POPULAR MAKES AND MODELS
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’.
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.