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Hillman Avenger

Published: 16th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Hillman Avenger
A certain Paul Davies tests an Avenger to the max! A certain Paul Davies tests an Avenger to the max!
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Fancy owning a motorsport legend for road and track use? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their names on stages and circuits, and still provide fine drives today

Back in the seventies almost every manufacturer who wanted to win in motor sport played the homologation game. Production cars had to be made in the right numbers, with the right performance parts, to be eligible to compete – and if the rules got bent, well everyone else did it. Which is how the mundane Hillman Avenger became a race and rally winner. Des O’Dell, manager at what was Rootes, and then Chrysler, Competitions could play the homologation game with the best of them. On paper the Avenger was merely a, not outstanding, competitor for the Ford Escort, or the Morris Marina. But Des, a veteran of Aston Martin and John Wyer’s Le Mans racing team, saw it had potential – and all he needed was a few cars with the right specification. The mainstream Avenger GT, with twin carburettors, and 75bhp, was merely warm. But after surgery, with a brace of dual choke Webers, bigvalve cylinder head, and a proper extractor exhaust manifold, it became the Avenger Tiger, and decidedly hot. Just about, give or take, 200 Mk1 Tigers – all four door – were converted in the competitions department, and a further (approx) 400 Mk2’s growled down the Coventry production line between 1972 and ’73. But that was enough. With the right bits made in the right numbers they could then be used as options on mainstream Avengers, and all that was required was to show an intent to fit the parts. Stories of the same box of cylinder heads being moved around the factory ahead of the FIA inspectors are legend, but never proved. Hence the competition Group 1 (production class) GT was a tuned Tiger in all but name. Bernard Unett – who worked for Des – took the British saloon car championship titles in 1974, ’76 and ’77, and in home rallying Robin Eyre-Maunsell was British champ in ’75 and ’76. In fact Avenger had a lot going for it. The (biggish) body was tough (sunroofs are a no-no on this shell) but light, and the suspension handy coil-spring all round. Plus, it was also relatively inexpensive to prepare for competition. That was until the final incarnation when BRM was contracted to produce a 16-valve, aluminium, cylinder head, and the, usually, 1600cc block was ditched in favour of an 1800cc version produced for the Brazilian version, the Dodge Polara. Very few 1800 Avengers (pushrod or twin cam) ever reached the rally stages. In world rallying, the Avenger only really made the big time in Finland – where former Porsche and Citroen star Pauli Toivonen was a Rootes/Chrysler dealer, and son Henri scored a fifth place on the 1977 1000 Lakes. Henri’s subsequent trips to the British rally championship in the Avenger, and then an Escort, was the start of his remarkable, but tragic, career. Avengers are pretty rare these days, but you’ll find them lurking in classic saloon racing, although no-one seems to have ventured onto rally stages recently. It’s a nice drive, and different from the usual of that time – could be a sleepping classic.

Hillman Avenger Summary

Production

GT/GLS: 1972-79: not known; Tiger 1972-73: 600 approx BRM cars one or two!

Technical

Engine: Four-cylinder, in-line, with cast iron block and head. Single camshaft with pushrod operated valves. 1498cc (1972), 1598cc (1973 onwards).2 x Stromberg CD carbs (GT); 2 x Weber DCOE (Avenger Tiger). Power: GT 75/81bhp; Tiger 92bhp; Group 1 GT 130bhp; BRM 200bhp.
Gearbox: 4-speed manual. (5-speed ZF BRM Avenger).
Drive: Rear wheels.
Suspension: Coil spring struts at front, coil springs and live axle at rear.
Brakes: Disc front, drum rear.
Steering: Rack and pinion.

Claim to fame

Winner British saloon car championship 1974, ’76 and ’77. British Group 1 rally championship winner 1975, ’76. Highest international rally placing: 5th 1000 lakes 1977.

Famous names

Bernard Unett, Colin Malkin, Andrew Cowan, Pauli Toivonen, Henri Toivonen, Robin Eyre-Maunsell, Kyosti Hamalainen, Erkki Pitkanen, Chris Sclater, Kypros Kyprianou, Phil Waller, a certain Paul Davies.

Where to buy

Avenger and Sunbeam Owners Club, e-Bay, Classic Cars For Sale, local press classifieds

What to look for

Rust all over – especially in front floor pan, wheel arches, inner wings and front strut mounts. Sunroofs serious weaken shell. Engines are pretty tough, gearboxes suffer from loss of 2nd gear synchro, and rear axles can get noisy.

What to pay

Not much, unless it’s a competition car with history. Recent GLS (GT replacement) spotted at £3600.

Clubs

Avenger and Sunbeam Owners Club (ASOC): http://www.asoc.co.uk

Classic sport

Eligible for classic saloon car racing, but outclassed by Escort. Some cars have Vauxhall 16-valve or Ford Zetec transplants. Spares readily available from Rootes Post Vintage Spares (http://www.rootesparts.com) in Holland and Speedy Spares (http://www.speedyspares.co.uk) nearer home. Competition preparation and parts are still available from Mal Stuart (01594 810444) and well known Skip Brown Cars (01829 720492).

Competitive Rating: 6



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