The Plymouth Valiant (1960-1976)
The Plymouth Valiant was created to give the company an entry in the compact car market which was emerging in the late 1950s. The vehicle was sold in Australia (and other export markets such as the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand) as the Chrysler Valiant with local development up to 1981.
The Valiant appeared in 1960 as its own marque and was advertised as the Valiant by Chrysler Corp. For 1961, it was assigned to Plymouth, while Dodge's 1961 version was called the Lancer. The first generation Valiant and Lancer rode on a 106.5 in (2705 mm) wheelbase.
The Valiant was less mechanically radical than the competition from General Motors' Chevrolet Corvair, which had an air-cooled rear-mounted engine. It was considered more daring than the also-new Ford Falcon, however. The Falcon was totally conventional, while the Valiant boasted fairly radical styling and a new engine configuration, the famous Slant-6 engine, which had its cylinders in-line but canted 30° to one side. This allowed a lower hood line, a shorter overall engine (the water pump was now mounted alongside instead of up front), and efficient, long-branch individual-runner intake and exhaust manifolds.
The 170 in³ engine gained a reputation for durability and dependability, partly due to the fact that the engine design was specifically engineered to support either an aluminum or a cast-iron block. Somewhat more than 50,000 die-cast aluminum versions of the larger 225 in³ version of the engine were produced between late 1961 and early 1963. With a "Hyper-Pak" dealer tuning kit, the Valiants were significantly faster and quicker than any of their competitors. Even European imports and V8 models were trounced by the Valiants at NASCAR's inaugural compact stock-car race at Daytona (FL).
The eight Valiants entered in this race in 1960 placed 1st through 8th; after a repeat performance in 1961, NASCAR quietly cancelled the series.
The 1960 Valiant was also a Chrysler Engineering exhibition of their leadership in aluminum die-casting. While the aluminum slant-6 engine block wouldn't make it to production until 1961, the 1960 oil pump, water pump, new alternator, intake manifold, automatic transmission case and extension, and a myriad small parts were all made of aluminum.
Chrysler marketed Valiants at both Dodge and Plymouth dealers in Canada from 1960 to 1966 as a stand alone product. The 1960 to 1962 Canadian Valiants were substantially similar to the American-made cars, except the trunk lid had a by Chrysler instead of a Plymouth badge. There were minor differences in interior and exterior trim, and the alternator that had made its much-ballyhooed industry debut as standard equipment on the American-market 1960 Valiant remained an extra-cost option in Canada through 1962.
A carburetor anti-frost system, engine block heater, battery warmer, electric car interior heater and other cold-climate items were available as factory and/or dealer-installed options, while air conditioning, which was first offered in the US 1961 models, was not made available North of the border until 1966. Some Canadian-made Auto-Lite (now Prestolite) electrical components were used in lieu of the Chrysler-built components installed on American-built cars. Chrysler Canada's Windsor, Ontario plant was also the source for left- and right-hand-drive export Valiants.
The Valiant was totally re-skinned for 1963, with a ½ in (12.7 mm) shorter 106 in (2692 mm) wheelbase. The Valiant was successful, and as was the usual Detroit practice, several different models were spun off it. The Dodge Lancer, which had appeared in 1961, was discontinued, and the Valiant's new Dodge counterpart became the
Dart, the name of which was recycled for the A-body platform. With this redesign, and it rode on a longer 111 in (2819 mm) wheelbase. The Plymouth Barracuda, considered by some to be the first pony car, was built off the Valiant platform in 1964. This generation featured a station wagon version, but this body style was not continued in 1967. Also manufactured for the 1963 through 1966 model years was a five passenger convertible.
For 1963, the Canadian Valiant used the Dodge Dart body with a Valiant front clip. This continued for 1964. For 1965, Chrysler Canada sold both the 106 in (2692 mm) wheelbase Valiant and the 111 in (2819 mm) wheelbase Dart as Valiants, with all using the Dart dashboard. For 1966 the Valiant was based on the Dart. With the coming of the US-Canada auto trade agreement in 1965, Chrysler could ship cars and parts both ways over the border and in 1967 began importing Plymouth Valiants and Dodge Darts from Detroit.
The Barracuda was built in Canada in 1964 and 1965 and imported for 1966. But it was sold as a Valiant, not Plymouth. The imported 1966 Barracuda did not have Plymouth nameplates on the trunk as the American market version did. The 1965 Barracuda also used the Dart dashboard.
The Valiant reached its greatest heights after a total redesign in 1967, with the wheelbase now 108 in (2743 mm). This generation acquired an excellent mechanical reputation and produced such hot-selling variants as the 1970-1976
Plymouth Valiant Duster/Dodge Dart Swinger, 1971-1976 Plymouth Scamp and 1971-1972 Dodge Demon. There was a
Dodge Demon for 1971 and 1972, and a Dodge Dart Sport from 1973 to 1976. Chrysler's pony cars, the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda, used a modified version of the Valiant architecture.
With these cars Chrysler took 40% of the total American compact market in the early 1970s. They also enjoyed considerable success in foreign markets, where they were often assembled by Chrysler affiliates or subsidiaries. 1970 was also the first year that the successful 340 in³ V8 engine would be installed in a Valiant-badged car (the Duster 340).
This version of the Valiant would also achieve worldwide movie fame in the 1971 road rage thriller
Duel, directed by the then unknown Steven Spielberg. A 1970 Plymouth Valiant was also featured prominently in Howard Stern's autobiographical 1997 movie Private Parts.
Australian Valiants; a different path emerges
It was also on this platform that the Australian Valiants began differing from their US counterparts, particularly with the VE series of 1967, the VF series of 1969 and the VG of 1970 (which featured the introduction of the HEMI 6), where the four-door sedan had a different, though related, body shell, more like the Dodge Dart of the time. Unlike the U.S. station-wagon and pick-up versions were also available, which were indigenous to Australia.
The Valiant VE was
Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1967.
The American Valiants were little changed for 1971, only an aggressive "cheese grater" grille on the fastback Duster 340 and new econo-sport Twister models were significant.
The Valiant was face lifted again in 1974 with the primary goal of cost-reduction; the sedan was transferred to the Dart's longer 111 in (2819 mm) wheelbase such that the only differences between the Valiant and Dart were minor cosmetics.
1974 also saw the introduction of the Valiant Brougham and its twin, the Dodge Dart Special Edition. Available with two or four doors, they were a compact luxury version of the Valiant/Dart and were designed to provide an attractive oil-crisis alternative to larger luxury cars. Plymouth's coupé version was oddly badged as simply the Plymouth Brougham, although the very similar sedans carried the Valiant name. There had been no two-door equivalent to the Valiant sedan since 1969; the Duster and the Scamp taking over that market segment. Apparently neither of those names were considered upmarket enough for a luxury offering, so no model name was used.
These cars were differentiated from the regular Valiant and Dart by generous chrome trim, a vinyl top, shag carpet, interior door padding, and a scripted "Brougham" logo ("Special Edition" on the Darts). Color-keyed wheel covers and a special, limited selection of paint/vinyl combinations also characterized the upmarket models. Power steering, power brakes, and TorqueFlite automatic transmissions were standard; engine options were the 225 in³ Slant-6 (3.7 L) and the 318 in³ (5.2 L) 2-barrel carbureted small-block V8. The Brougham/SE cars were available to the end of Valiant and Dart production.
1975 models were carryovers from 1974 in virtually every respect, except that California and certain high-altitude models received catalytic converters and required unleaded gasoline.
In 1976, the somewhat larger F-body cars were introduced as Plymouth Volaré and Dodge Aspen. Unfortunately, these did not maintain their predecessors' reputation for quality; in fact, they reversed it. These replaced the Valiant (and Dart) which were discontinued in the middle of the 1976 model year. The change hurt Chrysler's reputation and profitability, contributing to its near-bankruptcy in 1979-80.
When generally following the progress of the American Valiant throughout the 1960s, Chrysler Australia became increasingly dissatisfied with the car's styling direction, which was becoming more box-like with each facelift. The result was that for the 1970s, Chrysler Australia developed the whole car locally, particularly from the 1971 VH model. Production continued through the CM model (released in 1979) which production ended in 1981.