Chrysler 180 & 2l
If ever a car had an unusual pedigree, it was the Chrysler 180. It was the product of two quite different development programmes from the Rootes Group in the UK and Simca in France.
By the mid 1960s Rootes knew the Humber Hawk/Imperial range needed replacing, and Roy Axe, then Rootes styling chief, was asked to style a new Humber to be ready by the end of the decade. The style which was approved for production looked like an enlarged Hillman Avenger; what we now know as the Chrysler 180. Work on the new engines, an all iron V6, and other mechanical components progressed more slowly, and by 1968 an October 1969 launch for the new Humber looked unlikely.
In France Simca's engineers were working on a new 1800 cc car. Like the Simca 1100, it was to have a hatchback arrangement, but the engine was to drive the rear wheels rather than the front. By 1968 the car was quite advanced, with the new engine and mechanical components available for testing, and a couple of body shells assembled.
At this point Chrysler's Product Development Team conducted an audit of the new model programmes run by both Rootes and Simca as they now owned both companies. While they were quite happy for the Avenger programme to continue, they refused to sanction two new large cars. Rather than cancel just the Humber or the Simca 1800 entirely, they instructed the Rootes body engineers to go to the Simca design centre so that the Humber body shell could be modified to accommodate the Simca engine and running gear of the 1800. That is exactly what happened, which is why Chrysler 180s have extensive Simca components.
To broaden the appeal of the new car in Europe, a modified version of the Simca 1812cc engine, of only 1639cc was also developed. Called the Chrysler 160 and 180, the new cars first appeared at the Paris Motor Show in October 1970. Billed as the "American in Paris", the only American element was the name, which did not mean too much in France. Simca would have been a more sensible name for the French market. Only the 180 version was brought into the UK, and again the Chrysler name, rather than Humber, or even Hillman, was used., The car was marketed in the UK by Rootes dealers rather the remaining Simca only dealers, but to British eyes, a Chrysler was a large American or Australian gas guzzler, and they tended to ignore the 180.
The 180 was a perfectly acceptable car, but it lacked an identity in its two key markets, France and the UK. Also the early pre 1973 cars were very plain, almost devoid of external decorative trim - expected on a top of the range model. Sales never achieved the levels Chrysler were hoping for. May 1973 saw the range augmented by a 1981cc automatic version, with a vinyl roof and auxiliary driving lamps. 1976 saw the next changes in the 180s' life. The success of the Simca 1307/8 (Alpine to UK readers) resulted in the moving of the 160/180/2 Litre production line to Spain to give the Poissy factory more room to assemble Alpines. Ironically, this change was coupled with the introduction of Simca badges on the boots of cars built for the European market. In the UK, Chrysler only badges continued, but there was no further development, the cars never had power steering or electric windows.
Final development of the range was the introduction of a manual gearbox to the 2 Litre in December 1978. At the same time the 180 was discontinued. Both manual and automatic versions of the 2 Litre remained on sale in the UK during 1980, although curiously the Chrysler name was used instead of Talbot right to the end. In France, from July 1979 the car was rebadged as a Talbot Simca 2 Litre, with sales again continuing until the end of 1980. However, production finished at the end of 1979, with 288,294 cars built. At the time, the 180 and 2 Litre were regarded as something of a failure, but sales were steady over the years. Sadly it was to be the models' successor, the Talbot Tagora, to reveal how spectacular a sales failure can be.
Very few Chrysler 180s or 2 Litres survive in the UK, and are relatively rare even in Europe. However, they were imported into the Czech Republic when new, and cherished by their owners as a status symbol, consequently some 100 remain on the roads there today.