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Creating the Chrysler Horizon: the Chrysler Europe Design Team speaks

This is the story of the design and development of the Chrysler- Europe C2 (subsequently named Chrysler Horizon) - Europe’s Car of the Year in 1978. It’s being told nearly 30 years later by the people who planned, designed and engineered the car.

Horizon C2 style as approved in 1974

The C2 design was a successful worldwide design in both Europe and North America. More than 3,000,000 C2s/Horizons/Omnis were built between 1977 and 1989.

Chrysler - Europe was formed in the 1960s because Chrysler’s President at that time, Lynn Townsend, believed that Chrysler needed a world-wide presence. Before 1960, Chrysler products were sold all over the world, but they were US products built and exported from the USA and sold by a different distributor in each country and consequently sales volumes outside of North America were small.

Chrysler - Talbot Horizon C2 style side viewChrysler acquired Rootes Motors (England), Simca Motors (France) and Barreiros Motors (Spain). Under Lynn Townsend’s direction these companies were renamed Chrysler U.K., Chrysler France, and Chrysler Espana under the banner “Chrysler - Europe” which was part of Chrysler International Corporation.

In January, 1975 Chrysler USA Product Planning executive Burt Bouwkamp moved to Europe and replaced Don Forman as Executive Director of European Product Development. Don Forman had moved up to Managing Director - Chrysler Espana.

burton bouwkamp and roy axe

At that time, Chrysler-Europe was building approximately 700,000 cars a year (in France, Spain and the U.K.) on nine different platforms (nine different suspensions, brakes, and body structures, etc.) and with eight different engines:

United KingdomFranceSpain
Valiant (RWD)

Chrysler Europe Product Plan

By 1975 Chrysler Europe had already embarked on a product modernization and simplification program that would in five years result in new products covering two thirds of the European passenger car market on three platforms:

Platform 1. The C6 (Simca 1307/8 and Chrysler Alpine) in 1976, a FWD 5 door hatchback 1.5 liter car. The European market share for this type of car was about 25%, (2,500,000 vehicles).

Platform 2. The C2 (Chrysler Horizon) in 1978, a FWD 5 door hatchback 1.3 liter car. The European market opportunity for this type of car was about 30%, (3,000,000 vehicles).

Platform 3. The C9 (Chrysler Tagora) in 1980, a RWD 4 door sedan 2 liter car. The European market share for this large car was about 15%, (1,500,000 vehicles).

The planned C9 - Chrysler Tagora

A front wheel drive, one liter car (to replace the Imp and Mille) was intended in 1980, but had not been defined in 1975. Because of Chrysler’s financial constraints, it is likely that this would have ended up as a 3-door hatchback model on a shortened C2 platform. Although this approach of deriving a shorter, lower-priced car from the C2 platform would probably not have been profitable in this low price and low unit profit segment, the large market opportunity (30%) and the popularity with first time buyers for this type of vehicle made it important for Chrysler Europe and its dealers to be represented in this market segment with a competitive product. “C2 Short” proposals were under development in the Design Studio when Chrysler’s European companies were purchased by PSA [Peugeot/Citroën] in August of 1978.

Overall, Chrysler Europe’s 1975-1980 Product Plan provided new products to their European dealers with massive simplification for manufacturing, purchasing, and service.

How competitive were the new products? Consider this. The 50 leading auto writers of Europe gave the Car of the Year award to the Simca 1308/Chrysler Alpine (C6) in 1976 and again to the Chrysler Horizon (C2) in 1978. These pictures are a centerfold from the London Sunday Telegraph in which they recognized the accomplishment of the Chrysler product team.

horizon spread in magazine

Don Lander, VP of Chrysler Europe and Marc Honore, Director of Product Planning In Paris with the 1978 European Car of the Year.

Here is a quote from Lee Iacocca in the July 22, 1979 Automotive News:

“The 50 leading auto writers of Europe ..... gave the (Car of the Year) award to the new Simca Horizon .... because of the technological innovations on that car - like automatic transmission, and on-board computer, automatic speed control, electronic ignition, and electronic trip computer. European technology? No way. They were all developed by Chrysler engineers in this country and then made available to our French company for use on the Simca Horizon.”

What Lee said is true, but the power train, chassis and body were engineered in Europe (Chrysler France Technical Center at Carrierres, near Paris). The vehicle was planned and styled in Europe (Whitley Technical Center near Coventry, England). This is the same group that created the 1976 European Car of the Year - the Chrysler Alpine/Simca 1307/8 (C6). Two Car of the Year awards in three years was a remarkable accomplishment for a small company that had only 7% penetration of the European passenger car market.

The 1976 Car of the Year votes by the 50 European automobile writers were:

1st. Chrysler Alpine/Simca 1307/1308 (C6) - 185 pts.

2nd. B.M.W. 316-320 - 136 pts.

3rd. Renault 30 TS - 102 pts.

These were followed by Peugeot 604, Leyland Princess, Jaguar XJS, Lancia Beta HPE, Opel Ascona, Lancia Beta Monte Carlo,Vauxhall Chevette, and Fiat 128 3P.

jourdain horizonThe 1977 European Car of the Year was the Porsche 928.

The 1978 Car of the Year votes were:

1st. Chrysler/Simca Horizon (C2) - 251 pts.

2nd. Fiat Ritmo. - 239 pts.

3rd. Audi 80. - 181 pts .

These were followed by Opel Senator/Monza, Peugeot 305, Alfa Romeo Giullietta, Renault 18, BMW 32i, Saab Turbo,Toyota Starlet, Lada Niva, Rover 2600, Datsun Sunny, Austin Princess 2, and Chrysler Sunbeam.

Chrysler - Europe had high expectations for the all new 1979 RWD Chrysler Tagora (C9) styled in Coventry under the direction of Art Blakeslee. Before the engineering and manufacturing programs were completed, Chysler’s European companies were sold to PSA, a holding company for Peugeot and Citroen. The Chrysler designed and engineered C6 and C2 products continued to be built by the new owners but the “Chrysler” badges became “Talbot” - a new division of PSA. C9 (Tagora) production was delayed one year so that it could be re engineered for Peugeot 604 power train components. It was built by PSA in France in 1980, but it was not successful — probably because PSA did not need the C9 market entry; they already had two competitive products in the luxury market segment, the Peugeot 604 and the Citroen CX.

Design and development of the Chrysler C2 (Horizon)

This is the story of the planning, design and development of the Chrysler Horizon (C2), European Car of the Year in 1978, as recalled by the planners, stylists, and engineers in England and France who did it. The planning, design and engineering of the C2 began and was completed before the widespread use of computers, cellular phones or video conferencing.

The C2 design started in mid-1974 with a pencil sketch by Roy Axe, the Director of Design for Chrysler’s European products. Roy labeled it “C6 SWB (short wheelbase)” because this was before the “C2” code name was established. In late 1975, Roy was promoted to Director of Design for Chrysler at the Design Center in Highland Park, Michigan.

Simca C6 - C2 sketches by Roy Axe, Chrysler Director of Design - Europe

In the summer of 1974, four C2 design themes were made into full size clays for European management to select the a style in October of 1974.

C2 (Horizon) models

In developing the themes, the models were regularly viewed against competitive vehicles to be sure that the C2 design proposals were consistent with consumer expectations in the European light car market.

The final clay surfaces were approved in November 1974.

About this time, the Vice President of Chrysler France, John Day, gave the European Public Relations and Product Development offices the assignment of securing Car of the Year honors for the C2. Having just won the award in 1975 (with the C6), our expectations for repeating in 1978 were not high. But — we won again!

The 1978 European Car of the Year Award was given in Amsterdam in February of 1979. It was presented to Mr. Perrin-Pellitier, the newly appointed head of the Talbot Division of PSA; Chrysler earned the award but did not get the recognition because of the timing of the sale of their European assets to PSA.

There is an American side to the story as well. When Chrysler’s American management (President Gene Cafiero and Sales Vice President R.K. Brown) saw the C2 clay model, they decided that the C2 was the small car that they wanted for North America, ASAP. Now we were involved in a tightly interlocked product in three countries separated by the Atlantic Ocean as well as the English Channel. The trans-Channel C2 became a trans-Atlantic vehicle — a world car!

plymouth horizon - 1990

In the October 14, 1978 issue of Motor magazine, David Scott explained why the European and American Horizons, while identical in appearance, were totally different under the skin. The principle reasons were

  1. carryover (Europe) vs new (America) front suspensions,
  2. different trailing arm coil rear suspension designs due to differing marketing requirements, and
  3. different engines and transmissions.

Consequently, while having identical exterior appearances and wheelbases, the two cars were completely different.

Chrysler did not have the wordwide productive cability for 200,000 (per year) additional 4 cylinder engines and FWD transaxles for the USA market, and needed to purchase (modified) Volkswagen Golf powertrains for the USA built version (Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni) for two years.

The C2/Plymouth Horizon/Dodge Omni was recognized as an outstanding design on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Motor Trend magazine made the USA version Car of the Year in 1978.

The specifications for the production C2 (European version) were:

  • Drive: Transverse FWD, 4 cyl engine
  • Wheelbase 99.2” (2520 mm)
  • Overall length 155.9” (3960 mm)
  • Overall width 66.1” (1680 mm)
  • Curb Weight 2080 lbs. (945 Kg)
 
  • Engine 1118 cc to 1442 cc
  • Transmission 4 speed manual or 3 speed automatic
  • Suspension Torsion bar front, coil rear
  • Brakes Disc front, drum rear
  • Steering Rack and pinion

RECOLLECTIONS OF THE C2 PROGRAM

The people contributing to these recollections of their involvement in the C2 program from 1974 to 1978 are:

  • Burt Bouwkamp - Executive Director of European Product Development
  • Royden Axe - Design Director, Chrysler Europe
  • Marc Honore - Product Planning Director, Chrysler Europe
  • Harry Sheron - Technical Director, Chrysler Europe
  • Joe Farnham - Technical Director, Chrysler France
  • John Webster - Chief Engineer, Huntsville Electronic Division
  • Curt Gwin - Executive Designer (C2 Product)
  • Dave Logan - Chief Body Engineer, Chrysler France

RECOLLECTIONS OF BURT BOUWKAMP

1. Early in the “packaging” phase of the C2 program Leo Kuzmicki, who was Chief Engineer of Advance Design, asked me to come to the drafting room to see a layout where his designers had figured out how to reduce C2 front overhang (FOH) by 1/2” - from 29” to 28 1/2”, I think. (Leo had been a Polish fighter pilot who escaped from Poland on foot when the Germans occupied Poland. Leo made it to England and flew with the Polish contingent in the RAF.) Dick Newman, an Advance Design engineer, proudly presented the results of their packaging study. This was a memorable event for me because I had just come from the Chrysler USA where we added 3” or more to front overhang on a whim. Reducing front overhang was a virtue in Europe!

C2 short proposal2. Shortly after I arrived for my new assignment in Europe, we had a meeting to establish the vehicle specifications, package size, cost and weight targets, etc. Joe Farnham presented a curb weight target for the C2 of 900 kg. I was the new boss (from the USA) and asked, “How heavy is that?”

From the podium, Joe looked me right in the eye and said, “I just told you.” The other French and English engineers in the room must have wondered whether I was qualified to be their boss. After a year or two, I embraced the metric system and no longer had to multiply all weights by 2.2 and divide all lengths by 2.54 to understand them.

Dick Macadam (VP of Chrysler Design) gave me his secret - divide the number of millimeters by 100 and visualize that number as the number of “4 inches.” For example, a 1700mm wide car is 17 “4 inch” increments wide - which is 17 x 4 = 68 inches. Dick’s advice helped me until I was able to think in the metric system.

RECOLLECTIONS OF MARC HONORE

When Chrysler USA decided to build the C2 it became a “World Car” - a fashionable concept at the time! A European team was sent to the USA to coordinate the refinement of the European design to meet USA marketing, manufacturing and legal requirements. The objective was to make the European and USA designs as common as possible.

I was subsequently based in Highland Park for 4 to 5 months in the spring and summer of 1975. I represented the European Product Planning Office. Along with me were a small team of Chrysler France engineers under the leadership of Claude Daubertes. Also on location at Highland Park were Roy Axe and a guy from Chrysler France Marketing.

Significant problems arose from differing organisations, paperwork procedures, metric vs English measurements and day to day coordination because of the relative immediacy of the program in the USA compared to Europe — 3,000 miles and five time zones away. We had no decision making authority of any consequence so design compromises were subject to time consuming consultations with our European management.

C2 (Chrysler Horizon) compared with Volkswagen Golf and Renault R12It turned out that the C2 was a “World Car” in only sheet metal appearance. Unique USA powertrain, crash test, lighting, and bumper requirements changed many aspects of the European-designed vehicle. Then, European management, under the influence of a Sales/Manufacturing lobby, insisted on retaining the Simca 1100 torsion bar front suspension on the basis that this would save a bundle of investment money (an attractive argument in Detroit at the time) and assure for the new C2 the reputation of the Simca 1100 for comfort and surefootedness. While this decision saved investment money, it also added a significant piece-cost and weight penalty to the C2, as well as some loss of front leg room because the torsion bar suspension required a higher floor pan than the originally planned McPherson strut suspension [retained in the American design]. The relative heaviness and cost of the torsion bar setup was to penalise the European C2 throughout its life. I always felt that this was a bad decision.

Other sources of diversification arose from differing requirements for light switches, column controls, steering wheel, seat and door panel designs. The European and American cars looked similar but by the time we were through, I doubt if we had many common parts!

Probably the best part of the program arose from the decision to ask for product help from the Huntsville Electronics Division. The result was to add the trip computer (a far more consumer friendly design than the teutonic monster launched by BMW shortly before) to the C2. That, plus the automatic gearbox, gave us a unique offering at that price level and probably earned us the European Car of the Year award. We also spent a good deal of product money, including an electronic ignition system, building in a significantly reduced maintenance schedule with a diagnostic check capacity.

My best memory of the C2 “adventure in America” was being called in to George Butts’ (Vice President of Product Planning) office one Thursday morning to be told that my wife Claire was suffering from loss of voice and it was thought that it would be a good thing for me to cheer her up. Whereupon George told me to pick up a return ticket to Heathrow from his secretary, catch the afternoon plane for home, but be back in the office in Highland Park on Monday! Neither Claire nor I have ever forgotten that gesture.

RECOLLECTIONS OF CURT GWIN

I think often about working in the Chrysler Design Office at the Whitley Technical Center near Coventry. These facilities were subsequently purchased by Jaguar after the acquisition of Chrysler Europe by PSA.

Whitley Technical Center - Chrysler design office in Coventry

I was the European designer that was sent over to Highland Park in May 1975 with other members of a task force to work directly with USA Design Staff to achieve common sheet metal surfaces for Europe and the USA versions of the car. Bill Brownlie was the Executive Stylist in charge and Rod Lloyd was the Chief Stylist. Both worked under Design Director Dick Macadam. Many surface adjustments to our approved design were required but the most significant one was to increase front fender wheel lip flares to accommodate the tire chain clearance requirements in the USA. The left picture is the European approved C2 design and the right picture shows the fender lip as adjusted for USA requirements. Both versions used the USA wheel openings.

Chrysler Horizon vs Dodge Omni

I have two thoughts about this period. First, is that there were two schools of thought in Highland Park about the style of the vehicle for North America. The European concept of a small 5 door hatchback with genuine rear seat space, headroom, etc was not universally accepted — despite the success of the VW Golf. Bill Brownlie, for one, pushed very hard to change the design into a “2 plus 2” coupe but Dick Macadam held to the management decision to build in the USA the C2 design as approved in Europe. Also, a number of young designers at Highland Park were enthusiastic about the European concept and style.

My second memorable experience is that we digitized the clay model developed at Highland Park and transmitted the surface information to the Whitley (Coventry) Design Center by satellite. This data was then used to construct a clay “clone” model at Whitley for, amongst other things, developing specific grille, bumper, taillight and ornamentation designs for Europe. Although the data was transferred in this high tech way, the clay model was constructed manually at Whitley from the digitized surface data because we did not have a CAD controlled milling machine for clay models.

Satellite transmission of surface data in 1975 may have been a “first.” I had never heard of transfer of digitized data by satellite until then. In any case it was “high tech” for the time. We were not particularly worried about security, computer hackers, etc as we would be today.

Had we followed up the C2 5 door with a C2 Short 3 door model to compete in the European one-litre car market (Ford Fiesta, VW Polo, etc), it probably would have looked like the model shown on page #6. This model would have replaced the out-of-date rear engine Simca Mille. The acquisition by Peugeot in August 1978 of Chrysler’s European interests ended our thoughts of expanding the C2 model range line through the addition of either a 3 door short or a 4 door sedan model (shown below).

four door mockup of Chrysler Horizon

RECOLLECTIONS OF HARRY SHERON

When Chrysler USA decided to build the vehicle, the application of USA, Imperial and Metric measuring systems and conversion between dollars, pounds and francs, plus two languages, added considerable interest and challenge to this new vehicle program.

We were successful because while we were working in different languages and currencies and measurements, we were working to a common objective of Car of the Year recognition on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Al Bosley, a product engineer in the Highland Park M.O.S. (Management, Organization and Systems) Department, was assigned the task to be sure there were no systems problems in engineering and releasing the “common” design. Bob says that three issues were critical:

  1. Engineering Standards - All accepted Chrysler USA standards because Chrysler Europe had few standards and they were disorganized.
  2. Engineering Drawings - A warning note was added to all drawings because Europe and USA used different drawing projections: i.e. first vs. third angle projections.
  3. Part Numbers - Chrysler France used a 6+2 system (six leading digits plus a two digit suffix indicating the manufacturing process — cast, finish machined, etc.) Chrysler USA used a 7 digit number and Chrysler UK also used 7 digit — but different — numbers. We went to an eight digit system adding 0 (zero) to USA and UK drawings - but providing for 11 positions in the computer system for future expansion.
  4. Bob notes today that these were technically simple solutions but it took an inordinate amount of time to reach agreement because of local pride. Europe approached it as “their” design but the USA position was that as the senior company they had the final say on how it was to be.

RECOLLECTIONS OF DAVE LOGAN

In France it is customary to christen the first prototype car in the same way that a new ship is christened at launching. This is a picture of me doing the honors at the Chrysler France Technical Center. The audience is the technical center staff. I did not date the picture but I estimate that it would be spring of 1976.

Dave Logan christening the first C2 prototype

I don’t remember exactly how many C2 prototypes we built, but in a new model program we normally handbuilt 12 to 15 vehicles for testing, evaluation, and development. We also built an additional three or four prototypes for certifying that the design met legal and safety — including crash-standards. The cost of the prototypes was $200,000 to $250,000 for each one.

During the joint design/development of the car we encountered a number of problems because the USA requirements for the car differed from those for Europe. We were able to reach a single body design in many cases but I recall two examples where we were unable to agree on the same design so they became different between the USA and European vehicles:

  1. Chrysler USA product engineers wanted a simple single action glass for cost and weight reasons. This meant that in the down position the glass protruded about 6” above the door beltline. This was unacceptable in Europe for marketing reasons, especially for a car in the light car segment without air conditioning. The result was different designs for glass drop and glass seals. To drop the glass to the beltline on the European C2, we invented a unique articulated glass drop which I called a “variable offcenter hexagon design.” It worked fine.
  2. Chrysler France manufacturing management insisted that the cowl outer windshield aperture and roof outer panel be stamped in one piece from one blank of steel. They insisted on this construction for better dimensional control of the windshield opening. The Chrysler USA manufacturing management considered the one-piece design proposal to be unfeasible from a manufacturing standpoint and insisted that the cowl and “A” pillar stamping be stamped separately from the roof panel. Consequently, although the vehicles looked the same in the windshield area, the American Horizon/Omni had a welded and metal finished joint at the top of the “A” pillars and the C2 did not.

RECOLLECTIONS OF JOHN WEBSTER

Chrysler Europe could not have incorporated the Electronic Trip Computer into the C2 without the help of the engineers from Chrysler’s Electronic Division in Huntsville, Alabama. The components of the trip computer are shown in this picture.

Huntsville electronics for the Horizon

An interesting part of that story that I remember was that Chuck Thompson, the Huntsville trip computer design leader, couldn’t find a fuel flow meter that would accurately measure the low fuel flow at engine idle so Don Gero (a Huntsville engineer) who was, at that time, based in Paris and serving as Liaison with the Chrysler France engineers - recommended that Huntsville program the Trip Computer to record a preset fuel flow rate (that Chrysler France engineers provided) at engine speeds below 1000 RPM. Above 1,000 RPM the fuel flow meter was able to accurately measure the fuel flow rate.

The C2 engineers in France worked with visiting Huntsville engineers, Chuck Thompson, Ken Miller, and John Webster, to establish how much fuel the engine would be using at idle RPM. (Later - when the USA started using the Trip Computer - the fuel flow meter supplier was able to develop an improved version that was sensitive enough to record idle fuel flow.)

The Trip Computer was one of the first applications of the bluish green vacuum fluorescent display technology to an automotive product. There was considerable concern over the reliability of the lengthy thermionic cathode filaments in these display devices and Huntsville conducted an elaborate series of vibration and other environmental tests to qualify vendors of this new technology for the automotive environment. The Futaba Corporation of Japan won the purchase order and delivered top quality vacuum fluorescent displays that were also used in Huntsville produced electronic digital clocks and automotive radios.

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