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Hillman Avenger

Published: 3rd Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Hillman Avenger
Hillman Avenger
Hillman Avenger

Model In Depth...

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Forget the puns about being a good Steed, Hillman’s Avenger replaced M appeal for family values...


The name alone takes you back to the 1960s and ‘70s, when John Steed and his sexy female sidekicks worked for ‘The Ministry’ as The Avengers, in the popular ABC Television programme. The original series ended in 1969, but the name was about to come back, in the form of the new Avenger, an utterly orthodox family car from Chrysler-owned Rootes Group, which was launched in the February of 1970.

The story really starts in 1967, though, when American car giant Chrysler took over the ailing Rootes Group, which was struggling financially, partly due to poor sales of the brilliant but flawed Impand for which the company had built a new factory in Linwood, near Glasgow.

As Ford had discovered many years before, it doesn’t pay to be too innovative with car design, so Chrysler bosses wanted a simple family car to get the dealers’ tills ringing again. Enter the 1970 Avenger, which was initially badged as a Hillman. Like the soon-to-be-launched Morris Marina, plus Vauxhall’s Viva and Ford’s Escort, the Avenger boasted a simple rear-wheel drive layout, with an in-line ohv engine up front. The engine was an all-iron unit, initially available in 1250cc and 1500cc capacities, driving a live rear axle which was suspended by coil springs. Despite the simple underpinnings (which shared little with the larger Arrow range), road testers at the time praised the Avenger’s handling, putting it ahead of cars like the antiquated Morris Marina and the leaf-sprung Escort.

Styling-wise, the Avenger boasted a curvy ‘Coke Bottle’ waistline, made popular at the time due to cars like the HB Viva. Initially the car was only available as a four-door saloon, with DL, Super and GL variants but later that year. The 1500 GL-derived GT was launched, as a rival to the go faster Escorts and Cortinas – and better. The GT was in turn was topped in 1972 by the luxury GLS, which boasted a vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels. Also in that year an estate range was launched, which offered a similar specifi cation to the saloon, but with the benefi t of heavy-duty rear springs and one of the longest load platforms in its class; it was a hugely practical and likable family hack. The next major change was the introduction of a two-door version saloon, launched in 1973 along with engine uprates to 1300cc and 1600cc but sadly the demotion of the once classy GT into a boy racer’s wet dream.

Thanks to the Chrysler parent company, the Avenger was also sold in the US, from 1971-73, where it was badged as the Plymouth Cricket. However, the gas-guzzling US buyer didn’t really take to the tiny Cricket, with reliability problems and rust also hindering the car’s image. Ironically, though, the Cricket’s game was over in the US just as the 1973 fuel crisis was taking hold, when sales of small European cars boomed…

Tiger Feet

Remember pop band Mud’s 1974 hit Tiger Feet? What better place to play it at full volume than on the transistor radio of your new Avenger Tiger! Launched in 1972, the Tiger version of the Avenger paid homage to the Sunbeam Tiger sports car and was designed to compete with the likes of Ford’s Escort Mexico and RS2000.

The Tiger was built by Chrysler’s Competitions Centre and used the four-door saloon bodyshell. The 1500cc GT engine was modifi ed for the Tiger, with an upgraded cylinder head and twin Dell’Orto carburettors. It produced just under 93bhp and road test fi gures at the time showed a 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds and a top speed of 108mph, which put the car on terms with the Escort RS2000, in terms of pure performance but with four door convenience.

A slightly modified Mk2 Tiger was launched at the end of 1972. Rare beasts in the wild today, it’s as well to remember that the Avenger was a big success on the race tracks in Group 1 (‘showroom’) racing in the hands of development driver the late Bernard Unett – Chrysler’s own ‘Norman Dewes’ of his day.

Facelift façade

With six years life under its belt Chrysler thought it best to facelift the Avenger which coincided with a name change, with the car now badged as the Chrysler Avenger. Styling changes included a new frontal treatment, with a slightly blander corporate look. Meanwhile, the stylish ‘hockey stick’ rear light clusters were dropped in favour of a less adventurous strip of lights. And as money was so tight this was done by simply making end caps for the wings. The Yanks should have left it well alone…

Come 1979, the final name change for the now dated-looking car saw it badged as the Talbot Avenger, following the 1978 takeover of bankrupt Chrysler Europe by Peugeot. The car finally bowed out in 1981, when Peugeot closed the ill-fated Linwood factory where it was latterly being produced. But like John Steed, this Avenger car was a survivor. In Argentina, it continued in production until 1988, initially badged as the Dodge 1500. Then, in 1982, Volkswagen bought the car’s tooling (when Chrysler pulled out of South America), and produced the car as the Volkswagen 1500. 

Just under a million Avengers were made in 11 years – a decent record but not enough to save the old Rootes Group. The chief reason why the car sold so steadily was its overall competency. The best Hillman we’ve tested was a familiar headline in the motoring mags while even the critical Car magazine who loved all things French and quirky rated it a “Happy enough family saloon”. 

The more down to earth Practical Motorist said that the 1500 De Luxe was “a thoroughly workmanlike vehicle and adequately fulfi lling its function as medium-sized family transport… with its priorities in the right places”. “A handy car” added Autocar back in 1976… and for many that’s all they wanted from a set of wheels. And who can blame them? Just don’t fi t a sunroof as the Avenger wasn’t designed for a hole in the head…


When The Car Was The Star

Many Britons of a certain age will argue that Worzel Gummidge riding on the roof of Norman Bird’s Avenger DL Estate was Southern Televison’s fi nest hour but this very under-rated Hillman has also starred in four-door saloon form in the 1972 Oliver Reed crime drama “Sitting Target” and encountered both the “Morons From Outer Space” and “The Persuaders”. Naturally “Life on Mars” featured an Avenger – in very, very rare 1500 Estate form – but the most intruiging appearance has to be the ‘Tiger’ in the Irish comedy series “Killinaskully”.

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