Awesome Chrysler Sigma Concept!

By: Joe Kenwright, Photography by: Guy Bowden

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept turned plenty of heads

It would be too easy to look at Chrysler’s Sigma Turbo concept car or Sigmatron as it’s become better known and dismiss it as old rope. For a concept car, that’s no bad thing.

If it looks old and familiar, it is usually because it was successful and its ideas reached the road.

The key to this wild-looking Sigma is its March 1980 reveal date, some years before any Sigma looked anything like it.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

Concept cars are a sign of a healthy industry when a company must have enough resources in reserve to create one and the autonomy to translate the ideas into production.

The long list of unique Australian concept cars is worthy of as much pride as any local models that went into production when so few countries have the resources or the ideas to build them.

By 1980, the writing was already on the wall for Chrysler’s ageing Valiant, which faced extinction within a year, yet the Sigma was on a roll when the 2.0-litre fours threatened to take over from the large car segment as Australia’s biggest sellers.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

Although it didn’t happen that way after Ford and Holden responded with better Falcons and Commodores, Chrysler’s new Sigma made the battle worth fighting when today’s similar-sized 2.0-litre small cars have finally achieved dominance in the passenger car market.

Because the local Toyota Corona and Datsun 200B in 1980 looked every millimetre the boring and barely competent appliances that they were, there was no point building a concept car based on either.

It’s hard to think of less inspiring engines than the Corona’s Starfire four lifted from Holden or Datsun’s wheezy 2.0-litre L20 lump.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

In this context, the Sigma had some style backed by some Astron sparkle under the bonnet. As the new kid on the block, the base Sigma even had some wow factor missing from this class.

With a long history of special edition Chargers and other Valiant models, the Chrysler cardigans had the resources and the know-how to build some extra cachet into the Sigma on a shoestring.

The work was undertaken by Purvis Cars, as in Alan Purvis who had picked up the British fibreglass kit car known as the Nova in the UK and Stirling in the US.

Built on a late model VW Beetle platform and rebadged locally as the Eureka, Purvis was enjoying moderate success after addressing some of the original Nova’s shortcomings and offering alternative powerplants.

Despite its kit car origins, the Purvis Eureka had a loyal following with the mechanically competent attracted to the idea of building a sporty coupe to their own specification.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

The idea of Purvis working some magic on the Sigma was smarter than it first seems when positioning the Sigma within this target group was exactly what Chrysler needed to do if it was to expand Chrysler’s reach outside the fleets and mums and dads.

Think in terms of recent Ralliart activities with the 380 and the rationale was the same.

Sadly, after Kentucky Fried’s recent send-up of father and son dressing up mum’s Volvo with cardboard body additions, Aussies will never be able to look at a car like the Sigmatron without thinking of a cardboard-clad sedan.

Yet the Sigmatron was uncannily faithful to the wild Group 5 Turbos that dominated European racetracks at the time, both in looks and under the bonnet.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

All the Ford, BMW and Porsche Group 5 entries were way out there and the Sigmatron’s pin-up looks were backed by an early turbocharged version of the 2.0-litre Astron engine.

Despite local V8 loyalties, this was cutting edge in 1980 and positioned the Sigma as a fresh new alternative to the old school V8s for a new generation of young buyers.

For this demographic, the Sigmatron’s body kit was no less valid than any of today’s V8 Supercar-inspired body kits on HSV and FPV models.

In other words, it was as much a crowd stopper as Peter Brock’s plastic-clad HDT VC Commodore.

It also pre-dated several styling themes that would appear shortly on the XE Falcon.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

Not only did it help generate a new buyer base for the production Sigma Turbos that followed, the cachet and looks carried into the Cordia Turbo which was a huge hit on release.

Extending the Euro track car theme, Purvis fitted Recaros front and rear, a digital on-board computer, Momo steering wheel, three-piece Compomotive alloys and an early car phone.

Clever striping gave the Sigmatron an Alfa-like profile while the big square headlights and forward sloping front were still two years away on production Sigmas.

It also featured a dash-mounted radar detector – the mere possession of which in 2009 would prompt a hefty fine.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

That means the Sigmatron, in terms of clearing a new path in a rapidly changing market, has to be up there with some of Australia’s pioneering concept cars.

Critical to its success was to make it look more Australian, less Japanese, something that Chrysler and Mitsubishi achieved over the Sigma model life.

It brings to mind the wild two-door Falcon show car Ford showed in early 1969, previewing the XW’s Super Roo stripes, the XY GT’s bonnet shaker and the later GT-HO rear spoiler, all unique to Australia in this body style.

This concept, while striking at the time, lost most of its impact as soon as its key features found their way onto production cars – a measure of its acceptance and success.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

More recently, Holden’s striking 1998 Motor Show concept for a Commodore Coupe would now hardly turn a head after public reaction forced Holden to place it into production as the Monaro.

Perhaps the most frustrating of recent concept cars was Holden’s stunning Torana TT36, which not only prepared the market for the VE Commodore’s styling direction but raised the possibility of a more compact alternative.

Always intended for production, the TT36 was killed off at the 11th hour after Vauxhall pulled the pin on its commitment, robbing the entire GM corporation of a more compact rear-drive range that would have been the right size at the right time.

Chrysler’s wild Sigma concept

Like the 1970 Torana GTR-X sports car, the Torana TT36 will always look special because it didn’t reach production.

As the Australian industry locks into more global models and annual motor shows are rotated between states, the prospect of seeing concept cars like the Sigmatron which really pushed the boundaries while exposing features bound for later models is diminishing. 

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