Tested : Marina vs Avenger

Too close to call?

Two doyens of the British family car market slug it out in the first of a new series of road tests…

First published in Classic Car Weekly in August 2005, KEITH ADAMS pitted the Hillman Avenger against its arch rival from Cowley, the Morris Marina. It was a close call…


FIGHT or flight – isn’t that what they say you’re supposed to do in times of crisis? In the car industry, you don’t get much chance to run away from your, fighting is the only option… During the Sixties, both The British Motor Corporation (BMC) and The Rootes Group found themselves in deep, deep trouble.

Rootes had been suffering struggling since launching Imp in 1963. Profits had rapidly turned into losses as investment in the new factory in Linwood, Scotland had mounted up. The new car was sucking money out of the group – warranty costs and poor sales saw to that. Finding itself Rootes a weakened position, the American car giant, Chrysler, decided to buy-in, wishing to expand its European presence.

With an extra infusion of cash, Rootes went all conventional. A two-pronged attack to strike at the heart of Ford’s all conquering UK operation was conceived: the Arrow range to replace the Super Minx and the smaller B-Car (Avenger) to supercede the Minx.

The Avenger was launched in February 1970, and impressed all who saw it. Effectively, it was a Rootes designed, Chrysler funded car. Very little existing Rootes hardware went into it and resultantly, Rootes-Chrysler had high hopes for its chances.

If the struggles of Rootes Group were obvious for all to see, the same couldn’t be said for BMC. Thanks to the success of the Mini and the 1100 range, it offered two of Britain’s best-selling cars – and was proving to be the darling of young car buyers looking for something fun to drive. However, these cars were never sold for a profit – and that meant BMC didn’t cash in.

Where it did matter – up in the mid-range – BMC had not been wholly successful. The Farina bodied Oxford-Cambridge was fading, and its intended replacement the 1800 range had spectacularly missed its sales targets. BMC profits plummeted, and as a result the ambitious Leyland Motor Corporation took it over in January 1968 (to form BLMC), with a little help from the government.

The new management regime quickly realised a new car was needed to fight the Escort/Cortina – and a simple car was needed. The ADO28, or Marina as it became subsequently known, took all the best bits of the BLMC parts bin (MG engines, Triumph gearboxes and some Minor running gear), and clothed it in a tidy new body. It was a rushed programme – and development took a mere three years. It wasn’t supposed to last long on the market place.

In the end, BL tried to win the hearts of Britain’s sales reps with a tried and trusted package, whereas Rootes-Chrysler thought something all new would float his boat. Targeting the same buyers, both cars ended up looking very similar, and performed their roles as Ford rivals with great aplomb.


CONSIDERING these cars were built for sales reps, they are both remarkably characterful – well, maybe not. With conventional mechanical layouts, deliberately trans-Atlantic styling and low-power engine options, you’re going to struggle to find any real talking points.

Neither well set the pulse racing with tarmac shredding performance nor possess an engine note to die for, but what the Avenger and Marina have in equal doses are tough, no-nonsense demeanors. They are simple to service and are suffused with a slightly naff style reserved for cars designed with Xerox salesmen in mind. Cortina buyers, then…

Neither is at the head of the charisma league – and if you looked through the bottom of a beer glass at them, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. Roy Axe designed the Avenger in Coventry and Roy Haynes styled the Marina in Oxford – and yet, one has to wonder at how they both arrived at the same conclusion: Pure, scaled down Detroit…

We’ve put the Avenger slightly ahead of the Marina for a couple of very good reasons. It was possible to buy a more luridly coloured interior for the Hillman, and most importantly, those rear lamp clusters present a smiley face to anyone following. Okay, that’s a pretty thin reason for giving the Avenger the nod over the Marina, but then, we’re talking about cars designed to drive up and down motorways – with photocopiers in the boot…


PERFORMANCE is an interesting heading for a pair of cars that would be working pretty hard to maintain the legal limit on an uphill stretch of motorway.

Take a look at the performance figures of the Marina and the Avenger, and you’d be mistaken for thinking that these cars are so slow they would find difficulty getting out of their own way. However, the bald figures do not convey that reality of the situation – both cars are perfectly lively to drive, and although stepping out of a modern saloon into either would come as a bit of a culture shock, you’re not going to feel short changed in most situations.

The Marina is actually fairly impressive for a relatively large-bodied 1.3-litre saloon. As always, the A-Series engine manages to punch above its weight, thanks to generous torque and a fairly unstressed nature. Sprinting might not be impressive, but a 0-60 time of 17.9 seconds can be counterbalanced with reasonably lively in-gear acceleration. The best way to make progress in the Marina is to get into fourth gear as soon as possible and leave it there. It’ll not be fast, but you’ll not hold up too many people, either.

The Avenger may only have a 2bhp advantage over the Marina, but it’s enough to provide the Linwood-built car with an on-road advantage. A 0-60 time of 16.5 is impressive compared with the Marina. The engine note is smoother, and that means the driver isn’t forced to keep the revs low – not that this would be a chore given the Avenger’s nicely tractable nature.

Back in the Seventies, speed was everything in the outside lane of the M1 on the way to a pressing engagement with the regional sales director – so it’s advantage Coventry.


FOR much of the Seventies, lambasting the Marina’s suspension was the fashionable thing to do. Motoring journalists relied on two stories to get them by: accounts of James’ Hunt’s public indiscretions, and the monumental understeer generated by any Marina lacking a front anti-roll bar. Some were so scathing, you’d be left under the impression that BL should have issued health warnings with every Marina sold to an unsuspecting member of the public.

Now’s let’s put that story to bed. You won’t crash a Marina at the first sign of a corner you come to, but – and here’s a shocking statement – drive it sensibly, and it’s a tidy and reasonably well-handling car. The rear suspension has primitive leaf-springs, allowing the car to hop sideways if one encounters a mid-corner bump, and a new driver may find this disconcerting. At the front, there are no such vices – there is a feeling of under-damping, which doesn’t inspire confidence, but tales of terminal understeer are well wide of the mark.

However, it pays to take care in the wet. That lively rear axle can play tricks in corners – and it is possible to be surprised by snap oversteer if you’re not careful. You have been warned.

The Avenger’s handling is much less of a talking point. In fact, after the Marina, it feels very sophisticated. Roll angles are kept more tightly in check, and where the Marina would surprise, the Avenger merely delights. It has a firm and stable feel when cornering that marks it out as a well sorted family car – and not only do its abilities transcend those of the Marina, but also most of its other rivals.

The basic excellence of the Avenger shone through when applied to the higher powered and considerably more interesting Tiger model. In 1.3-litre form, its suspension was more than capable of handling whatever the driver would throw at it. Shame about the heavy steering, though…


NEITHER car is renowned for offering particularly cosseting rides – but to think of either as uncomfortable would be to sell both of them short.

However, both are a long way from being perfect. The Avenger may have a nicely damped, firm ride, and is reasonably subdued in the suspension noise department, but you’re always aware of bumps in the road when you start to press on. Stick to nicely maintained smooth roads, and the Avenger comes across as a very civilised car indeed.

Those traits make it a very good motorway car, and one that inspires confidence on long journeys; just don’t expect too much finesse when driving through town.

The Marina may be bested by the Avenger in the ride stakes, but get yourself behind the wheel of one and don’t demand too much from it, and you’ll not be too disappointed. Despite the myths about the Marina, it’s ride is not a bad news story – driving it, you get the sense its bodyshell is solid enough not to make it creak and groan over the potholes that litter our roads today. Bump-thump absorption is also quite good, even though most of that comes from a slightly unbalanced set-up, which sees soft front suspension married to a slightly firmer set-up at the rear.

Around town, the Marina’s ride is a match for the Avenger’s, but up the ante and take it on a flowing A-road or motorway, and it starts to feel all at sea. The ride comfort goes all choppy on you, and there’s less stability that you’d expect there to be.

So, although it may have been designed to plough a furrow on the motorway, that’s exactly the environment, the Marina seems to be at its worst…


NEITHER car has anything to shout about here. It’s not that either has a poor gearchange – because they don’t. It’s just that compared with the sublime gearchange of the Ford Escort or Cortina or anything vaguely Japanese, they were lacking.

Of course, we don’t have an Escort or Cortina here – we’re in splendid isolation. And with that in mind, one can’t help but be impressed with the Avenger’s gearbox. The first impressions are of a car with perfectly judged gear ratios – one never feels as though the gearing it too high or low in general driving. Gear stick movement might be a little on the long side for our liking, but engagement is always positive, and it is complemented by a nicely firm and progressive clutch pedal.

Of course, you can’t help yourself from trying to snatch fifth gear when getting up to motorway speeds, but that was par for the course when the Avenger was vying for outside lane supremacy.

The Marina’s gearchange is also a conventional four-speeder. Taken from the Triumph Toledo, the gearbox certainly performed a capable job, but never did you find yourself changing gear for the sheer sake of it.

Change action is slightly notchier than the Avenger, but travel is shorter. Also like the Avenger, it tends to whine a bit on the overrun – but time has softened this weakness. Back in the Seventies, it might have annoyed road testers and owners, but today it simply adds amusement to an endearing car…


RATHER like the rest of this shoot-out, there is little to choose from between the two cars when it comes down to stamping on the middle pedal.

The Avenger’s brake pedal possesses a nice firm feel to it, and it is easy to graduate stopping enough to make the process a very smooth affair. In terms of the performance the 1.5-litre version offers, it is fair to say the brakes are adequate enough for the job. But it would not be wise to use the term, ‘stop on a six-pence’…

It is much the same story for the Marina. The pedal action is slightly more positive than the Avenger’s, but not really enough to make a distinction.

In both cases, the best way forward is to describe their braking is that they are more than up to the job in hand, and never a concern. Unless, of course, it’s wet and you’re going too fast – something no self-respecting middle-ranking salesman of the Seventies would ever find himself doing…

Cabin and Controls

Avenger interior is a characterful effort...
Avenger interior is a characterful effort…

ONE can see that both Rootes-Chrysler and BLMC made great efforts to create stylish and desirable interiors for their new family cars.

The Avenger impresses right away. Not because it is an ergonomic masterpiece or a feat of interior packaging, but because it’s extremely eye-catching. As soon as you jump in the Avenger, a rather over-styled American looking steering wheel dominates the stylish and minimalist looking dashboard. That wheel is a little on the large side, and not to everyone’s liking, but you can’t knock the Avenger for not trying its hardest.

Another lovely feature if you like that kind of thing is the strip speedometer. Glancing at this wonderful piece of design, one couldn’t help but think about the wonderful chase scene from the classic film, ‘Duel’. But then again, did the average British driver really want a prime slice of Motown for that taxing high-speed dash to the next Hemel Hempstead conference? Perhaps he did… the speedometer was always nice and easy to see from the passenger seat.

The driving environment is a little on the cramped side, though, and this situation is exacerbated by a driver’s seat lacking in rearwards travel. This pushes the driver too close to the pedal and the steering wheel.

The Avenger’s designers may have decided to save money on glass by equipping it with non-opening front quarter lights, but that didn’t stop them making the most of the situation. You’ll find ample bottle holders in both front door pockets – something that would not have been possible with single piece front glass.

After the Avenger, the Marina looks slightly ordinary. It’s not stark or even boring to look at, but there’s simply not as much design flair. Like the Avenger, the Marina’s dashboard is a slab sided piece of plastic, but instead of a strip speedo, you’re presented with two large round dials. There’s no real attempt at style here, but at the same time, it cannot be criticised for being cluttered. Compared to the Maxi and 1100, it seems like a luxury car…

Ergonomics aren’t too bad at all. All the major controls fall nicely to hand – wipers and indicators handled by two column stalks, with the light switch and choke on the dashboard panel to the right of the steering wheel. It’s a no-nonsense approach that mirrors the rest of the Marina design.

Interior room is a close run thing – although its wheelbase is two inches shorter than the Avenger’s, the Marina seems the roomier car. Driving position and visibility are also good – and unlike the Avenger, the Marina’s driver’s seat offers plenty of adjustment for the taller driver.

Marina's interior in Mk1 form is very derivative, but at least it is spared the angled centre console of the later versions
Marina’s interior in Mk1 form is very derivative, but at least it is spared the angled centre console of the later versions

Luggage Space

EVEN Stevens again. Considering the Marina and Avenger where designed by completely different companies, it’s amazing to see how close they are in so many categories.

Both boots are capacious, meanly trimmed (no panels separating the inside rear wing for either) and feature a high loading sill. In terms of absolute load space, according to manufacturer’s figures, the Avenger nips it, but to the naked eye, you’d be very hard pushed to tell the difference.

Both will happily swallow whatever the hard-working sales rep would throw at it. Besides, if huge load space is required, both offer the option of a stylish estate.

Running Costs

A CIGARETTE paper separates the cars again – at the fuel pumps, anyway.

The Marina is frugal, easily beating 35mpg on a gentle run. It’s a testament to the efficiency of the A-Series engine that it can power a relatively large bodied saloon like the Marina, and yet deliver acceptable performance and excellent fuel consumption.

In terms of servicing, the Marina holds a considerable advantage. We’ll cut to the chase: it has the same A-Series engine as the Mini 1275 and MG Midget. With brethren like that, there’s no way that the Avenger would ever be able to compete on terms of spares and parts availability. Put simply, there’s a huge international cottage industry which has been set-up simply to support that engine – even in Outer Mongolia you’ll be able to find a garage which can fix your Marina…

The same cannot be said for the Avenger – it doesn’t quite match the Marina at the fuel pumps, and it certainly cannot boast the spares availability. Having said that, consumables are still readily available – and although Rootes-Chrysler only used the engine in one other application (the Sunbeam hatchback), spares don’t seem to be drying up. You’ll find no difficulty in keeping your Avenger in tip-top service – just that compared with the Marina, it is going to be a slightly more expensive experience.

As for other problems in service – both cars are synonymous with lax build quality and poor rust proofing, so plan for unexpected expenditure…


IT’S decision time – and if you didn’t skip straight to the verdict, you’ll have seen there is very, very little to separate the Marina and Avenger. Both are competent cars – neither is particularly charismatic.

In terms of style, performance, dynamics, accommodation and running costs, it’s almost too close to call. And in a way, that does allow the Marina to prove itself as a rather clever little car. Mechanically, it might be completely predictable – the complete antithesis of the generation of clever BMC cars that preceded the Marina – but it does demonstrate that with considered use of its parts bin, BLMC put together a car that could fight toe-to-toe with Rootes-Chrysler’s clean-sheet high budget effort.

On the road, the Avenger just edges it, thanks to a less ‘loose’ feel on the road, and a more resolved suspension set-up. But it isn’t a convincing victory for Coventry, by any means – and sales figures showed more people were prepared to put up with the Marina’s faults than they were to embrace the brave new world of the Hillman Avenger.

Being a self-confessed BL aficionado, it would be very easy to make the Marina my default choice. That wouldn’t be fair on the Avenger, though – another car I have a great deal of time for. But the more time spent driving the two, the harder it is to come to a rational decision. But choose I must…

In objective terms, the Avenger wins.

Keys on the table, I’ll drive home in the Morris…

At a glance

Scores out of ten
Marina Avenger
Cabin and controls
Luggage space
Running costs


How they compare
Marina Avenger
Actual car tested 1975 Morris Marina 1300 De Luxe 1975 Hillman Avenger 1300 GL
Top speed 91mph 88mph
0-60mph (secs) 17.9 16.5
Economy 28.9mpg 27.7mpg
Fuel tank 11.5 gallons 9 gallons
Engine 1275cc 4-cyl OHV 1295cc 4-cyl OHV
Power 57bhp at 5250rpm 59bhp at 5000rpm
Torque 69lb/ft at 3000rpm 68lb/ft at 4400rpm
Gearbox 4-speed manual 4-speed manual
Brakes Disc/Drum Disc/Drum
Steering Rack and pinion Rack and pinion
Dimensions 13ft8in x 5ft4in 13ft6in x 5ft3in
Weight 1859lb 1903lb
Unleaded fuel? No, needs head conversion or additive No, needs head conversion or additive


  1. A very interesting test. I wish all tests of new cars were as practical, even-handed & sensible. Thanks.
    PS I almost bought a purple Marina for my 1st car but went the burnt orange Capri 1600 route instead. Looked great, totally impractical, not fast & as reliable as the Australian rains – NOT.

  2. I had all my driving lessons in an Avenger; it had that weird half-vinyl roof where only the rear half was the vinyl bit. The car was bright orange and the vinyl roof was white – stunning.

    It wasn’t a bad car to drive for a beginner; light and easy with no awkward habits. Still the best car I’ve ever driven for heel-and-toe gear changing with a clutch pedal at a decent height.

  3. Yes I also remember the Avengers half vinyl roof style. I recall that interior dash with strip speedo as shown here. I failed my driving test in an Avenger then passed driving a Viva. Cant blame the Avenger for that though!

  4. A very balanced article.. I would probably buy the Dolomite or the Cortina, even if it was more expensive.alex

  5. I had a New Zealand 1700 twin carb mark 2 Marina in 1981 ( O series?) and it was a very strong performer; I remember it as having a willing engine which accelerated quite fast. Over the years I have often felt guilty about that car, I did not appreciate it enough at the time. My next company car was a new 1300 cc Mitsubishi Lancer, quite a nice and competent little car. But it had none of my Marina’s character! (or speed)

  6. I had a black Morris Marina 1.7 HL once…I fitted alloy wheels to it with ultralight Mg wheelnuts and fitted wider tyres. Wasn’t a bad motor really…The main bugbear with it was having to grease the front suspension trunions at regular intervals…Something you never have to do on modern cars.
    The front suspension seemed to have been sourced straight out of the ancient Morris Minor 1000 parts bin, and it probably was to keep costs down. Thats means a car built right into the 1980’s relied on front suspension designed back in the 1940’s!

  7. As well as a driving school car, I drove one of my employer’s Avenger 1500 Estate cars. That went pretty well, had good acceleration and top speed but was very noisy and boomy at speed. It was a DL model with black rubber flooring so that didn’t help the soundproofing! Nice colour though – light silvery green metallic.

  8. I think im correct in saying the Avenger came out before the Marina?
    The Avenger was the minimum standard the Marina should have been aiming for IMO
    All the talk about “Take it easy through a corner” and the marina was “ok” Thats not what car buyers wanted. When the equally lambasted Allegro did go round corners quite well and was made by the same company.
    All things considered the Avenger was not a bad car in it’s time

  9. The Avenger certainly had character in its interior design. The windscreen washers were manual (of course), and were operated by pushing the drum-shaped rotary wiper switch in towards the steering column. After a series of semi-pornographic squelching noises, a few drops of water would make a break for the very bottom of the windscreen…
    a colleague and neighbour had an Avenger. It was so boringly reliable that in desperation for work to do, he undersealed the inside of the hubcaps. His dad had restored a Rapier H120 – now there was a car with heritage.

  10. I owned a 1974 1300 SDL 4 door Marina between 1976 and 79. At first the handling was less than inspiring, but a trip to Dutton Forshaw allowed me to purchase a BL Special Tuning book, called “Tuning the Marina” and I also had a Pirelli tyre fitment guide. So what was wrong?
    1. 145×13″ Goodyear G800 custom rib tyres, they would slide even at 30mph on a 30degree bend. The Pirreli guide said 165/70 x 13 was possible on the standard rims, so I fitted a set of Uniroyal Rally 180 tyres – What a transformation!
    2. Rear springs were only two leaf and snapped frequently, the solution was FAM2044 – Diesel Marina Van springs with an increased spring rate 130lb/in instead of 113lb/in. They also had 6 leaves but a lower intial camber, Result was less body roll and no more breakages. A car will handle better without an anti-roll bar if the roll stiffness can be achieved by the road springs alone – so said BL ST, but they would wouldn’t they!
    3. Front lever arm dampers – De-valved and supplemented by with Spax adjustable bolt on kit.

    The overall result was quite amazing and it then out handled all sorts of things. As a young lad, I was quite competitively minded. On a trip to Edinburgh to ski at Hillend with my girlfriend, I joined the A167 near Morpeth with a Porsche 924 (yeah I know, they are rubbish). We crossed over into Scotland 40 miles later and he was still behind me. Passed Coldstream, Greenlaw and at Carfraemill, he finally out-dragged me from a tee-junction as we climbed over towards Soutra Mains. At Pathhead, he still had not escaped and I found a short cut via Ford, Chester Hill and White Hill and managed to pull out a 100yards in front of him just before Dalkeith. The steam could be seen rising from his ears. The result – she married me and has been telling me to slow down ever since.
    We changed the car in ’79 for an Opel Kadette and the wife said – “Doesn’t pull as well as the Marina”.
    So – Not a bad car really, and yes I would rather like another if I could get a 1275 rally prepared Coupe – 127bhp Hee-Hee

  11. My first car was a 1500 Avenger (SMA488J), I bought it just before my 17th Birthday (1981). It ran well and as I recall the only 2 things I felt it really lacked back then was a heated rear screen and electric windscreen wash. My younger Brother bought a 1300 Marina Coupe just under a year later, so We had the two types of cars in your test “under one roof” at home.
    Obviously with 200cc more, mine was faster, but We both agreed, the Avengers handling and roadholding were far superior.
    The Marina was a more comfortably ride though.
    Both cars are now sadly long gone, but they gave Myself and My Brother many miles of happy motoring, at a reasonable cost.
    Both cars are very much “of their time” and very comparable to products from Vauxhall or Ford

  12. The article refers to the Marina having a 4 speed gearbox. Oddly, the photograph shows an auto. Were different cars used for the test than were photographed?

  13. Hi
    I owned a couple of Avengers in the early eighties. Badged Chrysler Sunbeam in the scandinavian marked. There was plenty of used parts on the marked and in went bigger engines, camshaft and dual Stromberg… Making the car pretty fast and combined with inspired driving, wearing out numbers of gearboxes and rear axles. However the engine itself was bullet proof. It isn’t all true that the engines was only used for Avenger saloon and estates. It was used as well in the later Sunbeam hatchback which shared the Avengers floorpan. And it was used in some sort of Iranean licence built Hunter, engines was shipped from UK to Iran for many years after last Avenger leaving Linewood.

  14. Hi
    I owned a couple of Avengers in the early eighties. Badged Chrysler Sunbeam in the scandinavian marked. There was plenty of used parts on the marked and in went bigger engines, camshaft and dual Stromberg… Making the car pretty fast and combined with inspired driving, wearing out numbers of gearboxes and rear axles. However the engine itself was bullet proof. It isn’t all true that the engines was only used for Avenger saloon and estates. It was used as well in the later Sunbeam hatchback which shared the Avengers floorpan. And it was used in some sort of Iranean licence built Hunter, engines was shipped from UK to Iran for many years after last Avenger leaving Linewood.

  15. I had both of these cars. First a 1600cc NZ assembled Avenger. It was the top of the range model (GLS Alpine) and had the most comfortable seats, especially in the back. A nice sized boot too.
    The Marina was an Australian assembled Leyland Marina, with a 2600cc engine. (It was a six cylinder version of the 1800cc BL engine. It was also used in the infamous Leyland P76). The Marina had a three speed manual, and went very fast in a straight line, but cornering was a challenge with such a large motor up front. Nearly as comfortable seats and an even more generous boot.
    Both had character and I was happy with them both.

  16. Make mine a 1972 Avenger 1500 Super. I bought one way back in the 1980s and kept it for many years before being tempted by a Cavalier rustbucket. So when I was offered a freebie 1972 Avenger 1500 Super some 12 years ago, just like my last one but with an alternator (big improvement), I could hardly turn it down. It still gets regular use and still the handling delights. The low kerb weight makes those 65 bhp go a long way, it’s positively lively compared to some modern 2 tonne behemoths.

    Oh and the gearbox on the Avenger is lovely (despite a little 2nd gear synchro wear on many). So quick and slick, exactly the opposite of the effect you get when driving a Rover 45 for example.

    Of course rust can be a problem, but the Avenger was no worse than other cars of the time, and probably better than the Marina.

    It says something that you can jump into a 41 year old car and drive it with a smile on your face. They got the Avenger spot on. Progress is only hampered when you get out of the car and people stop to tell you how their dad used to have one and how great it is to still see them around.

    • I get that all the time, for some reason everyones Grandad had a MK1 Avenger, ”..my Granda had one of them..” and the shape, esp. the rear is sexy. Mine is in maroon-ish rosy red. Women go nuts when they see it. ”..is that a Ford..” NO! Although I’d be more upset if it got called a Leyland. One time a MK2 Escort zombie was slagging the Avenger, ”..sure they were only the same as a Marina..”
      I said, ”..aye right, an Escort is a Marina with front struts and no torque..”

      ”..they were the one to have..” As an uncle of mine said. This article has annoyed me. It is just not accurate.

  17. I also had an 1800 Marina back in the seventies. As per IGL above, I fitted Uniroyal tyres which gave a big improvement. One of the leaf springs snapped on the way to work (me and three big workmates aboard). I fitted van springs I found at a scrapyard. The result was the back was way too high. I threw away the shortest leaf – I think there were four to begin with as opposed to the two the car came with. I then had the springs straightened and re-tempered by an “expert”. The car was still a little high at the back but looked great and the handling was much better. I would have liked to fit the Spax kit on the front but couldn’t afford it on my apprentice wages.

    I found a speedo and rev counter dash console from an 1800TC, also at a scrapyard. Amazingly I think swapping it for my none rev counter unit only involved four screws, the speedo drive and an electrical plug, and the rev counter worked!

    The only problem the car gave me was the gear lever actually came out – a great anti-theft device! If you pushed it back in it worked fine. I think fixing it required a new nylon bush. In all many happy memories of that car.

  18. Well, I suppose someone has to memorialize two of the most forgettable cars of all time.

    ” Pure, scaled down Detroit…”

    Not really, I cannot remember such poorly designed cars over here, except for Ramblers. I spent 1969 to 1974 in the UK, with occasional home trips to Canada. The Marina was styled like a little fat bullfrog, and the Cricket was completely anonymous in a Canadian context. Four year cars if you were lucky. Most people weren’t.

    Now if the author had written: ” Pure scaled down Detroit as imagined in the English mind …”, I would have agreed. Dreadful cars, both of them. A Chevy Nova or Dodge Dart was 10 times the car in the real world, IMO.

  19. “took all the best bits of the BLMC parts bin (MG engines, Triumph gearboxes and some Minor running gear), and clothed it in a tidy new body”

    Really? You call a car designed for the 70s running utterly dire Morris Minor torsion bar and trunnion suspension the best bits of the BL parts bin, what a crock.
    It was terribly nice of BLMC to keep gifting the public expensive FWD cars (as not costed, just designed and built), but realising with help of former Ford execs that the public was more than happy to buy cheaper, more rudimentary live rear axle RWD layout cars, BL managed to use most of the poorest bits from the parts bins to create the thoroughly inadequate Marina.

  20. A good feature, especially for those of us who are not slavish devotees of more fashionable marques.

    One small point, though: the Avenger tested was built at Ryton, not Linwood. Avenger production wasn’t moved north of the border until 1976.

  21. Also as the Avenger tested was a 1974 1300 it likely had the 4.4:1 diff which was too low for its output. The Series 5 1300 Avenger got a 4.1:1 diff which was still too low (I own one.) The Avenger was geared a bit on the low side compared to others which Chrysler only finally rectified with the MK2 Chrysler Avenger. When they did finally put a 3.9:1 diff into the 1300 engined Avengers (and Sunbeams) the Autocar tested mpg went up from 27 to 32mpg. When the torque characteristics of the upgraded from 1250 to 1300 Avenger engine are considered, the article is wrong BTW, peak torque is at 2800rpm with 57bhp on a MK1 1300 with 59hoss and torque peak at 2600rpm on a MK2. Chrysler geared the Avenger too low and spoiled its fuel economy potential.

    The Avenger was of course way better car than the Marina could dream of ever being. Suspension, transmission, engine design was up to date on the Avenger and stuck in the 1950’s on the Marina. Avenger coilsprung all round, hypoid diff, 5 bearing high camshaft engine, twin downpipes (on the 1300/1600 post ’73 engine) as standard then add the lower centre of gravity on the Avenger due to the block skirt lining up properly with the gearbox. The Avenger could handle, the Marina drove like a wheelbarrow full of wet cement.

    Then reliability, well no match at all. Oh also how many rails were in the Marina’s gearbox? Avengers could jump out of 3rd, but their gearbox and rear axles lasted.

    The article is wrong I have to say. Okay this is an AR website so the testers are fans of BL products, fair enough.

    The Specifications table is completely wrong. 1300cc Avenger peak torque was not at 4400rpm, it is at 2800rpm. The picture of the Avenger interior is not of an Avenger GL, it is a basic Avenger DL with no door bins cheaper seats and the oblong speedo dashboard.

    If there is ‘back in the day proof’ of Avenger vs Marina, which is better it is as simple as the following.
    I have a newspaper cutting from March 1979 of my Primary School class and on the reverse are used cars listings.
    Hillman and Chrysler Avengers all with ‘VF’ beside their asking price.
    Every Morris Marina had both a lower asking price and no ‘VF’

    What did ‘VF’ mean? Finance available.

    The finance company would not offer finance on a 2nd hand Marina.

    Case closed.

  22. My second and third cars were Avenger 1600’s and they were nothing like Marinas to drive. I drove a couple of Marinas, a 73 and a 79, and they were simply appalling. At over 60 mph, the noise and vibration were unbearable. The Avengers were fun and easy to drive and capable of long motorway journeys without being too tiring. I even think it’s unfair to say the styling was so similar. Yes, the profiles were more or less the same, but the Avenger had much better detailing and looked sharper.

  23. Spot the extreme butthurt Rootes fanboys above (hint, one of them is spewing utter codswallop and he’s called Paddy, and the other example is Mark.)

    We had a Marina saloon, an Ital saloon and an Ital estate over the years. They drove well enough, and none of them required replacement gearboxes or axles.

    Handling wise they just, well, trundled along really. But the laughable and predictable Clarkson-esque claptrap regurgitated about the handling never fails to make me shake my head and smile.

    I quite liked the look of the Avenger but we didn’t have one. We did have a series one Chrysler Alpine though and that was an absolutely cracking car and light years ahead of both the Marina and the Avenger.

  24. Does anybody do anything except sell things? Read any review of any “reasonably priced” and these days even quite expensive cars and the reviewer cant help reference that they will be driven by and only by sales reps.

    • Sales reps tend to be given the shiny new cars.

      They’re the face of the company, they can’t be seen driving up in a knackered old banger. It is also a perk, give a good salary and car, get the best salespeople, sell more products, company makes more money.

      Whereas those who actually design, create and build the items to sell are left to their own devices in terms of transport – bus, your own car etc.

      Then the repmobiles find their way via auctions into the used car supermarkets after their 2-3 year lease is up.

  25. Why couldn’t BL use the Dolomite platform and slant 4 engine with the Marina? Platform sharing, now very common, would have given a huge cost saving. Maybe spend a bit on a 5 speed gearbox and Marina would not have been a joke.xx

    • The Dolomite platform, as you put it, was; not big enough, weak in torsion, and unable to pass upcoming crash requirements. We did look at it as a stop-gap. It was not suitable in any respect.

      The idea was that ADO77 would be a common platform for Austin, Morris, Triumph, and MG. This never happened due to the failure of SD1. The ADO77 morphed into TM1 (withSD2), before dying due to lack of funds.

      I’m sorry you think Marina was a joke – it kept a lot of people employed, was one of the best selling cars of the 70’s, and kept the company alive long enough to get Metro, Maestro, and Montego to market. Not bad for a car that was only meant to be a 3 year stop-gap!

        • Only very briefly. That underframe was considered at it’s limit, and not suitable for estate, van, and pick-up derivatives.

          • Not questioning what you say was the decision not to go further looking at this, but didn’t the Aussies make a Kimberly/Tasmin estate and pick up with essentially the same floor plan? Might be wrong on that.

  26. I’ve really no idea what Australia did. There was very little interaction with them. From what I’ve ever seen, they didn’t need us!

  27. We didn’t own an Avenger; we own one. a 1972 1500 super. The kids learnt to drive in it. My daughter had for three years while at university. I agree it is “boringly reliable” (this is a boredom I like; working in the automotive trade, I don’ want to come home to fix a car). It has given us less problems than the 10+ year old Honda. Before we got it, it had sat for four years not moving in an elderly (90’s) customer’s garage. So in the first two years ownership we had a few teething problems: siezed front caliper (5km from home), leaking rear wheel cylinder, split heater hose (150km from home but easily bypassed) broken speedo cable, collapsed rear brake hose (80km but 1,1/2hr from home, on alpine plateau 3000′ we live at sea level). We have also, in the 15+yrs we’ve owned it, replaced front lower arms, rack boots, uni joint, top strut bearing. All these jobs were absurdly cheap and simple to do (less than 1hr). One interesting job: my wife likes to show off her driving skills (yes, she is good) and we often go over the alpine plateau road previously mentioned. Since the avenger is such fun to drift (having a nice taut rear end) she was “hanging it out” on the unsealed road but, over-corrected and hit the bank. The engine cut out from fuel surge and there was soil all through the grill and radiator. After knocking that out the car stared and we drove home. Subsequently it had developed a vibration at 60+mph we put it on the hoist but couldn’t see anything wrong with the suspension or steering and the wheel alignment was perfect. We started it on the hoist and noticed a lot of engine movement; the engine mounts had both sheared the rubber off the steel backing. Once again absurdly cheap to replace and I think it took 10mins a side.
    It is a nice car to travel in, with ridiculously low running costs but it would be nice if the front seat moved back two more inches. Good though, because then my wife has to drive on the long trips.
    The biggest bugbear is most people hate being passed by or behind on old car, so will pass us on long straights and then hold us up on corners (we live in a very hilly country and our roads have lots of curves.
    Modifications: Electronic ignition and sealed dizzy, fixed fan removed and electric fan with override fitted (suitable for deeper fords on way to thermal springs), electric washer pump, intermittent wiper control, panel light dimmer. Mods to do: snorkel diff. Radiator also now needs replacing.

  28. Both cars are base models, but the Avenger had quite a range of cars and the GLS, with its four headlamp front end, cloth seats and tinted glass, was a nice car to drive and sit in, and in 1500 or 1600 form could easily reach 100 mph, impressive for the mid seventies. While people often comment on seventies British cars being unreliable, the Hillman, like the bigger Hunter, was generally reliable and cheap to maintain and never had the same amount of contempt as the Austin Allegro.

  29. It’s interesting that the 1725cc engine or the 1.6 & 1.8 engines from the 2 Litre weren’t fitted in the Avenger, but I guess Rootes / Chrysler didn’t want too much product

  30. Even though they are not directly comparable except maybe in size, how does the Avenger (including the 1.8 engine) compare with the Triumph Toledo / Dolomite?

    One was an all-new design while the other was in essence a RWD update of what was originally a FWD car.

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