I also have an avid interest in cars. My tastes are somewhat eccentric. Some of my favorite cars include the 1934 Chrysler/De Soto Airflow, the 1957 De Soto Adventurer, the Chrysler-Plymouth Valiant (1960-62) and Dodge Lancer (1962), and the Volkswagen Beetle. I owned a 1966 faded red Beetle 1300 that constantly had to be push started because of a faulty and irreparable starter.
One of my all time favorite designs, though, has to be the Chrysler Horizon. The car evolved from the Simca 1100 which debuted as a 1967 model in Europe. It was called the 1204 when it was sold in the United States 1968-72 because of its 1204cc engine. The Simca 1100 was designed by Simca (Chrysler France) and produced through 1981 when Peugeot discontinued it in favor of the Horizon platform. The 1100 was an evolution of shared technology with Fiat. Simca had a long relationship with Fiat beginning in 1934 when Simca became a licensee building cars based on Fiat designs in France. Chrysler/Simca redesigned the mid-size Alpine/1300-1500 series to much acclaim for the 1975/76 model year using the 1100 platform as a base, and now sought to freshen the 1100 in the same manner.
The new "1100" based car would be sold alongside the 1100 and its' descendants. It would be slightly larger, better equipped, and more powerful (depending on the model) than the 1100. During the late planning stages, it was decided to try the car in North America. This time, though, it would be sold under the "familiar family" names Dodge and Plymouth, not as an "imported Simca". The only problem was that no engine had been developed specifically to meet U.S. emissions. The last Chrysler engine from Europe had been in the Plymouth Cricket (U.K. Chrysler Avenger) that was phased out in 1973 before the "new for 1975 model year" regulations, such as unleaded fuel, had been enacted. Chrysler used their connection with VW to obtain a 1.7l Audi block to which they mounted their own head and carburetor so that they could meet U.S. emissions and still introduce the car in time. The Simca 1.6 would soon be ready for the U.S. and planned 1.8 and 2.2 litre engines using the same block would become the top of the line engines for the model in the U.S. The 1.6 was supplied to Chrysler in North America as part of the Peugeot deal in Europe through 1985. The 1.8 was never built, but the 2.2 became the main Chrysler four cylinder and spawned several turbo versions and the 2.5.
The Horizon was introduced in 1977 as a 1978 model. It would eventually be sold under the names Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge (Omni), Talbot, and Simca. The car was a real "world car" unlike the Ford Escort (only the name and Ford ornament were universal), and was sold in Europe, North America, North Africa, South America, as well as some parts of Asia. The Horizon/Omni won many awards worldwide including "Car of the Year" in Europe and Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" for North America. In America, even though the car was a success, many people thought that Chrysler was copying the VW Rabbit and even using a VW engine in the process. The comparison actually helped their sales by implying the cars purpose in life to the right audience especially after company had just killed of the popular (now legendary) Valiant/Dart in favor of the Volare/Aspen in 1976.
Chrysler played "dumb" because explaining the true lineage of the Horizon would have highlighted the failure of the 1204 in the U.S., and the bungling of senior management at Chrysler in North America who were about to be in deep trouble. Many magazines contributed to this idea in their reviews. Even Consumers Report insinuates it in their 1978 report. Of course, they could have checked their own 1968 import test where the Simca 1204 GLS defeated the VW Squareback, Opel Kadett, and Toyota Corolla. The amusing part is that the Rabbit (Golf in Europe) was a response to the Simca 1100 and other water cooled front drive cars because they had nothing comparable and were losing sales to Ford, Opel/Vauxhall, Simca (front and rear drive), Fiat (front and rear drive), Peugeot (especially the 104), other newly introduced front and rear wheel drive econo-boxes, and the beginnings of the Japanese invasion of Europe. In fact, Volkswagen had slipped to fourth in worldwide sales in 1968 with 70% of all sales being in North America. The water cooled and front drive models (1973-present) from Dasher to Quantum were planned to help stabilize sales and followed the acquisition of AutoUnion group (Audi) and NSU. The K-70 taken from NSU would be the first front wheel drive water cooled car for VW. The car was never accepted as a true VW by the company or the public even though receiving good reviews. The Audi 50/Golf/"Rabbit" would help, but the company would not fully recover from this slide until the 1990's under Piech.
Just after the Horizon is introduced in North America, the roof caves in on senior management at Chrysler in Highland Park, MI. The people who had taken over after a scandal years before had cut back on planning and development and were quite happy with their profits. Chrysler had diversified and added to its car holdings by purchasing Simca in France, Rootes Group in the U.K., stock in Mitsubishi, and continued growth in Australia and South America in the time period between the end of World War II and 1970. By 1978, eight years of serious neglect and bad ideas in the American operations combine to almost bankrupt the company. Lack of engineering and quality control problems combined with bad investments, product overlap, OPEC, inflation/recession, and stagnation all combined to bring the company to its knees. Dodge outsells Plymouth for the first time in company history. In a panic, the board hires new management, sells almost all of the divisions including Airtemp air conditioning, European car group to Peugeot, South American car division to VW, and Asian (including Australian/NZ operations) to Mitsubishi. North American car models are slashed across the board, but especially for Plymouth, and a massive reorganization begins. A "bailout" is arranged for capital and the company survives. Plymouth is never allowed to recover as Chrysler and Dodge encroach on its market and succumbs to political sacrifice on July 28, 2001.
By 1990 every Chrysler designed passenger car/minivan is front wheel drive and a direct descendant of the (Simca) Horizon with the only exception being the Dodge Viper. This includes everything from a Caravan to the present (2001-2002) 300M and (was supposed to be a Plymouth) PT Cruiser. The Renault Espace is also descended from the 1100/Horizon renovation plan. Matra was employed by Simca and had proposed a minivan derived from the platform. Peugeot was not interested when it took over Simca, so Matra proposed the idea to Renault. The Renault and Chrysler minivans, both based on this same project, debuted within four weeks of each other in the spring of 1984.
When Chrysler sold its European subsidiaries (Simca, Chrysler U.K./Rootes Group, and Chrysler Europe) to Peugeot, the car line was re-christened Talbot, except for Simca models, which kept their nomenclature. Peugeot continued to sell products under that name until the early 1990's even though the European Horizon had been phased out in 1985. Chrysler phased the Horizon/Omni out in the 1990 model year in North America in favor of the Shadow/Sundance platform (what a mistake!). The Horizon was a success worldwide, sometimes in spite of its makers. Peugeot did not want to evolve the model, and when they finally did introduce a successor (309) it became part of the regular Peugeot line. The Horizon was in production 7 model years (1978-1985) in Europe and 12 (1978-1990) in North America.
Depending on the model it was roomier, bigger, more comfortable, safer, sportier, and in some versions more economical than its' competitors including the Rabbit/Golf, Fiesta and Pinto (and their successor Escort), and the Chevette (and its successor the Cavalier). The European Horizon had flush headlights, different interior treatments, tilt wheel, cruise control, sunroof, a turbo version, a diesel version (an introduction for the Peugeot diesel still used today), and an S/GTI/GLS version. The base engine was a 1.1 litre four cylinder.
In the North America, the car was kept "simple and economical" so that Chrysler could sell variants (Reliant, Aries, 600, Caravelle, LeBaron, New Yorker, etc.) on the platform with more accessories as a step up from a Horizon. Sport models such as the GLH/GLHS and packages named Miser, SE, LE, and America were offered over the 12 years it was sold in North America. North American engines included the 1.6, 1.7, 2.2, and 2.2 turbo engines. Some 2.2 engines were modified to 2.5 litres by simply changing the head.
The Horizon did not change drastically over its run, although the first spin-offs (TC3/Tourismo, 024/Charger, and Scamp) could be called Horizon models. Chrysler did not want to continue the Horizon because it was seen as "cheap transportation" and reminded people of the humble origin of the company's front wheel drive cars. In the 1990 model year, the Horizon was given a new dash, airbag, radiator, engine mounts, console, and rear shoulder belts (which had been available all along, standard in Europe - in a kit here in the U.S.) Production of the Horizon/Omni ended completely in the middle of the 1990 model year. The Belvedere, Illinois factory was closed and remodeled for production of the Sundance/Shadow platform.
Mitsubishi continued with Chrysler's operations in Asia even producing a Mitsubishi Valiant for Australia and New Zealand during the transition. That Valiant factory is where many models are made for export including the Diamante sold in the United States. VW continues to use the Chrysler factories in South America. They also bought the rights to the European Chrysler Avenger and its South American Dodge 1800 twin and made them for South and Central America. Those models were phased out with a new improved line using some of their parts/platform for the "Fox" model line which was even sold in the U.S. for a brief period in the late 1980's through the early 1990's. Peugeot slowly retired the "captive" models after the 1979 takeover of Chrysler Europe/Simca. The Horizon was the last of the passenger cars made under the Talbot or Simca names. The Simca name was discontinued after 1981. The planned Horizon 2nd generation by Peugeot was developed, but after the decision to phase out the Talbot passenger car line it was marketed as the Peugeot 309. It was in production through the mid 1990's. A truck line continued until circa 1990 under the Talbot name, then the name was phased out entirely and the replacement model also became a Peugeot.
My first car was a $500 1979 Plymouth Horizon (with the 1.7 liter Audi engine) that went well over 158,000 miles before being hit by a Chevrolet. The insurance company "totaled" it, paying me more for it than when I had originally bought it. It became the down payment on my Dodge Lancer the following spring. My present 1990 Dodge Omni ("The Box") that I bought when I returned to college has over 206,500 miles. Not bad for a car that listed for $7800 in 1990 before the rebate and bargaining. It still gets an average of 35+MPG, is cheap to operate, and is a blast to drive. Something that was not always true for its competition then or now.
pictures 1 2 3 4 5 6
Road and Track Simca 1204 Review
Foreign Car Guide Review
Horizon Specifications and Data
P.S. The next time you watch "Home Alone" make sure to note the Horizon making a commendable appearance as the Pizza delivery car. You have to love those bumpers and the 2.2 for a fast getaway.
P.P.S. Don't forget to watch for the Horizon in the Travel Channel commercial with the boy and his tomato on the way to the tomato battle. He walks past a white Talbot Horizon in the first 15 seconds of the commercial.