Family Values: May They Be Valiant, May They Be Reliant


(first posted 9/18/2016)    When we use the phrase, “separated at birth”, we often apply it to similar looking celebrities born to different generations. It also spawned this post, because the two cars in it, found available for sale online on October 15, 2016, are fraternal twins separated by eras. As Mopar offerings in the same size/price segment but offered nearly a quarter century apart, the 1963 Valiant and 1987 Reliant K wagons illustrate changing market dynamics, packaging and evolving styling trends. They are, at once, similar and different. And, they’re both blue…


The last Plymouth compact designed under the direction of Virgil Exner–with late assist by Elwood Engel–the 1963 Valiant (for sale on the took an abrupt about-face from the love it/ hate it first generation’s fuselage with wings design motif. It was more conventional, with 3-box styling, noticeable shoulders and attractive if not striking looks. At a wheelbase of 106 inches, a length of 186.2 inches and weighing in at 2715 lbs., it fit perfectly in the American Compact category. And, you can count me among those who find it the handsomest body style offered by Valiant that year.


1987 was the seventh year of production for the Plymouth Reliant K  (this one for sale on eBay), which was approaching the end of its cycle. The boxy, sharp edged styling was not particularly sophisticated, but was voguish in its implication of space efficiency and economy. reflecting its space-efficient FWD design, the Reliant was nearly 8 inches shorter than its Valiant forebear at 178.5, wheelbase was almost 6″ shorter at 100.3″. But it probably weighs roughly the same, given its turbo, a/c, and other options. (base weight was 2588 lbs). Both cars were considered compacts. (note; the image is flipped.)


The 1963 Valiant’s face was one of its best features, with a large, open grille flanked by alert looking headlights enhanced by an application of black mascara, under a vestigial Exner clamshell hood. It was simple and attractive.


Benefiting from a 1985 facelift that softened the original K-car “layer cake” grille, the Reliant wore period rectangular sealed beam headlamps and body color bumper covers. Its central pentagram had migrated down from hood ornament status in 1984, occupying the same space as a round Valiant emblem appearing on high end Signet models in 1963.


A significant difference between the two generations in length and wheelbase also shows itself in the relative axle positions. The Valiant’s torsion-bar suspended front axles were placed under the front of the longitudinal engine, and its body overhang was more pronounced at the rear. It had a commodious cargo area between seat and tailgate. The latter is a one piece affair housing the window when it rolls down.


Due to its drivetrain configuration, the Reliant’s front axles are positioned well rearward. And although the K-Car’s cargo area is somewhat truncated, its floor is low and space is useful. Its tailgate lifts in one piece like a hatch, and the top of it is cut into the roof, helping loading. An optional roof rack (also available on Valiants) adds a bit of cargo capacity.


The 1963 Valiant had a serviceable if slightly spartan interior. This example has the all vinyl seating, but nylon weave inserts were also available. The big steering wheel made up somewhat for the standard manual steering (power steering was optional). Shifting is by pushbuttons linked to the legendary Torqueflite 3-speed automatic.


The Reliant K is, as was necessary in its era, plusher than the Valiant inside, but nothing to drool over in 1987. However, it does retain a bench seat even though they were falling out of fashion toward the end of the decade.


For 1963, your choice was between the 170 cid, 101 hp Slant Six, or this longer stroke version, the 225 cid, 145 hp option.  Owners reported 0-60 times in the 12 to 13 second range. One year later, Chrysler Corp. improved on those figures with introduction of the 273 cid V-8.


Surprise. This Reliant’s original 2.2 or 2.5 liter normally aspirated engine was replaced with a Chrysler GTS intercooled turbo developing “almost twice the original’s horsepower” so it undoubtedly wins the acceleration war. If you noted the larger wheels wider tires and performance decals, you must have suspected…


The family resemblance between these two generations of Chrysler Corporation wagons extends to their popularity. According to Allpar, the total production figure for the 1963 Valiant station wagon was 23,011. Amazingly, one quarter century later, its grandson, Reliant K sold 22,905, a difference of just 106 units. It seemed to foretell a constant future for wagons of the size originated with the first American compacts. Given my 2007 Subaru Outback’s length of 186.2 inches– exactly that of the Valiant– and its wheelbase of 105. 1 inches–within an inch–I’d say they were right about that.