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Chrysler in Iran: the Hillman Arrow and Iran Khodro Paykan

hillman hunter - iran khodro paykan carsAfter several unsuccessful attempts to make Fiat cars, Iran National Factories (Iran Khodro) was created in 1962 to manufacture the Hillman Arrow, at a time when Chrysler owned a large portion of Hillman.

Iran Khodro installed the Paykan production line and started manufacturing 6,000 cars per year under license; Chrysler U.K.’s John Haig was the manufacturing engineer in charge of the program. When the Shah was toppled, John was living in Iran, having relocated from Coventry to Tehran for the project.

The first Iran Khodro car, made in 1967, was the Paykan, sold in Deluxe and Standard models, with pickup trucks and taxis added later. A commercial Pakyan was added around 1969, an automatic model in 1970, and a GT in 1972.

Paykan production continued after Talbot’s production lines closed down; Peugeot provided Iran Khodro with up to 60,000 Peugeot 504 engines and suspension systems per year, since the original components were no longer available. (The Peugeot 504 was a fairly upscale model and the use of those components probably made the Paykan more desirable for those six years, albeit more expensive).

Burton Bouwkamp, product leader of Chrysler Europe from 1975 to 1979, wrote:

Chrysler UK supplied Hillman Arrow power trains (1725 cc) to Iran National for building into the Iran "Paykan" (Iranian for "Arrow") automobile. When I was Director of Product Development (1975-1979) in England, John Haig was head of Manufacturing Engineering. When Iran National decided to build more of the Paykan, John went to Iran on assignment to help them build cars. Prior to that Iran National was a KD ("knockdown") assembler of vehicles.

They built the Hillman Arrow body in Tehran and assembled almost 100,000 vehicles a year. Chrysler provided technical assistance to Iran National in building the assembly plant and paint shop and we also had people stationed in Iran to provide assistance in building the vehicles. Chrysler people left the country when the Shah was overthrown in 1979. The Hyami brothers, who owned Iran National, left Iran just in the nick of time. The last I heard was that they became a Mercedes dealer in Irwin, California. John was in Iran until the Shah was deposed - and he got out just in time.

In 1991, the Self-Sufficiency Unit of Iran Khodro was created to start making all components in-house; this was centralized in SAPCO in 1993. By the 1990s they were producing almost 98% of the parts needed for Paykan 1600 in Iran - 120,000 units per year - using machinery purchased from Talbot. The 1600 was fully locally made starting in September 1992.

paykan cars by iran khodroAs the largest vehicle manufacturing industrial complex in Iran, Iran Khodro decided to establish a research center in 1994, aimed at acquiring automobile design and engineering know-how. The first national vehicle, titled New Paykan, was slowly developed.

The production of the final Paykan car was on May 15, 2005. The sendoff was not congratulatory, with Iranian officials putting down the car which had created Iran's auto industry and served it for so long. They noted that the car has dated styling — it was, at that point, about four decades old — and an inefficient powertrain. iranmania.com, though, pointed out that "it epitomised modern British engineering and the best the motoring world had to offer" when first introduced.

2.3 million Paykan cars have been made. It was protected by heavy duties on imported cars, but recently local production has begun of the Peugeot 405 and 206, and Iran Khodro is working with Renault on a local version of the Logan (a cheap, sturdy, low-technology car) to replace the New Paykan. The article noted that Paykans, regardless of age, still sell used for about $6,850, which is close to the price for new Paykans.

Information courtesy Iran Khodro Industrial Group and Iranmania.com (thanks, Mike Sealey).

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