The cars we loved.
Lately on this blog, there has been a lot written about the great transition to smaller cars and how it caught Detroit with its paints down during the seventies. Not that the small cars coming out of Detroit were not good (most were fair at best), they were not always quite what the market wanted. For one, they were large compared to the smaller cars coming from Europe and Japan. It seemed that Detroit only knew how to build smaller versions of its big cars, not build true small cars from scratch.
One fall back plan of the big Three had been to use captive imports from their foreign subsidies. GM did it with Opel and Ford used German built Capris and Fiestas to supplement its lineup during the seventies. Chrysler used its association with the English based Roots Group to sell North Americans a lightly disguised Hillman Avenger.
The Avenger was a small sedan, wagon or coupe with rear wheel drive. The Chrysler of Europe product was sold under no less than nine different names in places ranging from Brazil to South Africa. Many of the names would be familiar to North Americans like Brazil’s Dodge Polara. Granted a Polara in Brazil was as long as the American car’s trunk, Chrysler never mixed up names and associations in theU.S. market (until recently with the Charger). The version of the Avenger Chrysler sold in America was called the Plymouth Cricket. It was the least expensive and smallest car sold by Plymouth when it appeared in showrooms in early 1971. Only 280 cars arrived at first in either 4-door sedan or 5-door station wagon (estate). Due to it’s high effiency and low price, it became Chrysler’s entry level car aimed at younger people, mostly with small growing families. Like many of its other youth oriented products, Chrysler assigned a cartoon mascot to its new subcompact. It was of course a cricket, often seen with groovy psychedelic graphics in an attempt to position the Cricket as an earth friendly fun mobile. Stylistically, the Cricket had no design cues borrowed from any of Chrysler’s U.S. cars. It’s small size contrasted significantly with everything but the next smallest car, the Mitsubishi made Colt (which would take it’s place as the anchor of Plymouth’s small car offerings in 1973).
American Crickets differed very little from Avengers in Europe. The biggest difference was under the hood where American cars were fitted with the 70 hp 1.5 litre four cylinder engines as opposed to the 1.3 in Europe (and elsewhere). Crickets were sold in Canada also under the Dodge and Plymouth brands. Although they were not performance cars, they did offer respectable road manners for the time. When equipped with the standard four speed manual transmission, the Cricket was able to reach 86 mph.
The homely but somehow cute little wagon and sedan might have been joined by a coupe had Chrysler decided not to discontinue the Hillman based Cricket. Chrysler’s other small car partner Mitsubishi had provided a version of its Colt. The Colt was a better built, front wheel drive car that was considerably more modern than the Cricket. Had Chrysler continued to sell the Cricket, its rear wheel drive configuration would have made it a natural as a driver’s oriented alternative to the hum drum Colt. The Cricket name continued in Canada (as a Colt) and in the US it was simply called the Plymouth Colt. The Colt marked the beginning of an early association with Chrysler that would last for over 40 years. Chrysler would not bring over any more products from Hillman, but did work with another of its and subsidies Simica on a theoretical world car the Horizon. The American and European cars ended up to be quite different which may explain why the Colt continued well into the 90’s.