I have reached the conclusion that, although the French are generally blamed for messing up the 160/180/2 Litre, this is a little unfair. I’ve arrived at this after talking with my Father, before his recent death, about his time at Rootes, Chrysler, Peugeot from 1968–1998. Most of his time was spent at Whitley, (an irony as that was his previous workplace as an apprentice and in the testing sheds at AWA before it was closed and sold to Chrysler), and he was pretty close to the company’s output throughout the years.
My Father’s view very much was that of the Whitley team that their baby was murdered by the French. Mind you, looking at how the car was orphaned at birth, I guess Simca team felt the same.
My logic is this:
This is Rootes DNA. I understand that when the project became European it was all but finished and this can be seen with classic Rootes touches such as the bulge in the bulkhead for the heater as in the Arrow (Hillman Hunter) and Avenger.
Again, I see this as Rootes because:
1) It was dictated by the bodyshell
2) MacPherson struts with a live axle and Panhard rod is the same solution used on its direct predecessor the Avenger Estate
3) It’s unlike anything Simca had done with the 1500 and 1100
4) When the Simca was leading the Tagora programme, it went for the classic wishbone with torsion bars until Peugeot made them use 505 components.
The French have to take the blame here. True, there would have been a UK V6, but I think this was for Sunbeam and Humber only and the logical solution for the Hillman was the big (what became known as the Brazillian) block 1800cc version of the Avenger engine.
Noting that it was the pre-Fuel Crisis era, the closeness in size of the Avenger to the Arrow and that the Arrow was a stopgap car – the Avenger killed the 1500 Arrow, it would make sense that the Hillman 1800 (Super Avenger?) to replace the Arrow 1725. It would make sense, as I understand, that the planned gearbox for the car was a four-/five-speed high torque development of the alloy Avenger ‘box. Hence, the end package was probably not far away from what would have been the Hillman version.
This usually falls on the French, but I think by the time the car was moved to Europe the interior was very much a done deal while Whitley, of course, took the lead with the Alpine interior that followed. I think it has a lot more Rootes DNA.
Looking at it, it does have a lot of similarities with the Mk1 highline Avenger interior and also has hints of the facelifted Arrow interior. Some details like the door locking mechanism are very Rootes-ish but, then again, indicator stalks are of Simca design. My conclusion is that this is something that was started in Whitley then finished off with what they had in the Simca parts bin in France.
The end product was still essentially what the Hillman customer would have got, but I guess with those Avenger Mk1 drum-like column switches.
With the investment from Chrysler, Rootes planned to replace the stopgap Arrow with two mid-market cars as it had had before. The first was the Avenger and the second was what we came to call the Chrysler 180, but with a British drivetrain. The Sceptre/Rapier high line Arrows being covered off by a V6 2.0-litre and 2.4-Litre. Remember this was pre-Fuel Crisis and would have not been an out of place move as Ford sized up with the Cortina Mk3.
What we got with the Chrysler 180 was very much the Hillman version, with a French powertrain. Had Whitley set up the chassis, I guess it would have been a little firmer and have tighter handling, as was the British taste. The engine would have been simpler and less powerful, but with a better gear change and probably an option of a fifth gear. Overall, though, the end product would be neither much better, nor worse, than the French effort.
Would it have succeeded? Probably not – it may have sold better, as it would have had the attention of the UK business but, as with the Avenger, Chrysler’s cost cutting would have limited quality and, in particular rustproofing. Poor productivity at the factory, the short-lived fashion of its American styling and, finally, the recession following the Fuel Crisis would have all but killed it in the market by the mid-1970s…
A shame, but there you go, the opposition was just too strong.