Road impressions: the Chrysler 180
An unusual Anglo-French car which exudes the indefinable quality of dependability to a marked degree.
There are so many new models and fresh permutations of older ones being announced that I neglected to attend the Press release of the Chrysler 180, the first new car from Chrysler UK to bear the well-established American make-name. However, when John Rowe, that quietly efficient PRO whom Chrysler have been so fortunate in inheriting from the Rootes Group, asked whether I would like to try this 180 for rather longer than the customary week or fortnight, I concurred, and am glad I did so. Because, apart from this spacious blue saloon arriving at a most opportune time, when the faithful Rover 2000 TC, now 4 1/2 years old, had discarded part of its silencing system and the enjoyable Ford Mexico had eliminated itself in an accident which wasn’t its fault (but which endorsed dramatically the strength of its rally-bred bodywork), it is a rather unusual and therefore interesting car.
Designed in Britain, with a flavour of Avenger about it, it is built in France and sold through the vast Chrysler UK dealer network. When I was asked what car I was driving at present by those who never know what they will find me in next, the reply “a Chrysler” caused their eyes to scan car-parks for some vast trans-Atlantic ginpalace of an automobile. But the Chrysler 180 is no scaled-down Newport or New Yorker. In the past we have seen possible merit in such things, testing, for instance, the Chrysler Valiant and Ford Falcon Compacts. But the 180 is not as these. It displays no more Americana, apart from perhaps a trace of the trans-Atlantics about its stylish radiator grille and steering wheel, than a Dagenham Ford or a Lutonian Vauxhall. Indeed, it is more individualistic and European than these and the antithesis of American thinking, inasmuch as it is very fully-equipped instead of many “extras” having to be specified for it or choice having to be made between a number of variants, apart from deciding whether to have 4-speed Manual or Torqueflite 3-speed automatic transmission.
Chrysler UK do not exactly indulge in “knock” advertising but they do state that their new 180 is very close in price to the Ford Cortina 2000GXL and Vauxhall Ventora, yet is equipped to rival cars such as the Rover and Triumph 2000s.
Before I drove this Chrysler 180 I was told I might find it claustrophobic. This seems to stem from rather high door-sills and facia, but after I had removed the rather crudely plugged-in head-rests from both front seats I was soon able to discount this aspect of the low-roofed four/five-seater saloon. There is much of interest about the 180. It has an 87.7 x 75-mm. (1,812-c.c.) four-cylinder canted-over engine with inclined o.h. valves, operated by a chain-driven o.h. camshaft, in an alloy eight-port cross-flow hemi-head. This is fed by a dual-choke Weber ADS carburetter, cooled by pump and electro-magnetic fan, and started with the aid of an automatic choke. This is inspiring, for a start, and is backed up by servo, load-compensated disc brakes front and back, and by coil-spring suspension, using front MacPherson struts (with anti-roll bar) and a back axle located by four trailing links and a Panhard rod. Another excellent feature is a fuel tank holding nearly 14 1/2 gallons, giving a range of some 360 to 390 miles.
Instead of having the expected “handed” facia, usable for both I.h.d. and r.h.d. cars, the Chrysler 180 has instruments and gimbal-type fresh-air vent before the driver, cubby-hole and lever-controlled fresh-air grille on the passenger’s side, although the bonnet release is on the wrong side for r.h.d. cars. The deeply-recessed instruments comprise four matching Veglia dials—electric tachometer, speedometer with total and decimal-trip distance recorders, a vaguely-calibrated heat/fuel gauge with warning lights for charge, oil-pressure and low petrol level, and a Kienzle clock (which gained). The tachometer is badly blanked by the left hand on the 3-spoke steering wheel but is not really needed for an engine which gets to its power peak (97 DIN b.h.p.) at 5,600 r.p.m. but doesn’t enter the orange warning belt until 6,300 r.p.m. or go into the red until it is doing just over 6,600 r.p.m. Below these dials on the right of the steering column are switches for crash-warning and rear-window heating with, between them, a vertical, recessed, knurled adjuster for controlling the intensity of the facia lighting, which got alarmingly warm. Incidentally, the catalogue as well as handbook contain a chart of the controls, which have been slightly re-arranged since the earliest 180s. The heater controls occupy the facia centre with another vertical knurled knob for fan speed, a Chrysler Radiomobile radio, and ash-tray with lighter. The minor controls are extremely well contrived, with reservations. A long I.h. stalk turns to put on side- or headlamps (powerful rectangular SEV-Marchals), moves up and down for dipping/full beam, pulls inwards for flashing. This is fine, except that it also works the horn, but as its arc is not excessive this is not much of an inconvenience. Casual handling can, however, plunge the night driver into darkness, and it goes up for dip. A short I.h. stalk operates the turn-indicators, but tends to self-cancel too early. A r.h. stalk works the efficient 2-speed screen-wipers and washers but it isn’t possible to wash without wiping, although the powerful electric jets to some extent excuse this. The illuminated cubby-hole is very roomy but its tinny drop-lid, which locks, needed slamming shut.
The aforesaid shut-in feeling is alleviated by big windows, the vented body dispensing with quarter-lights; wing-mirrors were provided on the test car, and the screen pillars are decently thin. At oblique road junctions, however, the view rearward is blanked by the rear quartets. When I first drove the Chrysler 180 I thought it too high-geared, 3rd gear being preferable to top at anything much below the town speed limit. The engine is also quite noisy and sounds diesel-like pulling away from low speeds—perhaps emanating from the timing chain. The first impression was countered by reasonable acceleration in the 3.72-to-1 top gear, the noise isn’t really troublesome, but a “clonky” transmission is a debit feature. The front seats are big and nice to sit on, with lever-adjustment of the squabs. Detail work, too, is well done—good pull-out interior door handles, inside slide-locks and rubber-knobbed window winders, carpeted floor, plenty of sound insulation and so on. There is rather casual central oddments stowage, partially obstructed by the sensibly-placed central hand-brake, but a big rear shelf. The front doors possess pockets and the self-locking boot is not only huge and unobstructed, except for the covered spare wheel mounted vertically, but is lit even when the car lamps are not in use—Jaguar and others, please copy!
In performance, handling, ride and cornering, the 180, while not pretending to be an enthusiast’s car, is about average by family car standards. It covers the ground very effortlessly and pleasant. A 0-60 time of 12 1/2 sec. may not sound particularly exciting but this quite large 8 ft 9 in. wheelbase saloon can cover a s.s. 1/4-mile in well under 19 sec., reach over 80 m.p.h. in 3rd gear, and go on to better 100 m.p.h. in top gear, all without feeling any more “wound up” than when rolling along a 70-m.p.h. Motorway at under 4,000 r.p.m. The central gear-change works effectively without being memorable—the spring-loaded lever tended to hang up somewhat, even going into top gear, but generally the changes go through well, though in rubbery fashion. The rack-and-pinion steering has almost the lock of a Triumph Herald, causing the 13 in. Michelin ZX tyres to scrub a little if the tightest turning circle was used. Castor return is mild, the wheel needs 4 1/2 turns, lock-to-lock, in spite of which parking calls for strong biceps.
This Chrysler is an instant starter and fuel consumption, checked over a considerable distance in ordinary family-car conditions, averaged 27.2 m.p.g. using 4-star petrol (9.2-to-1 c.r.). Oil consumption was 2,800 m.p.p.—negligible. There are no lubrication points and the 180’s servicing intervals occur every 5,000 miles, so it really is a commendable long-term vehicle, in which the user gains much confidence. The prop-up bonnet concedes an accessible dip-stick, Duellier distributor and small Tudor 2HN battery, but the plugs are buried above the exhaust manifold on the o/s. Altogether, this prolonged test suggested that this unusual and likeable Anglo-French car will find a ready sale and do as much for Chrysler UK as has the popular Hillman Avenger. It is somehow a very “obliging” car and has generous equipment—reversing lights, roof grabs, seat safety-belt fasteners, rubber bumper tips, anti-dazzle mirror, folding, rear-seat arm-rest, vanity mirror in n/s vizor, cloth seat inserts, painted waist-lines, steering-lock, etc., as well as those aforementioned—at a price of £1,434, p.t. paid, so that its makers call it “rather exclusive”. There are ten metallic gloss finishes available and the bodyshell is bitumastic treated. I used the willing 180 for nearly 4,000 miles, including some effortless towing of a 17-cwt. trailer, in which nothing whatsoever went wrong, apart from the demise of a stop-lamp bulb.—W. B.