THE CHRYSLER Alpine was more than just a well-planned and versatile model, it was hoped that it would be so good, it would ultimately be the saviour of Chrysler UK Ltd. In 1976 the company was in a desperate commercial and financial crisis, with a range of ageing models, falling demand, and nothing coming along to retrieve the situation.
As part of the British Government's survival package, it was decided to re-tool the Ryton (Coventry) factory, to assemble Alpines, in place of Avengers
(production of which was switched to Linwood, near Glasgow). Production of right-hand-drive Alpines began in Ryton at the end of the summer of 1976.
The Alpine - also called the Simca 1307/1308/1309 (depending on the mechanical specification) in France and other European countries - was a classic front-drive, medium-sized, five-door hatchback family saloon.
It formed part of a then expanding range of such models from Chrysler Europe, and as such faced direct competition in the new car and secondhand car market from models like the Renault 16
, and the much more up-to-date VW Passat
. Apart from that, most of the hatchbacks were smaller in size, or (in the case of the Renault 20) were both larger and had bigger engines.
If it was possible to ignore the mechanically-similar models built in France, defining the Alpine's pedigree would be even simpler than it is. All Alpines sold in Britain had the same five-door hatchback bodyshell, with front-wheel-drive, a transversely-mounted four-cylinder engine, four-wheel independent suspension; all were sold with the same four-speed manual gearbox, and no options.
Depending on how you remember Chrysler-Simca's design philosophy of the time, you would consider Alpines to be either "under-engined" or "over-bodied", as they were deceptively large for the size of engine fitted. However, they did have acceptable performance, the engines being relatively highly-tuned.
The 1,294 c.c. GL, for instance, was equally as lively in every way as the 1,565 c.c. Renault 16, while the 1,442 c.c. versions were on a par with the 1. 6-liter Volkswagen Passats. All models in the lineup had transversely-mounted engines cradled in a subframe which also supported the front suspension and steering, while the rear suspension was also mounted on a tubular cross-member bolted up to the underside of the body shell.
The car's wheelbase was 8ft. 6.5in., and the overall length 13ft. 11 in. Front suspension was by wishbones and longitudinal torsion bars, which were anchored under the front seats, where they had height adjustment control. Rear suspension was by coil springs and trailing arms. The Alpine followed the by then well-established hatchback lines; all models had doors, and the distinctive, white grained plastic bumpers
Under The Hood
The water-cooled four-cylinder engine of the Alpine was conventional in all respects, and had a fine reputation in Simca and later Chrysler models, along with a very lengthy history. Although the front-wheel-drive application dated back to the original Simca 1100 of 1967
, when it had a bore, stroke and capacity of 74 x 65 mm, 1,118 c.c., but well before that there was the 1961 Simca 1000
(rear-engined) with 68 x 65 mm, 944 c.c., and going even further back into history was the engine's true origin, in the Simca Aronde of 1951, when it was 72 x 75 mm, 1,221 c.c., and had only a three-bearing crankshaft. It was therefore as venerable, and reputedly as reliable, as British Leyland's old A-Series unit.
Through the life of the Simca 1100
the engine was progressively improved and enlarged. Two versions were available on British-assembled models, and no fewer than six versions throughout Europe. The two British-market units were: 76.7 x 70 mm, 1,294 c.c. 68 bhp (DIN) at 5,600 rpm. 79 Ib.ft. at 2,800 rpm; and the 76.7 x 78 mm, 1,442 c.c. 85 bhp (DIN) at 5,600 rpm. 94 lb. ft. at 3,000 rpm. The 1,294 c.c. engine was sold in 55 bhp and 82 bhp in Europe, the 1,442 c.c. engine in 75 bhp form, and finally a 1,592 c.c. 80.6 x 78 mm 88 bhp unit. Both of the British engines were fitted with single carburetors, that of the 1,442 c.c. unit being a twin choke component.
All British market Alpines used the same four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox, which was a carry-over from the Simca 1100 range. The whole engine/transmission/final drive package, togther with the fron suspension, was basically that of the Simca 1100, and was also shared with the Chrysler Horizon models, which were solely built in France. An automatic transmission (built by Chrysler USA, and used on their domestic market front drive compacts) was available on the Europe-only 1,592 c.c. model.
The Alpine Lineup
Since all Alpines shared the same sheet-metal, with four passenger doors and a full-depth loading hatch, the choice was purely between trim and fittings. In ascending order of luxury and equipment, the range started with the LS, proceeded to the GL, through the S, and finally ended with the top-of-the-line GLS. The LS was introduced in December 1978. Both LS and GL models used the 1,294 c.c. or 1,442 c.c., while the S and GLS iterations were only ever been built with 1,442 c.c. engines. All 1,294 c.c. engines were fitted with single-choke Solex carburetors, while the 1,442 c.c. units had twin-choke Webers.
S and GLS models had a full "6-dial" range of instruments, including a rev-counter and a clock. Basic control layouts were the same throughout the model range. There were three steering column stalks, and many of the minor switches were on the centre console close to the heater controls. All models shared the same versatile loadinig area arrangements. The parcel shelf tray over the luggage compartment did not normally swivel upwards as the loading hatch was opened, but it could be removed entirely if bulky loads were to be carried, and the one-piece rear seat squab could be folded forward to give a loading platform up to the rear of the front seats which was nearly six feet long. The rear sill was relatively high, at 31 inches from the ground.
CKD kits exported from Chryslers Ryton UK plant were assembled by Todd Motors (later Mitsubishi Motors NZ) in New Zealand between 1977 and 1983. Between 1979 and 1985 the car was also built by Valmet Automotive in Uusikaupunki factory in Finland. In 1980 the car, which was now sold under the Talbot-brand, received a facelift. The new model was known as the Talbot 1510 (the Talbot Alpine name was used in the UK). A saloon version, called the Talbot Solara, was released that year, and produced alongside the hatchback version. In New Zealand, Chrysler, Talbot, Alpine and 1510 badges were used on the car during its lifetime, though it was officially in price lists as an Alpine, following the UK convention.
As it turns out, the biggest enemy of the Alpine was corrosion. Very few survived, and they are exceptionally rare these days.