Automotive History – The Valiant in Australia, Part 1

Valiant S series ute

(first posted 1/16/2015)   When writing the post about the 1972 Chrysler by Chrysler the other week, I thought I should explain why there was a full-blown Brougham version of a Valiant. It was not easy to explain its different position in the market and how the car ended up very different as well in what ended up being just two short paragraphs, and in fact I realised that the Valiant background was about to take over the post and cut it short with the idea to do another post allowing for more detail.

Now before we start, I must confess that the ute above was not actually built by Chrysler Australia, the first Valiant was a four door sedan only here, I saw it at a car show five years ago. It was built using panels from a later-model ute.

1937 Dodge ute

Chrysler-Dodge-De Soto Distributors (Australia) Pty Ltd was formed in 1935, as a consortium of 18 independent importers to achieve a stronger operation than individual importers in each state. The company was taken over by the Chrysler Corporation in 1951, together with the body-building firm TJ Richards that had been building car bodies since 1913. Import tariffs meant that very few cars were imported fully built-up, rather it was usual to have local assembly from kits with local bodies – yes there were utes!

1956 Plymouth Cranbrook ute

After the initial post-war seller’s market eased Chrysler struggled to compete with Ford and GM which both sold a range of American and British cars, for which Chrysler had no competition as the involvement with Simca did not occur until 1958. A important shift took place after 1948 when the Holden building towards taking over half of the entire market by the end of the fifties. The requirement to build cars locally exposed manufacturers who sold in small numbers, and an early effect was Chrysler carrying over the 1953-54 Plymouth, Dodge and De Sotos through 1955 and 1956 because there had not been sufficient return on tooling costs. Ford would do the same thing running the 1955-56 car for another two years, but the 1957 Chryslers would not see Australian production either.

Chrysler Royal AP2

Instead there was to be an Australian market-specific Chrysler model that was created by adapting 1956 Plymouth style front fenders, a wrap-around rear window and fins to the basic 1954 body. The Royal was a little smaller than other US cars by that stage, particularly in width, but much larger and heavier than a Holden. Although it was initially planned to be built as a Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler, this fragmentation was soon recognised as folly and the car would be sold only as the Chrysler Royal from February 1957 with the model code AP1 (for Australian Production 1).

Chrysler AP3 Wayfarer ute

Initially the cars came only with the 230/250 flathead sixes, and a 313 V8 was soon added. With two updates (AP2 & AP3) at approximately two-year intervals mainly involving trim changes and the addition and then removal of ‘saddle’ fins the car would be built through to 1964. However only 13,600 cars were built in this time, split roughly equal between models (4,748/4,044/4,444 – note the AP3 production run was much longer, showing a ‘normal’ sales drop over a long model run). This included the Plainsman wagon, Wayfarer ute and also commercial chassis, and together with a relatively small number of full-size car sales it was obvious that something needed to be done.

Chrysler Royal AP2 and contemporary Holden

Luckily for both Chrysler and Ford Australia, the new US compacts came along at just the right time to form effective competition for the Holden. In 1960 one of the new Valiants was brought out for evaluation, and of course it was a very competent vehicle so there is no need to introduce it again. The big issue to be faced was the six slanted towards the drivers side on what would have to be a right-hand drive car. The steering box would have to find a home together with the coil, distributor, fuel pump under the engine and the gear linkages also posed a problem for the conversion.

The National Motor Museum’s 1963 Holden, 1963 Valiant and 1960 Falcon

The introduction of the Valiant in Australia did not go to plan however, and with delays insurmountable the decision was taken to import 1,000 CKD body kits to get the car to market sooner. January 1962 would see the launch of the RV1 or R-series car to an enthusiastic response. Local testing had seen some adaptations made such as increasing the wheel rim size to 14” for better ground clearance and the decision was taken to only offer the 225 ci engine rather than the 170. To keep things simple only a four-door sedan was offered.

R (foreground) and S series Valiants

Production got underway properly with the SV1 Valiant in March 1962, bringing with it numerous changes. Externally the toilet seat trunk lid was gone along with the cats-eye tail lights, replaced by round units and the radiator grille was different.

R series interior

Apologies for the poor photo, but it does show the rather tortured floor-shift gear lever of the R series

A manual gearbox shift moved from the floor to the steering column, there were larger brakes and the fuel tank now held 11.7 gallons (53L/14USgal). Sealed ball joints and tie rods reduced service costs. This time the run was just on 10,000 units and again the cars sold in double-quick time. Thanks to their distinctive style, the early Valiants have always had a strong following and many survive.

AP5 Valiant

The next step was the AP5 Valiant launched in May 1963, returning to the Australian Production nomenclature of the Royal. This signified some significant deviations from the US car, such as a flat rear window, higher trunk lid and unique grille. Rear sheetmetal was stamped locally, while the front clip came from the US in a move intended to enable easy adoption of any facelifts. Again detail improvements were made to the mechanicals and an upmarket Regal trim was added to combat the Holden Premier and Falcon Futura.

AP5 wagon (possibly with modified tail lights)

A wagon was added for the first time later in the year, called the Safari and notable for its load capacity: the floor was 18” longer than the competing Holden wagon with seats folded. The improvements together with more conventional styling saw waiting lists grow, despite just under 50,000 cars being built in 22 months. At the same time the new Tonsley Park factory in Adelaide’s south was under construction to increase capacity.

AP6 Valiant

March 1965 saw the AP6 Valiant launched, with a more expressive grille similar to the US Plymouth Valiant and Barracuda but more importantly a full-width dash fascia inside. Two important additions to the range followed, a Wayfarer ute and the 180hp 273ci V8, the latter came with power-assisted brakes standard although discs were not yet available.

AP6 Regal

V8 sedans were identified with a vinyl roof in addition to badging, while station wagons had a roof rack. An illustration of how basic cars could be in this era is the announcement that windscreen washers were now standard across the whole range.

AP6 Valiant Wayfarer ute

Today the first model ute is a rare sighting as only 2,000 or so were built.

VC Valiant Regal

The March 1966 VC Valiant was a major facelift and had significant changes with available disc brakes, a new all-synchro manual gearbox and the Torqueflight being replaced by the Borg Warner auto used across the Australian car industry. This also applied to the manual gearbox and rear axle and was part of the push to meet the 95% local content required under the 1964 Menzies Local Content Plan; this would have implications later on. Air deflectors were fitted each side of the station wagon tailgate to prevent dust accumulating on unsealed roads.

Valiant VC wagon

This was probably the peak period for the Valiant, with a more powerful 6-cylinder engine than the competition and for a few months at least the only V8 available. Overall the Valiant was more upmarket than the Holden or Falcon competition, although the Premier and Fairmont respectively were worthy alternatives with their own strengths.

UK VC Valiant Regal

At this time the Valiant was also exported to the UK to rather ambitiously start taking over from the Humber Super Snipe. While probably the best option available to Chrysler, who now owned the Rootes Group that built the Humber, replacing a pukka luxury car with a car based on a cheap economy model was a tall order and it never really caught on. This view also shows the distinctive tail lights of this model (note the wagon and ute retained the previous styling).

Crocodile Dundee VC ute

Surely the most famous Australian Valiant must be the “Never Never Safari Tours” VC Wayfarer that appeared in the 1986 film Crocodile Dundee, driven by the great John Meillon as Wally.  The car was in the Fremantle Motor Museum, in the port suburb of Perth in Western Australia.  The museum has since closed after the lease on the wharf-front was not renewed by the Port, I am not sure where the car is now.

VE white sedan

The VE model Valiant introduced in October 1967 adopted the new generation body from the USA, although it was a mix-and-match of the 108” Valiant wheelbase and Dodge Dart front sheetmetal. There were still significant variations from the US car though, with a unique roofline and rear window.  Responding to the competition’s more powerful engines a 2-barrel 160 hp of the 225 slant six was available.

VE Valiant V.I.P.

There were a lot of new safety features across the board and a new top trim, the VIP which had a vinyl and small rear window to distinguish it externally, together with bucket seats featuring adjustable head rests on the inside. The three chrome strips on the rear fender indicate a v8 engine.

VE Wayfarer ute

The Australian Valiant continued to be available as a Safari wagon as well as a Wayfarer ute because while Chrysler Australia was still selling the full-size Dodge Phoenix it was in fairly small numbers, and they had not yet introduced the Hillman Hunter (that looked like a shrunken Valiant). The Valiant was their bread-and-butter car and needed to offer a full range of body styles. Full in the Australian sense that is; there was no interest in a large 2-door sedan, while a 2-door hardtop would be trialled later in response to the 1968 Holden Monaro.

VE wagon rear

The VE would be the first Valiant to win the prestigious Wheels magazine Car of the Year award and was a much-needed response to the 1966 HR Holden and XR Falcon, with the latter now having a more spacious interior, powerful V8 option and the long-wheelbase Fairlane luxury version.

VF Valiant VIP

The VF model introduced in March 1969 would address some of these issues with a new long-wheelbase (112”) Chrysler VIP model (not badged as a Valiant), a 210 hp 318 V8 to replace the 273 and air conditioning as an option. Unlike the Aussie Fairlane, the extra wheelbase of the VIP was done the “proper” way by lengthening the rear doors instead of between the door and wheel arch. The VIP also gained dual headlights to further distinguish it from lesser variants, which including a new Regal 770 trim. Also note that the front turn signal was now set into the top of the fender.

VF Pacer rear

The first of two other significant introductions was the Pacer performance model which had 175 hp thanks to higher compression, a 2-barrel carb and less restrictive exhaust. The car came with a tachometer, finned drums (optional power discs) and lowered suspension – plus some stripes of course! The manual gearbox shifter was on the floor, but perhaps because it required fewer changes, the shift pattern placed reverse where you might expect to find 1st, which was actually below it.

VF Pacer engine

Top speed was up around 8 mph while the ¼ mile was done in 17.6 seconds – regarded as good then (for a 6-cyl), but glacial now! The Pacer represented Chrysler joining the Falcon GT and Holden Monaro GTS on the race track as well as at the traffic lights, but as with some of the US Mopar models being a 6-cylinder it was a cheaper option to purchase, fuel and insure.

VF Hardtop

Six months later the Hardtop was added to the lineup as Chrysler’s response to the Holden Monaro. It was built using imported Dodge Dart body panels from the firewall back combined with the new local front sheetmetal. The Dart’s 111” wheelbase and lengthy tail makes it the longest coupe ever built in Australia, even compared with the later model Valiant Hardtop.

VG Hardtop

The VG Valiant of August 1970 was the last new model for this generation, with another facelift featuring rectangular headlights this time and wrap-around tail lights. There were various improvements such as the first standard air conditioning on an Australian car for the VIP but the big news was the $33 million new engine, unique to Australia although I gather it was briefly considered for use in the US also.

VG wagon

It was called the 245 Hemi as the name had some recognition in Australia despite the 426 not reaching these shores (on the street at least), mind you the combustion chambers were not truly hemispherical, as Paul has previously explained. The base single barrel had 165 hp and 235 lb-ft, both representing a useful gain over the 225 slant six, and it was 40 lb lighter.

Pacer decal

The Pacer programme was expanded and now had the choice of a 2-bbl making 185hp or optionally 195 hp, or even a 4-bbl version with 235 hp. The Hemi Pacer dropped the quarter mile time by an impressive 1.2 sec over the 225, to 16.4 sec.

VG Pacer Hemi 245 engine

The only thing more confusing than that was the different color scheme that the different engines were painted – it was the 1970s after all! The engine above can be identified as a 195 hp version thanks to the yellow painted rocker cover and air cleaner instead of black for a 185 hp Pacer or silver on the standard engine.  Mind you once the bean counters found out that the different paint schemes cost more, they were quickly dropped.

VG Pacer race car

The brakes were upgraded to ventilated front discs, albeit without power assistance, and many other performance or racing-oriented options were available. This included a 35-gallon fuel tank (159L/42 USgal) for the sedans that were to be raced in the Bathurst 500 mile race.

VG Pacer Hardtop rear

Another new option for the Pacer was the Hardtop. It is worth noting the ‘way out’ paint colour names typical of the era; Bondi Bleach White, Thar She Blue, Little Hood Riding Red, Hot Mustard and Hemi Orange.

VG Pacer rear

This brings us to the end of part one of the story of the Valiant in Australia as well as cars immediately identifiable as a Valiant for North American readers; next time we will get into the new generation that ran through to 1981, longer than Chrysler itself in Australia!

Part 2 – The Valiant In Australia

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