Chrysler Avenger is First Produced
The Hillman Avenger was a rear-wheel drive Small family car originally manufactured under the Hillman marque by the Rootes Group between 1970 and 1976, and made by Chrysler Europe from 1976 to 1981 as the Chrysler Avenger and finally the Talbot Avenger. The Avenger was exported to North America and sold there as the Plymouth Cricket.
The Avenger was initially produced at Rootes' plant in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, England, and later at the company's Linwood facility near Glasgow, Scotland.
Introduced in February 1970, the Avenger was significant as it was the first and last car to be developed by Rootes after the Chrysler takeover in 1967. Stylistically, the Avenger was undoubtedly very much in tune with its time; the American-influenced "Coke Bottle" waistline and semi-fastback rear-end being a contemporary styling cue. However, from an engineering prospective it was rather conventional, using a 4-cylinder all-iron overhead valve engine in 1250 or 1500 capacities driving a coil spring suspended live axle at the rear wheels. Unlike any previous Rootes design, there were no "badge-engineered" Humber or Singer versions in the UK market. The Avenger was immediately highly praised by the press for its good handling characteristics and generally good overall competence on the road and it was considered a significantly better car to drive than rivals like the Morris Marina.
Initially the Avenger was available as a four-door saloon in DL, Super and GL trim levels. The DL and Super could be had with either the 1250 or 1500cc engines but the GL was only available with the 1500 cc engine. Since the DL was the basic model in the range, it featured little more than rubber mats and a very simple dashboard with a strip style speedometer. The Super was a bit better equipped, featuring carpets, armrests, twin horns and reversing lights, though the dashboard was carried over from the DL. The top-spec GL model featured four round headlights (which was a big improvement over the rectangular ones from the Hillman Minx that were used on the DL and Super), internal bonnet release, two-speed wipers, brushed nylon seat trim (previously never used on British cars), reclining front seats, and a round dial dashboard with extra instrumentation.
Not only was the Avenger's styling totally new, but so were the engine and transmission units, which were not at all like those used in the larger "Arrow" series Hunter. Another novelty for the Avenger was the use of a plastic radiator grille, a first in Britain and at 4½ feet (137 cm) wide claimed as the largest mass-produced plastics component used at this time by the European motor industry. The Avenger was a steady seller in the 1970s, in competition with the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva. Chrysler wanted the Avenger to be a "world car", and took the ambitious step of marketing the Avenger as the Plymouth Cricket in the United States. Complaints of rust, unreliability, plus apathy towards small cars amongst buyers in the United States, saw it withdrawn from that market after only two years.
The Chrysler Avenger started out in 1970 as a Hillman, being initially manufactured at the Rootes Group’s plant in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, England, although production would switch to the companies Linwood facility near Glasgow, Soctland.
It was the first car to be developed by Rootes following the Chrysler takeover of 1967, however there were some obvious styling concessions made to Americanize the car for the new company owner.
The “Coke” bottle waistline and semi-fastback styling gave the car a very modern appearance for the time, although under the skin the car was entirely conventional.
The 4 cylinder overhead valve 1.3 litre and 1.5 litre engines, while entirely new, drove through a coil sprung suspended live rear axle. Although it was obviously “old school” the motoring press were unable to fault the car’s supple ride and reasonably well sorted chassis.
In any comparison with its competitors, the Avenger would nearly always prove to be the best of the pack. The car would sell well against such rivals as the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva. In fact the car was doing so well in the UK that Chrysler took the ambitious step of trying to sell it in the US market.
Americans had, however, been used to something a little larger, a little more reliable and a little better built, and the car flopped. It would be quietly withdrawn from US dealerships after only 2 years.
In 1972 Chrysler introduced a “fleet” version, a most basic and utilitarian version designed to appeal to the budget conscious fleet purchaser. Like jettisoning sand bags from a rapidly descending hot air balloon, the “fleet” would have just about every creature comfort removed in an effort to keep costs as low as possible. Even the sun visor for the front passenger was removed.
Thankfully there were some rather better equipped versions also released that year, including five door estate version of the existing 1250 Deluxe, 1250 Super, 1500 Deluxe and 1500 Super. A two-door version was also introduced, its trim following that of the four door.
The Avenger was extensively marketed in Europe, first as a Sunbeam (but without the Avenger name), the Sunbeam 1250 and Sunbeam 1500 sold reasonably well. In Northern Europe the car was sold as the Sunbeam Avenger, and the car was even manufactured in Brazil where is was sold as the Dodge 1800/Polara (where the car was fitted with a larger 1800cc engine), and in Argentina as the Dodge 1500. In South Africa the car was fitted with Peugeot engines and badged as a Dodge, at some iterations were even sold as far a field as New Zealand.
In 1976 Chrysler decided to market the Avenger under it’s own name, and at the same time gave the car a comprehensive makeover. The new frontal treatment featured squared off headlights, while at the rear the distinctive “hockey stick” style tail lights were dropped in favour of more conventional units.
The top of the former “hockey sticks” had body coloured metal in their place. But the time was running out for the Avenger, it now being thoroughly outclassed by the likes of the VW Golf and Renault 14. In 1978 Chrysler Europe would go bankrupt, and following the takeover by Peugeot the Chrysler models were re-braded as Talbot’s.