|Manufacturer||Rootes Group Chrysler Europe|
|Also called||Chrysler Avenger Talbot Avenger Sunbeam Avenger (Europe) Dodge Avenger (South Africa) Plymouth Cricket (U.S/Canada) Dodge 1800 (Brazil) Dodge Polara (Brazil) Dodge 1500 Pickup (Uruguay) Dodge 1500 (Argentina) Volkswagen 1500 (Argentina)|
|Production||1970–1981 1971-1990 (Argentina)|
|Assembly||Ryton-on-Dunsmore, England Linwood, Scotland|
|Body style||4-door saloon 5-door estate from 1972 2-door saloon from 1973|
|Layout||Front-engine, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine||1248 cc I4 (1970–1973) 1295 cc I4 (1973–1981) 1498 cc I4 1598 cc I4 (1973–1981) 1798 cc I4 (South America)|
|Transmission||4-speed manual 3-speed automatic|
|Wheelbase||98 in (2,500 mm)|
|Length||161 in (4,100 mm)|
|Width||62 in (1,600 mm)|
|Height||53 in (1,300 mm)|
The Hillman Avenger was a rear-wheel drive small family car originally manufactured under the Hillman marque by the Rootes Group from 1970–1976, and made by Chrysler Europe from 1976–1981 as the Chrysler Avenger and finally the Talbot Avenger. The Avenger was exported to North America and sold there as the Plymouth Cricket.
The Avenger was initially produced at Rootes' plant in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, England, and later at the company's Linwood facility near Glasgow, Scotland.
Introduced in February 1970, the Avenger was significant as it was the first and last car to be developed by Rootes after the Chrysler takeover in 1967. Stylistically, the Avenger was undoubtedly very much in tune with its time; the American-influenced "Coke Bottle" waistline and semi-fastback rear-end being a contemporary styling cue. However, from an engineering prospective it was rather conventional, using a 4-cylinder all-iron overhead valve engine in 1250 or 1500 capacities driving a coil spring suspended live axle at the rear wheels. Unlike any previous Rootes design, there were no "badge-engineered" Humber or Singer versions in the UK market. The Avenger was immediately highly praised by the press for its good handling characteristics and generally good overall competence on the road and it was considered a significantly better car to drive than rivals like the Morris Marina.
Initially, the Avenger was available as a four-door saloon in DL, Super and GL trim levels. The DL and Super could be had with either the 1250 or 1500 cc engines, but the GL was only available with the 1500 cc engine. Since the DL was the basic model in the range, it featured little more than rubber mats and a very simple dashboard with a strip-style speedometer. The Super was a bit better equipped, featuring carpets, armrests, twin horns and reversing lights, though the dashboard was carried over from the DL. The top-spec GL model featured four round headlights (which was a big improvement over the rectangular ones from the Hillman Minx that were used on the DL and Super), internal bonnet release, two-speed wipers, brushed nylon seat trim (previously never used on British cars), reclining front seats, and a round-dial dashboard with extra instrumentation.
Not only was the Avenger's styling totally new, but so were the engine and transmission units, which were not at all like those used in the larger "Arrow" series Hunter. Another novelty for the Avenger was the use of a plastic radiator grille, a first in Britain and at 4 ft 6 in (137 cm) wide claimed as the largest mass-produced plastics component used at this time by the European motor industry. The Avenger was a steady seller in the 1970s, in competition with the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva. Chrysler wanted the Avenger to be a "world car", and took the ambitious step of marketing the Avenger as the Plymouth Cricket in the U.S. Complaints of rust, unreliability, plus apathy towards small cars amongst buyers in the U.S., saw it withdrawn from that market after only two years.
Introduction of body and trim variations
In October 1970, the Avenger GT was added to the range. It had a twin-carburettor 1500 cc engine, four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission (also optional on the 1500 DL, Super and GL). The GT featured go-faster stripes along the sides of the doors and dustbin lid wheel covers, which were not unlike those found on the various Datsuns and Toyotas of the 1970s.
The basic fleet Avenger was added to the range in February 1972. It was offered with either 1250 or 1500 cc engines (the latter available with the automatic transmission option). The fleet Avenger was very basic: it did not have a sun visor for the front passenger, and the heater blower had just a single speed. In October 1972, the Avenger GT was replaced by the Avenger GLS, which came with a vinyl roof and Rostyle sports wheels.
In March 1972, the five-door estate versions were introduced, in DL and Super forms (both available with either 1250 or 1500 cc engines) and basically the same specifications as the saloon versions. However, 'heavy-duty springing' was fitted and the estate had a maximum load capacity of 1,040 lb (470 kg), compared to 840 lb (380 kg) for the saloon.
The two-door saloon models were added in March 1973, with all engine and trim options of the existing four-door range.Styling of the 2-door was similar to the 4-door, but the side profile was more subdued.
The car was extensively marketed in continental Europe, first as a Sunbeam. It was without the Avenger name in France, where it was known as the Sunbeam 1250 and 1500; later the 1300 and 1600. Some northern European markets received the car as the Sunbeam Avenger.
Both engine sizes were upgraded in October 1973. The 1250 became the 1300, while the 1500 became the 1600 with nearly all the same previous trim levels except for the basic fleet Avenger, which was discontinued at this point. The GL and GT trim levels were now also offered with the 1300 engine and two-door saloon body.
Named to evoke memories of the Sunbeam Tiger, the Avenger Tiger concept began as a publicity exercise. Avenger Super (four-door) cars were modified by the Chrysler Competitions Centre under Des O' Dell and the Tiger model was launched in March 1972. Modifications included the 1500 GT engine with an improved cylinder head with enlarged valves, twin Weber carburettors and a compression ratio of 9.4:1. The engine now developed 92.5 bhp (69 kW) at 6,100 rpm. The suspension was also uprated, whilst brakes, rear axle, and gearbox are directly from the GT.
A distinctive yellow colour scheme ("Sundance") with a bonnet bulge, rear spoiler and side stripes was standard, set off with "Avenger Tiger" lettering on the rear quarters.
Road test figures demonstrated a 0–60 mph time of 8.9 seconds and a top speed of 108 mph (174 km/h). These figures beat the rival Ford Escort Mexico, but fuel consumption was heavy. Even in 1972, the Tiger developed a reputation for its thirst.
All Avenger Tigers were assembled by the Chrysler Competitions Centre and production figures are vague but around 200 of the initial Mark 1 seems likely.
In October 1972, Chrysler unveiled the more "productionised" Mark 2 Tiger. The Avenger GL bodyshell with four round headlights was used. Mechanically identical to the earlier cars, the bonnet bulge was lost although the bonnet turned matt black, and there were changes to wheels and seats. These cars went on sale at £1,350. Production was around 400. Red ("Wardance")was now available as well as yellow ("Sundance"), with black detailing.
1976: re-badge to Chrysler and a facelift
In September 1976, the Avenger was rebadged as a Chrysler. It also gained a comprehensive facelift which included a new frontal treatment and a new dashboard. Both treatments looked similar to those of the Chrysler Alpine. The greatest change was at the rear where, on the saloons, the distinctive "hockey-stick" rear lamp clusters were dropped in favour of a straight "light-bar" arrangement. The top of the former "hockey-sticks" had metal plates in their place (the rear wings were still the same), whilst the fuel cap was moved from the rear to the right hand side of the car.
Three trim levels were available, LS, GL (known as 'Super' in certain markets) and GLS—the GLS being only available in a high-compression 1.6 L form.
Production was transferred from Ryton to the Linwood plant in Scotland in 1977, where it was produced until the end of its production life.
Denmark and Europe
These Danish versions had two-door equivalents which were sometimes exported back to the UK, since two-door models were phased out in the UK market in 1979. The Hillman Avenger name was not used, instead the cars were simply badged as Sunbeam and the engine size and trim level (e.g. Sunbeam 1600 GLS).
Throughout most of Europe the Sunbeam name was used, except for the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.
The Avenger was built in Argentina between 1971 and 1988, initially as the Dodge 1500 (or Dodge 1500M with the 1.8 engine), in 4-door sedan.
Complete as a CKD kits from Argentina where also exported to Chrysler Colmotores for assembly in Colombia from 1973–1978.
The Avenger was also built in Brazil from 1973–1981 in two-door sedan form only, sold initially as Dodge 1800, named for its motor—the engine design was the same as found in Avengers sold elsewhere .
The Avenger was sold by Todd Motors in New Zealand from 1970–1981 in four-door sedan and five-door wagon (1974 onward) forms only.
The Avenger was assembled and sold in South Africa badged as the Dodge Avenger. To satisfy local content rules a locally made 1.6 L Peugeot engine, shared with the locally assembled 404, was used.
The Avenger was built in Iran from 1978–1980 in 2-door, 69 hp (51 kW) form by Iran Khodro Co. and called "Hillman e 2 dar e montage iraan" beside Hillman Hunter (called Peykan). The engine used in was the Hunter engine used in the Paykan.
Avenger and Cricket in motorsport
Despite the humble underpinnings, the Avenger was a successful car in motorsport; it was a frequent strong achiever in the British Touring Car Championship owing to the "tuneability" of its engine. The road-going version, the 4-door Avenger Tiger, is now a sought-after classic car.
- In the U.S., driver Scott Harvey was known to have rallied a Plymouth Cricket to win the Press on Regardless Rally of 1971.
- Northern Ireland based Robin Eyre-Maunsell was a works driver for the factory Avenger rally team, run by Des o'Dell, and won the British Group 1 Rally Championship in 1975 and 1976.
- The late Bernard Unett won the British Touring Car Championship using Avengers in 1974, 1976 and 1977.
- Scottish rallydriver Andrew Cowan won the 1976 Heatway Rally of New Zealand in a Hillman Avenger 2-door in 1976, fitted with the expanded 1800 cc Brazilian Dodge 1800/Polara engine.