Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Chrysler 180 remained very French, despite its all-American name. It was fitted with a then new 1812cc single-overhead cam engine which, along with the four-door body, was built in France but designed by Roy Axe and Curt Gwinn in England. Obviously still very Simca, when the 180 reached the showrooms it was Chrysler that was paying the bills, Rootes dictating what the shape should look like (look at an Avenger if you doubt that). But it remained very much a Chrysler. The design of the 180 was originally to wear the Humber
badge, but that changed when the Humber
brand was put out to pasture.
Today we remember the 180 (and the 1973
2 litre version), but there was a smaller 1600cc engine in the same shell, but that was for local French consumption only, where anaemic performance was sometimes preferable to paying very high petrol prices. Naturally enough, the smaller engined version was called the Chrysler 160. There was also a third version, dubbed the 160 GT, but it was really the 180 engine with fewer frills of trim and finish – and was a car with no claim at all on the GT moniker.
The 180 proper, however, was a complete package for a price. It came with standard features such as a heated rear window, bumper horns, head rests, grab handles and map pockets, and full instrumentation beyond that of the GT. The GT had a tachometer, while the 180 had both the tachometer as well as a clock and trip meter. The only extra-cost options were tinted glass and Borg Warner automatic
transmission. The head rests on the 180 were a little too large, and probably more than Ralph Nader had intended, as they prevented any driver from sighting approaching cars - but in the showroom at least, they made the 180 look safe.
The visibility, or lack of it, was not helped by the high waist line, low turret and windscreen rake, making for narrow bands of glass. Aesthetically we really like that kind of look, much like a modern day Lexus IS250, but back then the rear mirrors and other driver aids did little to help you see what was around you. Thankfully forward vision was good. Despite its long bonnet and short boot design, the 180 would swallow plenty of luggage. Inside the adjustable front seats were moulded in plastic, but they did not look low-rent, and offered a softness which curved around your hips and shoulders to give exceptional hold in hard corners.
There was underlying support for the small of your back and under your thighs as well. In fact, many claimed their first impression when getting behind the wheel of the 180 was one of luxury. All controls (and there were plenty of them) were perfectly laid-out and the seat were the equal of any in its class or price point. There was plenty of seat adjustment too, so that you could sit well back with your arms in a comfortable semi-out-stretched position, and leaving enough room in the back so as not to necessitate the removal of your passengers legs.
Behind the Wheel
A common problem with cars of the era was the always too thin steering wheel – and the 180 unfortunately was no exception. It also sat a little too high, but still felt comfortable. Feedback from the wheel was good, there was direct contact with the road but no annoying feedback. The cabin also featured plenty of storage space, including a glove box, two door pockets and a couple of shallow trays on the tunnel-top console.
The instrumentation was impressive, the main dials were naturally the speedometer and tachometer, and both could be read easily. An eyeball on the driver's side and multi-position grate for the front passenger controlled fresh air. Although Chrysler eliminated wind wings in front it forgot to remove the bad wind whistle these usually caused. Most road testers picked it up, saying it was particularly noticeable. But on the plus side, for that to be the case, the engine had to be very quiet indeed. The only road tests we could find where anyone could find complaint were when the engine was revving at around the 6300 rpm range, which was pretty close to the red line, and not something you would normally be experiencing in day to day driving.
This engine with one overhead cam and bi-spherical combustion chambers in its aluminium head was canted 15 degrees and endowed with great elasticity. A 180 could pull from 1000 rpm without a mumble despite its relatively brisk 97 DIN hp up at 5600 and 107 lb of torque at 3200. One engineering feature alone served to underline the care taken with this powerplant: Chrysler tuned the air path through the filter to the dual downdraft carburettor to get a pulse effect that boosted both power and torque. Through the gears speeds were 30, 55, 85 and 105 which provided good highway cruising along with a suitable third-gear overtaking speed. 0-60 times were in the 13 second range.
The short shift lever atop the tunnel may have had long throws, but it was very accurate into each cog if only mildly hustled and pleasantly taut. The four disc brakes
(rear drums with the smaller engine) pulled gently but true from all speeds. On sweeping bends taken at freeway speeds the 180 would take a mild initial lean and stay there. If you entered a tightening radius corner with speed, there 180 was prone to becoming a handling nightmare. It was easily fixed by the fitment of better aftermarket shock absorbers – but it really should have left the factory better sorted than it was. That aspect apart, the Chrysler 180 was a solid quality package with a good engine, quality interior and pricing well below what it felt like behind the wheel. And isn’t that what we all want – something that feels expensive, but isn’t.
Unfortunately for Chrysler, however, the 180 was never the success it should have been. Production of both the 180 and 2-Litre was subsequently switched to Spain, where both models had more of a following, aided by the availability of a diesel derivative that proved popular among taxi drivers. Few British buyers, however, were tempted by Chrysler’s biggest offering, the fate of both models being hindered by rather half-hearted marketing on the part of Chrysler UK. And yet neither model was a chore to drive, with even the entry-level 180 boasting 100bhp from its overhead-cam engine. But despite Chrysler’s claim that the 180 ‘…looks like a powerful, luxury touring car’, it remained almost completely ignored – which makes any UK-spec survivors especially rare nowadays.
In Australia we never got to see the Chrysler 180 - but we did get to see a localised version, the Centura. The 180 also had a long life - but that was not so much because it was a great car - but was a reflection of the troubles Chrysler Europe were in. Judged against its peers in the early 1970s it was a very good car. By 1982 it was more than ready to be pensioned off.