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Mr Royden Axe, joined the design team of the Rootes Group in 1959 at the age of 22, and soon worked his way up to being Chief Stylist, and by 1965 was Design Director for the Company. In January 1963, thoughts turned to producing a vehicle that would fit into the range above the soon to be launched Imp, and below the future Hillman Hunter that was to be launched in October 1966. At the time, funds dictated that the company could not afford to enter into the design of a third range of models, and the idea was shelved.

By 1965, with the company effectively owned by the Chrysler Corporation of America, the need for a ‘B’ segment vehicle to compete with the Ford Cortina was paramount, and Roy Axe was given the task of designing the new vehicle. The brief was to design a vehicle that was compact, smart, roomy and quick with a degree of Americanism (The Detroit influence) It had to be an all new vehicle, but design costs had to be keep down. The first scale models were produced by December 1965, and by January 1966 the final three full size clay models were produced. Final external design approval was given on 16th November 1966. To keep to the compact dimensions, the design was given a shorter bonnet and boot giving improved interior space. They removed the straight waist line, giving the car a curved feature line toward the rear, which became known as the ‘ Coke Bottle Shape’ and first appeared on the HB Viva, followed by the Mk1 Escort and later, the Mk 3 Cortina. The swept back of the design giving the car the look of a Coupe.

The well liked ‘Hockey Stick’ rear lights were built into this final design. In August 1966, a female led team of fashion design consultants were brought in to design the interior and choose the eventual exterior and interior colour combinations. A single sheet metal facia was designed which allowed three different individual plastic mouldings to be fitted. The eventual De-Luxe and Super models had strip speedos, but slightly different styles and the Grand-luxe had four round dials. Final approval for the interior was given in November 1967. Many ideas were considered for the engine, transmission and axle designs, but due to cost implications a conventional in-line 4 cylinder engine, driven through a 4 speed manual gearbox, and rear wheel drive was chosen, however the rear axle was to be mounted on a four link coil spring suspension, and steering was via Rack and Pinion, a far superior system to any of its competitors of that time, and light years ahead of the Morris Marina that was running at least a year later in its development. Another reason for developing this car with a conventional layout, was that it was meant for world markets and they could facilitate the use of locally produced engines, gearboxes and other parts. It is now common practise for a manufacturer to design models that can be built in different countries throughout the world. The Avenger must have been one of the first, if not the first world car, with the model eventually being built in Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, South Africa, Iran and New Zealand as well as in the United Kingdom.

By late 1968, the factory had several pre-production models registered and undergoing extreme testing to avoid having similar under development problems to the Imp. These cars were registered on a ‘G’ plate, but following testing, all these cars were scrapped and never sold on to the public. The actual production started in the Autumn of 1969 in order to build up a good level of stock at the dealers for the launch early in 1970. Delivery to the dealers began in December 1969, and I remember seeing several cars being unloaded from the transporter at Charters of Aldershot just prior to Christmas 1969.

The launch of the Hillman Avenger took place on 18th February 1970 and initially there were three models. The base model was the De Luxe (DL) with a 1248cc engine, the Super also with a 1248cc engine, and then the top of the range Grand Luxe (GL) with a 1498cc engine. The 1498cc engine was an option for both of the lower spec cars, and a three speed Borg Warner automatic gearbox was available on all three models providing they were fitted with the higher capacity engine. The prices at launch (in old money) were DL £766.0.10d, the Super £811.14.9d and the GL £903.2.6d. The 1500 option was £32.12.9d. Automatic Transmission £88.15.7d and Metallic Paint £6.10.7d. At launch there were 15 colours available, and with the exception of Polar White and Embassy Black, they were all completely new. Eight were metallic and seven solids, and as for the interiors, there were eight colour choices with up to five different ones for each exterior colour. No manufacturer had ever produced such an advanced range of vibrant colours. Who can forget such colours as Aztec Gold, Pewter, Golden Olive, Tangerine, Sunset or Electric Blue, and even solid colours such as Oasis Green and Tahiti Blue were unlike anything that had come before.

Whilst the Avenger was a conventional car, there were several first’s in its design. The first car to have an all plastic radiator grille, cloth inserts in the seats (GL model) an all new electrostatic paint process (a first in the British Car Industry) the first UK manufacturer to use computers to aid vehicle design, and the first affordable production vehicle to have a rear spoiler fitted (Tiger) The Avenger was also one of the first vehicles to have some sort of elementary crash protection built into the design, making it much stronger and safer than most of its rivals including the Hillman Hunter range.

The Avenger chassis numbers were 2 letter followed by 9 digits and then four letters. The pre-fix letters showed the build plant (R for Ryton) and the model year (F for 1970) the first 3 numbers indicated which model, 211 for DL, 221 for Super, and 231 for GL. The final 6 digits were the build number, and the final 4 letters showed the engine size, high / low compression, manual / automatic transmission and home or export market.

The Avenger got off to a good start following its launch, and by July 1970 over 50,000 had been built, unfortunately many of the early cars suffered reliability problems, and this was not helped by poor quality control at the factory. Despite a huge testing programme before launch, many of the early cars suffered from noisy back axles, jumping out of, and poor synchromesh on the gearboxes, poor paintwork, broken door handles and high oil consumption figures on some engines, however, most of the problems were sorted fairly quickly. In October 1970, the 1971 model year was introduced (chassis pre-fix RG) and included a GT model (251) for the first time. The car was based on the GL model with a thick stripe added to the bottom of the doors, dustbin lid style wheel trims and a small GT badge located on both rear wings. Internally the car gained a rev counter, but it was under the bonnet where the real differences were made by the use of a modified cylinder head, larger valves, a twin (duplex) timing chain and twin Stromberg carbs. The results were amazing with an almost 3 second improvement in the 0 – 60 times and 10 mph at top end. The motoring press were more than impressed, and the ‘Motor’ magazine loved their (Firebrand Red) long term test car so much, they kept it on the fleet for almost 2 years. The only changes to the rest of the range were the loss of the Hillman Avenger badge from the N/S/F wing and the loss of the Chrysler Penta Star badges from the bottom of the front wings. Very little changed with the introduction of the 1972 models (chassis pre-fix RH) apart from the addition of a twin coach-line to the GL model which replaced the previous design that had started high up on the C pillar. The new coach-line was straight and ran through the rear wings, doors and front wings about 6” below the waste line. Three bright new colours were introduced for the GT model, Sundance Yellow, Firecracker Orange and the near luminous Limelight. February 1972 saw the introduction of the Basic model (201) which was available with both engine options, but the 1250 lost its front disc brakes in favour of the Lockheed drum system, cars only had a single speed fan, rubber mats instead of carpets and lacked a passenger sun visor. March 1972 saw the introduction of the Avenger Tiger series 1 (RHT221) and a four door estate available in DL (280) and Super (283) Models with both engine options. April 1972 saw the launch of the first ever Avenger special edition, called the ‘Sunshine Special’ which was based on the 1500 Super automatic, but finished in a unique colour (to the UK) Sunshine Yellow, a sort of pale primrose, a black vinyl roof and green interior. This model sold out very quickly and was soon followed by the ‘Top Hat’, a similar specification model, only this time it was finished in Electric Blue with a white vinyl roof. For the 1973 (R3) model year, the 4 door GT was discontinued and a new top of the range model, the GLS (252) was introduced. Mechanically similar to the outgoing GT, apart from the adoption of a viscous fan, the GLS had a vinyl roof, rostyle wheels, heated rear windscreen and a much plusher interior as standard. An almost completely new pallet of colours were also chosen. March 1973 saw the introduction of the 2 door, in Basic (240), DL (241), Super (242) and GT (244) models. The big change for the 1974 (R4) models was the increased engine sizes, with the 1250 becoming a 1300 and the 1500 increasing to 1600. Carpets were standardised in the DL model, seat trim was redesigned for the Super and externally, a round radiator grille badge replaced the original . For the 1975 model year, the GL 4 door saloon was joined by a 2 door and an estate variant. the Super model got the 4 pod dash from the GL, and the ‘Sunseeker’ special editions were launched. A 2 door 1300cc in Apricot with a white ¾ length vinyl roof, or a 1600 4 door automatic in Orange Blossom with the similar 3/4 white vinyl roof. A redesigned rostyle styled wheel was standard on both models, and they had a unique patterned trim, based on GL seats. For 1976, the Super model was upgraded to GL Specification without a price increase and the GL was discontinued. The final special edition was based on the DL model with a vinyl roof and finished in a colour called Magenta.

October 1976, saw the first major facelift to the Avenger range, gone were the distinctive hockey stick rear lights and the use of single square or twin round sealed beam units, to be replaced by straight rear lights and large rectangular headlights. A complete change in design was made to the dash with the introduction of a similar dash to the recently launched Chrysler Alpine, and the Hillman name was replaced by that of Chrysler. These vehicles are often referred to as ‘7 series’ cars, and were initially built at Ryton, before production was moved to Linwood in Scotland. Initially available in DL, Super and GLS specifications, 2 door, 4 door and Estate. By 1978 the 2 door had been discontinued and the Super model had been renamed as a GL. There was a special edition 2 door called an ‘Avenger Special’, which had the ¾ vinyl roof, and used the towelling cloth from the previous years GLS, to trim the seats. The GLS itself lost its Rostyle wheels in favour of standard steels with newly designed full size plastic wheel trims and later in the year a plush velour trim replaced the towelling cloth for the seats. 1979 saw the GLS model discontinued and replaced by a GL special, which was basically a GL, with a vinyl roof and the GLS trim. It was still the 68 bhp 1600cc however, and didn’t use the larger 1.75 stromberg carb from the GLS which would have increased the power to 80 bhp. Having discontinued the GLS saloon, a GLS estate was introduced, which externally was distinguished by the fitting of a large chrome roof rack and it also had the higher powered engine.

1979 saw the sale of the Chrysler UK assets to Peugeot, and the brand name of the cars was changed overnight to Talbot. Dealers received quantities of Talbot badges to replace the Chrysler ones on all the new cars that they had in their showroom stock. Peugeot themselves had no interest in the production of RWD vehicles (Avenger and Sunbeam) and had bought the company solely for the rights of the Simca based Chrysler Alpine and newly launched Horizon models. The Ryton plant was now producing the Alpine model, so it was no surprise when they announced the closure of Linwood, spelling the death of both the Avenger and  the Sunbeam. Production of both models carried on to the beginning of 1981, and the final cars were registered in 1982 on ‘X’ registrations, although I believe a few Avengers were on ‘Y’ plates, and a couple on ‘A’ plates.

There is no definitive number of Avengers built, but figures range from between 638,000, to just under 750,000. The car was an undoubted success for Chrysler, and had these final figures been known in 1970, Chrysler would have been well pleased. The Avenger appeared in the top ten sellers list for most of its life reaching the top four on a couple of occasions, it also lifted the Chrysler market share from about 8% to a height of about 15%, pushing the company way ahead of Vauxhall. However, the car was so much better than that, and should have sold in much higher numbers.