David Mullen examines the Hillman Avenger and the demise of a car-making giant
For a while in the late-Sixties, it looked like things might be alright for Hillman and its parent-company, the Rootes Group. The Coventry conglomerate, which made cars and vans under names like Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam and Commer, had been bought in 1967 by the American giant Chrysler which had hoped to make some in-roads into Europe, a market where it had never had much success, unlike the other members of America’s ‘Big Three’, Ford and General Motors.
Ford, for decades, had had successful operations on this side of the Atlantic, as had General Motors, which owned Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in Britain. Chrysler hoped that by snapping-up the Rootes Group and French car-maker Simca, it would be assured of a slice of the European pie.
Before the Chrysler takeover, Rootes was strapped-for-cash. Its little Hillman Imp had required massive investment in a new factory in Scotland, and, having been plagued by teething and quality problems, it was never a strong enough seller to recoup the loss.
The larger Hillman Hunter, which first saw the light of day in 1967, the year of the Chrysler buy-out, had been developed on a shoestring, but was still a competent car which sold respectably, but in nowhere near the numbers of Rootes’ rivals bestsellers, the Austin/Morris 1100 or the Ford Cortina.
What Rootes needed was a small-to-mid-sized car, something along the lines of the Ford Escort, to fit between the technically-eccentric Imp and the Cortina-sized Hunter. With the Chrysler deal, the company finally had the money to develop something new.
The car that came along in 1970 was the Hillman Avenger. It was a conventional machine in every way and was very much a car of its time. Styling was understated and attractive, featuring the so-called ‘Coke-bottle’ curves also seen at the same time on the Ford Cortina Mk.III. The engineering was simple and dependable with rear-wheel-drive and a choice of four-cylinder 1,298 or 1,498cc engines.