Curbside Classic: 1963 Plymouth Valiant – When The Curious Looking Get Self Conscious, Conform.

(first published 4/11/2012)    From time to time we all get a bit insecure about our appearance. Whether it’s our clothes, the angle of our nose or our lack of muscles, there’s something about ourselves we want to change. And no car understands our need to fit in better than the Plymouth Valiant.

We all know the original Valiant. Once seen, never forgotten. Although it has always been my (oddball) cup of tea, its ranking at the back of the Big 3 pack of compacts in sales, despite its far superior performance and all around competence, must have been a big sore point for Mopar.

Meanwhile the cherubic and non-offensive Falcon continued to clean up in sales. The trendsetting Corvair, wild as it was, still had very healthy sales, and even the faux-elegant Comet was doing decent business. It was obvious dressing all that torsion bar/Slant Six/Torqueflite goodness in outre styling from the mind of increasingly embattled Virgil Exner wasn’t the way into thrifty wallets.

Virgil himself must have been stung strongly to do such an about face on what was his first salvo in the post Forward Look era to come up with such a subdued follow up. It was cleaner and more generic that the wild child that came out of the Highland Park womb in the fall of 1959.

About the only hint that underneath the new conservative cardigan and khakis, this was the same overachieving Valiant as before is the slight rotundness of the decklid between those two blunt almost fins, which were added by incoming Design Chief Elwood Engel, to square up the rear end some. One of the visual impressions that the new Valiant gave was of general compactness. the 1960-62 Valiants seem like a larger sea of undulating curves that belie its rather abbreviated compact size.

Along with the buttoned down appearance came a little bit of open air flair for the Valiant in the form of V200 and Signet convertibles. Prices across the board were also reduced a bit, keeping with the themes of renewed conservatism. One has to wonder if all of those loops and curves cost all that much more per car.

Actually Valiant could brag about being America’s lowest priced convertible for 1963, since they offered two trim levels of Convertible, the mid level 200 and the top trim Signet. Falcon, Lark, Corvair and Nova only offered convertibles in their top trim levels. And few of those top down fun machines came with as much zest for the dollar as the Valiant did.

Although a V8 option wouldn’t appear for another model year, the 170 cube and 225 cube Slant Sixes held their own against the competition. And both engines were cheaper than the V8 and turbo options of its competition. The argument can be made that the Valiant, even after 4 years, had the best six cylinder options among the crop of compacts.

All of this chalked up to the Valiant’s having a great year in 1963, appearing all new against all of its competitors. More than 225,000 of the variety of Valiants this year headed home to willing customers.

It actually set a new tone in the life trajectory of the Valiant. By 1963 the Falcon was at a crossroads between appealing to the more luxury compact dynamic set forth by the Corvair Monza and the original intended purpose of being a no frills throwaway first car. Once Ford focused on the Mustang, the Falcon floundered, becoming an also ran in the field it dominated almost as quickly as it became the star of the class of ’60.

The Valiant, however, went from the weirdo that ate his boogers to being the respectable accountant (or the more talented Falcon). A respectable accountant that got good referrals from happy customers each year, solidifying the reputation of being the pragmatic choice for people who really didn’t care about cars.

Inherently even if an appliance is excellent, if it looks unfamiliar few customers will take it. By trimming the wild plumage previously festooned on the bones, the Plymouth Valiant transformed overnight into that phenomenon we came to know so well in the post-war era.

The Appliance Car. (Thanks to Paul for the photos of the red Valiant from Eugene).