Welcome to Ridiculous Rebadges, a series of articles in which I go through and examine the details and circumstances surrounding some of the more infamous and some of the more esoteric vehicular rebadges throughout automotive history.
Remember a time when Chrysler was America’s third best-selling automaker? In 1961, the American giant released the brand new Chrysler Newport which, over the next two decades, would go on to sell nearly two million examples. Imperial existed as the company’s prestige brand and was a formidable name even against imported luxury marques. There was enough money to test novel and previously unheard of technologies, like putting tiny jet turbines inside road-going coupes and introducing the alternator to mass-market automobiles. The company was on a roll and, just as any successful manufacturer in its prime, it began accumulating other companies overseas. First was Rootes of Great Britain in 1964, followed closely by Simca of France and Barreiros of Spain.
In 1967, the first Chrysler Europe models rolled out of Europe as simply foreign-built domestic designs, with most cars being labelled “Chrysler” and those inside France being badged “Simca”.
In 1970, though, everything changed. Chrysler of Europe introduced its first home-grown design: the 180. The 180 was the result of combining a stillborn Rootes design with a developing Simca concept, and the result was badged “Chrysler”. The Simca badge was still used extensively in the home market of France, though, because French people get to keep their marques but the British don’t.
So what exactly was this hodgepodge of the Chrysler 180? Well, the Rootes part was the result of the Group C project, an effort to fill the gap in the Rootes line-up for a new large car across the range for its Hillman, Sunbeam, and Humber marques. A brand new V6 was being developed concurrently to fill the engine bay of this new large saloon and plans were in place to stretch it to fill the position of the Humber Super Snipe in the line-up.
Meanwhile in France, Simca was working on what it called Projet 929 and, predictably, the French were more focused on the appearance of their new saloon than anything else. Over the course of Projet 929’s development, Simca came up with three different designs for its new car: one from in-house; one from Bertone; and one from Chrysler U.S., each labelled XA, XB, and XC, respectively. Meanwhile, the only other thing that they had determined was that their new full-size sedan couldn’t have a V6 since that would price it out of the market for most of the French population as a result of tax levels (although why they couldn’t just build a smaller six cylinder I don’t know).
In 1969, Chrysler suddenly realized what was happening:, that their two subsidiaries were working on brand new competing saloon cars which would wear each manufacturer’s respective badges. Not sure why it took them three years to notice this, but when Chrysler stepped in, everything was turned on its head. Predictably, Chrysler decided to take the styling from the Rootes effort and the engine from Simca’s design team. This was a great idea considering that Rootes had spent literally no time actually styling a car and Simca didn’t even know what engine they wanted, just that it couldn’t be a V6. The 31 million pound Rootes V6 was subsequently scrapped and, under the consolidated names of Chrysler and Simca, the new car, labelled the 160, 160 GT, and 180, went on sale across Europe looking like a fat Hillman Avenger.
The result of this unholy British-Gallic mashup was a car that was perfectly mediocre in every way. Contemporary testers found it to be decent but no better than any contemporary Ford or Opel/Vauxhall. Normal buyers didn’t like that it had no brand pedigree (in England) and that it wasn’t really much of a Simca (in France).
Worse yet, Chrysler decided that after screwing up entirely the car’s development that now was the best time to take a hands-off approach, leaving the 180 series devoid of any advertising campaigns or mid-cycle updates. Instead, Chrysler was too busy pawning off the 180 as the Centura to innocent Australians and moving the entire production line over to Spain after sales tanked in mainland Europe. No matter, the deed was done and Chrysler of the 1970’s had been hit hard by the OPEC oil crisis and was looking to shed dead weight. First to go was Chrysler Europe, sold to PSA and immediately rebadged everything as Talbots before quietly phasing out the Talbot name for good.
On the whole, these two Ridiculous Rebadges have provided the backstory of Chrysler’s overseas ventures in Australia and Europe which have been lost to history today. With FCA in power today, it is doubtful if the Chrysler name will ever make it beyond the United States again since brands like Fiat and Alfa Romeo are so much more well-established overseas (as seen by the Chrysler brand’s recent failure in the UK).
It’s hard to say what went wrong in terms of why Chrysler could never become as globally prominent as Ford or GM, but a lot likely had to do with their rather focused, America-first strategy which rather closed them off to any foreign markets both in terms of management as well as product design. Let this be a cautionary tale then, perhaps, to those who think that isolation and nationalism is the best way to run any company. Globalism is a thing; we can’t fight it, and while it is true that we can find ways to bend the wills of corporations towards our interests, demanding local production isn’t necessarily the best use of consumer or government power. Let American companies move to Mexico for all we care as the Europeans from Jaguar, Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, and the Asians from Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Hyundai fill in the spaces left here for them to manufacture the CUVs that drive the American automotive economy forwards today.