Younger readers thinking of Chrysler in the UK will probably remember only the American imports: the 300C with a trunk big enough for four bodies and a flourishing aftermarket trade in Bentley badges. And the Voyager, which resembled little more than an Almera Tino with a really bad touch of the dropsy.
Or maybe the Delta and Ypsilon, because nothing resurrects a commercially catastrophic Italian brand which had crashed and burned over here like giving it an American nameplate. The same way changing Daewoos to Chevrolets worked so well.
No, decades before that, we had the Rootes Group, the smallest of the British Big Four manufacturers after BMC/British Leyland, Ford and Vauxhall. Sturdy and respectable marques: Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam, Humber.
As happens, they fell on hard times and were absorbed, along with Simca, by another manufacturer: Chrysler, the smallest of the American Big Three. The Partridge Family became the Brady Bunch. Rootes’s portfolio of respected names slid slowly and painfully into oblivion. And it’s never good when Shirley Jones has gone. Or David Cassidy.
By the mid-1970s, they were well on the way to full assimilation, although their cars had not yet acquired the Chrysler Pentastar like some sort of sinister Borg implant. And it might be the American influence that resulted in some jolly publicity material – travel brochures rather than catalogues – around this time. Because those Limeys needed to be reminded of their Huritige.
Let’s take a whirlwind trip round Britain courtesy of Chrysler. As the brochure says, pre-empting Bob Fosse and Roy Scheider by five whole years, It’s Showtime!
Here’s Brighton Pavilion on the brochure cover. The Honeygold exterior and an interior in Sable are just divine. And they match the colours of this top of the range GLS perfectly.
And look at this Super, silhoueted (sic) against “Brighton’s share of the English channel”. Forty-five years ago, the locals here knew what ‘Taking Back Control’ was all about. The young vacationers here are in a spot of bother as the gentleman is having to keep upright his lady friend, who has become inexplicably wrapped in rope right up to her waist.
Ah, the Hillman Imp. Built in Linwood, it was aimed squarely at the Mini but never quite made it. Partly due to a state of the art engine from Coventry Climax which overheated at the slightest provocation. I recall three of us heading to uni with all our gear in an Imp which coasted onto the hard shoulder after five miles on the motorway in a cloud of steam.
In a moment of inspiration which I plan to recount in my forthcoming book on resilience entitled Resilience? I’ll Fecking Resilience you, ya wee Fecker, we identified a stream on the other side of the embankment, easily accessed our saucepans through the rear opening window and replenished the boiled dry cooling system before continuing another five miles.
Glasgow being only 14 miles from Linwood would have been a less risky drive than Edinburgh, but given that ten years later, Jim Taggart would have had at least four murrdurs to deal with every week before the opening credits had even started, not necessarily safer once you’d got there.
Here’s a Super Imp strategically parked outside the castle. If it doesn’t go, those big lads in kilts are handy to push start it. Hell, they could probably carry it down the hill to a waiting AA truck.
While there is the Sunbeam Sport version at the Forth Bridge. Only one, as well as the iconic soft drink, was made in Scotland from girrdurs.
Fun fact: after a photo opportunity in Greyfriars Kirk, one of the Imps in the brochure wouldn’t move and remained there for 14 years. A sculpture commemorating this can be seen opposite the kirkyard.
Once, Rootes Group Humbers competed with Rovers and Daimlers as cars for the British establishment. When the brand atrophied Chrysler had the bright idea that the prestige slot vacated might be filled from their Australian catalogue and went right to the top with the proposal.
I am not sure what the locals thought about these antipodean behemoths parked on their driveway, but it is no coincidence that the Australian Governor-General went on to dismiss Gough Whitlam as prime minister in late 1975. Viewers of The Crown need no reminding of the sequence of events, which culminated in Prince Charles leading a covert Royal Navy operation using limpet mines to destroy a shipment of fifty Chrysler Valiants bound for the UK.
Let us focus on the use of the greengrocer’s apostrophe by the UK’s fourth biggest motor manufacturer. Reading the brochure in detail, I suspect Hiram from Chrysler head office in Michigan had been visiting and fed the staff including the publicity guys a load of high-quality bourbon that they weren’t used to. This explains why much of the copy has a WHENWILLMYHEADSTOPHURTINGIREALLYCANNOTBEARSED quality to it…
The two-door Avenger has childproof locks on the non-existent rear doors, apparently. Way to existentially traumatise your offspring for life.
On the Hunter, width of door means ease of entry – and exit, as well. Reassuring to know.
Padded three-spoke wheel spell comfortable control. Quite.
The joystick of a car that gives joy to its owner. Er…
Anyhow, it turns out the Chrysler 180 does not look out of place in front of the Roman Baths. Why not, I hear you ask?
Because from a very competitive field in the 1970s, only the big French Chrysler had velour decadent enough to match the worst excesses of the Roman Empire at its height. And the large boot will more than cope with the weekly dormouse and honey shopping.
Here’s a Hunter. With a hunter. See what they did there? Alternatively, as it is the model between the deluxe and the GLS, we have a GL. With a GG.
This nice lady with her horsey gear has just clocked this Hunter estate. Such a huge boot! And that’s before the back seat is folded down. But goodness, isn’t that the bottom of the range deluxe, the sort driven by tradesmen and unsavoury people?
If I were Lady Hilary, I’d be sending the stable boys round the yard to look for the owner and give him a jolly good thrashing. And make sure that Shergar is securely locked in his stable tonight.
So here’s a thought. Let’s consider Michael Portillo, once the poster boy of the Tory rout by New Labour in 1997 and now a national treasure thanks to his railway programmes. Essentially, he uses Bradshaw’s Guide from 1863 to annotate and direct his journeys by train.
My pitch to the BBC is a journey around Britain using my historical documents from 1975. It would be nice of them to purchase a Sunbeam Rapier H120 for me to do it in, and would work out substantially cheaper than rail fares. It will strike a chord in these days of staycationing and I am confident that they will run with it. I have already ordered my yellow blazer and matching fuchsia chinos.
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