Friday February 1, 2019
There are some cars which seem to hail from a strange twilight zone of motoring; those models that enjoy a form of afterlife for quite a period after they were believed to have ceased production.
This is not to infer that they lacked appeal, merely that such “run-out” vehicles so often seemed to be strangely out of time when they were new. It still comes as a mild surprise to realise the Fiat Argenta ceased production in 1985 while the BMW 1502, ran alongside the first-generation 3-Series for two years. Another example is the Bedford HA van, which was still available in 1983, 17 years after the demise of the first-generation Viva.
And there is also that version of the Rootes Group’s “Arrow” range that has the nose of the Humber Sceptre and displays the Chrysler name. The original Hillman Hunter debuted in 1966 as the replacement for the Super Minx and was the bedrock of a whole dynasty of models.
Ten years later, Chrysler’s European operations were in a dire financial state, and so it was decided that one way to revitalise their line-up would be to dispense with the Hillman, Humber and Sunbeam badges.
However, while the “Chrysler Avenger” seemed a logical step, lending it a fresh image in the face of strong competition from the Ford Escort Mk. II any attempts to revive the Hunter were to be more problematic. The arrival of the Vauxhall Cavalier in 1975 had created a major sales challenge and in 1976 the launch of the Cortina Mk. IV only highlighted the fact that the Arrow coachwork was now a decade old.
Meanwhile, a Chrysler UK dealer would have been faced with a line-up that is best described as ‘utterly chaotic’. As well as the Hunter and the Avenger, there were the imported Simca 1000 and 1100, plus the Pentastar badged, British-designed and Spanish-built 180/2-Litre. Before the end of the decade, the showroom would also be occupied by the Sunbeam, the Rancho and the Horizon.
Most importantly, Coventry production of the Alpine had commenced in August 1976, and at first sight, there would appear to be not much logic in producing two medium-sized cars, especially if one of them was now very dated. But at that time there remained the belief that many British motorists still preferred RWD and “three-box” styling and so the familiar Arrow was given a makeover.
The application of the Sceptre’s grille and quad headlamps did not dispel the impression that the Hunter now looked about as contemporary as Herman’s Hermits – but you cannot deny that the upholstery was truly vibrant.
The Hunter was now built in Chrysler’s Santry plant near Dublin and imports continued until as recently as 1979. By that time, it is hard to imagine any sales rep. being delighted to receive the keys to a new Hunter company car - even if the Super version came with a cigar lighter, reclining front seats and a vinyl roof as standard.
The entry-level De Luxe was devoid of such extravagances, and also lacked a dipping mirror, reversing lamps and (a truly parsimonious touch) side indicator repeaters. At least it was capable of ‘a top speed of up to 89 mph – i.e. Fiesta S drivers would laugh at you.
My own fascination with the Chrysler Hunter is two-fold. A) I cannot recall ever seeing one on the road when they were new and B) the humble saloon that was once looked down upon by the owners of Cortinas and Cavaliers is now one of the most exclusive cars in the world; just one is believed to be in running condition. Stand by for an interview with its proud owner later this year…