Australia’s long relationship with the U.S. Big Three automakers and the American-influenced designs produced as a result have been extensively covered here, as shown in the large Australian Brands Archive of past features. GM’s Holden and Ford have dominated the conversation, with Chrysler in Australia receiving far less coverage, reflecting their historic market shares. Now here is an example of perhaps the ultimate Australian Mopar muscle car, spotted at a beach on the last day of a recent trip to Australia: the Chrysler Valiant Charger 770SE, a limited edition produced briefly in 1972-73.
“Chrysler Valiant Charger” presents an unusual mix of names to Americans, so a brief explanation of its origins is in order. Chrysler Australia Ltd. sold cars using a variety of Chrysler Corporation division names from 1951 to 1980, and when it introduced an Australian-assembled Plymouth Valiant in 1962, it named the car the Chrysler Valiant. The Chrysler Valiant soon became fully Australian-built, with unique Australian variants designed independently of the U.S parent company, as described in Johnh875’s detailed history of the Australian Valiant in 2015 (Part 1, Part 2). The Chrysler Valiant Charger emerged in 1971, as the two door coupe version of the 1971-73 VH series that was designed entirely in Australia. In this way, Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge nameplates came together on a uniquely Australian Mopar.
This rear view shows that Chrysler Australia’s stylists derived inspiration from the earlier U.S.-market Dodge Charger, with the tunnel-back roofline and tail spoiler of the 1968-70 Dodge Charger evident on the 1971-73 Chrysler Valiant Charger. The similar styling elements further highlight the mixed American and Australian origins of the Chrysler Valiant Charger.
The result was a coupe similar to American pony cars but different from them in significant ways. The 1971-73 Valiant Charger rode on a 105 inch wheelbase, substantially shortened from the VH Valiant sedan’s 111 inches, and shorter than the 108 inches of a Plymouth Barracuda or the 110 inches of a Dodge Challenger from the same year, or the 108 inches of a first generation Ford Mustang. The Valiant Charger was smaller than its American cousins, and the use of styling cues familiar from the long and low Dodge Charger — built on a 117 inch wheelbase — contributed further to making the Valiant Charger appear remarkably small to my American eyes.
An even more fundamental difference existed under the hood, where Chrysler Australia’s unique “Hemi” inline six powered most Valiant Chargers, rather than the V-8s of its American cousins or its domestic Australian rivals the Holden Monaro and the Ford Falcon GT. Chrysler started the Hemi six design process to replace the Slant Six but abandoned it, and Chrysler Australia picked up the project and continued its development to power its Valiant series. The Hemi six came in 215, 245, and 265 cubic inch versions with outputs ranging from 140 horsepower in the 215 cubic inch base model to 302 horsepower in the 265 cubic inch E49 version with three twin-choke sidedraft Weber carburetors. Only the range-topping Charger 770 luxury model was available with a V-8, initially the 318 cubic inch Chrysler LA-series, which at 230 horsepower was far less powerful than the top Hemi sixes. The Charger 770’s V-8 made it a more relaxed grand touring car than the Hemi six powered versions. The E49-powered Valiant Charger was Australia’s fastest car in 1971, capable of 0-60 in 6.1 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds.
The 770 badge on the rear panel, 340 badge on the front fender, and “CHR E55” license plates indicate that this Chrysler Valiant Charger may be no ordinary example. In 1972, Chrysler Australia introduced the Valiant Charger 770 SE (Special Edition), powered by Chrysler’s high performance 340 cubic inch LA-series V-8. Chrysler Australia had imported a supply of 340 V-8s to homologate them for use in the Australian Touring Car Championship but ended up cancelling the project. To recoup the cost of the engines, Chrysler used them in a Special Edition of the Valiant Charger 770, with the 340 V-8 designated the E55 engine. Even the E55 340 V-8 could not match the performance of the E49 265 Hemi six, being rated at 275 horsepower, but the potential for more performance was there with further development.
Only 125 examples of the Valiant Charger 770 SE were made in 1972-73 before the Valiant VH series gave way to the Valiant VJ Series. The E55 340 V-8 continued in the VJ Series in 1973-74 in the Charger 770, no longer as a “Special Edition.” When the stock of 340 V-8s ran out in 1974, a lower-powered two barrel 360 V-8 from the “Chrysler by Chrysler” luxury sedan became the Charger 770’s powerplant, bringing the E55 340 V-8’s era to a close.
The odds of encountering a Chrysler Valiant Charger 770 SE on the street in 2020 are very low, so this car may have been a “tribute” car with the badges of a 770 SE added. The lack of white vinyl trim on the C-pillar vents and the lower side window edges, a feature of the 770 SE, indicates that this car is a more common Valiant Charger. Or maybe the car is a 770 SE, and its owner removed the vinyl trim pieces before a repaint. I cannot say for certain, not having met the car’s owner. I count myself lucky to have seen a Chrysler Valiant Charger of any sort in public, and moreover to have seen one doing a quintessentially Australian thing, going to the beach.
The Chrysler Valiant Charger will never be as well known to Americans as its Australian rivals the Holden Monaro, which came to the United States as the 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO, or the Ford Falcon GT, featured in the movies as “the last of the V-8 Interceptors” in Mad Max and The Road Warrior and as Eric Bana’s car of a lifetime in his 2009 documentary film Love the Beast. This brief profile could only scratch the surface of the Chrysler Valiant Charger’s story, but it allowed a look at the car’s rarest version, one with great performance potential that the factory did not realize during the small production run. There is plenty of room for arguing that the all-Australian E49 Hemi six was a superior performer. So this feature will end as it began, by asking the reader, the 1972-73 Chrysler Valiant Charger 770SE — was it the ultimate Australian Mopar muscle car?