If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the Hillman Avenger should be the most flattered car on the planet. Thanks to its solid basic design the dark art of badge engineering was applied to this recipe no less than eight times. It managed to cover most of the globe, sold as the Plymouth Cricket in the US and badged a Dodge in Argentina, Brazil and New Zealand; the differences between models were minimal. The original Hillman Avenger itself was a decent little family car with above average handling, and a handsome profile that mimicked the contemporary Ford Cortina. Despite this, it never really sold in large numbers in the UK and few examples have survived.
Easy to tune and maintain these little cars can make for an enjoyable and eminently affordable classic car experience.
Which one to buy?
The first Avengers were available in 1.25 and 1.5-litre flavours, and specification levels were divided up into DL, Super and GL trim. The basic DL models had sparse interior equipment and it is worth looking for a Super or GL which had a far more comprehensive standard specification list including reversing lights (of all things) and arm rests. The DL was only available with the larger engine and added much improved headlights and dashboard instrumentation.
The Avenger GT model came soon after, with a twin-carb 1.5-litre engines to give it a bit more go, helped by a set of racing stripes down its flanks. The Avenger GLS model replaced the GT in 1972, and can be identified by the extremely period vinyl roof and Rostyle wheels.
A more convincing performance version came in 1972, badged Avenger Tiger. Power of the 1.5-litre unit was now up to 93bhp, thanks to detail improvements. The body shell was based on the four-door Super, while all running gear was carried over from the GT. Available in Sundance Yellow with a matte black bonnet these Mk1 Tigers are the rarest of the lot. Nearing the end of the year, a Mk2 was introduced, with minor changes to interior trim and headlights – bringing a red colour option.
A five-door estate was introduced in 1972, followed next year by a two-door saloon. Engine capacities were increased marginally to 1.3 and 1.6-litre respectively that same year.
The Avenger was by now also being marketed in America as the Plymouth Cricket, in France as the Sunbeam and as the Dodge in Argentina, South Africa and Uruguay. Even VW got in on the act, after inheriting the Dodge 1500 production line in Argentina. It was later rebadged as the Volkswagen 1500. The basic car remained essentially unchanged excepting the South African version which employed a Peugeot engine to meet local content regulations.
In the UK the Hillman Avenger name was dropped from 1976-on. In conjunction with a range wide facelift, the new cars were now badged Chrysler Avengers until 1979 when they became Talbots.
Performance and specs
Engine 1248cc 8 valve OHV, in-line four-cylinder
Power 53bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque 66lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 81mph
0-62mph 20 seconds
Fuel consumption 32.6mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual/three-speed auto
Dimensions and weight
• The shoddy build quality that affected many cars in the early ‘70s sadly plagued the Avenger too. Expect ill-fitting panels and badly assembled interior trim!
• Engines were of a relatively simple design with no inherent defects. Exhaust manifolds can shake loose, and the 1.3-litre engines were a bit anaemic. The larger twin carb variants tended to have an enthusiasm for petrol.
• Rust was a major contributor to the demise of many early Avengers. American production ended in part because of this issue, and most surviving cars in the UK would have had some sort of bodywork restoration carried for the first MoT, let alone by now. Check under wheel arches, front wings and in the boot as water tends to collect there.
• Electrics can be troublesome on earlier cars, although it is worth checking the wiring and contacts on any model.
• The Hillman Avenger Tiger models are rare and a number of standard models have been converted to Tiger specifications over the years. Check any potential purchase over thoroughly before paying over the odds for a non-original car.
• Despite the live rear axle, the handling should be surefooted. Sloppy steering feel and a loose front end can point to tired dampers and suspension bushes.
1970: Hillman Avenger introduced in four-door saloon body style in DL, Super and GL trim. 1.25-litre and 1.5-litre four-cylinder engines mated to a four-speed manual transmission or three-speed auto were offered. Initially the Avenger had drum brakes all-round with optional front disc brakes. Avenger GT introduced shortly after launch with twin-carb 1.5-litre engine and some go faster stripes.
1972: Fleet Avenger introduced with stripped down interior, available with either engine option. Avenger GT replaced by Avenger GLS which featured minor trim changes. Five-door estate body style introduced in DL and Super trim options. Mk1 Avenger Tiger released with uprated running gear including a 93bph version of the 1.5-litre motor – very limited numbers produced. Mk2 Avenger Tiger introduced later in 1972 with minor changes to exterior and unchanged running gear
1973: Two-door saloon body style introduced, available in all engine and trim options. Engine capacities increase to 1.3-litre and 1.6-litre. Fleet Avenger dropped from range.
1976: Hillman Avenger becomes rebadged as Chrysler Avenger in the UK and receives major face-lift
1979: Another rebadging exercise carried out after the collapse of Chrysler in Europe. All subsequent models were now named Talbot Avengers
1981: All Avenger based production ends.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.avenger.co.nz – Avenger owners club
• www.hillmanownersclub.co.uk – Hillman owners club
• www.asoc.co.uk – Avenger Sunbeam owners club
Summary and prices
Stick to the standard models and a good one can be yours for under £2500. Trim and engine specification are less important than the overall condition of the vehicle, as a badly neglected car is rarely worth restoring. Those that have been restored tend to be around £4000, and for this you should get a very tidy car. The Avenger Tiger in top, original condition however can command over £15,000, but make sure you know your stuff as there are some fake ones around.
With production spanning over a decade across multiple countries, the Hillman Avenger (and its various aliases) has a varied and interesting history, is supported by a number of car clubs and can be a great way to get involved in the classic motoring scene.
Words: John Tallodi