Wednesday, July 21, 2010

1971 Plymouth Cricket

When was the last time you saw one of these?

This was the last Rootes Motors car we saw in the US. By the time it was manufactured Rootes was 100% owned by Chrysler. (Chrylser had also acquired France's Simca brand and merged them together under the name Chrysler Europe. Why a struggling US brand would buy two struggling European brands is a mystery to me. In 1978, after just 11 years, Chrysler sold the Chrysler Europe company to Peugeot for $1.00.)

This turned out to be the one and only car developed by Rootes under Chrysler's ownership. In the UK this car was called the Hillman Avenger. In Europe it was meant to compete with the Ford Cortina and Morris Marina. In the US it was supposed to take on the Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto and just about everything from Japan.

The automotive press in the US actually liked the car. It handled well, was roomy, got decent gas mileage and, in theory, was easy to maintain and get parts for because of the large number of Plymouth dealers in the US.

The problem was that the build quality was atrocious and when they broke down, which was often, many Plymouth dealerships had no idea how to repair them. To make matters worse, the Japanese had started introducing small cars that were well put together and didn't break down. The Cricket never really stood a chance. By 1972, after just 3 model years, it was withdrawn from the US market. (Some leftover 1972 cars were sold as 1973s.)

This was meant to be an economy sedan and in that regard it hit the mark. While it handled well, it was slow and you could never really get it going fast enough to enjoy its handling characteristics. Like the Marina, which was being sold as an Austin in the US, the interior was roomy and much nicer than those found in the Japanese cars of the day. Nice, but few people bought economy cars for their interiors.

In Europe Chrysler offered some performance versions of the Avenger, but we never saw them here. That's too bad, as from what I've read, they are fun cars to drive.

There are very few Plymouth Crickets left in the US. Chrysler replaced it with Mitsubishi products in the US and it very quickly became an orphan. Once Chrysler sold its European operations to Peugeot, parts, which weren't all that easy to get in the first place, became impossible to come by. (Virtually any part for a Cricket would have to come from Europe now and even there they're getting tough to find.)

This car appears to be in very good condition. Crickets rusted, but this doesn't appear to have any serious rust. The only scary thing about this car is the price. There isn't one listed. I hope, just because it's old and rare, the seller doesn't think this is worth a ton of money. This is the type of car you'd buy cheap, rarely drive, but bring to shows. It would attract a lot of attention from English car fanatics and Mopar fans.

Located somewhere in Wisconsin, click here to see the Craigslist ad.


Matt Cotton said...

To say that Chrysler UK, formerly the Rootes Group was struggling is pretty true. Following their launch of the Imp in 1963, they never fully recovered from the cost of warranty work, and the tarnished reputation. Although the Imp was eventually a fun, reliable little car, it came too late. Plus, 1963 might have been a little late to introduce a new rear-engined car, especially since the British Leyland had the fwd Mini and Austin 1100/1300, and Ford had the new Cortina, which was a LOT of car for mini-car money!
Simca, however, was not struggling. In 1958, Chrysler Corporation bought 15% of the French Simca. It was the 15% that Ford retained when Simca bought Ford France late in 1954.
After WW2, Simca was considered one of the most modern and popular cars in Europe. The Aronde, introduced in 1951 was a top selling car for most of it's life, through 1963. The rear-engined Simca 1000 was introduced in late 1961 and was a top seller for many of it's 17 production years. Chrysler increased it's ownership to a majority in 1963, the same year the Simca 1300 and 1500 were introduced (to replace the Aronde).
Simca launched the worlds first transverse front engine, front wheel drive hatchback in 1967 and it took third place in the European Car of the Year contest in 1968. Well over 2 million were produced in its 18 year life, and, arguably, all modern small cars owe it to Simca for blazing the trail. The 1976 Simca 1307/1308took the Car of the Year award (beating such cars as the VW Golf!) and again in 1979 the award went to the Simca Horizon. At the same time, Chrysler in the USA was betting its survival on such losers as the Aspen/Volare and even bigger, outdated cars when Americans were craving smaller, more efficient models. The Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon were launched at the same time as the Simca version, and may well be responsible for saving Chrysler, or at least keeping them afloat until Lee and the K-cars were launched.
Chrysler sold their European Operations to Peugeot, South American plants to VW and Australian operations to Mitsubishi (I believe). It was these total sales that helped Chrysler get the cash it needed to keep American plants open. While Simca was making tons of money, models from Chrysler UK (the old Rootes Group) and Australian Valiants were just not competitive. You could say that it was models like the Cricket (somewhat popular in the world as the Sunbeam Avenger, but one hot mess in the USA) and the "internationally created" Chrysler 2L (both created under Chryslers influence) were so troublesome or poor selling that they overshadowed the great success of other models. The Avenger was produced until around 1980, so there should be a fairly good supply of parts available, and certainly memberships in clubs will be extremely helpful!
And, it's about time orphans get a little recognition. Keeping this car on the road for all these years has certainly been a challenge!

Anonymous said...

I used to own one of these (1971) I bought it to get back and forth to college. It had 43,000 miles on it and it broke weekly. I was often late to class because it had some sort of fuel issue which would present itself when it was cold, thus was hard to start. The car had a really nice interior, looked good on the outside (Kermit green), rode well and was totally gutless. I sold it after three months and bought a Chevette 1.6