BUY­ERS GUIDE

POP­U­LAR MAKES AND MOD­ELS

Unique Cars - - CONTENTS -

Poor old Chrysler spent its en­tire Aus­tralian ex­is­tence play­ing catch-up with Holden and Ford. Even its French-sourced Cen­tura was no match for their mid-sized con­tenders. It started life as a chal­lenger to mod­els like the Peu­geot 505 and Re­nault 20 and while the 2.0-litre ver­sion did sell briefly in Aus­tralia it served prin­ci­pally as the plat­form for a six-cylin­der hy­brid that was unique to this coun­try.

Launched at the time buy­ers were look­ing for smaller, more eco­nom­i­cal mod­els, the six-cylin­der Cen­tura ap­peared in 1975 and was in trou­ble im­me­di­ately. Ini­tially it came with 3.5 or 4.0-litre en­gine in XL or GL trim. Two years later when the up­dated KC model was in­tro­duced, the of­fer­ings were des­ig­nated GL or GLX and only the 4.0-litre en­gine re­mained avail­able.

Most Cen­turas were au­to­matic, some came with a three-speed floor-shift man­ual trans­mis­sion and a few were built with the Borg-Warner four-speed used in Charg­ers. Disc front brakes and ra­dial-ply tyres were stan­dard as was a rear brake pres­sure pro­por­tion­ing valve that min­imised lock-up and helped the Cen­tura Six stop sev­eral me­tres sooner than a To­rana or six-cylin­der Cortina.

Cen­turas could be spec­i­fied with a Sports Pack­age that in­cluded Charger-spec sports wheels, body stripes, ‘Boca Raton’ cloth seat in­serts and a re­vised dash that ac­com­mo­dated a tachome­ter.

Fleet buy­ers were prime tar­gets for the au­to­matic 3.5-litre GL which at $5270 was $35 cheaper than the smaller-en­gined, Tri­matic To­rana SL. How­ever, as was the case with its larger cars as well, Chrysler couldn’t over­come Holden’s en­trenched brand loy­alty.

Jump­ing up the model range to a GLX cost 20 per cent ex­tra and these cars were sold mainly to pri­vate buy­ers. The front bucket seats re­clined and were well-padded, with plenty of travel and de­cent legroom pro­vid­ing you ig­nored the com­plaints from those fur­ther rear­ward.

Cars that com­bined the 245 en­gine and three-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion would reach 75km/h be­fore first gear ran out of puff, en­sur­ing your Cen­tura would be first away from the lights un­less con­fronted by a V8. Top speed from the au­to­matic was 170km/h and it was said that a 4.0-litre four-speed would man­age 184km/h.

The Cen­tura shared its nose-heavy han­dling is­sues with the six-cylin­der Corti­nas and to a lesser ex­tent the LH To­rana. Wider wheels, stiffer springs and ex­treme cam­ber set­tings all worked to a de­gree but the Cen­tura did and still does carry the man­tle of ‘lead-tipped ar­row’.

MAR­KET RE­VIEW

The Cen­tura was for so long de­rided or ig­nored that by the time any­one de­cided to pre­serve one, any re­ally good ex­am­ples were hard to find.

Some though must have been hid­den away by vi­sion­ary own­ers and they have been reap­pear­ing dur­ing the past 10 or so years. How the own­ers re­acted to barely re­coup­ing what the cars had cost 40 years ago isn’t known.

A lot of sur­viv­ing Cen­turas have gone to younger buy­ers who seem de­ter­mined to keep them alive if not es­pe­cially orig­i­nal. The en­gines re­spond well to in­jec­tions of money and some own­ers have gone a lot fur­ther with in­te­rior mods, big wheels and wild paint to cre­ate fairly po­tent street-ma­chines or se­ri­ous drag cars.

Cen­turas that have been out of com­mis­sion for many years will be a chal­lenge to re­vive. Some may re­quire so much spent on body­work that they are only vi­able for peo­ple who can do their own weld­ing and panel form­ing.

Ex­cel­lent un­mod­i­fied cars do oc­ca­sion­ally ap­pear in the mar­ket and sell well if their pric­ing is right. One seen re­cently at $17,000 may have taken a while to find a home but $10-12,000 is fea­si­ble for an au­to­matic, with gen­uine four-speeds per­haps $3000 more.

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