This was the first Hillman Avenger web page and has grown to be the definitive resource for information on the Hillman Avenger, also known or built as the Plymouth Cricket, Chrysler Avenger, Talbot Avenger and occasionally the Sunbeam 1250/1500, VW1500, VW1800 and Dodge Polara. Please also see the excellent Avenger and Sunbeam Owner's Club (ASOC) web site.
In a world where most cars were seriously flawed in some way, the Hillman Avenger arrived to show that a family saloon car could be fun to drive.
The Hillman Avenger was released in December 1969, initially as a four door saloon only with 1250 or 1500cc engines. Engines grew and the body and trim levels abounded over the long production run of this delightful little car, manufactured later under Chrysler and Talbot badges in the UK, and also sold under the Plymouth Cricket name elsewhere in the world. Production ceased in Britain around 1982 when Peugeot took over, though the car was then made until 1991 in Argentina by the VW group (pictures at bottom). They were also built in Brazil from 1973 until 1981 by Chrysler do Brasil, under the names Dodge 1800 and later Dodge Polara, of which there is a page written in Portuguese by a Brazilian owner and a pickup version was even made in Uruguay. There's a good page describing the ups and downs of the Rootes group, through Chrysler UK and Peugeot-Talbot. There is a spreadsheet showing the datelines of all cars from the Linwood plant on this web site. The Plymouth Cricket was not sold for long in USA, but here is an advertisement from the time. You can download the whole image and read the sales pitch.
A glitzy launch in the USA for the Plymouth Cricket.
Above all else, what set the Hillman Avenger apart from its family saloon rivals, was how carefully designed the handling and steering was. Let us look at some of the competition it had when released (and I welcome comments on these points):
It's easy to see why the Hillman Avenger was a very strong contender against the above.
Here is a site with the Avenger specifications.
Rare image of Hillman Avengers being built.
Anyone who is unconvinced at the thought that went under the bonnet of the Hillman Avenger should compare the inlet manifold from the carburetor of an Avenger to a similarly aged Ford Escort. See how the distance that the fuel flows from the carburetor to the engine is the same for each cylinder on the Avenger, not so the Ford.
One of the main aims of the Hillman Avenger design was to create a car with excellent road manners and light weight. Both of these objectives were achieved very well, the road tests of the time sung the praises of the lightweight car with unusually good handling. Computer aided design was applied to the body shell construction which resulted in not only reduced weight but an immensely strong cabin, this being one of the first cars in the world utilising computers for design. In a moment of dreadful insanity I finished up with an Avenger on its side one day, having parted company with a slippery road. The car was so strong that no significant damage was done to it, not even a broken window.
The weight constraints did have a few minor side effects, one was that that overdrive or fifth gear was never provided on a standard road car, though a very few rally cars were built with five speed boxes, as were many of the Argentinian built VW models. A lot of work went into the differential drive unit to keep its weight down, but in my experience these units do become noisy with age. The roof was prestressed and load bearing, so care would be needed if any after-market sunroof were contemplated, though some later Avengers had them factory fitted. The floor pans were protected using an electrophoretic primer system and acrylic enamel paint, so reducing the weight by removing the need to underseal the whole car. This probably caused more Avengers to die than any other failing, the front floor pans would rust out.
It was said that there was nothing actually new in the Hillman Avenger at all. Wrong, it was the first British production car to be fitted with a plastic radiator grille! Weight saving again. The typical Avenger was around 42lb lighter than a comparable Hillman Minx. The Avenger was not a great departure from other vehicle designs of the time, but it did bring together many of the best elements of the technology available, and added careful suspension design to the mix.
Safety appeared as a real consideration at this time, and the Avenger was amongst the first cars which made some attempt to meet the challenge. The front is crumple zoned, the cabin is immensely strong, the interior and particularly the dash is heavily padded, the rear view mirror detaches from roof if struck, and the windscreen is toughened glass.
Though computer aided design was used in the Hillman Avenger,
prototypes were still made in model form. This one has only some
of the styling of the finished product.
Another design aim was that the car would be easy to service all over the world. It all comes apart and goes back together with delightful ease, and many engine jobs can be achieved with the engine in place. I once fitted a water pump in half an hour, it's just so easy to work on. The engine sump can be removed without removal of the engine, so allowing for straightforward replacement of bearings, oil pump and other components.
A good Avenger will still delight its passengers with a quiet smooth ride, lacking in some car designs from decades later. The larger engined 1500 and 1600 units were far better at high speed, they had a higher final drive ratio set by the differential.
The British Police took Hillman Avengers, with tweaked suspension.
This police car picture was taken from an advertising poster. This was kindly lent to me by Simon
with part-vinyl roof.
Later models could be fitted with all kinds of extras including air conditioning, headlamp wipers, electric wash-wipe, electric engine fan and front fog lamps. Always offered was an automatic gearbox, only for the larger engine sizes. A small number of early models were fitted with all-round (non-servo assisted) drum brakes which were horrible, but the more normal configuration was with front discs. Higher performance models, some export and estate cars had servo assistance, which eventually became standard. My favourite braking setup was the non-servo version with front discs, which gave driver feedback of a slippery surface yet would pull up very well. Having been rammed from behind several times whilst in various Avengers, I wonder if the brakes were rather more effective than the brake lights! It has to be noted though that the non-servo assisted brakes do require a fair amount of pedal force to brake hard, and the driver of more modern vehicles may at first feel that the brakes are not as powerful as they are.
My old Avenger, suffering minor rear damage (hit by a Ford
Capri!), later repaired by its new owner. Avenger braking power could
be quite surprising!
If anyone knows the whereabouts of PJY244K now, last heard of in Cornwall around 1995 and white in colour, please let me know.
A few sports versions were available, the most memorable being the Avenger Tiger. Finished in a bright orange, or occasionally red or white, they had a distinctive rear spoiler. The Hillman Avenger Tiger, in both MK1 & MK2 (post 1972) shared the same 1500cc engine. The BHP figures are the same for both versions (92 din & 107 net). Avenger Tigers are rare and valuable, hence there are some fakes around. Chrysler UK used to sell an engine upgrade kit, the main part of which was the "Brazil" sports head. This one is still very much loved by its owner, it was originally owned by Chrysler. It was used by the press dept. for magazine road test features, when the Avenger Tiger was first launched. Another writer has a page about the Tiger he used to own. Back in 1971 you could even turbo-charge your Avenger.
Above is a Volkswagen Dodge 1500 1.8, or a Volkswagen 1500 1.8 (the second generation Avengers). It's from the early 1980s and is racing prepared. The class is TC2000 (Turismo Competición 2000) and the cars must have between 1800cc and 2000cc. This one has the back doors welded and the rear wheel arches enlarged to give room for the bigger wheels. The front wings were fibreglass. As sold new, all VW built Avengers were four door.
Unusual rear light clusters!
I was given this tatty looking white 1972 Avenger 1500 Super, with no MOT, in May 2001. It was in fact slightly better than it looked, but it did need a lot of effort to make it nice again. It had been in the same family since new, had 106,000 miles on it, but runs quite well. My thanks to the family who donated it. I will do my best to look after it. I've already fixed the heater, leaky windscreen seals, replaced radiator and hoses, a sagging door hinge, alternator, steering rack, carpets, and there's plenty more to keep me busy. The chap in this picture does many of my car repairs for me, and needed a sit down when he saw what I had brought round for him to fix! This has now had new wings, wheelarches, front valance and a respray, but really needs a new driver's door for perfection. Coming soon, pictures of a brand new engine, which had been stored for over 30 years; stripped, rebuilt and fitted to the above car.
One day, John White came round to measure up the above car. John is better known for creating models such as Wallace And Grommit's motorcyle in "A Close Shave", in this case he was working on behalf of Brooklin Models of Bath. The model is now available from Crossway Models, finished in one colour only, Firebrand Red and cost £48.90. An Avenger Tiger in Sundance Yellow is available at £95 which has a little more detail in the paintwork, I especially like the black window seals, and it has raindrops on the roof.
There are now some very nicely restored or original examples of Avengers about, and when they do appear for sale, they command a good price.
Very rare 1500 GLS in Lilac, named "Daisy" by a previous owner, a name that has stuck. A very attractive car.
Just for your information, cars built before 1st January 1973 are exempt from road tax, a tax disc is still required but is not chargeable. If the car was first registered after then but built before 1973, then the owner can still apply for "Historic Vehicle" taxation class (tax exemption) provided the manufacturing date can be proven to the DVLA. The law has now changed regarding white/silver on black number plates; any car with tax exemption may have the old black plates. Black plates were until recently only generally allowed on vehicles registered before 1973, but the law has been simplified. The lilac car above is tax exempt and so is allowed black plates, though it would have had white and yellow ones when first registered. Similarly the white car above had white and yellow plates when I took the photograph in May 2001, but now is quite legally fitted with black plates since the regulations changed.
The Avenger developed a kind of hatchback variant, the Chrysler Sunbeam, later Talbot Sunbeam. These, too have their followers but are not really covered here since they were never sold under the Hillman marque. It was built on the essentially the same floor pan and some shared the same engines and transmission. In some ways the Sunbeam had a Hillman Imp heritage, in that the rear window opened rather than being a true hatchback. Also the 1.0 litre version engine was essentially as fitted to the Hillman Imp. Far better were the 1.3 and 1.6 Avenger-engine cars. Sports versions such as the Sunbeam T.I. and Lotus Sunbeam are now highly sought after. Sunbeams had the same outstanding handling characteristics as the Avenger, and the same propensity to rust if mistreated! Petula Clarke sang a variant of her "Put a little sunshine in your life" for the TV adverts, "Put a Chrysler Sunbeam in your life", and once got a real rollicking when she "accidentally" sang the wrong words in a performance! If you wanted a car that looked like nothing special but drove brilliantly, you could do a lot worse than find a nice Chrysler Sunbeam 1600GL.
Water leaks around the windscreen are quite common but easy to solve, just get a new seal fitted. Similarly water in the boot or rear foot wells will probably be the rear windscreen seal. Both are available from R.J Grimes. However they are out of original rear ones, and the pattern parts may not fit very well.
The engines are almost indestructible, they seem to just keep on going regardless of how worn out they are, but when the oil pressure fades away it's time for a rebuild. When the piston rings wear out the result will be gas pressure in the crank case, take off the oil filler when the engine is ticking over and place you hand over the hole. If it blows hard then the engine could do with a re-bore, quite common if the engine has done over 100,000 miles. You may find that the rocker cover breather pipe has been disconnected from the air filter to prevent the car taking in the exhaust fumes from a tired engine. Some engines will emit a faint clocking noise which is probably the timing chain rattling, and there can be a peculiar faint ringing sound at some engine revs caused by Heaven Knows What. If the engine smokes it is unlikely to be anything more serious than worn valve guides. Tappits often tap noisily, they can be adjusted usually, but you may need to replace the rocker arms. Some tappit noise is common until the engine has fully warmed up, or sometimes starts after it has warmed. It can be attributed to camshaft wear but I've found the camshafts to be exceptionally hard wearing. An annoying weakness is the joint from the exhaust manifold to the first exhaust section on early models, this joint has just two bolts, and it will often blow giving the engine a nasty chattering sound when cold.
The differential unit wears out, take the car to 70 mph and then gently release the throttle, holding it so that the engine is only just driving the car. If you get horrible howling and growling noises from the back of the car, you now know what is wrong. A worn joint bearing in the propshaft can make these noises even worse. It was possible to get an oil leak from the differential unit and if this is not corrected the unit could seize which is of course highly dangerous.
The gearboxes are very nice to use, but look for a worn out second gear synchromesh on changedown. The heater unit can be a real pain because it is not very easy to work on. The heat control is done by a thermostat which regulates the water flow through the heater matrix (climate control!), and this can leak. There is a right angle flexible pipe next to it, and that can leak too. The fan motor bearings can jam up, and then the brush housing may melt. Any of this will involve taking the whole unit out of the car which involves removing most of the dash which is a big job. So if you have the heater out, make sure that it's all 100% before refitting.
Electrical items are prone to failure on early models, as would be expected on all cars of this vintage. Alternators were available from the very start of production in 1970, which was very advanced for the time, but in practice most cars built before 1973 had dynamo power, and we all know how useless they are. Dynamo brushes would fail every couple of years, and so would the relay regulator unit, sometimes giving confusing symptoms. Some of the very early alternators were very obscure with separate electronic regulator modules, and you would have to do a bit of re-wiring to fit any normal alternator in there. But my 1972 built (1973 registered) 1500 Super is fitted with a completely conventional Lucas 16ACR. Early starter motors are of the inertia-engaged type, and they can occasionally jam onto the flywheel, requiring a rotation of the square shaft on the end of the starter with a spanner, to free it. Early models had a simple three-fuse system, so it was "one out, all out" if anything went wrong. The indicator, lights, horn combination stalk switch can burn out, you may be able to revive it by removing the whole assembly from the steering column (not difficult) and cleaning / respringing the contacts. Switching to main beam killed the dipped lights on many early models, which was done because a dynamo would not be able to power them all at once, it is not a fault.
It is no criticism of the Avenger in particular, but as these cars can be over 35 years old now, even low mileage ones are suffering from failure of rubber components which have rotted away. Common failings will include leaky hoses, leaking door, boot and windscreen seals, disintegrating engine and suspension mounts and rubber seals in brake components.
Did you know there are courses you can take on Classic Car Restoration? There's an interesting car site called CarJunky which has directories covering everything automotive and see this outstanding classic car and vans site.
Well Avengers weren't everyone's cup of tea. The 1.3 engine wasn't as powerful as it might have been, and came with a low geared differential to make long distance driving a chore. Later Avengers rusted badly, whereas early ones just rusted as badly as did the competition from Ford and Leyland, which is not much of a recommendation really. Clutches would sometimes judder, transmissions could wear out and a very few early cars had weak all-drum brakes. Sometimes build quality issues were so bad as to really detract from the car's excellent road handling enough that it became unpleasant to drive. So, if your memories of driving Avengers were not good ones, you need to watch a little clip that was recorded in 1991, which I found while transferring some Betamax camcorder tapes to DVD (movie is in Windows .asf format, click on the picture below):
The end of an Avenger
VW built Avengers, circa 1989.
But there was a more recognisable Avenger pickup truck made in Uruguay, but they did not handle the structural rigidity properly and they literally fell apart! This picture kindly sent by the author of a site about Uruguay vehicles. It was called the Dodge 1500 Pickup, and if only it had been built properly would have been a lovely addition to the Avenger range.
If you are not already confused by the amount of names the Avenger went under, here is some more bafflement: Early Plymouth Crickets in Canada were of the Hillman Avenger design. Later ones were imported Mitsubishi Colts which are in no way related to the Avenger. This still confuses people, including me. Another car occasionally mistaken for an Avenger was the larger Chrysler 180 and 2 Litre (also sold in Australia as the Chrysler Centura). These are now very, very rare in the UK despite having been sold from 1970 to 1980.
The French sourced engine went on to be used in the Talbot Tagora, which also didn't sell very well. A hopeless 1.6 engine version was thankfully never sold in the UK, it probably used the Avenger engine but the car was too heavy for this. The car had a reputation for rust and didn't get the Avenger's outstanding handling, so equipment level alone was not enough to make them sell. If you could now get a good one, it would be quite a find just for rarity value.
The Avenger name has been resurrected by Chrysler, in the form of the Dodge Avenger.
There was a second world war aircraft called a Grumman Avenger. There is a certain resonance in the names "Grumman Avenger" and "Hillman Avenger" which does make it seem possible that this is no coincidence. Also there was a popular 1960's TV series called "The Avengers", and the name fitted well with the aggressive naming of many Rootes cars like Hunter, Tiger and Husky.
** = Note, I've written to the record company, now EMI, informing them of the placement of the "Hillman Avenger" song on this website and had no objections.
Information and pictures just keep flowing in from Avenger nuts, and also from the strong following of the Argentine and Brazilian cars. Thanks to everyone! If you have more interesting pictures or details, do please email me. However it will be a little while before I have enough web space to add more pictures to this site. Images and text are copyright www.colin99.co.uk or their respective owners, contact me before reproducing any item from this web site.
Did you miss "The Car's The Star, The Hillman Imp" Quentin Willson, 1997? I have this on DVD if you wish to have a copy for the cost of the media and post only.
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