesty’s Treasury, which would be counter-guaranteed by the Chrysler Corporation. All these measures of financial support have, of course, been offered subject to our obtaining Parliamentary approval.’

The total potential commitment added up to £162.5m, and this included the maximum guarantee liability for the £35m medium-term loan, the full £28m of capital development, which was counter-guaranteed by Chrysler Corporation, and the maximum possible loss payment year-by-year. ‘These guarantee commitments are payable only if Chrysler Corporation were to be unable to honour them,’ said Varley. ‘The responsibility for the success of the operation is also Chrysler’s, and it is essential to get work started as soon as possible.’

Opposition from Labour

The first order of the day was getting the bailout agreed by the House of Commons. Operating with a miniscule majority following the second General Election on 1974, this was not a foregone conclusion. On 13 December 1975, Varley stood in front of the dispatch box and tried to sell the deal to a fractious opposition led by Margaret Thatcher as well as his own divided backbenches.

The situation wasn’t helped when Coventry’s Labour MP, Maurice Edelman, passed away just before the vote – particularly as, with laser-guided venom, he had written to The Times from his deathbed stating his opposition to the deal. He said, ‘I write to say how much I deplore the transaction between the British Government and the Chrysler Corporation.

‘The Government has been taken for a ride by the Chrysler Corporation, not for the first time in the last ten years. The ministers who made the present agreement may well be regarded as ‘suckers’ in Detroit – except that the money they are giving away is other people’s.’

Opposition from the Conservatives

The Conservatives said that the package undermined the ‘new industrial strategy’ previously pushed by the Government, where Wilson once said then that public aid would be used to rebuild Britain’s sagging industrial base. Now, however, rather than nationalisation, UK taxpayers’ money would be given to a US company at minimal risk to the Americans.

After he spelt out the details of the deal with Chrysler to the commons, Varley sat down. His opposition counterpart, Michael Heseltine, retorted, ‘Having heard the enormity of the commitment, the House will understand why the Secretary of State for Industry threatened to resign. He would have been well advised to do so. What does the right honorable Gentleman believe will be the effect on the Balance of Payments of the decisions that he has announced today?’

A lengthy and sometimes rowdy debate followed into the night – both before the debate and by the time the vote took place, the Prime Minister must have felt that he’d been attacked by just about everyone. As well as Labour and Conservative opposition, the SNP also raised concerns about how it would adversely affect the economy in Scotland. After the MPs trudged back into the House of Commons, the results were read out by the Speaker – the Government had won the bruising exchange with 285 for and 260 against.

Chrysler Sunbeam

The after affects

With the Government assistance in place, Chrysler (UK) worked on putting the model plan into place. In addition to the moving the Avenger to Scotland and the Alpine into Ryton, the firm dusted off older plans to build a small hatchback to replace the Imp. That car – Project R424 – was a liftback based on the Avenger and would end up becoming the Sunbeam, a rival to the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Chevette. With a smart new set of clothes designed by Roy Axe’s Design Team, it emerged in record time in 1977 looking smart and contemporary, and very much in keeping with the new Alpine and forthcoming Horizon.

The ship was stabilised, and Chrysler (UK)’s parent company remained in control of the operation, despite continuing losses in 1977 and into 1978. Despite the new arrival of the Sunbeam and a facelifted Avenger, sales remained a fraction of Ford’s and Vauxhall’s and losses continued, even if market share hadn’t quite gone into freefall.

However, the game was up. When Lee Iaccoca arrived at Chrysler in the USA in 1978, the company was in deep trouble, and heading for a US bailout the following year. Closing off the European operation was imperative – so, when Groupe PSA stepped in to buy it in August 1978 (mainly for its European dealer network and French production capacity), the whole European operation was eagerly sold off for a nominal $1. The deal took the Chrysler (UK) subsidiary with it, and all models ended up being badged as Talbots from 1 August 1979.

It was a sad end to an ambitious and ultimately unfulfilled expansion plan carved out in the climate of 1960s mergermania.

Conclusion

So, was the Government’s bailout a bad idea? Margaret Thatcher certainly thought so. ‘They have gone for the easy option,’ she said in a speech on the day the deal was announced. ‘In the long run, they will not save jobs, they will destroy them.’

But was that the case? The alternative was closure, with Chrysler pulling out in a shockingly abrupt manner. With it, 25,000 jobs would have been lost in 1976, not including those in the supporting industries – instead, it kept the firm alive long enough for PSA to create Talbot out of the leftovers. Linwood was closed in 1981, and the area wouldn’t recover for a generation – and that should give you a clue about what could have happened in Coventry five years earlier without the bailout.

And if that doesn’t sound exactly compelling, remember that Ryton would remain successfully in business until 2006, providing jobs in Coventry for a further 30 years.

Chrysler Sunbeam

Keith Adams

41 Comments

  1. I remember Ryton still churning out 206’s until the bitter end. Ironically, JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations are based on that site – also a Network Rail warehouse; not rail connected, but storing supplies like toilet paper. Bit of a bum steer really.

  2. The deal saved Chrysler Uk, and the bailout enabled the Avenger to be updated, the elderly Imp to be replaced by a far more modern supermini, and the Alpine to be moved to Ryton from France. Also the Irish were an unexpected beneficiary of the government bailout, as assembly of the Hunter was moved to Ireland to create more space at Linwood for the Sunbeam.
    While the Chrysler and Talbot products were never massive sellers and the company was fourth in the sale charts, product rationalisation and the closure of Linwood in the early eighties at least kept the rest of the business open for a revival in the mid eighties producing Peugeots.

  3. To this day I think they took the best option.

    The alternatives were much worse.

    1: Let it close would have had a massive impact on the UK with loss of a 100K well paid jobs at Chrysler and their suppliers.

    2: Nationalise and merge with British Leyland, was only going to add to the “fully munted dung show” that was turning out to be.

    3: Nationalise and go it alone, Chrysler UK operation was too small to be viable alone and would have needed significant investment as a time British Leyland needed significant investment.

    4: Giving Chrysler enough money to turn it into a world class business, even if Chrysler had had the skills to do that, which is questionable, it would not be a political possibility as it would upset the French, Treasury and WTO in various ways.

    So I think “bribing” Chrysler to keep it going to buy some time, for a better alternative to be found (ironically exactly what Thatcher did with British Leyland), was probably the least worst option.

    • I have to agree with Graham’s sum up really. Chrysler fudged it up and were more a sh*t shower than BL. If Chrsyler had implemented a proper integration plan and it not be a short stopover for US managers, Roy Axe’s plans could have been a success (sounds familiar?), but instead we they wasted money, especially a large chunk of the budget that was allocated for tooling for the v6 intended for the 160/180.

      • As a member of the Roy Axe team said to be though when me discussed this a few years ago, “Chrysler thought they would sell a lot of Avengers, but they had not taken account of the UK workforce of the time”.

        The reality was that both the management and unions did not respect the financial realities, the result was that the cost of bringing the Avenger to production along with the cost (and numerous stoppages) of putting the Arrow into Linwood meant that they had no hope of seeing a return on their investment. It was this that led to Chrysler US pulling all significant further investment in the UK and with it the UK end of the 160/180/2-Litre. Who can blame them? Introducing that car as planned into Ryton with the new engine and transmission into Stoke whilst moving an expanding Avenger range Linwood to replace to replace both the Imp and Arrow, was significantly more challenging than the expensive “Dung Show” they had just experienced.

        This was as big a missed opportunity, if not bigger than BMW’s adventure with the Rover Group. In the same way they had an investor with deep pockets, but instead of helping them make a decent return, they had their pockets picked.

  4. I had a bronze coloured 1974 Hillman Imp exactly like the one in the picture. It was a good little car, much better than the equivalent Mini, and fantastic to drive. The only down side was the poor build quality of Linwood built cars, stemming from a political decision to build a new car factory to emply former shipyard workers. Only there is a world of difference between building ships and building cars. I also wanted a Sunbeam Rapier like the one in the picture, but could never quite afford one at the time. The Arrow range was under-rated, especially the 1725cc engine.

    In contrast, the later Alpine was made out of tinfoil, with an engine that sounded like a biscuit tin full of nails and suffered from terminal understeer – which was a shame as the car was spacious and comfortable. The Horizon suffered from the same endemic rust and rattling Simca engine, and the 180 was one of the most forgettable cars of the ’80s.

    I don’t think that Chrysler/Simca ever understood the UK market properly, regardless of finances. The Chrysler range never had a chance against the Ford and Vauxhall offerings, for example given the choice from a line up of a Horizon, Mk.1 Astra and Mk.3 Escort, I can’t imagine anyone picking the Horizon.

    Now, if I can just find a nice Imp for sale…

    • If you read the reviews of the time, the Alpine S was considered a good bit quicker and better handling than the mid range 1.6 Cavalier and Cortina it was up against in the market.

      As for the Horizon, they were much better equipped than the equivalent Astra and Escort which in cooling versions were as well equipped as a cave, in the base Astra you did not even get a brake servo and I recall how drivers of our Astra pool cars would complain about the cars suffering “brake failure” because it required a quite extraordinary push of the pedal. The Escort Mk3 was in its early years plagued with a very poor ride quality, something that could not be levelled at the Horizon.

      As for the 180, well I am not surprised it was forgettable in the 80s as it was replaced by the Tagora in 1980.

      • @ Graham, my parents had two Alpines with the 1442cc engines and they were faster than the 1.6 Cortina and Cavalier, as well as being more economical, and having a massive boot and a soft ride. Sounds good and neither cars rusted much due to being undersealed every year and neither gave any major mechanical problems, but were let down by a poor, rubbery gearchange, noisy engines( not so bad when cruising at 60 mph, but bad in lower gears) and rattling trim. A later 1982 Solara with a five speed transmission from Peugeot had a better gearchange and less engine noise and the car had better rustproofing. However, when it was sold in 1987, the Talbot range had been discontinued and had a low rent image, so we had to accept a really poor offer for the Solara.

  5. Chrysler’s own prior issues at HQ did not help matters when they attempted to bring about an integration of its UK and French divisions, which was too divergent to properly resolve to the satisfaction of all parties involved given how late Chrysler was relative to GM and Ford’s UK/European divisions.

    At the same time instead of Chrysler acquiring Rootes, surely they could have chosen to either set-up shop in the UK earlier pre-WW2 or takeover another UK marque like Jowett and make it their own “Vauxhall” as it were (or failing that simply acquire Borgward)?

    • Well Chrysler was in the UK well before they bought into Roots, having a plant at Kew assembling trucks (established by the Dodge Brothers in 1922), in the 1930s, Dodge now part of Chrysler this plant assembled a Plymouth car as well as the Trucks. The merger of Dodge and Commer was the deal behind the initial 1965 buy in Rootes by Chrysler. Kewp plant was closed as part of the rationalisation in the UK in the early 70s with production of the Dodge 300 truck moving to Dunstable.

      • Was aware Chrysler had a small presence in the UK pre-Rootes, although not of the merger between Dodge and Commer being the catalyst for the takeover of Rootes by Chrysler.

        Vaguely recall ill-fated attempts to sell the Valiant in the UK and ideas for Standard-Triumph to replace the Vanguard with a Valiant-based project in lieu of their own.

        Could Chrysler however have further expanded their presence in the UK earlier on akin to Ford UK without having to buy either Rootes or Leyland?

        Because a few of their small car projects had some promise despite their flaws (e.g. radial engine in case of Star Car), even though Chrysler had many issues from the aftermath of WW2 up to the establishment of Chrysler Europe.

        https://www.allpar.com/threads/chrysler-small-cars-that-didn%E2%80%99t-make-it.237027/

  6. The Peugeot buyout in 1978 might have been painful, as it meant the closure of Linwood and large job losses in Coventry and Poissy( the former Simca factory), but it meant a more consistent range of cars under the Talbot brand. These weren’t big sellers, but attractive financial deals and filling the cars with standard equipment, meant private buyers were attracted and tided the former Rootes and Simca factories over until they were switched to new Peugeot models.

  7. Chrysler did start the seventies with the newish Arrow range of cars and the all new Avenger, and the Imp sold in steady numbers, but the problem by the mid seventies was the Arrow had been little developed since it was launched in 1966 and was falling behind. Also the Imp was becoming old fashioned, being a 1963 design, and no match for the new range of superminis from Europe and the forthcoming Ford Fiesta.
    If one good thing did come from Harold Wilson saving the dead duck of Chrysler, it bought them time, particularly for the troubled factory at Linwood. An update to the Avenger with a light restyle and a new interior kept the car competitive to the end of the decade. Also developing the Sunbeam supermini from the Avenger gave Chrysler a reasonable competitor against the Fiesta and the three door Chevette and sales were decent during its four year career.

    • The 1725 Arrows would have been effectively replaced in 1971 with the car we know as the 160/180/2 Litre, but powered by the Brazilian block Avenger engine as (it was I understand never decided if it should be given a name possibly Hillman Hawk or sold as the Hillman 1800), the 1500 Arrows having been replaced in 1970 by the Avenger 1500. In addition there would have been the V6 powered Sunbeam and Humber versions.

      Sadly this was not to be, so the Arrow was left to soldier on, the Alpine originating out of a Whitley proposal to reskin a marginally widened and lengthened Avenger Estate platform using a “productionised” version of the BRM Rally engine (think of a cross between Fiat Supermirafiori and Lancia Beta) and also the where Triumph were going with the SD2, as a solution to offer a premium compact car to replace the 1725 Arrow, Simca 1500 and 180 / 2Litre.

      However Simca whilst liking the Roy Axe “fastback” styling were convinced that future cars needed to be FWD to succeed in the continental market (there was apparently much finger pointing when Fiat launched the 131 in 1974).

      Throw in Chrysler usual cost saving (I understand both the UK and Frence had similar ideas of OHC and DOHC engines along with 5 speed gearboxes etc etc but uniquely British or French ways of getting there) that trimmed the aspiration back into using Simca 1100 underpinnings.

      Result was that the Arrow soldiered on in UK (assembled from CKD kits in Eire) providing a rwd saloon estate for the UK fleet market, some were still n dealer stock when they rebranded to Talbot, but these were excluded from the rebranding, instead dealers being told to preregister them as Chryslers before the 1st August 1979 (interestingly I recall seeing a Cherry Red 2 Litre in the City Motor dealership in Coventry, resplendent in its new Talbot badges, with the Chrysler script on the facia in front of the passenger).

      • @ Graham, the Irish Hunters used the four headlamp front end from the Sceptre, but were quite basic inside to keep prices down and old fashioned by the time they were axed in 1979. Sales were OK for the last Hunters, the MOD bought batches for officer transport and taxi firms still liked them, but most private buyers had moved on.

      • Same thing happened in France with the Chrysler 2 Litres/Simca Chrysler 1610 after July 1979 -model year 1980 in France- : the last ones were branded as Talbot (narrow Talbot badges on the bonnet, with the pentastar on the grille and a Talbot name and logo on a rear window sticker). At the time, the French press noted how strange this initiative seemed. More probably, this might correspond to the delay needed to (re)design the Talbot Tagora (project C9) with Peugeot parts (for instance the rear axle from the Peuget 505, causing the difference between the body and the wheels).

  8. Just a few thoughts ….

    1) The name Wedgewood Benn doesn’t have a +ve ring in UK motor trade history ? BL, Triumph mcs, Chrysler UK

    2) The whole “create jobs to replace lost jobs” idea involving the Imp etc didn’t work?

    3) Chrysler came back to EU c 1995 – that didn’t work either !

    4) Brexit and tariffs had a big impact on exports until 1973

  9. There was a trend, encouraged by the government, for motor manufacturers to move from their heartlands to areas of higher unemployment. Speke and Linwood were obvious failures- Speke had terrible industrial relations problems and Linwood was too far from Rootes core business in Coventry – but Ellesmere Port and Halewood survive to this day, admittedly with smaller workforces. Both Ellesmere Port and Halewood survived by making popular products and moving with the times, Ellesmere Port is now a centre for Stellantis electric van production and Halewood produces Range Rovers and transmissions for electric vehicles.

  10. Hypothetically and with the road test below as well as the worst case scenario for Chrysler UK (e.g. nationalisation / merger with BL) in mind, could a marginally more competitive car have been thrown together from the component sets of both the Marina/Ital and Arrow had?

    The Arrow had MacPherson struts at the front, yet not sure what other advantages it had over the Marina/Ital as one was a largely a carryover from the Audax Minx and the other largely carried over from the Minor (with bits sourced elsewhere).

    The same could be asked of another created from the Dolomite and Avenger, even though the Avenger like the 180 and unlike the Dolomite were all-new designs.

    https://www.classiccars4sale.net/classic-car-review/cotc-ford-cortina-vs-vauxhall-victor-vs-morris-marina-vs-hillman-hunter

    • What I never got was why did they base the car on the Minor bits, a car already very old in automotive terms? The younger A60 would have been a better bet to develop the car from?

  11. The A60 was essentially a Farina reclothing of the 1954-1957 Cambridge and although a younger design probably speaks volumes on the Minor and other Nuffield rooted bits being better in relative terms, only to be mostly neglected rather than updated or hastily discarded in favour of the mostly dynamically inferior Austin bits at the time the Farina bodied cars appeared.

    It sums up MG’s John Thornley’s comment around the time of the 1952 merger where “Austin has never made a good car, and never made a bad engine.”

    • For an idea of a Cambridge derived Marina type car and smaller model, one should look at the first gen Nissan Cedric as well as 310 to 410 Bluebird (if not the 210 too given the likely A50 Cambridge and other Austin rooted content). Both lasted until the mid-late 1960s before they were replaced with all-new designs in the Cedric 130 and Bluebird 510.

  12. Although the A60 was not exactly state of the art, it had a wheelbase that was longer than the Cortina Mk2 and similar width. It was also easy to upgrade the car, like many owners have done, to improve the car, with parts already made by BMC. The 510 Bluebird is a good example of what could have been done, though I don’t think the Marina styling was its week point.

    • The Marina was originally conceived as a comprehensive Minor rebody by Harry Webster initially of 1100-1500 Escort size before growing to 1300-1800 mk2 Cortina size, the basic Minor platform was remarkably flexible underpinning the Wolseley 1500 and Morris Major as well as being upsized early on to underpin the pre-Farina Oxfords and Six MS / Isis. If anything it should have been the Minor not the A35 that underpinned the A40 Farina, ideally with Bluebird 310 later 410 bodies.

      For some reason the RWD Austins (sans 3-litre for all its other flaws) were viewed as stodgy and stolid to drive, with even the A40 Farina possessing vague steering and woolly brakes whereas the Minor was better to drive in comparison by outsiders from Leyland and ex-Ford people whose sentiments against the RWD Austins seem to mirror John Thornley’s in seeing the Minor as a better basis for their new project.

      The Bluebird 510 appears to be an all-new design and something for BMC or BL to emulate had the resources available, in reality they could only really afford a Rootes Arrow or Fiat 125 type solution as seen in the real-life Marina although there was room to incorporate Macpherson struts and include OHC engines early on as intended together with a decree to increase the wheelbase to ADO77 standard early on.

      Otherwise salvation would rest on the Australians successfully rejecting the Marina by presciently prioritizing P82 over P76.

  13. The 180 was the might have been car for Chrysler in the seventies. Regardless of a lot of hate towards this car( it rusted, so did most other cars then), it was very contemporary looking, spacious inside, well equipped for the time and drove quite well. Chrysler’s plan to make it into a replacement for the big Humbers should have been followed through, and for a V6 version with luxury fittings and a Humber badge to have been built in Coventry. Remember, in the early seventies there were still thousands of newish large Humbers on the road and owners would have stayed with the brand if a new model was available( the Sceptre was too small). Instead they probably moved over to Rover.

  14. The forcing of Linwood on the Rootes group by a mad collectivist government, when Rootes wanted to expand in the Midlands, turned out to be just as crazy as the infliction of Bathgate on Nuffield/BMC. History shows the folly, just as similar ‘industrial development’ policy to try and get high-tech industries established in Scotland [Timex, IBM] were utterly stupid and doomed to fail.

    The Imp did a lot of reputational damage to Rootes; it was possibly a good design but it was inadequately developed at launch (which was premature) and the implementation [pneumatic throttle, overheating issues, reliability] meant it never built brand-credibility and was left to wither on the vine as a bargain-basement car.

    Same goes for the 160/180/2-litre; an ‘orphan’ car – which they then repeated with the Tagora!

    About the only really interesting Rootes/Chrysler cars from that era were the Avenger and the Sunbeam – but time was running out.

    Such is life. Thankfully not _too_ much taxpayers’ money was burned up in the process.

    • Agreed, the Imp had untapped promise. Also cannot help wonder if an expanded Ryton and more experienced test drivers on hand that were used to driving in normal traffic would have been able to detect the Imp’s problems early on during development as well as the existing Imp engine block’s limit of 948cc.

      That just leaves the 1959-1962 Acton (aka honeymoon) strike, which was later disclosed to have been Communist planned and directed. It also caused Rootes to post a loss of £891,088, compared with a profit of nearly £3 million the previous year that the company could not not afford during what was the biggest phase of expansion in the group’s history.

      https://www.hillmanownersclub.co.uk/history

  15. At least Peugeot came to the rescue and didn’t demand a penny from the government when they took over Chrysler Europe in 1978. It is true they made two thirds of the workforce redundant, but eventually the former Chrysler factories, after the Talbot era ended in 1985, became successful assembly plants for Peugeot. Ryton managed to live on until 2006 assembling popular and decent cars like the Peugeot 405.

  16. Such a shame that Linwood didn’t have a future with PSA. If things had happened differently, with it hanging on for another few years, is there a chance one of the Japanese marques who opened UK manufacturing plants might even have been interested? Or maybe even Nissan taking it on instead of getting into the Cherry Europe/Alfa Romeo Arna joint venture instead?

    I suppose PSA wouldn’t have wanted to provide a bridgehead that would have allowed Japanese manufacturers to circumvent import quotas.

    Was Linwood any more “off the beaten track” than Nissan’s Sunderland facility though? It would also have come with a ready trained workforce.

  17. By the time Linwood closed it was an obsolete plant that was at least 20 years old, meaning that keeping it going would have involved basically a complete strip-out-and-refurbish of most of the site.

    There was also a history of ‘industrial unrest’ – see https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/211233682.pdf

    Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, Toyota’s in Derbtshire and Honda’s in Swindon had the advantage of being greenfield sites which could be built the way they wanted them rather than trying to fit new ideas into an old site.

    Equally, these all had the benefit of being in locations not traditionally encumbered by much in the way of legacy trade-union militancy. Which could only have been an advantage for the future.

    Bathgate and Linwood were ‘old thinking’ in oh so many ways. BL’s Speke was similarly blighted and closing it made political/economic sense. Ford (and subsequently JLR) did at least get their act together over Halewood which seemed to operate without the sort of madly destructive militancy that afflicted much of the BMC/BL empire in the 60s and 70s. Same could be said of Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port.

  18. Halewood did have two major strikes in the seventies and numerous small disputes in the seventies and eighties, but it never had the reputation for industrial unrest Speke had a couple of miles away and produced a car people wanted to buy in massive numbers( the Escort), so managed to survive. Similarly Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port wasn’t exactly strike free in the seventies- I can remember seeing a strike on the news in 1979- but nowhere near as bad as British Leyland and in the eighties became the home of the Astra, which was another big selling car and one of the best in its class.

  19. Often forgotten now, the Hillman/ Chrysler Avenger was one of the best British cars of the seventies. It had none of the reliability issues of British Leyland cars, used superior Rootes drivetrains over the Simca based ones in the Alpine and Horizon, and was praised at the time for being a good car to drive, quiet on long journeys and easy to maintain. Sales were decent right up to the end and the car was a quiet success, selling half a million in 11 years. In Tiger form, the Avenger was a real Capri killer.

  20. I did all my driving lessons in a Hillman Avenger. I’d never driven anything else prior to that so couldn’t make any comparisons, but I liked it and eventually discovered that it was better than a lot of other cars on the market.

  21. The irony is that PSA bought out Chrysler-Europe in 1978, and by 2021, PSA bought out the mess that was FCA (Fiat Chrysler) as well buying Opel/Vauxhall from GM, forming Stellantas. Now it is the NA side (Chrylser, Dodge, Jeep, Ram truck) that is killing the company.

  22. With the benefit of hindsight it was not a great decision. Chryslers woes were a direct result of Chryslers US neanderthal business practices that had failed to invest in the European operations and effectively ran them into the ground. They held a gun to the governments head and expected them to bale out their incompetence and corporate greed. In the end it came to nothing. Only a couple of years later Chrysler sold out to PSA followed by death by a thousand cuts starting with Lynwood closing immediately and the rest of the UK plants becoming screwdriver operations before they closed altogether.

  23. Chrysler America weren’t anything great in the seventies either. They started the decade well with cars like the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Charger that Americans wanted to buy in large numbers, but completely messed up with the Valiant’s replacement, the Dodge Aspen/ Plymouth Volare, that was notorious for premature rust and faults. Also the company continued to make huge gas guzzling cars that sunk in popularity when the second energy crisis hit in 1979 and Chrysler had to be bailed out by the government. Only large job cuts and a belated shift to making more economical cars saved Chrysler from collapse in 1980.
    Later on, their merger with Mercedes in the late nineties hurt Mercedes once invincible reputation hurt as Chrysler penny pinching and cost cutting saw the A class develop a reputation for dangerous handling and poor quality, and the C class suffer from paintwork issues and faults. Luckily Mercedes managed to escape.

    • The K series of cars & Lee Iacocca’s management helped Chrysler survive in the early 1980s. Also being able to standardise the designs of the larger cars helped, after making too many incompatible designs.

  24. Sort of an on topic, I saw a Talbot Solara at a car show yesterday, the indirect replacement for the Avenger. These are ultra rare nowadays as there were never seen as classics and rust killed the earlier ones. While not the best car in its class, the Solara was a modern fwd saloon that was aimed at Cortina buyers and later sold on price and a long list of standard equipment. The Solara I saw yesterday was a GLS automatic with those really thick velour seats and two tone paintwork that made them stand out.

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