Auction Site Classics: Can the Chrysler Man Make You Happy? Ken Certainly Tried

Auction sites have many cars we rarely see elsewhere, be it on the road, at car shows and classic meets or in museums. Looking through them is a Curbivore’s take on going onto a new car configurator, and video sites are useful sources of contemporary advertisements. And with the lockdowns, we’re having to do this a little more than usual.

Regular CC followers will be aware that I am Rootes fan, and I’ve been Rootes hunting. I’ve taken CC down the Rootes memory lane, and to several of the cars, before, so this piece is going to be a little different.

The Rootes Group, the Hillman, Humber, Sunbeam and Singer combine was brought together by the brothers Lord William (Billy) and Sir Reginald (Reggie) Rootes in the 1930s and run by them until they had to sell out to Chrysler in the 1960s. In that time, the company became one of UK’s Big Six (Morris, Austin, Standard, GM Vauxhall, Ford and Rootes) and lasted to be one of the four surviving groups in the UK industry (BLMC, GM Vauxhall, Ford and Rootes) by the early 1960s.

The reason I am a Rootes fan is that my Dad had Rootes and then Chrysler UK cars from 1964 to 1986, so for many years I assumed they were better than other cars he could have chosen. That’s how it works isn’t it? Dad chooses the best.

In 1967 Chrysler took full control of Rootes and in 1970 took control of Simca in France as well, having progressively purchased stock from Ford and Fiat. The companies were then slowly but surely blended together, with the French products clearly taking long term precedence.

In the UK, the Rootes dealers, having had the Pentastar logo over the door and on the cars since 1967, became Chrysler Europe dealers, selling in addition to the Chrysler UK vehicles a full range of Simca products. The change on the continent of Europe was much less marked – Rootes had always been a small player in Europe and there was no emerging demand for such conservative products.

This advertisement comes from 1972 or 1973, based on the products covered. But let’s take a run through it, and blend it with Dad’s experience with the Chrysler Man, also known as Ken, and some cars I’ve found whilst browsing the classifieds, lockdown style.

Ken was the salesman, service manager and general chap in charge at Prospect Motors in Morley, in Yorkshire, and was, as far as Dad was concerned, the “go to” guy for a car. The garage had a showroom, holding 3 or 4 cars and a display of used cars, some of which were allowed to graduate to the showroom if Ken thought they were good enough.

The first car to come from Ken was a 1965 Hillman Imp, purchased in, I think, 1970. This was to be Mum’s car, although I suspect all the paperwork was probably in Dad’s name. It was a basic, nothing extra Imp, in a very pale sky blue, and destined for all the usual second car stuff of shopping, kids to school and so on.

This car came from the line of used, or second hand as we used to say, cars that Ken kept at the front of the garage. I remember Dad asking his brother in law, a design draughtsman at Vauxhall-Bedford, to look at it with him.

This car was one of the Mark II Imps introduced in September 1965. That meant a cable, not automatic, choke and cable, not pneumatic, throttle, and precautions to improve the cooling – a better water pump, cylinder head gasket and bigger radiator, and a fan with more blades. You could describe this as the finished Imp if you wish, given the pressure Rootes’s engineers were under to get a car to market in May 1963.

So, the car was pressed into school run service, and on the second day a driveshaft failed, stranding the car on a roundabout. The local doctor pushed us to the side of the road, and Ken got it repaired. The car remained with us for about 3 years, before it was replaced by something similar but different, from Ken. And that replacement? A 1968 Imp van, with an aftermarket folding back seat. As I said, Ken was the “go to” guy.

The Imp in the advertisement is therefore a later model, though still identified by Chrysler as a Hillman Imp Mark II. In 1968, the car received a new interior with a contemporary if less innovative interior, losing column stalks for minor functions and gaining a full width fascia instead. Better seats added to the ambience, but sales remained very low, especially compared with its primary local competitor, the Mini. In 1970, BLMC built 300,000 Minis, Chrysler built around 20,000 Imps.

The car I found for sale is a bit of a find, a trend that will come clear as we go through exercise. It’s a 1975 Imp Caledonian, a special edition version of the Imp Deluxe with many added features. These extras included wheel trims, door mirrors, over riders, a radio and reversing lights. Add these to the Cherry Red and tartan seat patterns (this car was built in Scotland, remember) and you have quite a striking package for £1275, say £11,000 now. Effectively, the Caledonian was a run out special – Imp production ceased in 1976.

The first new car from Ken was a 1971 Hillman Hunter Super, sold in the North America as the Sunbeam Arrow.

The Hunter would be Dad’s third Hillman family saloon, preceded by a 1964 Minx and then a 1966 Super Minx, which was bought elsewhere but maintained by Ken after the selling dealer had proved inept. Dad was to prove to be a Rootes loyalist.
The requirement for the Hunter to fulfil was to be the archetypal family car, capable of carrying a family of five around for the usual family duties. It was a Ford Cortina, not an Alfa Romeo Giulia, competitor, and served in that role perfectly well. It was not a modern car, even when new, but then most of the local competition weren’t either.

It had a 1725cc OHV four cylinder engine, which on some models went to the extravagance of a light alloy head, a four speed gearbox, with an optional overdrive, a leaf spring rear axle, leatherette (or, more accurately vinyl) seat trim and, as it was a Super, a plastic wood dashboard and a centre console.

Hunters are thin on the ground now, with perhaps only 100 or so on the road of the UK. The best I have found was this 1971 Hunter DL, or Deluxe, the entry level Hunter. Mechanically, it matched the Super, but had a less luxurious interior and matt black not silver finish grille. This example came up for sale in 2018 at an auction.

This car is a 1.5 litre version, with a 1496cc version of the same engine, with 54bhp instead of 61bhp, and the more basic interior. Earlier versions of this, from 1967 to 69 were sold as the Hillman Minx, with an even more sparse interior, before the cars were all blended into the Hunter range, along with the modestly upscale Singer Vogue.

Dad’s Super did have bumpers, although the front wing badge was present only on the near side for whatever reason. We chose, collectively, Aztec Gold metallic paint, the only extra on the car, and it felt, in November 1971 a significantly more modern experience than the Superminx.

The car in the TV advertisement is a 1972 on Hunter GLS, fitted with the four headlamp grille used on the luxury Humber Sceptre and Sunbeam Rapier coupe versions, as well as the 93 bhp engine from the Rapier H120. The Hunter got a new dash in early 1972, also seen in the advert’s GLS, complete with a plastic blanking plate where you could put a radio.

The Hunter lasted on to 1979, after the Peugeot takeover of Chrysler Europe, by which time it had been rather garishly facelifted again and was sold under the Chrysler Hunter nameplate, and adopted some quite desperate seat trim.

The Hunter went to have a long life in Iran, as the Paykan (Persian for Arrow) and garnered a strong and loyal following there, with production finally ending only in 2015.

By the end of the summer holidays in 1975, the Hunter was feeling a bit cramped in the back for three growing teenagers. The rust on the sills was getting worse. What would come next? Another Hunter was discounted by the size, so something a little larger was probably needed. Also, something without plastic seat trim would be nice. Fabric and velour covered seats had been seen in Yorkshire, and they were tempting.

Several other cars were assessed, albeit quite gently. I remember a conversation with Ken around a used Vauxhall Victor FD he had in stock – the bench seat appealed but the column shift and the Vauxhall rust reputation didn’t. A Ford salesman was contacted about a Cortina Mk 3. A trip was made to look at the then new Morris (or was it the Austin?) 1800 (the Princess) but the showroom impression was not good. For whatever reason, probably an instruction to actually finish homework, I wasn’t there but Dad would have been unmoved by the styling and was unimpressed by visible corrosion on a showroom car.

Ken was called.  He was now a Chrysler Europe dealer, so could offer a wider range.

There was the Simca 1100 seen in the advertisement, clearly added to tempt back buyers lured away by the new generation of front wheel drive European cars, like the Citroen GS, Alfasud and Fiat 128, and even the Austin Allegro. Some aspects of the Simca would have appealed widely in the UK, such as the practical hatchback and spacious interior; others less so, including the slightly gawky styling, heavy steering and tappet rattling engines.

The car I found is in France, where the Simca 1100 was a best seller for many years. It’s a 1974 Simca 1100ti, the sporty derivative with a 1300cc engine and 82 bhp. This example has 135,000km on the clock and dates back to 1974, and has had some gentle modding over the years, with the wheels and steering wheel being the most obvious examples of this. Ken sold these, but although I can remember collecting brochures, I can’t remember ever seeing one in his showroom.

The Simca 1100 was sold as a counterpoint to the more conservative Hillman Avenger saloon.

The Avenger was the last Rootes car, in effect, albeit launched in 1970 after the Chrysler takeover, and promptly became company’s best seller in the home market.

It was sold across the world under various badges, including as the Sunbeam Avenger, Sunbeam 1300/1600, as the Plymouth Cricket in North America, and as the Dodge Polara and VW 1500/1800 in South America. It was a cautious, conventional rear drive saloon, and later an estate, with a four cylinder engines, four speed gearboxes and (in reality) four seats.

Dad had them as loan cars from Ken from time to time, and I think he quite liked them. Space was not that different from the Hunter, except in width, and the style and driving experience were more modern, with a decent rear suspension and more modern engines.

The car we see here is a 1975 Avenger 1300 Super, so smaller engine and mid level trim, with a recorded and evidence supported mileage of just 10,000. If you like Avengers, then you’ll be tempted.

Against a Morris Marina or a Vauxhall Viva, it was more than a valid and credible competitor. Ken always had a choice in the showroom and the forecourt.

Whilst I don’t remember seeing a Simca 1100 at Ken’s, I do remember seeing a Simca 1501 in his showroom, like the white car visible in the shot above. Dad was interested but not convinced.

The obvious thing, Ken suggested, was to get a Chrysler 180, not new but a Chrysler management car at less than a year old. Might be a little wait, said Ken, but much better value.  Several weeks later, Ken called and offered Dad a 1975 Chrysler 2 Litre in what might be called sand. Or perhaps hearing aid beige, with a black vinyl roof. As a bonus for the beige, the interior was red – the woven woolly fabric covered seats, door cards, seat backs….. And I mean bright red, not a subtle maroon or burgundy.

The car addressed the space issue, with a considerably larger interior and much better seats. It brought others – the lack of power steering made it a struggle to park and in town, to the extent that Mum actively disliked driving it, the automatic gearbox required new habits that were not quick to acquire, and I suspect the fuel consumption was comparatively poor as well. The rear disc brakes, typically for the model, gave issues as well, with pads overheating due to not releasing fully. Still, on the open road, a comfy car with space and big boot, and in passenger experience a step up from the Hunter.

The car I found is in France, the initial home of the 180 and 2 Litre. A 1973 car, with just 22000Km on the clock and looking to being in excellent condition, and a registration plate that shows the international reach of Curbside Classic. The 2 Litre was Chrysler Europe’s flagship in the early 1970s, aimed at the Ford Granada, Opel Rekord, Citroen CX, Peugeot 505 and Fiat 132. All the luxuries Chrysler had then, and it looked a mini-Brougham inside and out.  All the luxuries Chrysler had then, but not electric windows, central locking or intermittent wipers. Or power steering.

It’s long time since I’ve seen a 2 Litre, in any condition, but like this….it all comes back. The first car I moved under my sole control.

But in 1978, Ken’s branding started to change again. Peugeot had bought Chrysler Europe. By 1979, Dad was car shopping again and Ken was now preparing to be a Peugeot-Talbot dealer. So, what happened?

Stay tuned.