Every time I see one of these cars, so clean and tight and sharp-edged and European, I pinch myself: this is really an American car, from the 1970s? Well, of course it’s not a true American car, given that much of its design emanated from France. But the fact that one of the Big Three actually pulled it off to build a competent, advanced and reliable new small car is nothing short of a miracle.
Having already written the Omni-Horizon’s story in detail here, I’m not going to re-write it again now. But it was one of the brightest spots on that automotive scene during a difficult period in America. Thanks to Chrysler’s foresight in developing this car jointly with its European Simca operation, which already built one of the very best small cars at the time the Simca 1100/1204, Chrysler smartly avoided the NIH (not invented here) syndrome, that afflicted both GM and Ford to varying degrees.
Yes, the US versions of the Horizon was modified a fair amount, sadly losing the Simca’s splendid long-throw torsion bar suspension and famous French ride for pragmatic Golf-type front struts and a twist-beam rear axle. On the other hand, Chrysler wisely left the somewhat fragile Simca pushrod four behind, instead substituting a unique 1.7 L version of VW’s 827 engine, with Chrysler-designed ancillary components.
Although the Simca engine did make eventually it into later versions of base US Omnirizons, but by that time the smart buyers were opting for the Chrysler 2.2, which made it a decently brisk machine, for the times, even with the (durable) Torqueflite automatic transaxle.
The Horizon obviously looks a lot like a VW Golf/Rabbit, which was its mission to chase. But it was just a tick bigger, actually, it was even somewhat bigger than the Golf MkII. That was another smart move, given American’s preference for room, and the Horizon gave a decent amount, especially compared to the many cramped small cars at the time. This was a limo compared to a Chevette back seat.
The K-Car is often held up as the savior of Chrysler, but it would never have come about if it wasn’t for the Omnirizon, upon which the K-Car was based. This Franco-American hybrid was the basis upon which Chrysler would re-invent itself, even if its off-shoots would look anything but clean and tight and sharp-edged and European. Not exactly Lee Iacocca’s cup of Joe.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Chrysler never again built a small car that was as all-round attractive and good as the Horizon. American car companies just always seemed to struggle with that alien concept.
And they still do. It’s just not in their blood.
More on the Horizon-Omni: