Chrysler is one of the biggest names in the car industry, yet it has never been a major player in the UK. This has not been for the want of trying. There have been two periods when Chryslers were sold here, but neither of them was particularly successful, and it is now impossible to buy a new Chrysler in this country.
Perhaps there will be a third attempt in future, but for now let’s look back at the curiously patchy British history of what is elsewhere thought of as a major brand.
Big in America
Founded in 1925, Chrysler is the youngest of the Big Three group of American manufacturers which also includes Ford and General Motors.
On its home market, Chrysler quickly became very successful, and in some cases daring. The Airflow (pictured above) was too radical for US customers in the 1930s, but it showed how brave the company could be.
Chrysler in Europe
The other companies in the Big Three moved into Europe early. General Motors bought Vauxhall in the year Chrysler was formed, while Ford started building Model Ts in Manchester as early as 1911.
Chrysler Europe was not created until 1967. It consisted of the British Rootes Group (manufacturer of, among other things, the Hillman Imp shown above), and the French and Spanish companies Simca and Barreiros.
Sold to Peugeot
The first car sold as a Chrysler in the UK was the 180. The name also replaced that of Hillman and Simca, and was used for the new Sunbeam model (pictured above) launched in 1977.
Just one year later, the whole debt-ridden concern was sold for a nominal sum to PSA Peugeot Citroen, which abandoned the Chrysler name in 1979 and replaced it with Talbot.
Talbot didn’t last much longer, being dropped for cars in 1987 and for commercial vehicles in 1992.
Chrysler made a comeback in the late 1980s, this time with cars designed in America rather than the UK or France. Early examples were the Voyager and Grand Voyager, large MPVs built in Austria.
In 1994, Chrysler created the Neon saloon, which was imported to the UK in right-hand drive form and updated in 2000. Fairly cheap for its size, it wasn’t popular here, largely because British customers preferred hatchbacks.
The transmission options were a manual with five gears and an automatic with only three. At the UK press launch, Chrysler insisted that the automatic was faster, in the face of overwhelming evidence that it wasn’t.
The PT Cruiser
The Neon was the basis of the PT Cruiser, which lasted several years longer. It was designed, quite successfully, to give the impression of an old American hot rod.
The PT Cabrio
The topless version of the PT Cruiser could be described kindly as an acquired taste.
On a press event, two elderly journalists were heard discussing whether the PT Cabrio’s scuttle shake was not quite as bad as, or slightly worse than, that of a 1960 Morris Minor convertible, and seemed unable to come to a decision.
The first 300C
In 1998, Chrysler merged with Mercedes parent company Daimler, a move which seemed no less surprising at the time than it does now. Six years later, the 300C was launched. This large saloon (also available as an estate called the Touring) was arguably the best Chrysler of its era sold in the UK.
The choice of engines included 3.5-litre V6 and 5.7-litre V8 petrol engines, along with a Mercedes three-litre diesel which was by far the most popular option in this country.
The most obvious collaboration between Daimler and Chrysler was the two-seat Crossfire, available as either a coupe or a Roadster. Chrysler was responsible for the body design and interior, but in all other ways the Crossfire was a first-generation Mercedes SLK, launched (in 2003) just as Mercedes was creating a new version.
The Crossfire was undeniably popular in its early days. The entire first-year UK allocation of 1,000 cars had already sold out before any of them arrived in the country.
Named after a famous race circuit in Florida, the 2007 Sebring was the third produced by Chrysler but the first brought to the UK, where it was fitted with a two-litre Volkswagen diesel engine.
This was possibly the best thing about the car, which was robustly criticised in the press and did not sell well.
The second 300C
Daimler retreated from equal partnership to being a minor shareholder in 2007. The global financial crisis of the following year pushed Chrysler into bankruptcy, from which it was eventually saved by Fiat.
During this difficult time, Chrysler somehow managed to create a new 300C, slightly less brashly styled than the first and fitted, for UK purposes, with an Italian VM Motori diesel engine.
Ypsilon is the Greek word for the letter ‘y’, and nothing in Chrysler’s history suggested that it would use this for the name of the odd-looking supermini it launched in 2011. Lancia, however, had been doing that sort of thing for over a century, and in fact the Ypsilon was simply a Lancia sold in the UK with a Chrysler badge.
Lancia’s reputation here had been damaged beyond repair in the 1980s, and it was withdrawn from this market in 1995. Calling the Ypsilon a Chrysler instead, and optimistically pretending that it was a luxury car, were optimistic but unsuccessful attempts to boost sales.
Introduced at the same time as the Ypsilon, the Delta was another rebadged Lancia. Chrysler correctly pointed out that it had more interior space than the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra or Volkswagen Golf, but this was simply because it was a bigger car.
It wasn’t a popular one, though, and it was quietly withdrawn earlier in 2014. A year later, with sales of the Ypsilon, 300C and Grand Voyager now at very disappointing levels, Chrysler confirmed that it would be pulling out of the UK market entirely.
The good news
Chrysler has gone, at least as far as the UK is concerned, but its sister American brand within the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group is still going strong. Although Jeep is best known for its tough off-roaders, its most popular model in this country is the softer Renegade, which is based on a Fiat platform.