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Chrysler 180, 160, and 160GT, Simca 1501, and Chrysler 2 Litre; and the Chrysler Centura and Barreiros

2-litre carsThe Chrysler takeover of Simca in France and Rootes in the US - the former profitable, the latter losing cash - resulted in the shutdown of both as independent companies, with SIMCA folded into Chrysler France in 1970. The SIMCA name was removed from the front of the factory, foreshadowing what would happen to Chrysler at the hand of Daimler.

The first step towards unifying Chrysler’s various holdings outside of North America was the development of Chrysler Europe's new executive (luxury) car. The C Car would be a replacement for the Humber Hawk in the UK and a re-entry into this market for Simca, which was then making immensely popular small cars. At the end of the Sixties, the top-of-the-range Simca was the 1301/1501, by then seven years old. In Britain, since the demise of the big Humbers in 1967, half-hearted attempts had been made to provide a range-topper with imported Australian Chrysler Valiants — ironic since the Valiant was the bottom of the American lineup.

simca projet 929In engineering the new car, Simca and Rootes were brought together for the first time by Chrysler management, who felt that shared development would be the way forward for the company - though both companies had already started development on executive cars. Rootes had started in 1966, with a scaling-up of the Avenger concept; in France, SIMCA had started on Projet 929, with styling from Detroit and Bertone. Chrysler decided that there was enough common ground for collaboration, and in early 1969, the British and French design teams presented their proposals to the senior men in Chrysler Europe. The Brits showed a fully specified and costed car whereas the French kept the details secret, simply saying that “ours is cheaper and better.” Senior management chose to cancel the French project in favour of the UK's C Car proposal, versions for France and Britain.

As a Rootes product, the C Car was to have become three cars in the UK alone – a basic Hillman, a sporting 2 litre Sunbeam (the Sunbeam 2000), and a top of the line 2.5 liter Humber Hawk; Humber was well established as a luxury brand thanks to the Super Snipe and Hawk models, produced from 1957 to 1967. There was also a proposal to extend the range further, stretching the C car floor pan to form a D car, which would have been a replacement for the Super Snipe. Styling ideas for the D car were produced by Roy Axe but the project was dropped in 1970.

sir reginald rootesA new 60-degree 2000 and 2500cc V6 engine was developed by the British for the car, but in France, cars were taxed by engine capacity and power; Simca designed four-cylinder versions for local use. Four 2500cc prototype Humber Hawks were built to evaluate the project as a whole. The V6 engine was also tested in Avenger bodyshells, which were extremely rapid but prone to understeer.

British thoughts of fitting a de Dion rear suspension system a la Rover 2000 were abandoned in favour of a coil sprung live rear axle but MacPherson strut front suspension and four wheel disc brakes did make it through to the final production car. The five speed gearbox fell by the wayside too.

In 1969, Chrysler had bought a new plant in Whitley on the outskirts of Coventry; it progressively moved all research and development from Humber Road into this new facility. The Research Centre's staff first major project was the styling and development of the C Car. First thoughts included four headlamps and a full width rear lighting assembly. Like the B Car (Avenger), the shape was almost pure Detroit, and the cars looked quite similar. Roy Axe, who influenced the car, wrote: "I was Director Design Chrysler UK then and the boss was Gilbert Hunt (now deceased). The project designer was Curt Gwinn, who I had hired in. He was a Chrysler USA designer but not at the time I hired him so he was a genuine UK employee not a transferee. Curt never went back to the USA. He worked for me for quite a time and eventually became the designer in charge of advanced projects for Peugeot in France."

Chrysler Centura styling details, including prototypes and sketches. / More Chrysler Centura photos.

chrysler 160 interiorIn early 1970, Chrysler Europe decided to refocus the C car and have just one version, built in France, for both markets. It retained its UK-styling but was given a Simca-styled front end and interior. The Rootes flavour was watered down; real wood trim, leather seats, and air conditioning were dropped, a pattern that would be followed with the C6 (Alpine) and C2 (Horizon), although at the time of the C car the UK operation continued to have considerable engineering input.

The biggest shock, though, was the decision to drop the British V6 engine. According to Graham Robson's book, The Cars of the Rootes Group,"Design was complete and development well on the way, with dozens of prototypes running when, suddenly, at the beginning of 1970, the British end of the project was cancelled. Tooling already being installed at Humber Road for production of the V6 engine was ripped out. The Simca engined car was launched later in 1970".

Of the £38 million set aside to develop the V6 engine, £31m had been spent when the engines were cancelled and the tools and jigs at the Stoke engine plant in Coventry were ripped out and either scrapped or converted for other projects. The decision proved a hammer-blow to morale in the UK when people saw their efforts passed over in favour of Poissy; it also made the car less distinctive. In 1975, Harry Sheron, Chrysler Europe’s Head of Engineering and the top Rootes engineer in 1969, told Autocar: “Personally, I am very sorry that the V6 engine was not used. It was a good, smooth, economical, compact unit which could have changed the image of the C7, the Chrysler 180, and made it an even more upmarket car”.

When the Chrysler 180 range was initially launched in France it met with apathy from most elements of the press. That is not to say that it was a bad car. Technically it may not have been exciting, but it was up-to-date.

The Chrysler 160, Chrysler 160GT and Chrysler 180 were introduced at the Paris Salon in October 1970. They were promoted as being ‘an American from Paris’! They had been known inside Chrysler France as the Simca 1800 project and replaced the Simca 1501 as well as taking the company back into the luxury sector for the first time since the Vedette went out of production a decade before.

Chrysler 180 carsAll had four cylinder engines with transistorized (electronic) ignition and an overhead camshaft. Performance didn’t set any records but they were comfortable and robust. They succeeded in some markets primarily due to low pricing. The 160 (in France’s 9CV taxation band) came with a 1639cc, 80 bhp motor and had a top speed of 155km/h. Brakes were discs up front, drums out back. The 160GT and the 180 shared an 1812cc 97 bhp motor and a top speed of 170km/h. The former was effectively a larger engined version of the slightly less well trimmed 160. Both 1812cc cars were in the 10CV class and had four wheel disc brakes. Transmission was to the back wheels with a choice of four speed manual or three speed automatic gearboxes. Front suspension was by McPherson struts with rack-and-pinion steering. Rear suspension was by a coil sprung live rear axle.

The British launch followed in early 1971 with just the 180 being offered to British buyers. Chrysler's public pull-out of the British end of the C Car did not endear it to commentators, who were still capable of treating British and "foreign" cars in a totally different way. In Motor magazine, Jerry Sloniger came away guarded after giving the 160 and 180 a thrashing at the Montlhéry: "...the finest feature of this new engine, [was] its very real ability to wind high and sing." He continued: "It is elastic from 1500 to 6000, an advantage with a sticky gearshift; second proved particularly difficult to locate in a hurry. Handling, as mentioned, was never meant for a soaked race track. Not even radial tyres could properly control strong understeer into the bends and read-wheel breakaway despite an eggshell treading throttle foot. Steering is fortunately precise enough to catch the incipient spin..." French journalists too confirmed that the new car was not a car for keen drivers although for the long distance motorist, cruising along the autoroutes of Europe, it was a comfortable and relaxing way to travel.

In France the new Chrysler-Simca did not sell well at all. The Simca 1501 had remained in production for export markets to use up the stocks of parts but was eventually re-introduced into France in 1974 due to poor Chrysler 160/180 sales! In Britain, the sales story was even worse - it sank without a trace.

At the end of 1972, Chrysler added some pretty chrome strips at the base of the side panes and round the wheel arches. A new type of snap-in metal trim surrounded the windshield and rear window. The power of the Chrysler 180 was increased slightly to 100 bhp.

For the 1973 model year, the Chrysler 2 Litre was introduced at the Amsterdam Auto Show in 1972, in Brussels in January 1973, and to the lucky Brits in April 1973. This luxurious car was available only with Chrysler's American Torque-Flite automatic transmission and had a full length vinyl roof and spot lights as standard equipment. It had a 1981cc, 110hp engine and could hit 107mph. Wheel size was one inch bigger than the 180 at 14 inches. A small logo ' 2L' on the rear quarter panel was also added to help people know that the car was indeed the top line European Chrysler. At the same time the 160 and 180 (the 160GT having disappeared) inherited the same wheels and hub caps as the 2 litre. The vinyl roof became an option for the smaller cars.

Chrylser 180 interiorIn 1977, the Chrysler 180 and the Chrysler 2Litre - by then built in Spain - became the Chrysler-Simca 1610 and the Chrysler-Simca 2Litre and for the first time, the Simca badge appeared on the boot lid. However, the pentastar of Chrysler replaced the logos ‘160, ‘180’ or ‘2L’ on the grill! The Chrysler 160 1600cc model became the 1609, had a twin barrel carburettor to up power to 90 bhp.

New model numbers came from a formula: the first two digits were the engine size of the smallest car in the range. The second two numbers were the taxation class given the car by the French authorities (largely based upon engine size). The 1610, which replaced the 180, inherited the equipment of the 2 Litre, including the vinyl roof and long range driving lamps. The 2 Litre automatic did not, however, change its name. For the British market the 1610 remained the 180. All were equipped with Chrysler’s points free electronic ignition system which was about the biggest single mechanical change made to the car through its life.

In 1978, Chrysler needed to raise cash. Informal negotiations took place with European manufacturers. Renault and Peugeot (who had just bought Citroen in 1974) were the most interested, and encouraged by the French government, which didn't like the idea of the Poissy firm being sold to a foreign buyer. Renault, who had just acquired American Motors Corporation, dropped out. On May 10th, 1978, an agreement was signed which stated: “the Chrysler Corporation transfers all of its interests in its European operations to Peugeot Societe Anonyme.”

On January 1st, 1979, the Americans packed up and left Ryton and Poissy. The directors of Chrysler France were now completely French, presided over by Francors Pessin Pellefier, a Peugeot man since 1968. The British end retained some British directors. On July 10th, 1979, it was announced in France that "Chrysler Europe shall become the Talbot Groupe and that all Chrysler-Simca models (which controlled 11% of the French market) will become Talbot-Simcas." In Britain, the name change to Talbot was announced at the same time.

In 1979, in France the 1610 received the 1981cc motor with manual transmission. It was not renamed the 1611 which strictly speaking is what should have happened as the bigger engine moved it up into the 11CV tax band. In Britain the 2 Litre was from then on offered with the option of manual or automatic gearbox. The 180 was quietly dropped. During 1979 and 1980 there was some extremely limited ‘restyling’ of the Chrysler. The chrome side trims became thicker and got rubber inserts. The grill had only two chrome strips and the hub caps were replaced by a simplified style.

On January 1st 1980, Chrysler France formally changed its name to Automobiles Talbot and the Chrysler-Simca 1610 and the Chrysler-Simca 2 Litre finally changed to Talbot-Simca. A Talbot badge appeared on the bonnet but the Chrysler pentastar remained in the centre of the grille! Six months later, for the 1981 model year, the name Simca was dropped in France in favour of Talbot. In Britain, the car remained a Chrysler, staying listed as such until it was finally dropped from the price lists in the spring of 1981.

Throughout the ten-year life of the 180 series, there seemed to be no policy to develop or support the car. No effort was made to improve or update its equipment to keep pace with the market. Whereas the Chrysler Alpine/Simca 1307 gained electric windows, central locking and an indicator lamp for the hand brake, the supposedly more upmarket 180 got none of this. This negligence and absence of promotion gave the impression that the 180 was an orphan from the beginning.

The French thought it wasn’t French enough. The British – unhampered by taxation based on engine size - opted for the larger or the more up market cars. Only the Spanish seemed to have any time for the car and even then it was mainly taxi drivers who bought the car, appreciating its comfortable ride and by-then low price. Interestingly, a fair number were sold to Eastern Europe – where the main competition was the Russian Volga.

Chrysler Centura

chrysler centuraThe Chrysler 180 was imported into Australia to try and feed the growing demand for more realistically sized cars to fight the growing influx of Japanese cars. The company also needed a competitor for the popular Holden Torana, which had started life as an upgraded, lightly restyled, re-engined Vauxhall Viva. However, as Chrysler was seen as a domestic producer at the time, it was decided that the 180 would need to undergo a certain degree of localisation to fit into the Australian market. When the company launched the Chrysler Centura in March 1975, it was indeed a seriously revamped 180!

It is traditional to put large engines into small cars in Australia, and the Centura was true to local form. The entry level model in the range was the 2-litre, but the upper models were altogether larger, explaining the need for the re-styled front end. The European version only differed from the Australian Centura at the front, where it had two rectangular headlights as opposed to four round ones sitting either side of a bulbous grille. There are rumours that the Centura front end was originally designed for the aborted British Sunbeam 2000 version of the car.

Sadly, Australian-French negotiations were at an all-time low at the time of the Centura's launch, and its announcement coincided with a trade embargo due to the French nuclear tests in the Pacific. Just before the cars started to arrive, the French were conducting nuclear tests in the South Pacific, and the Australian Waterside Workers Union introduced a ban on the handling of French products! The Chrysler bodies were left on the wharves until 1974 when the tests stopped (for a while). As result of all that sea air many Centuras started rusting before they were built! This tarnished the car's reputation before it even had a chance to get established. Spending several months in crates on the quayside had done little for the cars' longevity.

Centura engines were put in at the Chrysler plant in Tonsley Park and the new car was announced in two forms: Centura 4 and Centura 6. The lower model was almost pure Chrysler 2-Litre, but with drum brakes at the rear as opposed to the discs of Euro-spec models. It used a French differential and the French overhead cam 1981cc engine with twin barrel Weber carburrettors. The 2.0 litre version was initially available as a basic model or as a sports model which included a sports exhaust system: 4-into-2-into-1. The four cylinder models lacked the vented disc brakes of the sixes and some had a 4-stud wheel pattern as opposed to the sixes 5-stud pattern. The wheel style of the cheaper Centuras was used for the European 1979 and 1980 1610 and 2 Litre models.

The Centura 6 was a different kettle of fish altogether. An Australian Chrysler Valiant Hemi engine (see, Australian Borg-Warner gearbox and differential were installed at Tonsley Park. The big engine was available in 3.5-litres (140bhp SAE) or 4.0-litres (165bhp SAE) versions mated to either a 3 or 4 speed manual gearbox or an automatic box.

In true Australian style, they were simple rugged cars. Air conditioning was offered as an option and high backed bucket seats were standard across the range but other than that the interior was all but identical to the European cars. The factory experimented with V8 318 cubic inch powered prototypes but the body lacked the rigidity to cope with the torque.

There were two trim levels available across both series:

  • XL: Cheaper model with no fake wood trim, rev counter, clock or vinyl roof
  • GL: Luxury model with vinyl roof, fancy hub caps and mock wood dashboard trim. Clock and rev counter standard.

The Centura was produced in two versions – the KB announced in 1975 and the KC model introduced in 1977. The two series were differentiated by trim and option choices.

Centuras were extremely light in the rear and suffered a little in the handling department. The major attraction was – and still is for Aussie petrol heads - the straight-line performance. In Australia today, the Chrysler Centura is seen as a bit of a classic as well as being popular with hot rodders who often upgrade their cars with an American V8 engine.

Chrysler Barreiros

chrysler barreirosAt the beginning of 1975 the assembly lines of the Chrysler 160, 180 and 2 litre were transferred from Poissy in France to the Barreiros factory at Villaverde in Spain. The plant belonged to Chrysler and had hitherto specialized in making trucks. It also assembled Simca cars and built an American designed V8, the Dodge 3700GT, for the import-protected Spanish market.

No major modifications were made to the 160, 180 and 2-litre, which continued to be sold in France and Britain. However, the Spanish market gained a 2 litre Barreiros diesel version and the 160 model was dropped.

The Barreiros engine was a traditional diesel, 4 cylinders, 2007cc and indirect fuel injection. It developed 65 CV at 4000 rpm and torque of 13.2 m.Kg at 2100 rpm. The transmission was that of the 1610 2 litre - a four speed manual with a 215mm clutch. Tyres were 165 SR 14 and brakes followed the original 160 – discs up front, drums out back.

Both trim levels were equipped with the dashboard of the Chrysler 160, which didn’t have the tachometer of the 180. Its two front spot lamps could easily distinguish the luxury model. Fuel consumption varied from 6.5 litres/100 km on the open road at an average speed of 80Km/h to 9 litres/100km in urban motoring. Top speed was just 134 Km/h.

In the Seventies, Spanish taxation of new vehicles was based on the engine rating. The engine rating was related to the cubic capacity of the engine: the top band of 13 CV corresponded to a cubic capacity of 1920 cc. The Spanish rules were simple and designed to encourage smaller, more economical cars – which of course was where most Spanish car production was centred. Until 1976 the tax was 16% of the price for the vehicles of less than 8 CV. From 8 CV upwards the tax was 20%. From 1976, the taxes increased to 17.2% for 8 CV and 22% for those over 8 CV. In November 1977, a third category appeared: a tax rate of 35% for vehicles of 13 CV and more.

The Chrysler 2 Litre and its diesel sister were hit by the luxury tax of 35%. The Chrysler 2 Litre was removed from the catalogue and replaced by the Chrysler 180 automatic. The diesel Chrysler had its engine capacity reduced by 90cc, which in turn shaved 5CV from its taxation band. The Chrysler diesel for 1978 had an engine of 1917cc, which rated just 12.9 CV and saved the buyer a tax bill of 13% of the purchase price. Neither fuel consumption nor maximum speed was affected by this reduction in engine size.

In 1978 Chrysler España campaigned for sales on basis of the fiscal advantages of the revised 180 series. You could have your paella and eat it – economy and luxury in one happy package…

The Chrysler had a reasonable degree of success on the Spanish market, where it was marketed – especially in diesel form – successfully as a taxi. Local body builders carried out limousine and station wagon conversions although the company never listed these officially. Petrol engine production ended sometime in 1980 to make room in the range for the French built Tagora but production in Spain of the diesel lingered on until 1982.

See our site for a different viewpoint.

Addition by Ewald Stein, of Netherlands

If there is one Simca-model that one can write and talk about a lot, it are the French Chryslers, as these cars are commonly known here. They where not at all the succes they should have been or could have been.

My father bought a new 1971 Chrysler 180 (the new series without the ventilation openings in the C-pillar). It had the new brown-red metallic colour which I think was called 'Sable' and a black interior. Later, my brother had two (used) 180s and myself I drove two (used) 2-Litres, the last one (a 1978) in 1985.

These 2-Litres always have been a marketing mystery to me. I cannot think of a good reason why somebody in the seventies would have to buy a new 2 Liters instead of a 180. Yes, it had standard automatic gear, vinyl roof, and two front fog lamps. But it had significantly slower accelleration than the 180 (handshifted), fuel consumption at best was 1 liters to 8 km, compared to the easily achieved 1:10 of the 180, and understeer was even worse due to its heavier engine.

Still, I loved my 2 litres (and the 180). It was a good highway traveller, stable, spacious and comfortable. Stable as they were, they hated cornering due to the weight ratio. The steering was direct but quite heavy. The small steering wheel added to this and one cannot understand these Chryslers were not equiped with power steering - it would have been a nice selling point for the 2 Litres! The cars were simple, almost too simple, in construction and equipment. The engines were modern, reliable, and could stand prolonged high speed travels very well (from our experience at least). The engine type survived the carline and found its way into the Peugeot 505.

But all French Chryslers suffered from rust problems (like the fatal rot of the front chassis booms that the suspension is mounted on) and troublesome brakes that would see disc pads worn at one side only as the free moving saddle wouldn't move back properly.

I also recall the minimalistic headlamp fixation which was the same as the Simca 1301/1501. The unit had to be taken out when replacing the bulb – nothing unusual about that. Then you had to snap the unit into three tiny plastic holders (two for adjusting screws, one fixed point) which might be worn out or cracked. Like with the good old Simca 1301/1501, these holders were placed in such a thin metal rim that with an older car because of corrosion it could easily happen that there was nothing left for the unit to be fixed back to!

1970 Chrysler 160

Browsing through a car model’s different years of catalogues, one sees all kind of alterations, (sometime improvements, sometimes not) or oddities. On the first pictures of the new French Chryslers, one can see that cars where to be named 1600 and 1800 but the last zero had been blackened. On the 1970 picture of the 160 (above), the black grill logo clearly shows “1600.”  The same goes for the introduction poster of the 180 (sorry for the quality of this picture but bear in mind I saved this poster from a dealer’s garbage bin).

Chrysler 180 car poster

With the first (silver-grey) catalogue of the French Chrysler, one may notice none of the models had a midconsole. There may have been a small 1 or 2 cm deep coin collector in front of the gear lever, but whatever it was, it has been retouched away from the photos.

The first (introduction) series had a simple but very pleasant American style interior with color matched window handles, door handles, ceiling, and other details. Then, the man with the red pencil must have come along, looking for simplifications to cut cost. Gone were many of these color keyed parts. The 180 also lost the two pretty red bars in its grille. However, in the last production years the French Chryslers had very attractive velours interiors in gold brown and beige.

In the 1972 Chrysler 180 catalogue I found a picture of a 180 the has one black (old model) headlamp rim and one (new model) aluminium-color headlamp rim (see the concerning detail of that picture below). Incredible! One wonders how critically the PR-Department looked at the pictures they were to use..... Once I noticed in a catalogue of a different brand big fat fingerprints on the chrome work!

180 cars

Chrysler could have done so much better with these models. It is unbelievable that the 6-cylinder version never appeared. It would have been such a boost for sales and might have made this carline the succes it deserved to be.

For me: happy memories.

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