When Chrysler needed a small car to sell in North America, Chrysler Europe-owned Rootes Group stepped up with the Hillman Avenger, which went on sale here as the Plymouth Cricket starting in the 1971 model year. At the same time, a deal was inked with Mitsubishi to sell the rear-wheel-drive Colt Galant on our shores. A bit later on, Chrysler America and Chrysler Europe joined forces to develop the “Omnirizon,” a modern front-wheel-drive machine that first went on sale here in the 1978 model year. It was a success on both sides of the Atlantic, so much so that sales continued here all the way through 1990. Here’s a late Plymouth Horizon with plenty of options, found in a Denver yard last summer.
By the time the various iterations of this car hit showrooms, the European and American designs had diverged significantly; they looked similar at a glance but had serious mechanical differences. Earlier US-market cars had Simca 1.6-liter or Volkswagen 1.7-liter engines, but by 1987 every Omni and Horizon came with the same 2.2-liter Chrysler engine that powered millions of members of the K-Car family.
By 1987, the Omnirizon looked obsolete and, in fact, was obsolete (though not as outdated as GM’s Chevrolet Chevette/Pontiac 1000, which stayed available through that model year). However, the advantage of an older platform is cheapness of production, and so Chrysler could afford to sell the Omnirizon cheaply enough to make options such as an FM radio and air conditioning affordable for the masses.
The automatic transmission may have made stop-and-go commutes smoother, but didn’t help with acceleration or driving enjoyment. Still, this was a lot of car for a starting price of $5,799 (about $13,640 today), though the $4,995 Hyundai Excel blew it away in the price department (though decidedly not in the build-quality department).
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