1971 Plymouth Cricket: Extinct Econobox

plymouth_cricket

You’d be forgiven if you lost track of the number of cars Chrysler Corp. re-badged to sell stateside in pursuit of small vehicle sales. Most of these collaborations occurred with Mitsubishi Motors, but then there was this oddball called the Cricket – which by many accounts, is a terrible vehicle. You can own this bit of motoring history by purchasing this 1971 example. It’s in my neck of the woods and it’s listed here on craigslist in Rhode Island with no price mentioned.

plymouth_cricket_2

The Cricket was effectively a Hillman Avenger with a new name and and logo, but otherwise unchanged from what drivers in the United Kingdom could buy. As has been well documented, quality control for products manufactured by British Leyland in the 70s was abysmal. Plymouth somehow managed to set the bar even lower in the U.S.’ fledgling efforts to compete with the Japanese on small cars, making the Pinto and Vega look good by comparison.

plymouth_cricket_3

When you look at a period advertisement for the Cricket, it at least makes you glad that automotive marketers have made some pretty big strides over the years. Parking an overweight family next to the product in question to demonstrate the comfortable interior is akin to an airline promoting their limited snack options as a way to help people stick to their diet. Can you imagine the ad agency pitching this idea? “Yeah, we’ll just show some fat kids and fat parents next to a car called the Cricket, reminding them they can’t fit in a Beetle even if they wanted to.”

Hillman Avenger

I’ve never driven one of these, so when I see a picture of a Hillman Avenger done up in attractive colors with some decent wheels and tires, it makes me wonder if I’m being a bit unfair. This could be an interesting project purely for the freak factor, but not much else. Since this car has effectively disappeared from American roads, it should be preserved – especially if your friends are on the portly side…

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Comments

  1. Liam

    Here is a picture of one looking a little better than the one advertised. I took this photo only last week at the ‘Coventry Transport Museum’ in the UK. (It is well worth checking the museum out online, it is very impressive) The yellow one you posted above, is the Hillman Avenger ‘Tiger’, a rare and desirable sports model of the Avenger. As you say, the Cricket is a rare car in the US now, and is well worth saving by a collector or enthusiast looking for something very different, that you are very unlikely to see at any show.

    • Fran

      I’m in CT, and I just bought one from PA. Mine looks like the same color as the one in this post, but mine is way less faded. Got it because I had one of those 1978-1983 Dodge Challengers which was lost during storage by faulty landlords. I like the Cricket and I’m looking forward to bringing it to Mopar car shows and car shows in general. It’s a big change of pace from my cudas, challenger and charger. It’s a nice car and I hope some folks out there will start a Cricket, Colt, Challenger Club or something. Fran.

    • brent

      there is still a few of these left in new zealand

      Like 2
  2. Bobbytriumph

    Nice article on the Hillman Avenger which was NOT a British Leyland Product badged for Chrysler. The cars were from the Rootes Group, which made Hillman, Humber, Singer, and Sunbeam cars. Chrysler took over Rootes in the mid 1960s creating the fun fact of Sunbeam Tigers with Ford V8s having a Chrysler 50,000 mile warranty! I drove a Avenger allover UK and Europe in 1975. Very good car.

    Like 1
  3. Karl

    The one in the museum is very pretty, but I notice that the windshield wipers are stuck in the ‘up’ position.

    My one memory of the Cricket is this: I was reading the newspaper one day back in ’71-72, and there was a newsphoto of a batch of Crickets on an 18-wheeler. They were turned sideways on the flatbed trailer so that the wheels hung down on both sides, and the caption explained that these were unsold or returned Crickets on their way to being crushed since even Chrysler had given up hope.

    That’s why you’re not going to see any Crickets in the Chrysler Museum.

    • bill kruzan

      I bought one of these Crickets new in 1971. We had 2 little kids and was a trouble free car that ran excellent for 30000 miles when we traded it on a new 1975 Vega. The Cricket always got 40 mpg on the highway. We loved it!

  4. jim s

    might make a starting point for a $500 race car.

  5. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    When we were in England in 73-75, our first family car was a manual Avenger wagon. Dad loved it, Mom hated it. She eventually won…

  6. grant

    I’ve never even heard of this car. Nice odd find.

  7. Dylan Morgan

    It was Rootes’ answer to the Ford Escort and it got nowhere near it in sales,

    Like 1
    • Murray Mitchell

      Truly it was the competitor to the Cortina, it was built more for the fleet market and the traveling salesman. Ford pretty much had the fleet market to themselves with the Cortina and nothing else came close to it in terms of sales. All other manufacturers were also rans as far as competing with big blue.

      The base model Avenger was a much more luxurious vehicle than the car offered in the U.S. It is no wonder the car did so badly in the U.S.

      The last picture is of the Tiger model as a top of the line sporting model. It caused quite a stir in the UK press at the time. In fact Chrysler had a winning car in the Avenger where is won team prizes in the British Saloon Car Championship of the time, and was an accomplished rally car. All in all one of the medium sized cars to have back in the day.

  8. Birdman

    The ultimate 24 hours of LeMons Race Car!!…Well…If you could keep it running and together… :P

  9. Murray Mitchell

    I find it amazing that the U.S. press is so hard on UK cars. The only reason U.S. cars appear more reliable was they were junked as soon as something went wrong. Quality was not as bad as it is portrayed in the press. I have owned many cars and the only one that was inherently unreliable was the Ford.

    The Hillman Avenger/Plymouth Cricket was built by the Rootes Group which never had anything to do with British Leyland. Chrysler had a big stack in Rootes since the early 60’s and in 1967 took over the whole company. After this take over the quality did decline, mainly because Chrysler let the bean counters go wild. Everything was built down to a price and the quality and reliability suffered.

    I know of a Cricket that is roadworthy in Connecticut, and even in today’s traffic it is a perfectly good car. In fact way better than the dull econo boxes of today. Of course it doesn’t have the modern features people expect today, but that only adds to the charm and you’re closer to the feel of your driving experience.

    If the body is good on this one it should be well worth saving.

    • brakeservo

      Dear Murray Mitchell: I must respectfully ask, as bad as US cars were/are, what planet are you from where the UK products appear as reliable (sic) as the American crap?? I remember the bad old days when British Leyland made and imported rubber bumper MGB’s, Spitfire engined MG Midgets, and without saying anything further beyond their names as the rest is well enough known, especially to the tow truck drivers who earned massive retirement incomes from them, Triumph Stag, TR7, XJ6/ XJ12 and Jensen Healey.

  10. Jonathan

    Actually quite a competent car – weighed in at about 1950 lb. and cost about $1950. A lack of responsiveness in correcting problems resulted in Chrysler dropping it from the stateside lineup. They had the Mitsubishi-built Dodge Colt in the same size and price category. This vehicle was built and sold for many, many years under a variety of nameplates including VW and is particularly well known in Latin and South America. The Avenger platform was used for the 1980 World Rally Championship-winning Talbot Sunbeam Lotus.

  11. Eric

    Let’s see plymouth made the Scamp which was a car then it showed up again as a rampage then there was the plymouth arrow… car of the 70’s turned truck in the 80’s based of the dodge ram d 50/ mitsu mighty max…. the plymouth trailduster… which is a dodge ram charger… let’s not forget the colt which was like 5 different types from toyota to mitsubishi

  12. john

    The Hillman Avenger competed in UK not with the Cortina but the Ford Escort. Other competitors were the Vauxhall Viva, Renault 12, Fiat 131 Mirafiori, Datsun 120Y, Toyota Corolla, Triumph 1300 and the Morris Marina. The Avenger was generally held to be the best of the mainstream bunch in terms of roadholding (See Motor/ Autocar road tests of the time).Though I found the Mirafiori more entertaining and the Renault possibly the most surefooted and accomplished all rounder. Even in base 1250cc form it was a competent car although no fireball and not at all known to be unreliable. Certainly at the time people tended to see the Avenger as a head on alternative with the very popular Ford Escort which led that sector of the sales charts. The 1500 was probably the most sought after model with the Holbay engined GLS, with its upmarket trim being rather interesting and rare. There was a 5 door station wagon too. The Avenger Tiger and Tiger 2 were the absolute rivals to the quick Ford Escorts like the RS1800 and RS2000. Production of these was limited and many met their end on race tracks or as rally cars. The 2 door saloon variants were the least popular. It became a “Talbot” Avenger and stayed in production until around 1979/1980. An 8-9 year production run tends to say it was a good product. Shame to hear Crickets were not viewed the same way. Avengers have not survived well in the UK nor have the competitors in any numbers except the Escort which is quite well supported for parts. Avengers are not.

    • sheffield cortina centre

      these were pretty decent cars in the uk if you want a lemon in this class look no further than the marina,
      this had features that where adaptable for lhd & rhd , that over its entire production run where allways fitted the wrong way round.
      even its revamp in the early 80;s is disowned by the design house that carried out the job.
      the car is renowned as being the prime example of what brought about the demise of the uk car industry.

      • sheffield cortina centre

        other problems inc suspension to weak to carry the weight of the larger engs in the range & reg suffered from premature wear inc catastrophic failure.
        a 2dr coupe with doors to small to allow access to the rear passenger compartment.
        a van & pickup version only avl with the smallest eng in the range restricting its load carrying abilitys.
        plus many more large & small faults that were never sorted in 10 years of sales.

    • Murray Mitchell

      I guess then the executives at Chrysler-Rootes were wrong too.

      http://www.rootes-chrysler.co.uk/car-development/dev-avenger.html

      You have to remember that when the Avenger was conceived the MKII Cortina would have been its direct competitor. Later when ford increased the size of the Cortina with the MK3, the Avenger did appear to fit better with the Escort as the Escort also grew in size.

      The Avenger competed with the Escort in Rallies and Track days simply because the MK3 Cortina was too unwieldy.

  13. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Hey, now, some of us love our Marinas!! This is me coming off the track back in September at the end of 14-1/2 hours of racing…we finished second in class!

  14. Nancy

    I loved my Cricket back in ’72. I normally got 50 mpg, and had no problems for 40K miles. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest looking car, and the inside was pretty spartan, but it did have some fun aspects to it. Loved it especially in the winter, where it was so light it didn’t get stuck in the snow too much. When it did get stuck, my boyfriend just went to the back end, lifted up a bit, and moved it :-)

  15. Jason Houston

    No price in his ad? That means he’s never really thought about actually selling it. In fact, it’s a common practice among idiots who know nothing about what they have or how to get rid of it. Apparently, he just loves it.

  16. Corey S

    My first car in 1986. Paid $400 and drove it until my dad had it towed away. It was basic and came complete with 2″ bondo and newspaper stuffed in the rear quarter but never left me stranded. A rather nasty forest green throughout that my sister dubbed the slimemobile.

  17. PRA4SNW

    The only Cricket I recall seeing was back in HS during the late 70’s. It sttod out among the Camaros and Mustangs. No one gave the owner any s**t about it, he was a lineman on the football team.

  18. Joe B

    I had a 1971, gold one, that I bought as a senior in high school. It had an automatic with floor shifter. It was a really easy car to work on. Body panels were bolted on and most everything was repairable by a backyard mechanic. She could reach 100 mph, downhill, until the 2 offset prongs on the bottom of the distributor broke off and caused a backfire that blew off the muffler! My dad and uncle replace the distributor gear with one they made out of left over titanium. I put some 70 series tires on it, a low restriction muffler and had a blast, until the transmission started going out. Traded it in early 1974 for a 1964 2 door Nova with 23,000 original miles on it. But I have to admit, I really liked that car. It handled quite well and was a sleeper in its own sense. The only thing left of it now, is most likely the gear my dad and uncle made for it! Ah, memories…

  19. Philip

    I knew an older lady from England that moved near me when I was 15. Just about to get my license i was excited to be able to drive anything lol. She had one of these and had no problems sending me on errands letting me use her Cricket. 4 speed trans no power steering or anything and it was fairly new. The car drove like a dream. Really decent for a small car. For quite a few years we, she and I drove the pants off that car and it was great on gas as well. She eventually moved away and thru people that knew her she was unable to drive any longer due to health issues amd lord knows what happened to the car but the Cricket was my first frequent driver and i liked it.

  20. mike

    in argentina this car was known as the dodge 1500 and in 82 known as volkswagen 1500 because volkswagen bought chrysler fevre argentina, in 79 the car when it come out in 71 it was very different from the cricket. square single headlights smaller tail lights just like a little line but i like more the 78 model with bigger lights here is a picture of the wagon version http://www.testdelayer.com.ar/pruebas/dodge-1500-rural-7.JPG my dad owned one so i can say how reliable they are they are more reliable than a toyota. in 74 it had a sport version called the GT 90 because of the HP and later the GT 100 with a 1.8 litre engine generating 105 HP fun fact the car was named after the engine size 1.5 litre or 1500 cm3 and here is a pic of the sedan similar but different http://www.argentochrysler.com.ar/images/Folletos/Dodge_1500_M1.8_00.jpg
    https://http2.mlstatic.com/S_851667-MLA26028204004_092017-O.jpg

  21. mike

    oh and here is a tv ad of the 1500 from 1973 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9V47rOEqpz4 i just love those old tv ads and here is one of the facelift of 1978 and 1982
    78: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILbmV0Dp-qU
    82: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JqifCMxJbg
    is nice and simple every argentinian loves this car

  22. Jay

    Owned one in 1974. Driving it on interstate, gas pedal fell off! Plastic bracket. Car was a complete nightmare. Good room, though.

  23. B.R.

    I have a Cricket for sale , orange, 4 door, pretty solid body, has not been driven for some time but would make a good project car. $3500, it’s in Michigan. USA

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