Note: None of the pictures in this post are of the actual car. They were pulled from the Internet.
Upon demise of the Vega, I needed to obtain a new transportation solution. I used the city bus to get the college for a while, but I had been accepted into a co-op program and needed to have a car.
First, a little retrospective. In 1967, my grandmother was driving a 1951 Ford Fordor with a stick shift. It was only driven to church and the store, so it obviously didn’t have a lot of miles. One day coming home from the market, the single circuit master cylinder gave out. She didn’t drive fast and managed to get the car home without incident. Well, except for the back wall of the garage she nudged to get the car to stop. Dad took a look at the car and decided that it was done. No car damage from the garage wall contact, but he apparently never liked the car so no love lost. Plus, he wanted Grandma to get a smaller car with an automatic transmission. After much discussion (in Polish), she agreed to go shopping with him. It had to be a Ford since my Grandfather had worked at the Ford Engine Plant at the Rouge complex. It also had to be black like the old car.
They found a two door Ford Falcon at the nearby dealer. The only option on the car was an automatic transmission, but the car wasn’t black. It was tan. Again, after what seemed to me to be a heated discussion in Polish, she agreed to get the car. However, the salesman then decided to play pricing games, with the price of the car going up with each iteration. This car was not going to be financed, so the salesman needed to make a decent commission on a stripper model car. After all of this drama, Dad and Grandma got up and walked out without a car. Dad took her to the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer next door to look at a Valiant. They had a stripper model in the Sunday newspaper ad for $1700. The dealer had one in stock, probably the only one in the state, and would honor the newspaper price. Plus it was BLACK! Sold!!
The car she bought was a 1967 Plymouth Valiant 100, which was the base trim level. However, due to some sort of sales promotion by Chrysler, it came with full wheel covers in place of the standard dog dish caps and also came with an aluminum trim strip down the middle of the side. It had an automatic transmission and a sizzling 170 CID slant six (115 HP). No power brakes, steering, radio, or carpeting that that price level. The interior was red vinyl bench seat and the car had good visibility. The 1967 model had been redesigned to be more boxier than the 1966 model and it had a huge trunk. The spare tire had been moved under the trunk floor to make that possible.
To cut a long story short, Grandma used the car on Saturday and Sunday to go to the store or to church. After six years, the car only had 2000 miles. Many times she would walk to church, which was a mile and a half away. Probably the main factor in why she lived to be 98. One Sunday, however, she was feeling drowsy and hit a parked car near her house. She apologized to the owner and said she would come back after church. The car only had minor damage at this point, so she drove away. Another block later, however, she hit another car. This time, the Valiant’s radiator was damaged so she came back home and parked the car. Dad brought the car to our house and got a new hood, grille, and radiator. Good enough to drive, so back it went to Grandma’s house. Grandma was hesitant to drive though, since she had seen a recent accident where someone got hurt. Thus, she called up Dad and told him that she didn’t want to drive anymore. One of the grandchildren could have the car. I put in my bid for it and was told it was mine.
Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone once I got the car. No radio? I went and got a factory AM radio at a local junkyard and installed it. Hate AM radio? Installed an FM radio converter. Rubber floor? Went and got a red carpet remnant and installed it. . The tires were 6 years old and in need of replacement due to age, so I went to Sears and bought a set of their “Made in France” (Michelin) radials. Life was grand.
Right after I got the car, my brother borrowed it to do some errands. About an hour after he left, I got a call from him that he’d had an accident. No one was hurt, but the new to me Valiant was the worse for wear. He’d been t-boned in the right side. Dad and I went to work to repair the damage, which didn’t look too bad at first inspection, but was worse than we thought. Six months later, the car was back on the road.
Black paint on a car sure looks good when it is cleaned and waxed, but it is also a high maintenance mistress. The partial repaint after the accident left a lot to be desired, so I decided that the $39.95 paint special at Earl Scheib was a good deal and got the car repainted black. Yes, said the salesman, we wet sand the entire car before paint. Right. Whatever I hadn’t sanded before I took it in wasn’t sanded during the process. Plus, they had opened the doors to paint the door jambs. When you moved the seat belts on the front seat, you could see the outline of the overspray. Many hours of rubbing the paint job down got it to an acceptable level.
Many good years of use followed, with only normal maintenance items. Of note, replacing the points and condenser on a Slant Six engine was troublesome due to the location of the distributor at the bottom of the engine. More than once, the distributor had to be pulled out because I dropped the screw into it. Brake adjustment was frequent because the self-adjusters didn’t work very well. Both the windshield and the back window leaked water due to the design of the glass gaskets. The windshield leak eventually causes the headlights to fail as the water leaked onto a connector in the A pillar kick panel. The trunk leak accumulated in the spare tire well. Removing a plug at the bottom created a permanent drain.
After college, the car continued its yeoman service moving me to my first job in Iowa, then to a subsequent transfer in Maryland. The 170 /6 was no power house, but it did get me to where I needed to be when I needed to be there. In 1976, the Valiant was getting up in mileage so I decided to look for a new car. Once again, like the Vega, I fell victim to the pre-introduction hype manufactured by the American auto companies. I gave the Valiant to my brother, who drove the car for three more years before selling it to someone else. With only 2000 miles in its first three years of life, the car must have thought retirement was grand. Then, after I got it, it received another 120,000+ miles before it was finally retired. Truly a Valiant car!