The Carchive: The 1970 Hillman Avenger

It’s time to take a feather duster to the cobwebbed, dusty memories of years gone by, and a look at a car SO AMAZING that to deprive North Americans of it just wouldn’t have been Cricket.
It’s the all-new for 1970 Hillman Avenger, a car whose dynamic, warplane-like name rather belied the actual product, which would become so commonplace as to be near invisible on British roads very soon. Welcome back to The Carchive.

“When we set out to design the Avenger, there were several things we knew it had to do. Above all, it had to offer the maximum possible value for money but without risking our reputation for quality and reliability”.
Exactly the same development aims as Grumman had in mind with their Avenger, I’d say. The Avenger went on sale in 1970 in a crowded middle-class car market, landing squarely in the middle of an arena packed with Ford Escorts and Cortinas, Vauxhall Victors and Vivas. It was always going to be a difficult fight, made harder because the Avenger was slightly bigger, and therefore more expensive, than a small car, but a bit too small to be a bigger one, if you see what I mean. The Avenger didn’t quite compete directly with either Escort or Cortina.
It was especially welcomed to the market by historic fans of Rootes Group products, and was generally well thought of (at the beginning, anyway) by the general public and press alike, who felt that it looked and drove well enough to succeed.
“The shape of the Avenger isn’t only beautiful. It’s stability and aerodynamic qualities were revealed after months of wind-tunnel tests.”
Not ONLY beautiful, eh! It was the Coke-Bottle Hips, soon to become de rigeur in the seventies, that made the Avenger distinctive, that styling cue would be adopted very soon by Ford with the Cortina, and the Japanese would do everything they could to incorporate the same profile on every design they came up with.
Plus, the rear lights with their strange L-shape configuration, were among some of the most unmistakable on British roads.
“The interior of the Avenger is a breakthrough in the use of available space for passenger comfort.”
It was roomy enough and the seats were plenty comfy, and brushed nylon of upper models was quite a novelty at the time, far better than the leg-scorching Ambla vinyl found in the lowly DeLuxe. Standard equipment was sparse at this level, with the brochure crowing about such luxuries as an interior coat hook, a rubber floor covering and flush door handles. Move right up to GL and you earn more comprehensive instrumentation, reclining seats, door-mounted armrests and storage pockets, and carpeting. If you wanted glitz you’d have to save up and go to Ford and buy a Cortina 1600E.
Motivation was provided by a choice of two four-cylinder lumps, a 53hp 1248cc mill whose “quiet, unflustered” power could net you a top speed of nearly 85mph. For greater raciness, a 1498 could be had with 63hp and top end of 90mph.  Real performance fans would have to wait until the twin-carb GT model arrived later in the year.
“And all because we wanted to put more car in your hands. The Hillman Avenger”
Rootes Group, and their Chrysler parents had every ambition that the Avenger would become a popular car on a global scale, to that end they commenced export to the USA in 1970 where it would have Plymouth Cricket badging nailed to it, but by 1973 it was all over, beaten by a combination of general disinterest from the public at large, a reputation for rust and poor quality. US models were all fitted with the 1498cc engine and quad headlamps as found on the UK GL model, due to federal mandate against square headlamps. Air-Conditioning could be chosen, if that was selected in conjunction with the automatic gearbox I imagine there would be very little power left for forward motion.
The car did rather better in Brazil and Argentina, sold as the Dodge Polara until 1981 until the takeover of Chrysler Argentina by Volkswagen. They continued to produce the car as the Volkswagen 15o0 until 1988.
I very much doubt anybody in the UK could have guessed that would happen.
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright probably belongs to Fiat now, but who knows? There was a Top Gear magazine article once about buying one of these for £50 and driving it from the tip of Scotland to the bottom of England. It was in such hideous condition they named it “The Toxic Avenger”.)

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  1. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    No Diana Rigg, no sale.

  2. Lokki Avatar

    Geez- I remember that these things rusted like crazy but I never thought it would get so bad you could fit one in an 8 x 11 envelope.

  3. Vavon Avatar

    Ah, the glorious 70s, when cars were available in colour…
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    1. Felis_Concolor Avatar

      Many find it easy to obey orders and deride the colors of the 70s inside and outside the home – but I exult in the fact you could have your car in a half dozen colors as well as black or white back then.
      And even though I snicker at Jeep's decision to offer Electric Bile (recently retired) as a color, I do applaud that it's not yet another shade of black, white or grey.

  4. Rover_1 Avatar

    I recall reading that the Avenger as originally styled, had much crisper edges to the styling, akin more to those on a MkII Ford Escort and born out on the concept sketches. The basic shape remains the same, but the radii of the curve formed at the steel pressing's edges is larger. Making a sharper, crisper edge requires more expensive tooling and this was vetoed under Chrysler corporate edict to save costs in production. So the Avenger had the slightly softer edges and a rounder less squared off look.
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  5. Rover_1 Avatar

    And of course the Avenger provided the underpinnings for the last Sunbeam, and the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus version of it.
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    Enabling the car to be developed on a real budget, which didn't extend to new tail-lights, which were shared with the FWD Alpine/Simca 1307/8
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    by which time the Avenger itself had been facelifted and taken on the Chrysler badge
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    1. Rover_1 Avatar

      And the Lotus/ Chrysler/Talbot connection was taken a little further later on with the Citroën Visa Lotus.
      When Peugeot bought Chrysler's European operations, the racing programme for the Sunbeam Lotus was in full swing,and the PSA engineers introduced Lotus to Citroën.When asked if they could come up with a competitor to the mid-engined Renault 5, they had the idea of mounting a Visa bodyshell on a Lotus Esprit chassis and thus made the ultimate supermini, (which also demonstrates how small Esprits actually are)
      Two were made, one remains. The French engineers weren't convinced of the robustness of a Lotus in rallying.
      It remains in a museum, an odd car even by Citroen standards.
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      Standard model Visa, mechanical twin to Peugeot 104,also available fitted with 2CV based flat twin
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  6. james_gastovski Avatar

    I have a '79 Chrysler Avenger brochure and boy does it look dated when compared to an Alpine brochure from the same year.

  7. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

    It could be worse, it could be a Plymouth Cricket with the added burden of US emissions controls and dealer mechanics who couldn't grok anything smaller than a Slant Six.
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  8. fred Avatar

    My Mom had a Cricket, and she liked it because it felt solid. I also had my first accident in it. Rear ended a big Buick, scratched his bumper and he milked my insurance for $800. About the same to fix the front of the Cricket which had a lot of cosmetic damage. Had typical British assembly problems, like the hand brake coming undone. It was the start of my obsession with British cars as I got a Sprite soon after. My Mom got a Oldsmobile Omega (Nova clone) after that.