Filed under: 1971 Plymouth Cricket (GrassHopper)

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When the Cricket was brought out in the UK in 1970, Chrysler Europe was still known as the Rootes Group with the Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam and Commer brands. Not until 1971 was the first Chrysler-badged model (the 180/2-Litre) introduced, but by 1976 the last of the Rootes-branded cars (Hillmans) became Chryslers.

The first shipment of 280 Crickets from the UK arrived in the USA on 20 November 1970.

The new car, a small-medium (B-class) sedan and wagon to compete with cars such as the Ford Escort, Austin 1300, and Vauxhall Viva. It was to be similar in size to the Arrow range introduced in 1966, but these sold in a higher price class, competing with the Ford Cortina; they were also available as Singers, with wood trim and chrome in a luxury style.

The new car was to be just a basic Hillman, so no frills, but a low price and conventional (yet contemporary) technology such as a live rear axle suspension, four-speed manual gearbox, sedan and wagon bodies, and overhead-valve all-iron engine of 1250 or 1500cc capacity. Compare that with the Austin Maxi, a competing product launched the previous year - 5-speed gearbox, front wheel drive, overhead cam engine, hatchback body, independent gas suspension...yet the Avenger was just right for the British public who were scared of new-fangled technology and it is said used spark plug access and cheap exhaust replacement as primary considerations when choosing a new car. This was the Hillman Avenger, to be sold in the US as the Plymouth Cricket.

Someone at Chrysler US must have seen the subcompact herd coming (in the form of the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto) and decided that Plymouth needed a competing product. As nothing was in the pipeline they went down the "captive import" route; this is where a domestic company imports a car from another country and puts their name on it. Usually it is from one of their subsidiaries in another country, in some cases (e.g. the Dodge Colt from the same era) it is from another company which it has shares in.

Plymouth made a few changes to the Avenger to make it become the Cricket. Only the 4-door sedan and 5-door wagon were ever offered. The 1500cc engine was offered, the 1250 obviously a little underpowered for US tastes, probably due to the high sales of power-sapping automatics. Front disc brakes were standardised; these were originally optional in the UK. [David Rosicke adds: The Plymouth Cricket was a Hillman Avenger (made by Chrysler Europe) adapted for use in the United States.

In 1970-71, the single carb/manual choke was standard. In 1972 forward, the single carb/auto choke, dual carb, and air conditioning were options.]

As per Federal requirement, front seats with integral headrests (in a high-backed tombstone style) were unique to the US cars, head rests coming much later in the UK (when it became a Chrysler, and then these head rests were separate from the seats and adjustable), and side markers were fitted, again unique as there was no law for them in the UK. A seat-belt warning light system (operated when a weight of 20lb or greater was put on a front seat) was fitted starting in 1973. Also, later in its life, in order to meet the bumper impact standards of the time, large rubber-tipped over-riders were fitted [according to David Rosicke, this was optional in 1971 and 1972, standard in 1973].

Otherwise the only way the car differed externally was by the use of the uplevel UK model's four round headlights - Washington hadn't okayed the use of rectangular lights yet, or it would have had two of them instead like the lower Avengers.

Apart from these changes and the badging, the car was pretty much as we had it. Launched in 1971, the car was sold for only two seasons, being withdrawn after the 1973 model year. Why? I think there are several reasons. The first is due to falling sales, mainly attributable to the poor workmanship of the product. Alas, this was typical of most 1970s UK products. Perhaps it didn't help that the car was launched in the US so soon after it was in other countries (to allow bugs to be ironed out), and it probably wasn't tested enough for US conditions. Maybe the price was too close to the Dart/Valiant, a much bigger, roomier car. Remember too that before 1974 no-one even imagined anything about a fuel crisis, so why bother with a small car the price of a larger one?