Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: 1960 Valiant – Better Than the Competition Except In Build Quality and Styling Coherence

Mike Hayes has found a car I’ve long wanted to find as it’s never really gotten a proper write-up here at CC. I’m afraid I’m a bit too busy to do that right now, but let’s give the 1960 Valiant a bit of summertime love and attention.

It really is a bit unfortunate that Virgil Exner couldn’t find a somewhat more cohesive and palatable way to integrate some very advanced design/styling elements of the Valiant. That most of all applies to this view, which makes it look a bit frog-like. Or something other than automotive. But it also does show the very advanced “fuselage design” that he created for this car, whereby the doors curve in to meet the windows without the usual step or shoulder of the times, which tended to make cars of the period look like a smaller box was set on a longer and wider box below it. Fords had the most extreme case of that.

The Valiant’s sides were way ahead of their times; only curved glass, which was too expensive, could have made them look even more like they were a decade ahead of the competition. But its rear end is what attracts the attention, or should I say distracts the attention. Oh well; with Exner you have to take the bad with the good.

The front was a whole lot better, combining a semi-classical grille with very advanced low-set headlights along with the “side fins” or whatever you want to call them, running along the front fender and into the front door.

Of course it was what was hiding under its complicated body that was the most attractive about the Valiant; its superior suspension including a torsion bar SLA front and leaf springs in the back. The Valiant was also Chrysler’s first true full unibody, as the big cars in 1960 still had a complete front sub-frame that carried the suspension and drive train loads. The Valiant’s fully integrated body and suspension would be the template for the 1962 down-sized Plymouth and Dodges, which became the long-running B and R body, and various offshoots. In this regard, the Valiant can rightfully be seen as the progenitor of all future Chrysler RWD passenger cars, for decades to come.

And then of course there was the slant six, an engine that was inherently superior to the Falcon six in terms of its displacement (170 vs 144 CID) and power (101 hp vs. 85). That 101 hp rating was commonly held to be a bit conservative, and the slant six’s 12 port cylinder head was very amenable to the typical power-boosting methods, as in the factory-available Hyper Pak, which included a four barrel carb, a 148 hp rating, and made the Valiant the dominant car in NASCAR’s new compact stock car racing class.

The side view really shows off Exner’s advanced thinking, not only in terms of the fuselage styling (his term), but also the long-hood, short-deck proportions that were almost radically ahead of anyone else in terms of passenger car design, which at the time was all about boxiness and symmetry.

The set-back windshield enhanced that effect, and created a rather unusual dashboard design that was also very different, with a binnacle in front of the driver but the rest of the dash almost ran straight down from the windshield. It created a very different effect, especially for the front seat passenger.

The Valiant was bigger, heavier and more powerful than the Falcon and Corvair, which had positive impacts on its ride, performance and handling, but did mar its fuel economy.

What really makes the Valiant remarkable is that it was completely developed in just 18 14 months, from the time Chrysler management finally gave the green light to the day it started running off the lines. This was something of a Tesla move, and with similar consequences: the 1960 Valiants had numerous deficiencies in its build quality, which quickly turned into a public embarrassment and no doubt impacted its sales to some extent.

The 1960 Valiant, with 194k sales, ran a solid #3 behind the Falcon (436k) and Corvair (250k). And Valiant sales drooped in ’61 and ’62. Even adding in sales of its Dodge Lancer semi-clone, the two together sold significantly fewer units than the Corvair did in ’61 and ’62, never mind the Falcon. Things started to get better in that regard in 1963, after both the Chrysler compacts were thoroughly restyled, by Exner, no less.

I have some vintage reviews of all three of the 1960 compacts which I will post soon. They give an even better impression of how these compacts were experienced at the time of their birth.


Here’s a great Chrysler video that documents the development of the Valiant.