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Plymouth Cricket (based on the Hillman Avenger)

Plymouth CricketThe Plymouth Cricket was a Hillman Avenger (made by Chrysler Europe) adapted to the United States.

Chrysler began developing a new car in 1967-68 to compete with the forthcoming Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto; like Ford, it was to use a British four cylinder engine (in Chrysler’s case, the 1725cc Rootes Group motor). Sometime in 1968-69, the project was scrapped, and Chrysler started plans to use the upcoming Hillman Avenger instead.

The small-medium (B-class) Hillman was to compete with the Ford Escort, Austin 1300, and Vauxhall Viva — similar in size to the Arrow range introduced in 1966, but in a lower price class. The new car was to be a basic Hillman, but a low price and conventional technology such as a live rear axle suspension, four-speed manual gearbox, and overhead-valve all-iron engine of 1250 or 1500cc. While the Austin Maxi had been launched the previous year with a five-speed gearbox, front wheel drive, overhead cam engine, hatchback body, and independent gas suspension, the Avenger was just right for the British public who were scared of new-fangled technology and, it is said, used spark plug access and cheap exhaust replacement as primary considerations when choosing a new car.

1971 plymouth cricket carsSelling as the base DL or plush GL to begin with, the Avenger had semi-fastback styling, with L-shaped rear lights and the distinctive Hillman feature of having the petrol cap in the rear panel between the lights (license plates ended up under the bumper).

Plymouth made a few changes to the Avenger to make it become the Cricket — not nearly as many changes as were made to the Chrysler Horizon to turn it into the Plymouth Horizon, though. Only the four-door sedan and wagon were sold; the 1500cc engine was standard, the 1250 being underpowered for US tastes. Front disc brakes were standard; these were originally optional in the UK. [David Rosicke added: In 1970-71, the single carb/manual choke was standard. In 1972 forward, the single carb/auto choke, dual carb, and air conditioning were options.]

cricket wagonAs per Federal requirement, front seats with integral headrests (in a high-backed tombstone style) were unique to the US cars, headrests coming much later in the UK (when it became a Chrysler, and then these headrests were separate from the seats and adjustable), and side markers were fitted, as there was no law for them in the UK. A seat-belt warning light system (operated when a weight of 20lb or greater was put on a front seat) was fitted starting in 1973. Also, later in its life, to meet the bumper impact standards of the time, large rubber-tipped over-riders were fitted [according to David Rosicke, this was optional in 1971 and 1972, standard in 1973].

Otherwise the only way the car differed externally was by the use of the uplevel UK model's four round headlights - Washington hadn't okayed the use of rectangular lights yet, or it would have had two of them instead like the lower Avengers.

1972 US EnginePowerTorque
91 single-barrel55 @ 5,00070 @ 3,000
91 two-barrel70 @ 5,40075 @ 3,750
98 4-speed, 2-bbl85 @ 5,60090 @ 3,600
98 auto 2-bbl80 @ 5,60085 @ 3,600

For 1971, the Plymouth Cricket boasted a quad headlight grille reminiscent of the 1970 Barracuda, and front-fender “mini-fins” similar to Valiant. The Cricket was sold as a four-door sedan until 1972, when it gained a wagon; but sales were low throughout its run, and quality issues surrounded it.

The Cricket had just a 98 inch wheelbase, and was only 167 inches long; it was 62.5 inches high, and its little 91 cubic inch engine produced 70 horsepower at 5,400 rpm, with 75 lb-ft of torque at 3,500. It ran on regular gas, with an 8.5:1 ratio. The car used 13-inch wheels; the rear seat could be folded down into a "sleeper position" leading to 80 inches of room.

Chrysler sold the Linwood-built Avenger in the most demanding of markets under its Plymouth brand. The Cricket makes an interesting case study in how not to market an imported sub-compact in the USA. British Leyland committed the same crime with its Austin Marina.

This table, compiled by Graham Arnold, summarises the Cricket's life in the USA:

1970 A Chrysler-Plymouth press release dated 30 June 1970 stated that the Cricket was going to be shown to the automotive press for the first time in November 1970. The first shipment of 280 Crickets from the UK (1971 model year) arrived in the USA, as predicted, on 20 November 1970. They used a 1,500cc (91 cid) engine producing 69 bhp (net) with a 9.2:1 compression ratio.
1971 Optional twin carburettor available on the four-cylinder engine added 15 horsepower on August 23, 1971. The standard engine was given an automatic choke.
1972 In Spring 1972, the Cricket Wagon was brought out, with a 70bhp (8.5:1 compression ratio) standard engine that had the sedan’s optional twin carb setup. Manual transmission was standard, automatic optional.
1973 Although pictures of a “1973 Cricket” appeared in Chrysler sales literature, no Crickets were imported after January 1, 1973; previously-imported Crickets were sold as 1973 models.

The Plymouth Cricket stops chirping

Launched in 1971, the car was sold for only two seasons, being withdrawn after the 1973 model year. There are several reasons, including falling sales, mainly due to poor workmanship. It didn't help that the car was launched in the US so soon after it was in other countries (to allow bugs to be ironed out), and it wasn't tested enough for US conditions. Maybe the price was too close to the Dart/Valiant, a much bigger, roomier car. Before 1974, no-one even imagined anything about a fuel crisis, so why bother with a small car the price of a larger one?

1971 plymouth cricket

The poor workmanship may have been highlighted even more by the 1973 introduction of the Dodge Colt range of Mitsubishi cars, the beginning of a long-standing alliance with the manufacturer.

Hillman AvengerThe 1973 withdrawal date was just before heightening emissions standards. The performance of a low-compression 1.5-liter sedan would have been mild at best with a catalytic converter, especially when it was the only engine offered - at least the others had options of engines over 2 liters. [David Rosicke notes that the car would have passed the initial emissions tests, possibly until 1979. Hondas and some Volkswagens didn't get catalytic converters until 1980. It would have failed with the dual carb version which had a hotter camshaft.]

At the end of the day, the Cricket was a good car. It had sweet handling, decent room for its size (shorter than Pinto or Vega), had practicality (four doors), and decent standard features on its side. If only it had been around for the gas crisis...

The Cricket was sold alongside both the Dodge Colt and the Simca 1204 (the 1100 with 1204cc engine, from which the Horizon developed).  Chrysler confused the public by offering three captive imports, but not developing their own domestic Vega/Pinto rival. 41,000 Crickets were sold from 1971-1973.

[Trish Noon wrote: My first new car was a 1971 Cricket. My Cricket was the best car I have ever owned. If it needed anything (parts, tune-ups), I had a local Plymouth dealer in Rhode Island (Petteruti's) that could fix anything. It was wonderful.]

1972-1973 Plymouth Cricket Specs

  1972 1973
Headroom F/R 37.8 / 37.2 37.6 / 36
Legroom F/R 39.8 / 31.5 39.7 / 32.7
Track F/R 51 / 51.3 51 / 51.3
Turning Circle, Curb-to-Curb 31'9" 31.75 ft
Wheelbase 98" 98"
Width 62.5" 62.5"
Length 166.9" 161.4"
Height 54.9" 54.9"
Crankcase Capacity 4.2 qts. 4.2 qts.
Cargo Capacity 60 cu. ft. 12.2 cu. ft.
Cooling System Capacity (with heater) 8.4 qts. 8.4 qts.
Tire Size 5.6 x 13, 4 ply rated 5.60 x 13
Fuel Tank Capacity 10.8 gallons 10.8 gallons

1973 Plymouth Crickets (by Jan Eyerman)

Engine size Twin-carbSingle-carb
Horsepower (gross)70 @ 540055 @ 5000
Torque (lb-ft) 75 @ 350070 @ 3000
Compression ratio 8.5:18.5:1
Bore x Stroke3.39 x 2.533.39 x 2.53

Although pictures of a “1973 Cricket” appeared in Chrysler sales literature, no Crickets were imported after January 1, 1973. A large number of cars were imported late in 1972 and were sold in the first half of 1973 as 1973 models. The reason was that US safety and emission standards became effective on January 1 of each year so cars imported (or built) prior to that date did not have to meet the new standards. So the 1973 cars had things like the single screw mounting for the sun visors and the new “1973” colors, but had a label under the hood saying the car met the 1972 (not 1973) emission requirements. The new car titles said 1973 but the VIN was definitely 1972.

Chrysler did a lot of that at that time; 1969 Valiants came with 170 cubic inch slant sixes from September 1968 until December 31, 1968 and then were equipped the 198 engine from January 1, 1969 until the end of 1969 production.

The Volkswagen Cricket and other facts

plymouth cricket wagonThanks to Colin McCormick for letting us borrow this material from his Web site (which we now can't find).

Though English production of the Avenger/Cricket ceased in 1981, the car was made until 1990 in Argentina by the Volkswagen-Audi Group as the VW 1500. It was also made by Chrysler do Brasil from 1972 to 1981 as the Dodge 1800 and, later, the Dodge Polara (a name applied to a much larger car in the US).

The Avenger was completely new, even though it looked like the existing Hillman/Arrow Minx/Hunter. The engine, though all-iron with a pushrod valve, seemed low-tech but was strong and quiet and could rev to 7000 rpm. The design of both engine and suspension was carefully thought out and executed. It had light weight with a computer-designed body shell that resulted in strength and good handling. Unfortunately using a special primer and paint system on the floor plan to avoid underseals may have caused rust out on many Avengers.

Another design aim was that the car would be easy to service all over the world. It all comes apart and goes back together with ease. [David Rosicke adds that you can change the oil without ever getting under the car. The oil drain plug is on the side of the pan and can be seen and reached from above the motor.]

A good Avenger will still delight its passengers with a quiet smooth ride, lacking in some car designs from decades later. The larger engined 1500 and 1600 units were far better at high speed, they had a higher final drive ratio set by the differential. [all US cars came with 3.89:1 rear axle ratios].

Four door saloons were the first to be released, followed by two door saloons and five door estate cars. There were many models over the years, from basic models to "super" models. (Avenger models - Mk1: DL, GL, Super, GT, and Tiger; Mk2 - LS, GL, Super and GLS [Luxury])

Mitsubishi-built Plymouth Cricket (Canada only) - Cricket Formula S

Mike Sealey wrote:

Chrysler Canada marketed a badge-engineered Colt as a Plymouth Cricket after they stopped bringing the Avenger-based (UK) Cricket over.  (This was the second generation Colt with dual headlights rather than quads.) The Plymouth equivalent to the Colt GT was another A-body model name revisited: “Plymouth Cricket Formula S!”

The Japanese Cricket (1974-1975?) had different grille and taillights from its Colt sibling, unlike Canada's “Dodge Arrow” which as far as I remember only differed in emblems. (Lar Kaufman wrote: [It was] also sold in Puerto Rico as a Plymouth.)

Lanny Knutson, editor of The Plymouth Bulletin, wrote:

Canadian Mitsubishi Crickets were marketed under the Cricket OHC name, to distinguish it from the pushrod British model. There was a quad light Japanese-Canadian Cricket, offered mid-year '73 when the original Cricket was withdrawn. Chrysler Canada continued to offer the Cricket through the 1975 model year. In 1976, it was replaced by the Plymouth Colt, identical to the Dodge Colt except for the nameplates, several years before the US saw a Plymouth Colt.

Lar Kaufman wrote:

I have a Chrysler 1976 Colt Service Manual, which covers Dodge Colt, Plymouth Colt, and Plymouth Cricket for Canada, United States, and Puerto Rico. The vehicle identification chart lists the car as sold in all three markets in 1976 as the Dodge Colt in Canada, as the Plymouth Colt (some models), and in Puerto Rico as the Cricket (a subset of the Canadian Plymouth Colt models). Cricket was not a Canadian brand for 1976. (The body work section shows no differing headlights and grille for the Cricket.)

The 1976 Cricket (Puerto Rico) was offered only as "Custom" and "Super Deluxe" sedan models (types 6H41K and 6P41U) and corresponding station wagon models (6H45K, 6H45U) with manual or automatic transmission, and were apparently the same as the corresponding US 49-state versions of the Dodge Colt.

The Canadian Plymouth Colt lineup offered the same models as the Puerto Rico Crickets, plus a "Special hardtop" model (5S23K) in manual or automatic.

The Dodge Colt was offered in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico in the same versions as the Canadian Plymouth Colt, plus "Coupe" (6M21K), "Super Deluxe hardtop" (6P23K and 6P23U) models. The Canadian Plymouth Colt models parallel the Dodge Colt models, but have a "5" prefix whereas the Dodge models have a "6" (e.g. 5S23K, 6S23K). The VIN code scheme used distinguishes between Canadian and US models, but not between Canadian Dodge and Plymouth offerings. Again, the Puerto Rico Cricket models are the same as their U.S. 49-state Dodge Colt counterparts.

The "Body and Sheet Metal" chapter of the manual shows that the coupe and hardtop shared chassis components; the hardtops are identified as "CAROUSEL" and "GT" styles for purposes of locating trim tape (remember the vinyl trim tape?).

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