Iran and Hillman; a complicated relationship
Anyone here remember the Hillman Hunter? Well, here’s a story for you….
Driving around modern Tehran, you cannot help but notice many classic cars. Without the emission controls to keep old cars off the roads, as happens to dusty oldies in the West, classic cars still have a presence in Tehran. And king among those classics is one that, for me, is the image of the iconic 1967 Hillman Hunter. And it stands to reason; it IS the 1967 Hillman Hunter!
What follows is a short journey through the complicated relationship that has existed between Iran and its former national car; owned and disowned, loved and hated, built and destroyed.
Hillman in Iran: Farsi for Arrow
In 1966, Iran National (the company that was the private forerunner of what is now known as the major domestic Iranian car-maker, Iran Khodro) began to manufacture Hillman Hunters from so-called complete-knock-down (or CKD for the industry insiders out there), kits, after a deal was struck between the Rootes Group (the predecessor of what we now know as the Chrysler Group was the first manufacturer of the Hillman Hunter, and included other known marques in their portfolio including Sunbeam, Humber, and Singer) and Iran National.
The Hillman Paykan (Farsi for ‘Arrow’) saloon quickly became known as Iran’s national car. According to http://www.allpar.com, Iran Khodro installed the Paykan production line and started manufacturing 6,000 cars per year under licence. The first Iran Khodro car made in 1967 (like me!), was the Paykan, sold in Deluxe and Standard models, with pickup trucks and taxis added later. A commercial Pakyan was added around 1969, an automatic model in 1970, and a GT in 1972.
After a time, many more units were needed than the CKD method could handle. There was a need for Iran National to build themselves. In this new stage of localisation, Chrysler UK would supply Hillman Arrow power trains to Iran National for building into the locally-made Paykan. They then built the Hillman Arrow body in Tehran and assembled almost 100,000 vehicles a year. Chrysler provided technical assistance to Iran National in building the assembly plant and paint shop and had people stationed in Iran to provide assistance in building the vehicles. Chrysler people left the country with the revolution in 1979, as did, not coincidentally, the Hyami brothers, the owners of Iran National. According to one source, they were last seen running a Mercedes dealership in Irwin, California!
Full local production of the Paykan began in 1985, after the original British production lines were closed. The new owner in Britain, Peugeot, established a new contract whereby Iran Khodro would manufacture the Paykan with the same body panels but using Peugeot 504 engines and suspension, for six more years. In 1991, the Self-Sufficiency Unit of Iran Khodro was created to start making all components in-house. They were soon producing almost 98% of the parts needed for Paykan 1600 in Iran – 120,000 units per year. The Paykan 1600 was fully locally made starting in September 1992.
Production continued apace throughout the 90s and into the 2000s – more than 1.4 million of them were made and the car was number 1 in the Iranian market for a stunning 35 years. Quite the story!
On conventional investment criteria, the Hillman Paykan, with its almost 40-year lifespan, could rank as one of the most successful models in automotive history. However, there is not only cause for celebration in the longevity of the Paykan, it has to be said, as its continuation over the decades mirrored (or caused?) a lack of investment in the Iranian auto industry. This scarcity of investment is such that Iranian cars are not where they could or should be to compete in the domestic market, let alone to enter any export markets (once sanctions are lifted).
Anyway, as augured for several years in the early naughties, Iran Khodro ceased Paykan saloon production in May 2005.
Sadly, at the end, the send-off was not a particularly nice one, with Iranian officials putting down the car which had created Iran’s auto industry and served it for four decades. They noted that the car had ‘dated styling’ and ‘an inefficient powertrain’.
Well, after forty-odd years my styling is a tad outdated (demonstrated by my use of the word ‘tad’) and my powertrain considerably inefficient. Hoping not to get put down any time soon the ignominious way the Paykan did.
Hillman in Iran: Preserved through Art
The Paykan, its iconography, its destruction, and related symbolism, was the subject recently of a very, very interesting art gallery exhibition at the super-chic Aun Gallery in Seoul Street, Vanak, Tehran (Aun Gallery (http://www.aungallery.com/)). The concept derived from the imaginations of the also super-chic gallery owners Afarin Neysari and Karan Vafadari, wanting artists to use the bonnet (hood, for our American cousins) to pass comment on the destruction and decay of culture in modern Tehran. The Paykan, as a once-loved and once-hated icon, once built and then destroyed, as a messenger for preservation.
View the exhibition here: http://www.aungallery.com/en/exhibitions/past/nasionalcarpeykan
The result was a fabulous collection of innovation and creativity, all on original Paykan bonnets, ranging from a carving from the bonnet depicting an Iranian family having a roadside picnic, to a cryptic message about the death of an Imam backlit in green neon, to a dusty, desert-y Iranian industrial landscape.
And from this exhibition came a video installation that is really worth watching. Created by an innovative, good-fun, and slightly Paykan-mad artist, Shahin Armin, the video is a bonnet-view ride around northern Tehran on a beautifully-preserved Paykan. For more on Shahin’s creativity, and for everything you always wanted to know about Paykan, Hillman Hunter & Other Chrysler/Rootes Arrow Series Cars, but were afraid to ask, see his blog Paykan Hunter (http://www.paykanhunter.com/)
And, although not any kind of car buff, if you visit Tehran you must keep an eye out for the old Paykans. There are some real beauties driving around. At a recent gallery exhibition of photos of modern Tehran there was an outstanding pic of a beautiful British racing green ’67 Paykan, in immaculate condition. This really seemed like one of those cars someone’s grandfather bought in 1967, and has kept in a garage ever since. Even the hubcaps (for those of you old enough to know what that actually is) were undented! It does not look like the usual car on the road in Tehran; it lacks the myriad scratches, dents, and holes of all the others.
Seeing these classic cars, and some in good shape, is somehow good for the soul.
Albeit limited, it smacks of restoration and preservation, rather than decay and destruction.