What a beautiful design, what a strange history.
The Chrysler 180 was an odd duck in the Simca showroom. It looked like a British car! Well, actually it was. You can see the similarities with, for example, the Sunbeam Avenger. This car came off the drawing boards at the Rootes-Group, the British manufacturer of brands such as Humber, Singer, Hillman, Sunbeam and Commer. There it was intended as a successor to the Humber Super Snipe and as a counterpart to the Austin 3-Litre 'Land Lobster'.
The British team led by Roy Ax not only designed a luxury four-door car with lots of leather, wood, independent suspension and air conditioning, but also a new V6 engine for which a whole new factory was built in Coventry. Meanwhile, Simca was simultaneously working on a new, larger successor to the 1301 – 1501 series, which had been built since 1963. Under model code 292, French and American designers collaborated with Michelotti on a new large French mid-range car. The clay models were ready, the last details still had to be determined.
And then Chrysler Europe's leadership stepped in. The Americans, owner of both Rootes and Simca since the late 60s, did not consider it necessary for two of their European manufacturers to develop their own large middle class. They decided, and this is where the amazement begins, that the French were going to finish the British design and also produce the car in Poissy.
The British were furious, and things got worse when it turned out that in France, where road tax is calculated by engine capacity, the three-litre V6 was dropped altogether. Just like the air conditioning, the wood, the leather and the new independent rear axle. The V6 was replaced by a Simca-developed cast-iron four-cylinder inline engine with an overhead camshaft and a conventional rigid rear axle with coil springs, such as that of the Simca 1301/1501. This put the car on an equal footing with the Ford Taunus and the Opel Rekord, among others. but it was definitely no longer a top class that competed with Mercedes, BMW, the Citroën DS, the Austin 3-Litre or the Rover models.
And so, in 1970, a British-looking car suddenly appeared in the Simca showroom, which customers walked around with some uneasiness, and the Sunbeam dealers had to sell a French car that their customers had little confidence in. That the Chrysler still sold reasonably was due to its successful design and a good price-quality ratio.
There were three versions. The entry-level model was the Chrysler 160, with black plastic dashboard, blind plates where a clock or other nice accessory could have been and sticky leatherette upholstery. Above it was a much nicer Chrysler 180 with lots of imitation wood, a full set of instruments, fabric upholstery and a larger engine. And then the top model, the Chrysler 2 Liters, with tinted glass, vinyl roof, thick carpets and an automatic gearbox as standard.
And then Chrysler embarked on one of the most confusing marketing strategies ever. The Rootes Group was dissolved in 1971, after which only the Hillman Avenger was still built as Chrysler (until 1977) and Simca underwent more reorganizations and name changes in a very short time than the car brand could handle. In the end, no one knew whether he was buying a Simca, a Simca-Talbot, a Chrysler-Simca, a Matra-Simca or a Talbot-Chrysler. A different sign on the facade is not good for confidence and depresses the trade-in value. And yet Simca continued to sell successful cars. First by giving the old Simca 1000 as Rallye 1 and 2 a second youth. Then the Simca Matra Bagheera with its bold design and three front seats (each boy saw two girlfriends get in in his dreams). The very modern Simca 1307 / 1308 with front-wheel drive, fifth door and electric windows. But the uncertainties didn't do the brand any good.
And then the Chrysler 160 / 180 / 2 Liters. It remained what it was year after year. In 1975 production moved to Spain, where Chrysler had acquired the Barreiros plant. The name became Talbot 1610 and 2 Liter and there were – the only real changes in ten years – a fuel warning light and some new upholstery fabrics. A diesel engine of its own manufacture was also installed in Spain. Especially for the domestic taxi market after the discontinuation of the Seat 1500 Diesel.
Ten years after the Chrysler 180, Roy Ax finally signed the French large middle class. The Talbot Tagora replaced the Chrysler 180, which was built as a diesel taxi until 1982, after which the curtain fell.
Would this car have had a better chance with different marketing and more model development? I think so. If, in addition to the French version, a luxury (with wood and leather, air conditioning, three liter V6 and modern rear axle) equipped Humber had appeared, then it might have been a success and an instant classic. But things turned out differently.
Now they are rare. Very rare. It's a waste of such a beautiful design.
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- Hillman Avenger. Rootes' first and last Chrysler-flagged creation
- The Chrysler Simca Horizon (Dodge, Plymouth, Sunbeam)
- Chrysler Sunbeam, the last new car from Linwood
- Chrysler Simca 2 liters. What was the intention again?