NOV 05th 2015

Axon's Automotive Anorak ‑ The Rise and Fall of Pentastar

Chrysler numbers car Revival

So, it’s official. As I surmised in my MPV-focused anorak piece a few weeks ago, Chrysler has now withdrawn once more from the UK new car market, for at least the fifth time in its 90-year career.

BJ Baldwin on road promo

Initial Chrysler imports into Blighty began in the late 1920s (badged as Maxwells), with British assembly of Chryslers, along with its Plymouth and De Soto offspring, commencing at Mortlake Road in Kew, West London, in the early 1930s.

By the mid-‘30s, Chrysler’s Kew-built marques and models – named after familiar London and Home Counties locations – had found a small but loyal customer base, attracting the sort of buyers that today might be tempted by one of the German premium brands.

Post-War, Chrysler and its Plymouth, De Soto and Dodge marques returned to our shores with Canadian-built RHD models, with a handful of models sporadically undergoing final assembly in Kew, right up until 1966, when the American motoring giant acquired the Rootes Group (Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam, etc.), plus Barreiros in Spain and Simca in France.

Chrysler Valiant

For 1967, sales of North American Chrysler models in the UK gave way to Australian-built Valiants, in a misguided attempt to replace the recently defunct Humber Snipe and Imperial ranges with these RHD V8 saloons and estates. Astonishingly, despite a negligible sales impact here, Chrysler persevered with its Australian range in Britain until the mid-1970s, when the fuel crisis finally killed off these V8 gas-guzzlers. The Chrysler name continued in Australia itself, until the marque morphed into Mitsubishi.

Back in the UK, Chrysler branding was chosen for the unremarkable 180 and 2-Litre executive saloons from 1971 onwards, with the worthy but popular Hillman Avenger and Hunter models rebranded as Chryslers in 1976, in line with the rest of the eventual British range (Chrysler Alpine, Sunbeam, Horizon, etc.).

In 1979, Peugeot took over Chrysler’s ailing European operations, with all previous Chrysler and Simca models being rebadged as Talbots, bringing yet another end to the American marque’s presence in the UK, with an absence of more than 15 years before returning yet again to this market.

Chrysler PT Cruiser

By the mid-1990s, Chrysler’s fortunes in its domestic US market had finally improved and, after years of building poor quality vehicles, it was finally making stylish ‘cab forward’ cars that actually had some showroom appeal and export potential.

Making tentative steps back into the UK, Chrysler’s first ‘new’ model offering here in the mid-90s was the Neon, a smart but dynamically weak small saloon favoured by the more mature driver. Supporting the Neon was the Voyager people carrier, plus subsequent models with a certain charm and appeal, including the all-American 300C (despite using Mercedes running gear), the retro PT Cruiser, and distinctive Crossfire coupe and cabriolet models, all of which now have a certain novelty value, along with the potential to become future classics.

Following the Fiat Group’s 2014 full-acquisition of the bankrupt Chrysler from the Daimler-Benz empire, the marque’s last hurrah here was arguably its lowest point, with the spirited Lancia Ypsilon and Delta models being rebranded as Chryslers, to sell (or not sell, as proved to be the case) alongside the depleted American product range of the aging and outclassed Grand Voyager MPV and 300C.

Chrysler 300C

I imagine few, if any, will be mourning Chrysler’s demise again in the UK – most hadn’t even noticed that it had gone. I’m sure Chrysler will return to Britain at some in the future, but for now, I for one though will miss its good ol’ American charm, having experienced the fun Chrysler 300 model ‘Letters Cars’ fashion parade on the grid at the Revival some years back, as well as living with one of its robust V8 engines for some years in my 1972 Bristol 411.

The throaty charms and urge of the basic 6.6-litre Chrysler lump under my Bristol’s bonnet was a constant joy, despite the engine’s savage thirst.

Photography courtesy of Lefthrrad, Rudolf Stricker and GTHO licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

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