Chrysler Centura is First Produced
The Chrysler Centura was a midsize car built by Chrysler Australia, based on Chrysler Europe's Chrysler 180.
These cars were based on the French Simca 180 bodies and were available with Australian made 3.5 Litre and 4.0 litre Hemi Sixes. About 20,000 Australian Centuras were built between 1975 and 1977.
Engineers from Chrysler Australia and Simca considered modifying the body and shortening the drive train so they could place the Australian 6 cylinder engines further back in the body but instead decided to lengthen the nose as Chrysler Australia apparently felt this created a more aggressive and better looking car. It also meant less changes were needed to "Australianise" the car making it cheaper to assemble. Additional changes though largely cosmetic included a new grill, headlights, bonnet and rear panel and taillights.
To compensate for the extra weight at the front of the car a brake proportioning valve was fitted, to compensate for weight shifts. When the car "nose-dived" under heavy braking, the proportioning valve reduced the brake pressure on the rear wheels, to prevent them from locking up and causing the back of the car to slide.
Chrysler also experimented with fitting a 5.2 litre (318 ci) American made V8 but decided that the body wasn't strong enough to cope with the larger engine and the V8 version never went into production.
The KB (from 1975) and KC (from June 1977 to the end of 1978) series Centuras sold and assembled in Australia not only had a 2 litre version of the 4 cylinder 1.6 lite Simca engine but were also available with Australian made 6 cylinder pushrod 3.5 litre and 4.0 litre hemi engines and Borg Warner Automatic (3 speed) and manual gearboxes (3 and 4 speed) and the option of Australian made steel sports wheels. The 4 litre 6 KC with the four speed manual and sports wheels is the most sought after by enthusiasts.
The 3.5 litre had a 3.23:1 differential ratio and the 4.0 litre a 2.92:1 ratio. These Australian sixes also came with larger brakes (60 mm front discs and 25.4 mm rear drums) and a tandem brake reservoir. The Australian 6 cylinder cars had a reputation for providing reasonable handling, good torque and outstanding acceleration. However, the cars' firewalls were not up to the heavier duty clutches needed for the sixes; flexing considerably and sometimes cracking badly as the cars aged. Centuras also experienced quality issues with interior fixtures, with door trims breaking off, and torn vinyl trim near stitching lines not uncommon. KB 6 cylinder models have also know to catch fire under bonnet, due to the long loom required from battery to starter motor, which are on opposite sides of the Hemi. This is caused through looms rubbing on metallic clips located on the firewall.
The importation of the bodies from France into Australia was complicated initially in 1973 due to industrial action with dockside unions protesting against French Pacific island nuclear testing so many bodies spent months on wharfs exposed to salt air creating a corrosion problem for owners later in these cars' lives. As the union bans lasted 2 years some cars even spent this long on the wharfs.
Six cylinder cars sold four to one in the Australian market over the 4 cylinder model. The KB series was sold in XL and GL trims, the latter having more equipment including a tachometer, cloth trim seats and optional vinyl roofs, the KC series was offered in GL or GLX trims. The KB model's European pedigree was obvious with instrumentation in the opposite order and steering column controls on opposite sides. As with their bigger Valiant brothers, flow ventilation was an issue, but at least the Centura had two face level outlets.
Sports options were available on Centura models. These items ranged from dealer fitted stenciled sports strips (bonnet and sides) to styled steel wheels and alloys.
The KC Model dropped the 2.0L and 3.5L engines and added a low compression (7.6:1) 4.0L to run on standard grade fuel and aid fuel economy and the 4.0L high compression (9.0:1) was more for performance and towing. The KC was also more Australian, using VDO gauges, Valiant style steering wheel, steering column and various parts from the larger Australian Valiant lineup.
The Centura's main competitors in Australia were an Australian made versions of the 6 and 4 cylinder Ford Cortina, the 6 and 4 cylinder versions of General Motors' LH Holden Torana and Sunbird. The Centura boasted much more interior room and boot space than these main rivals. Centura's were also seen to compete to a lesser extent with both the perceived more reliable and better equipped 4 cylindered Datsun (Nissan) 180B (Bluebird)and Toyota Corona and the larger bodied Australian Holden Belmonts, Premiers and Kingswoods, Chrysler Valiants (including the sporting Charger coupe) and Ford Falcons. Most competitors, although often lacking the fierce acceleration of the 6 cylindered Centura, proved less rust prone and generally had more modern styling. In retrospect the Centura was not a typical 1970's medium sized car, nor a larger car. It would be another 4 years when Holden released the Commodore for the market to have a vehicle with similar internal dimensions to the Centura.
Chrysler Australia was also being starved of funds by it troubled American parent at this time and it larger Valiant sedans had persisted with the same chassis platform and basic body shape and interior (no face level flow through vents) for many years. This created an old fashioned image of the Australian Chrysler-Valiant brand that may have also have adversely impacted Centura sales. The 180 design was also very dated by the time the cars arrived later than intended in the Australian market further adding to the old fashioned image of the brand. The large hemi 6 and V8 Valiants were still popular with Australian farmers who seemed to prefer large powerful American style cars but the Centura didn't have the size or style to meet the needs of that market either.
In addition to the union bans on French imports, parts supply and local Chrysler support for used vehicles also became more complicated when in 1978, Chrysler Europe went bankrupt and was taken over by Peugeot. This Peugeot takeover was soon followed by several French Peugeot/Talbot factory strikes worsening the problems in sourcing parts in Australia. The mix of metric and imperial fasteners used on the 6 cylinder cars and their combination of French and Australian parts also made them a challenging vehicle to maintain.
Some Australian enthusiasts later fitted larger 4.3 litre hemi sixes to their cars (some even adding triple carburettors and other performance parts bits from the sportier or R/T versions of the larger Australian made Valiant Charger). Others have fitted various Chrysler V8's including the 5.2 litre motor that is readily available in Australia.
Centuras are now rare on Australian roads although they appear more common in South Australia probably due to some enduring loyalty to the Chrysler brand as the company had a manufacturing plant in that state before it was sold to Mitsubishi in 1980. The nuclear bans impact on production and parts supply, the subsequent rust problems, cracking firewalls and difficulty early in the cars' used sales life in getting parts from France were probably all factors that contributed to their relatively rapid disappearance from Australian roads.
In response to the growing success of the medium sized Ford Cortina and Holden Torana, Chrysler countered with the Centura.
Based on the French "Simca", the Centura was considered by many to be too little too late, being released in 1975, some 8 years after the Torana and TC Cortina had made inroads and established their market share.
Entry level Centura's had the donor Simca's 4 cylinder engine bored out to increase capacity from 1.8 litres to 2.0 litres. But to be competitive in the Australian market, and compete equally with the Cortina and Torana, Chrysler needed a mid sized six cylinder car.
Chrysler Australia engineers set about transplanting the Valiant's Hemi 245 engine, utilising an Australian Borg-Warner gearbox, tailshaft, and differential.
The Centura was criticised at the time for its handling, particularly in 6 cylinder form with a heavy front end and extremely light rear end. However unlike the Valiants and Chargers of the day that had torsion bar front ends with leafsprung rears, the Centura had coil springs all round.
To compensate for the 6 cylinder Centura's weird weight distribution Chrysler engineers placed a variable hydraulic pressure limiting valve in the rear braking circuit.
This device sensed the cars attitude and reduced the rear brake pressure when the front of the car dived, such as under hard braking, thereby preventing the rear brakes from locking up.
This device was bolted to the rear of the chassis and connected to the rear axle through a series of springs and levers. Few owners bothered to maintain the device properly and existing examples of the Centura have probably had the device "bypassed".
The Centura would not last 3 years in the showroom, initially being released as the KB and then followed by the facelifted and better optioned KC model. The European Simca C180 on which the Centura was based had slightly better longevity, being manufactured from 1970 to 1981.