The Hillman Avenger arrived on the UK market in 1970, production ending in 1981 with around 640,000 rolling off the Ryton and Linwood production lines. Launched with a range of 1248 and 1498cc engines, a live rear axle, and a four-speed manual gearbox, the Avenger plugged a gap in Hillman’s range above the small Imp while providing a competitor to the popular Ford Cortina. Trim levels were initially DL, Super, and GL but regular updates followed including, in 1972, an estate variant and the (relatively) plush GLS trim.
Careful design meant it was safer than most competitors and, while thoroughly conventional for the time, the Avenger nevertheless provided a decent drive. Roomy, decently equipped and with a good ride, it proved a capable family saloon. The same holds true today and if a Cortina is just a bit too common, then the Avenger is well worth a look.
1970 Hillman Avenger 1250
Power (bhp@rpm) 53bhp@5000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 66lb ft@3000rpm
Top speed 81mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
In common with most cars of the period, rust was the Avenger’s main enemy. Sills, rear valances, and front inner wings are all at risk of the dreaded tin-worm, so a car that has already had these areas attended to is well worth seeking out.
A lack of undersealing also meant that floorpans corroded quickly, and while replacement panels are available cheaply, labour costs can soon mount. Checking a potential purchase carefully is time well spent. Lift up the carpets in both the front and rear of the cabin, and don’t forget to check the boot floor as well.
The four-cylinder OHV units were tried and tested and present no major problems. Replacement parts, even for early units, are plentiful and relatively cheap and if well looked after, the engines are pretty much bullet-proof. Regular maintenance is the key though and is well within the scope of the DIY-er. Evidence of frequent servicing will provide peace of mind and while niggling oil leaks are not uncommon, these tend to be a result of neglect and are rarely serious. Some oil smoke from the exhaust is perhaps to be expected, though this shouldn’t be excessive and more often than not points to worn valve guides. A top end rebuild is a fairly straightforward task for home mechanics and shouldn’t deter you if the car is otherwise sound.
Both manual and automatic gearboxes are largely trouble-free and any major problems will be apparent on a test drive. Manual’boxes can suffer from weak synchromesh, but ensuring the correct oil is being used will help minimise the problem – this should be engine oil and not specific gearbox oil as you might expect. Reconditioned units are available and reasonably priced. The three-speed Borg Warner Type 35 automatic was never really troubled by the Avenger’s modest power and while gearchanges were never the smoothest, excessive thumping or a reluctance to change gear signal more major problems which can prove costly.
A whining back axle is a common occurrence but doesn’t necessarily mean imminent failure, while half-shaft bearings have a tendency to leak oil. Suspension and brake systems shouldn’t give trouble with regular fettling, only sticking brake calipers proving a minor issue.
Most interiors will have succumbed to general wear and tear by now. Dashboards can suffer from cracking and warpage, and water leaks from front and rear screens will rot the carpets. Replacement parts can be hard to source, so a really tired interior is best avoided.
If you’re looking for something a little different to the mass ranks of Ford Cortinas and Morris Marinas, then you’ll certainly appreciate what the Avenger has to offer. As a comfortable and reliable saloon it is hard to beat, and low running costs are the icing on the classic car cake. Fine ride and handling were lauded by the motoring press at launch and still feel a step above its competitors today.