Common Problems with the Hillman Avenger

The Hillman Avenger was a good car, built for reliability however, as with all classic cars, there are common problems with the Hillman Avenger.

The Hillman Avenger was built in the UK from 1971 to 1981. In South America, the car continued for another decade, under the Dodge and VW badges but essentially an Avenger. As a classic car, examples of Avengers are rare but when you do find them they are usually good. Natural selection has wiped out the poor ones which have not stood the test of time. Early Hillman avengers suffered badly from rust. They were no worse than their competitors from Ford and British Leyland though. Some vehicles had Juddery clutches and anyone buying a Hillman Avenger with the 1.3 engine found themselves with an under-powered car.

The Avenger was a car with a definite identity crisis, in the UK it had 3 name changes but remained essentially the same car – Hillman, Chrysler and finally Talbot. It was killed off in 1981 by Peugeot when they bought out Talbot. It was reaching the end of its lifespan anyway. It had rear wheel drive and was being outperformed by the new-fangled front wheel drive thingys.

The girlfriend who eventually became my wife really liked the Avenger that her father drove in the 70′s. She said that she felt safe in it. That was indeed probably the case since it was designed from the ground up. A brand new car, not based on a previous model. It was designed to appeal to the family car market, competing with the likes of the Ford Escort, Cortina, Morris Minor and Marina and the Vauxhall Viva. It was built in the Ryton plant At Coventry and the Linwood Plant in Scotland. It was chosen as the support car for the Scottish soccer team during their 1978 world cup.

Common Faults of the Hillman Avenger

  • Although the engine was solid and reliable, the exhaust manifold is known to work loose and the tappet rocker arms can need replacing.
  • Old engines over 100,000 miles could probably do with a re-bore.
  • Electrics on early models were dreadful. A major issue was the use of a dynamo/regulator rather than an alternator. Sometimes that leads to difficulties diagnosing exactly what the issue is when an electrical fault arises.
  • Early models had drum brakes at the front so braking isn’t always sharp.
  • Rust, rust and more rust! The front floor pans are particularly bad as are the rear wheel arches and the front wings.
  • Water leaks through the front and rear windscreens. Leaks through the rear tend to fill the boot with water!

Conception and building of the Hillman Avenger

The Avenger was one of the first cars to be built using CAD. Despite that, the final styling was achieved through the use of models, including the final, life size clay model. It was revolutionary in that the designers set out to build a lighter car with carefully designed steering and suspension to give it nimble handling. They succeeded. One example of the drive for lightness was that it was the first British car to be fitted with a plastic radiator grille.

The idea behind the design is that of a ‘toned down’ version of the American ‘fastback’. The Avenger was intended to dent the sales of Ford as they had a healthy slice of the family car market with the Cortina and Escort. I competed very well, the design allowed for a commodious boot and had an appealing ‘smile’ using L-shaped rear light clusters. Sadly, this iconic style was ditched in 1976 when the Hillman Avenger became a Chrysler Avenger. Many ‘flavours’ were built, ranging from extremely basic to being fitted with all mod cons such as air conditioning and headlight wipers.

The engine seemed to be fairly basic and low tech but in reality, it was very practical. The design team thought carefully about it and used a longer stroke with a narrower bore which gave a superb torque at low revs. They had the foresight to make it very easy to service which appealed to the overseas market where service facilities were often quite primitive. Many engine maintenance operations can be carried out with the engine still in place. It was a tough, quiet engine that met the more stringent emission laws of the USA.

The Avenger was marketed and built overseas, generally successfully. The least successful market was the US where it was sold as the Plymouth Cricket for a couple of years in the very early 1970s. It was more successful in South America where it was branded as a Dodge (1500 and Polara) and later a VW (1500). Production continued until 1991. Similar success was found in New Zealand where it was built by Todd Motors. They started simple with a couple of variations but gradually added new levels of trim and performance year on year.

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