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More than a bigger Avenger, but the Americanised Anglo-French 180 wasn’t as good as the sum of its parts
The original intention was to badge the car as a Humber and witha V6, too
Bigger is not necessarily better; take the Chrysler 180 as a classic example. On the face of it, making the capable and well received Hillman Avenger that bit larger, and more upmarket, sounded a logical move – but this Anglo/French/Yank saloon found few friends. The 180 (the number designating the engine size 1.8-litres) was the first car to come out of Chrysler’s takeover of both Rootes in the UK and Simca in France, and was intended to be a pan-European model to suit a variety of markets, like the MK3 Cortina.
Yet what a strange hotch-potch it turned out to be. American styled (note the meagre glass area compared to the Avenger), and designed both in the UK and France, it was a sort of automotive Concorde, although Coventry never got to make the car, this being left to the French and then Spanish; in Europe the car was strangely
badged the Simca 1610.
The car was launched in 1970, although it didn’t see the showroom until the following April, costing just two quid under £1500 and the same money would have bought you a swish and sporty Vauxhall VX4/90 or a BMC 1800S plus change for a decent Continental holiday. The 180 was a curious and not to say unhappy mix of Hillman/Simca rolling stock plus the familiar Simca engine – Rootes not having a lump larger than 1725cc at the time. Utterly conventional, but the 180’s forte was its lush Stateside-dictated interior which was designed by the French.
Always a backwater car, it received very little development, mainly due to Chrysler being so cash-strapped. The biggest change came in 1973 when the 2-litre version was introduced, complete with Granada GXL-like vinyl roof and more glitz. Unlike the 180, which still continued, it was an automatic only (initially anyway) and Chrysler made a great fuss about it being the first family 2-litre saloon designed from the outset for automatic transmission.
The 2 Litre was expensive for its market. In 1975 the car cost the same as a Granada 2500, was £100 pricier than the Triumph 2000 and £300 dearer than the old Humber Sceptre, although it was a far superior car dynamically to the old jazzed up Hillman Minx. Ironically, there were plans to badge the Chrysler as a Humber and even a V6 engine option was mooted.
even a V6 engine option was mooted. The range struggled on for the best part of a decade before petering out in 1980. By then Chrysler (Europe) had been jettisoned and left to its own fate by Chrysler in America, although still managed to introduce the excellent Alpine hatchback. However, now under Peugeot’s control, it couldn’t leave the big car market alone, because waiting to replace the 180/2 Litre was the Talbot Tagora. Known as Chrysler C9, it was a co-op with Peugeot that again nobody liked or wanted.
American in Paris…
Well, that’s how Chrysler marketed the 180, although most critical road tests had written the car off as a non event from the outset with the acerbic Car simply calling it a ‘dud‘ which
was strange considering the magazine always favoured French cars back then. It was left to the more friendly publications such as Popular Motoring to go easier on the Chrysler, although even its testers still commented on the soggy handling and dead steering. “When it comes to corners you immediately become aware of considerable understeer, even when going slowly,” it wrote (the Avenger must have felt like a Lotus Elise by comparison-ed).
The Americans demanded that the accent was on comfort, as you would expect, and that‘s certainly what the 180 served up, if not roominess. For its size the 180 was pretty cramped in the back and not much better than an Avenger! The Chrysler’s real forte was relaxed comfy cruising, especially the 2 Litre which gave the car the sort of performance this heavy saloon lacked; 60 in around 12 seconds wasn’t a shabby figure during the mid 70s and nor was the car’s fuel consumption of around 25mpg – at 50p a gallon remember. Ah those were the days…
Rust and rattles were the 180’s biggest faults. The big body, which some thought quite handsome, was none too resistant to corrosion, while the hard working Simca engine always tended to develop top-end rattles as soon as the running-in period passed. But, spark plug accessibility apart, it was an orthodox car that any owners trading up from say a Hunter or Avenger could happily look after, and certainly Motor raved about its long term K-reg 180 for trustworthiness.
But when did you last see a 180/2-litre? Even though it was penned by the same team which designed the excellent Avenger, the cars were hardly popular even when new and general apathy means that’s only a handful left at most. Perhaps it should have been badged as a Humber, because it bestowed all the qualities this luxury brand stood for. “For the family man who wants comfort, quiet, a good turn of speed, crisp acceleration and a car which has as standard equipment many things which are extras on other models, the 180 is worthy of serious consideration,” was Popular Motoring’s overall verdict.
But in the end Chrysler came up with a committee-designed car that appealed to nobody in particular.
When The Car Was The Star
The 180/2-litre did not exactly make a major cinematic impact - a 180 starred in the US/Spanish B-film “Supersonic Man” and the cult 1974 Italian crime film “Squadra Volante” whilst its upmarket cousin languished in such masterpieces as “Emanuelle in Prison” and “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. Meanwhile the entry level 1601 gave possibly the best performance in the filmic gem that was “Violence in a Women’s Prison” but we’re sure one or two must also played a small role in many 70’s TV series like The Persuaders and so on…
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