The Ultimate Curbside Classic #2: 1965 Plymouth Valiant Daily Driver With Well Over 400k (500k?) Miles – (Update: Still In Daily Driver Use)

(first posted at the other site in 2010, and here in 2012. I recently saw it again in traffic, but couldn’t get a shot. In many ways, this is the pretty much the Ultimate CC, along with the original Ultimate CC, the ’56 F-350 that I still see working away from time to time. Since the owner of this Valiant uses it for his business that takes him all over the North West, I would strongly suspect it now has over 500k miles. If I can track him down, I’ll get an update)

Let me ask it this way: how many cars have their owners replace their V8 engines with a slant six? If you understand the true attraction of Chrysler’s A-Bodies with the slant six as the ultimate long-life American Roach of the Road™, you’ll understand why. There are several dozen A-bodies in Eugene, and I have shot many of them, and yet I still keep uncovering new ones. Many are still used to some degree or another, although most are clearly slowing down in their old age. Not this ’65 Valiant: it’s still in full front-line duty, as the business vehicle for an energy specialist that regularly takes him all across the North West. Needless to say, he’s also the ultimate A-Body owner, with his type-A attention to modifying his Valiant in a way to keep it suitable for his preferences and today’s conditions. This baby is good to go for the long haul.

The Valiants, Darts and all their offshoots produced from 1960 through 1976 long ago became recognized for their rugged simplicity, which made them perfect for cheap, reliable and potentially long-term transportation. Although it was a flexible platform that also lent itself to terrific performance applications like the Duster 340 and the early Barracuda, the more typical application was for utility. With the legendary slant six, they were the appliances of cars. A white Dart I picked out for a friend decades ago was dubbed The Kelvinator: the refrigerator of cars.

This 1965 Valiant wagon is owned by the typical kind of fanatical keeper of the A-Body flame; not as a hobby or out of nostalgia. This is purely for work; the equivalent of Mike McCool’s 1956 Ford F-350. Owner Alan Van Zuuk has owned several A-Bodies over the decades, and this one found its way to him some years back. And he knew exactly how he wanted modify it for his purpose.

Out went the original 273 V8 and three speed transmission, and in went a “Super Six” 225 slant six from the mid seventies, a version with a stock two barrel carb that still gives excellent economy but also the extra punch when needed. It’s backed by an A833 four speed overdrive stick shift and a 3.23 rear axle. This results in relaxed low-rpm highway cruising. The rear drum brakes are 2 inch units from…something else, as well as the front disc brakes. The stiffer V8 torsion bars/springs combined with other suspension upgrades optimize the intrinsic good handling of the A-Bodies. Alan says he’s surprised more than one BMW and Mercedes on some of the curving downhill stretches of mountain passes he frequents on his many drives. And Alan wants you to know he’s got some nice wheels for his summer tires.

The Valiant had over 100k on the odometer when he picked it up, and he’s put well over another 250k on it since modifying it. The total is close to 400k (update: that was six years ago), and there’s no succession plan. Alan showed me a number of other details, including his home-spun steering wheel cover and other modifications in the driver’s compartment, the details of which now elude me. But you get the drift: he’s an A-Body nerd, and he’s got it set up just the way he likes and takes advantage of the cheap parts stashed away that used to be so readily available at the junk yard.

The 1960-1962 Valiants and Dodge Lancers had styling so off-putting that even the Corvair outsold it, despite the little Mopar’s excellent underpinnings. But the restyle for 1963 was perfect: less adventurous yet not too boring. Most of all, it seemed to express its inner durable soul, in the way the eccentric earlier version didn’t. Sales picked up dramatically after the restyle, which also included a handsome coupe and convertible, along with the wagon. Of course, the wagon kept the whole rear end inner structure intact from the ’60-’62 version, as a cost cutting measure. Which explains why the rear wheel cut out is full round, unlike the other ’63 and up Valiants and Darts.

But why the next major redesign for 1967 dropped the wagon is beyond me, except for the obvious reason that it probably didn’t sell that well. Still, it must have sold better than the rag top, which survived the cut. And the wagon seems like such an obvious choice to go along with the A-Body’s practicality. Figure it. Anyway, Alan makes full use of his wagon to haul the baggage of his trade.  Good luck finding a replacement if the body on this one finally wears out. He’ll have to switch over to a Volvo 245, like so many former A-Body drivers have. Talk about the perfect replacement; rarely have two vehicles from such different backgrounds ended up being so similar.

The A-Body story is a long and rich one.  But when it comes to its most essential quality, none will top this evergreen ’65 wagon.

The Ultimate CC: 1956 Ford F-350 Still Working Away