Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
In response to the growing success of the medium sized Ford Cortina and Holden Torana, Chrysler countered with the Centura. Based on the French "Simca", the Centura was considered by many to be too little too late, being released in 1975
, some 8 years after the Torana
and TC Cortina
had made inroads and established their market share.
Entry level Centura's had the donor Simca's 4 cylinder engine bored out to increase capacity from 1.8 litres to 2.0 litres. But to be competitive in the Australian market, and compete equally with the Cortina
needed a mid sized six cylinder car. Chrysler Australia engineers set about transplanting the Valiant's Hemi
245 engine, utilising an Australian Borg-Warner gearbox, tailshaft, and differential.
The Centura was criticised at the time for its handling, particularly in 6 cylinder form with a heavy front end and extremely light rear end. However unlike the Valiants
and Chargers of the day that had torsion bar
front ends with leafsprung rears, the Centura had coil springs all round.
To compensate for the 6 cylinder Centura's weird weight distribution Chrysler engineers placed a variable hydraulic pressure limiting valve in the rear braking circuit. This device sensed the cars attitude and reduced the rear brake pressure when the front of the car dived, such as under hard braking, thereby preventing the rear brakes
from locking up.
This device was bolted to the rear of the chassis and connected to the rear axle through a series of springs and levers. Few owners bothered to maintain the device properly and existing examples of the Centura have probably had the device "bypassed". The Centura would not last 3 years in the showroom, initially being released as the KB and then followed by the facelifted and better optioned KC model. The European Simca C180 on which the Centura was based had slightly better longevity, being manufactured from 1970
Of the three engines offered in Chrysler's Centura the imported two litre four cylinder French engine was arguably the most suited to the car. You have to remember that the Centura was initially designed in France around the four cylinder power plant (then 1.8 litres) rather than the 3.5 litre and four litre sixes built into it in Adelaide for the Australian market. Strictly-speaking the Centura was a French-made car assembled In Australia. The body was essentially French, so too was the engine, gearbox, rear end, brakes
and suspension. In fact the only Australian content of any significance at all was the carpet, trim and upholstery, the re-styled tail and the longer snout to accommodate the six cylinder engines.
The six cylinder cars used Valiant drive-train wheels, brakes, front suspension and rear axle and their local content ran to about 75 per cent over the four cylinder's 45 per cent. The four cylinder Centura, apart from being considered by many as the best balanced of the three, was lusty enough to carry around the fairly heavy Centura body and a lot easier to point and park. Visually the engine was enormous for Its capacity and its substantial appearance would come as a surprise to most people when they peered under the bonnet. But regardless of its physical dimensions, it was a very efficient unit and as popular two litre units go it was the most powerful then available on the Australian market. The four extracted maximum effort at a moderate 5700 rpm so it did not have to be wrung out to get reasonable performance.
In fact on performance the two litre Centura proved to be very close to the 3.5 litre car. The small six could run the standing 400 metres in 19 seconds and the four cylinder version would run the same distance in 18.7 seconds. This gap was remarkably narrow, the four cylinder working out at 12.6 kg/kW (20.6 Ib./bhp) and the 3.5 litre having 11.7 kg/kW (19.2 Ib./bhp). There was not much in It although the superior torque of the small six would have given it better full-load and towing characteristics. Another factor in favour of the four cylinder Centura was the overall weight distribution. In the GL form the four weighed 612 kg (1350 lb.) at the front and 513 kg (1130 lb) at the back. But the six cylinder engine added 100 kg (220 lb.) to the front.
From the driver's point of view the four cylinder was not only the better balanced car but it felt better balanced in its general road behaviour with less steering effort and a reduction in the tendency for the front wheels to wash out in corners. One of the secrets of the Centura's pleasant handling was the attention given to the suspension. The back wheels were tied down as well as any live axle car from the era, and incorporated four trailing links (two upper and two lower) located laterally by a Panhard rod. This kept the back axle firmly in place and prevented the Centura being pushed off line by the axle getting knocked out of alignment with the front wheels.
The result was a car thoroughly at home on the rougher back roads as well as on the hot mix. It was inherently an understeer but this tendency was mild in the four cylinder by comparison with the sixes. Rack and pinion was used for the steering and although comparatively moderate effort was required at the wheel there was a tendency for the steering to be a little slow in response to commands. But once this was taken into account the four cylinder could be chucked about with both ease and with a great deal of security hanging on well on sealed and unsealed surfaces.
The four cylinder car did not get the extra anti-roll bar
that the sixes had fitted to the back yet it cornered much flatter than the bigger engined Centuras. In general day-to-day running the four cylinder engine was never lacking In power. The engine's energy would came on smoothly and when slotted through the four speed manual gearbox (automatic was available) put the power down evenly on the road. The gear lever
had quite a long action and was inclined towards the sloppy side as some French cars were prone to be at the time. But, it was easy enough to find your way around it. Fuel was fed to the engine through a Weber two-barrel carburettor and it administered the dosage with reasonable economy. Conservative driving would reward you with around 11.5/100 km (25 mpg) although around town it was difficult to better high 19s.
The French brakes
on the four cylinder were smaller than the Valiant units employed on Centura sixes yet most car reviews claimed that they performed equally as well. And in a Centura that meant good brakes. The Centura was fitted with a suspension-actuated pressure limiting valve which reduced braking effort on the back as the rear of the car rose up, Chrysler calling the system Centraline braking. Inside the Centura 4 (and the 6’s too) had comfortable seats, came standard with radials, offered excellent all-round legroom and had a cavernous boot. Behind the wheel the instruments were badly placed, and an incomplete sweep of the windscreen wipers and limited flow from the ventilation were among the gripes of many owners.
The 6 cylinder Centura stacked up well against the Cortina
, and was even good enough to tempt traditional Big-Six buyers. Given the rising cost of fuel, size was not the status symbol it once was. As mentioned above, the Centura was an Australian-converted version of a European car, that dated back about five years. The Centura 6 underwent extensive nose and tail surgery at the Chrysler Tonsley Park plant in Adelaide. These changes made the Centura larger than the Torana 6 and Cortina 6, out-stretching the Torana by 11.5 cm (about 4 in.) and the Cortina by 36 cm (about 14 In.), and the Centura stood a good 11 cm (4 In.) taller.
The Centura's 3.5 litre 6 cylinder power unit put out 104 kW, respectable but not brilliant, and given the added weight unless you were towing the 4 cylinder version was a better choice. And it was this added weight that had a lot of road testers deriding the road manners of the Centura. It was true that handling and steering effort were never strong points in cars with six cylinder engines transplanted into them, but even though the Centura felt ponderous and exhibited a lot of understeer, it was still quite predictable and would go where it was pointed. Steering effort however was heavy, and was slow to respond. We believe it was these characteristics that deserved some criticism, and not the general road holding that seemed to be getting all the bad press.
the Centura was much better than the competition. In the crash-stop tests from 110 km/h to 0 the Centura would pull up in a little under 46 metres – which was nearly 22 metres better than that of the Cortina and 5.8 metres better than the Torana. As mentioned above, the Centura was fitted with a load-sensitive proportioning valve to control rear braking effort if the tail rose. The pedal, both In emergency and ordinary braking, offered a progressive and accurate feel.
In terms of equipment the Centura was not all that ground breaking. It did have childproof door locks and there was a rheostat fan control for greater variation of fan control. There was a tacho, but this was so badly placed it was next to useless. Where the Centura really scored was in the efficient use of the space available and Chrysler had done with the Centura what Ford had, out of necessity, done to the much shorter Cortina. The front seat legroom was the equal of the competition, but in the back the Centura offered legroom that was the equal, or better, than the larger Holdens
, Ford Falcons
. A class leader in this regard, it was miles ahead of the cramped back seats found in the Torana
The Centura was better than the Cortina
in the comfort stakes too. The seats were class leading, offering superior cushioning comfort and support. The Centura was also the quietest in its class, offering a well damped undercarriage and the ride was at least up to the level set by the Torana with its long-travel, soft suspension. The Centura boot was huge too, featuring a low-slung sill for easier loading. Given the advantages of the Centura, and for those who have owned one, it would come as no surprise that the Centura 6 was the best value mid-sized car then available in Australia. It offered more car for the money and it did not fall down badly in any one area. It was roomy, offered a smooth ride, had excellent brakes, was quiet, had comfortable seats and good overall balance – even though many were critical of the cars handling. It split the Australian medium market three ways instead of two. Its a shame it did not last.