Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre

| 18 Jan 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre

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In the early 1980s, my first job was as a car cleaner at a Hyundai/Subaru dealer located at a bleak little spot near Hyde, on the outskirts of Manchester.

The demographics dictated the cheap and cheerful used-car trade-in which it was my job to clean, ready for sale: ageing Fords, Vauxhalls and Datsuns, with occasional ‘exotica’ like a Saab 96.

The cars were boring, but not the staff. It was a place full of intrigue that would have done justice to a soap storyline with a full range of key players (that were at turns either mean, stupid or vicious), and a supporting cast of bit-part characters – mechanics, valeters and sprayers – who could only live up to the malignant atmosphere they found themselves in.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre
Brown paint and a beige vinyl roof is a typically ’70s combination for this classic Chrysler

Actually, in the summer it wasn’t such a bad life. There was a strange satisfaction in ‘minting-up’ some shed of a Vauxhall Chevette with nothing more than a rag, a bottle of T-cut and some tyre black, while listening to the romantic exploits of my colleague Simon, a square-jawed Lothario who would shed his upper clothing at the first glimmer of sunlight.

Alan, aged about 40, was the used-car sales supremo. He was a fantasist who reckoned he had a pilot’s licence, had been a ‘top rally driver’, and had even taken The Beatles to the airport when he was a cabbie in the ’60s.

He was quite a kind man really, and I recall our drives to the bus terminus in Hyde in his immaculate white Chrysler 2 Litre.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre
The Chrysler’s 2-litre, 110bhp engine

At the same point in the journey every night, just near the Wall’s sausage factory, the Chrysler’s automatic choke would dither, the engine would fluff and, with a dipped clutch and blip of throttle, Alan would encourage the car with a few unpublishable words – on cue, the Chrysler would start to pull smoothly.

Even at the time this car was a curiosity on UK roads, with a reputation for being a gutless wonder.

My Uncle Barry confirmed it as such, having had a 2 Litre as a company car.

He often recalled how the Chrysler struggled to heave its sorry bulk off his admittedly steep driveway some mornings. It wasn’t as if Barry even had a high point of comparison: his previous car was a VW Beetle.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre
Independent front suspension and a rear live axle for Chrysler’s 2 Litre

The only place you saw Chrysler 2 Litres in any quantity was in Spain, where they were commonly in use as taxis. Latterly, they were even built in Spain, where the model hung on in diesel form until 1982.

The French market (where it was sold as the Chrysler Simca 1609/1610/2 Litre) had comprehensively ignored the car, to the point where Simca found it necessary to briefly reinstate the old 1601 as its top model, although sales continued through to 1980, the last dribbles off the production lines being badged Talbot.

There was a ‘not invented here’ attitude to the car at the Poissy factory. Simca had been busy designing its own big car for the ’70s, until its new American bosses insisted on rationalising its plans with Rootes’ proposed new Humber.

What resulted was a committee-designed compromise that pleased nobody, least of all the potential customers.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre
Wood veneer for the Chrysler’s dashboard makes its intentions clear

Designed in Britain and built in France, the Chrysler 180 and 2 Litre saloons were not a good advertisement for the supposed benefits of the new spirit of European co-operation.

It was not so much that it was a bad car, rather that it had no outstandingly good points other than comfortable seats and a smooth automatic gearbox.

On the outside, this big brother to the Hillman Avenger looked like a mini version of a full-sized American Chrysler, which was no surprise because it was styled by an ex-Chrysler Detroit employee. 

Inside it was over-styled and chintzy, in a nod to its American parentage after Chrysler’s buy-out of Rootes and Simca.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre
Just a handful of Chrysler 2 Litres remain on British roads today

In many ways it was hard to point to any real shortcomings in the specification of the 180/2 Litre.

There was a modern, all-alloy, overhead-camshaft engine (which lived on in the Talbot Tagora and Matra Murena), a well located live rear axle and decent brakes, and a specification that on the 1971-onwards 2 Litre included cloth trim, a rev counter and a vinyl roof.

It was not even an especially slow car, with a 106mph top speed and 0-60mph in 12.5 secs. Yet with its heavy steering and sluggish low-speed pull it left drivers with an impression of a machine that just lacked any form of sparkle or authority.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Chrysler 2 Litre
Servoed disc brakes for the Chrysler 2 Litre

The big Humber Super Snipes and Hawks these Chryslers were intended to replace in the UK were hardly thrilling cars, yet that they had an aura of quality and solidity that the 180 and 2 Litre could not even approach.

In fairness, the decision to stop development of a new Rootes V6 had scuppered the Chrysler’s chances of success as a Super Snipe/Imperial replacement.

In my opinion, as an utterly crap and forgettable ’70s saloon, I would not own a Chrysler 2 Litre as a free gift (apologies to any fans and owners out there).

But I don’t have to feel guilty about the funny memories of my days as a car cleaner that these classics still bring to mind.

Images: John Bradshaw


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