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“An American from Paris” – Chrysler 180

Is it a Humber? Is it a Simca? Is it a Hillman? Is it a Talbot? Is it a Sunbeam? Oh, wait, it’s a regular old Chrysler.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that. If any car enshrined the utter confusion the British and European motor industry was capable of, it was the Chrysler/Simca/Hillman 180. It was also responsible for handing over Chrysler’s European influence to Peugeot (Yeah, those guys again) … for one dollar.

Rootes group, Simca, and Chrysler

Anybody who recognises the Hillman Avenger from the 1970s will probably say to themselves, “hang on a moment, this Chrysler looks familiar!”, and it does.

In 1967 Rootes Group, one of the great staples of the British motor industry, was taken over by Chrysler, who produced the Hillman Avenger – then the Chrysler Avenger – then the Talbot Avenger – throughout the seventies. They also produced the Arrow range – a car that was branded as the Chrysler Hunter. And the Hillman Minx. And the Hillman Hunter… uh, and the Humber Sceptre. Oh, and the Singer Vogue. You get the idea. Badge engineering isn’t exactly a subtle practise in the 1970s. Which is probably why you might mistake a Cortina for a 180, or a 180 for an Avenger, or an Avenger for a Marina – “corporate styling” as some would call it.

The reason Chrysler decided to take over the ailing Rootes group was because it had interests in establishing its own independent European division – Ford had Ford of Europe, GM had Opel and Vauxhall.

So, at the same time as the Rootes takeover, Chrysler sank its cash into Simca of France (and also Barreiros of Spain). The key issue on the table was how Rootes and Simca would be combined to produce an effective European division for Chrysler.

It began in 1970, when Rootes and Simca ceased to exist – they became known as Chrysler UK and Chrysler France respectively.

Now stay with me, because this might get a little complicated.

Even though the company names had changed, the branding on the cars, for a spell, didn’t. So Rootes cars were still branded as Hillmans and Humbers and Sunbeams. Even in France, the cars were still built as Simcas – but often had the Chrysler pentastar badge, or came known as “Chrysler-Simca”.

Even though Chrysler didn’t take much interest in Rootes at first, they eventually began retiring the aforementioned brands, and from 1976 onwards, all their cars came out of the factory as Chryslers. Outside of France, Simcas were also exported as Chryslers.

Now that history lesson is over, let’s move on to the 180.

The Chrysler 180

Chrysler Europe hoped to unite the Simca and Rootes brands through the development of one, large, executive car. This would be a replacement for the ageing Humber Hawk, and a whole new product for Simca, who had not produced large luxury cars for a while (their success with the Simca 1100 didn’t warrant it).

The project was known as the “C” car, and the idea was to bring the executives from Britain and France together to produce the new Anglo-French flagship. That isn’t what happened.

What did happen was two completely separate projects were put in the works. In Britain, Roy Axe, head of design at Rootes, decided the new “C” car should be a scaled up version of the Hillman Avenger. In France, Simca were working on Project 929. In 1969, after the British presented their idea and the French didn’t, Chrysler opted for the UK variant.

Of course, there would be different requirements for each country. While the British wanted to dump a hefty, thirsty, V6 2000cc engine and more into the car, the French, whose cars were taxed according to engine size, saw no need for anything bigger than a 4 cylinder.

Then, in 1970, there was another change of heart. Now, instead of having two engine variants, there would be just one. Guess who won? Yep, the weedy French 4-cylinder. An engine that had cost nearly £40 million to produce was axed just as they’d spent about £30 million of the budget.

The Hillman Avenger styling remained but the French stripped out everything else that was British – Simca were put in charge of the front end and the interior, so air-conditioning, leather and real wood trim were all substituted for nasty plastics, vinyl, velour, fake wood, and brown. Lots and lots of brown.

The British resented that their input had been snuffed and went for more powerful cars, and the French weren’t interested in the Chrysler name. The car wasn’t that bad, but the organisation had been, and when it was revealed, it faded away with no more than glances of apathy. The “American from Paris” found itself ageing without upgrades, and eventually wound up in Eastern Europe, where it competed with cars like the GAZ Volga.

Nothing went well for Chrysler Europe after that, and in 1978, saddled by enormous debts, their factories, cars and assets were sold to Peugeot for a grand sum of one whole dollar. Peugeot revived the old brand names like Avenger, Rapier and Alpine as Talbots. But, by then, old cars like the Avenger were already being outclassed by the Volkswagen Golf, and the Vauxhall Astra.

The Model

The model is a Majorette (noticing a theme?). Being a true 1970s model, the car is strong and sturdy, with a green metal body on a grey metal baseplate with plastic cream/white interior and gold tinted windows. The wheels operate on Majorette’s signature floaty suspension, which still uses a similar system even today.

The detail is excellent. The bonnet curves and grooves are nicely done, and the front comes with a number plate, the Chrysler badge, and if you look very closely, even has chrysler written on the right hand side of the grille. The same font along with some badging is on the rear. It comes with a tow hook, which I couldn’t resist attaching a caravan to, and the attention to detail on the sides is also superb.

The model comes with opening doors, excellent interior detail, and even includes the grooves on the seats.

This, like most old Majorettes, is an excellent model, despite being severely playworn and having most of its paint chipped off – but hey, that’s testament to how great this thing was to play with, right?

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Chrysler 180 Facts

  • Production was eventually shifted to Spain, where the car found popularity with taxi drivers for its comfortable ride. Production was also moved to Spain when it proved the Chrysler was not selling well in France.
  • It was seen as a car good for long-distance motoring, but not for regular driving.
  • The car sold better in Britain than in France.
  • The Chrysler 180 was intended to rival cars such as the SD1, but was hampered by its small engine size.
  • The Chrysler 180 was sold in Australia as the Chrysler Centura, albeit with a different front and engine sizes.
  • The codename “C” car is in reference to the “B” car – the name for the Hillman Avenger, whose body shell the 180 was largely based off.

Featured Image: 1985 Chrysler 180 by Spanish Coches. Flickr. Original

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Author:

Graphic designer, writer for Classic American auto magazine, journalist.

One thought on ““An American from Paris” – Chrysler 180

  1. I remember the Hillman Avenger sold here in the States as the Plymouth Cricket. It was around the same time that the Mitsubushi Galant was sold as a Dodge Colt. I always got these two confused, for some reason. The Colt stayed around much longer than the Cricket did.

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