Back in the beforetimes, theatregoers would see a newsreel and/or cartoons before the billboard movie. This morning’s filmstrip makes a fine appetiser for this feature presentation of “403 Midland Ave”, Chrysler’s 1959 movie about the design and development of the 1960 Valiant.
It’s clearly meant for general consumption; there’s probably more than warranted emphasis on cloak-and-dagger secrecy and other such tools to stoke public intrigue. Even so, there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in here, whether or not you care much about early Valiants. And those “others” mentioned at the end must’ve done their job, because just you see what happened in 1961.
I am happy to be able to finally show this film; it was a lot of years in the acquisition and digitising. Steady your popcorn and hug your date; this one’s a shoo-in for an Oscar, sure!
American car manufacturers took great risks in the late 1950s. There was still remaining exuberance from winning the war. Some risk-takers won and some lost. Chrysler Corporation obviously had a lot of resources tied in to the Valiant, and if it has been a failure, it might have broken the whole corporation.
And then… a whole lot of nothing. Looking at the guts of the original Valiant, and then looking at its descendant A-bodies (and later F- and M-bodies) not a heck of a lot changed through their demise in 1989. Okay, sure – there were disc brakes, and (mostly mandated) safety and emissions upgrades, but the “bones” of a 1960 Valiant are still evident in a 1989 Plymouth Gran Fury.
Not that Chrysler was alone in this stagnation. There’s a whole lot of 1960 Ford Falcon in a 1980 Ford Granada. A ’62 Nova is a lot like a ’79 Nova.
It’s not clear to me whether they felt they had achieved perfection and only needed incremental improvements, or something changed and nobody wanted to take risks in that 20+ year period.
Er…Evan, there is actually very little in common, mechanically, between a Valiant and a Volaré or Gran Fury. The fact you can put an ’89 Diplomat starter on a ’63 Valiant doesn’t mean they’re the same car—they really are not.
Yes, you are correct… mechanically speaking. But philosophically speaking… effectively unchanged are the suspension concepts all around, the TorqueFlite, the Slant Six or 318.
The 1960 Valiant was A Great Leap Forward. Chrysler didn’t have another one until the 1981 K-cars. (You could maybe count the L-bodies of 1977, but those were mostly an American re-conception of the Talbot.)
No, the F-M bodies had a completely new front suspension. And a totally new body structure. Only the drive train components were shared, which was done all across the lines at all the car companies.
And no, a ’62 Nova is nothing like a 79 Nova, except for the six and four cylinder engines. The ’68 Nova shared the new ’67 Camaro’s platform, which had nothing in common with the ’62-’66 Chevy II platform/architecture/front suspension, and body structure. The ’62-’66 Chevy II was a true unibody, with a Falcon-like front suspension. The Camaro and ’68-up Nova used a front sub frame, with a suspension design similar to the GM larger cars.
How about doing a bit of research before making sweeping generalizations?
The F/M moved the torsion bars to the front of the familiar bolt-on K member with transverse mounting, but I’m not so sure the floor pan changed all that much from the A-Body. In fact looking at what images i can find it appears the F body still has the large crossmember that spans the rockers, with a bolt-on middle section for transmission mounting, which acted as the anchor point for the longitudinal torsion bars.
The discussion of platform and generation seems to get muddled with generalizations often, but I don’t feel Evan was any more off base than any of the more accepted generalizations concerning platform. The F/M was clearly fundamentally derived from the A-body, even if little if any internal stampings will physically interchange. The Chevy II, as you explained, indeed underwent a major transformation for 68+ and can’t be grouped together, but the Falcon/Granada connection, which I noticed you didn’t mention, is as always generalized into a singular platform as well, just like this. Very little “Falcon platform” models shared body structure with each other though, other than shared Ford/Mercury siblings and the 66-70 Falcon with the Fairlane. Unlike Chrysler the suspension designs remained consistent from beginning to end, but at the end of the day that’s what defines them as part of some sort of platform family.
With the Volare I’m not sure the direction of the torsion bars matters very much, especially with them being housed in a removable K member. The fact that the F/M bodies even continued using torsion bars at all is sticking to the original Valiant formula. Other changes from A to F were no more extensive than other A-body redesigns after the original 60, especially the widened 67-76 they replaced.
Oh, brother. Zoom out far enough, and all cars are alike. The difficulty you’re having, Matt, is that you’ve tried to zoom in closer than your lens (knowledge) can support. The F/M suspension wasn’t just a reshuffled or reconfigured A-B-C-E-body suspension, it really was wholly different in all the ways that matter; “It has torsion bars” and “it has upper and lower control arms” and “there’s a K-member” aren’t on that list, and neither is “The transmission is mounted on a crossmember”…unless we zoom out too far.
The floorpans are nothing alike…unless we zoom out too far.
The F/M was not “fundamentally derived from the A-body”, and your claim that “other changes from A to F were no more extensive than other A-body redesigns” might almost be correct if it weren’t so completely wrong by apparent dint of ignorance.
And all of this is well beside the point of the movie.
Matt; not buying it, in the least. The F body was a “clean sheet” car, originally designed to replace both the A and the B Bodies. Every dimension, proportion, seating height, cowl relationship, and every body part, inner and outer, was designed from scratch. The front suspension was completely new, and even the rear suspension had significant differences from any Mopar predecessors.
Yes, of course, some parts had to be shared, the obvious ones. And yes, given that it’s a unibody RWD Chrysler product, some of the structural elements might look similar. But the F body was designed from scratch to be significantly stiffer, and with better safety characteristics.
You’re the first person I’ve heard to suggest the F Body is a direct development of the A Body, and not a new generation. Sorry, but you’re wrong on this one.
If you don’t believe me, there’s several good articles on its development at allpar, starting here: https://www.allpar.com/model/aspen.html
Every dimension, proportion, seating height, cowl relationship, and every body part, inner and outer, was designed from scratch.
And I wasn’t disputing that, but the same could be said for a 1973+ B body compared to a 1970. The changes from the A body were exactly what you’d expect on a chassis that was nearly 10 years newer, but the core fundamentals were very much a next generation of the A-Body than something truly clean sheet, like the K car. Note this quote from Allpar:
The Plymouth Volare and Dodge Aspen had the usual Mopar unitized body, torsion bar front suspension, and leaf-spring rear suspension, but in front, supposedly to give the compact cars a “big car” ride (but possibly to make room for the catalytic convertor), they had transverse-mounted torsion bars. The rest of the front suspension was traditional, with upper A-arms, lower control arms, and standard sway bar.
IOW, the changes to the A to create the F in suspension were largely to mimick the changes made to the 73+ B body, which was extra mechanical isolation from the unibody. The transverse torsion bars were just another step to further improve that (since they longer were anchored directly to the unibody). Because these were ostensibly intended to absorb B-body sales, they had to match the level of refinement they had been engineering into those up to that point.
Daniel, yes, I fully concede a degree of ignorance with this, BUT the point I contend is that Evan isn’t far off base with his original claim, which is that the similarities are close enough where one could reach the conclusion that an A body and an M body are genetically related, as generations of platforms often are, despite lack of interchange(how much does a 1959 GM B body share with a 1996? Nothing. But they’re still both B bodies). The A and F are just not fundamentally even that different in execution.
And other than saying they appear similar underneath, have I explicitly said they physically shared stampings? I had two underbody pictures in two tabs with a Volare and a Duster on rotisseries when I typed that, and can tell even with low resolution they were different stampings.
Also, “the transmission being mounted on a crossmember” is not what I said, or intended to even elaborate on. I used the transmission mounting specifically as a point of reference on the underbody for that chunky horizontal floorpan reenforcement that spans rocker panel to rocker panel that the transmission crossmember on these mounts between. That is a very distinctive “torsion bar era” Chrysler unibody thing, since that’s the reenforcement the bars mount to in the longitudinal configuration. You don’t see stampings like this on unibodies from other makes that used conventional coil springs (it’s usually just the longitudinal frame rails tied to the rockers with torque boxes at the very edge of the firewall). That isn’t me saying it’s a shared that stamping or a floorpan, but if the engineering were truly using clean sheet, foregoing any A-body relation, even as a basis to reengineer, why would Chrysler’s engineers still incorporate that section?
Matt, I know saying “I was wrong” comes really hard to you, or maybe is impossible, but you are, in this case. And I’m not wasting time on any of your further attempts to qualify, triangulate or further litigate your original comment.
Sorry; you lose this round. 🙂
I’m a Ford guy but I enjoyed that lots. Even back as a kid, I could tell that Falcon was a Keep it Simple car, and the Chrysler was a different kind of ambitious with the unibody, Slant Six, and so on.
Here’s a similar sort of thing–Chrysler’s publicity was busy back then!
Chrysler advertised heavily in Boys’ Life at that time. I guess they were angling for “Buy one, dad!”. Thanks for posting this!
You’re welcome, Daniel. It’s something I’d found in Boys’ Life (Google Books, searchable!) a while back, and it seemed to find a home here. Yes, lots of Chrysler ads, including drivers-ed related stuff. Thanks again for everything involved in making today’s matinee possible!
Thank you very much for sharing this Daniel. This production is well done. Having the Chief Engineer and Director of Product as host, lends credibility. I enjoyed his subdued and direct delivery on the importance of the Valiant. I find most manufacturer films from the 50s through the 70s unwatchable, with their over-the-top language and hype.
Glad you were able to locate this. I’m not usually one to credit corporations for their passion. But Chrysler seemed driven to make a truly groundbreaking and innovative car. The longevity of many Valiant features and components proves it.
Agreed. The film was mercifully devoid of the overt hyperbole that usually accompanies this kind of marketing propaganda and was actually watchable through to the end. Even the dramatic, film-noir music and top-secret tone wasn’t that off-putting. In fact, I can see a really slick salesman telling a prospective buyer, “You know, I’m really not supposed to be showing you this film but, since you’re a special customer…”. I’m not sure he was revealing anything particularly new or earth shattering on how a new car is developed and can’t imagine the development process for the Corvair or Falcon having been a whole lot different.
Of special note is the part on the slant-six which, to me, was kind of the highlight and went a long way to explaining why it was better than the competition without actually having to give a side-by-side comparison.
In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that the whole point of the film was to put out why the Valiant’s engineering was superior than the Corvair or Falcon, but in a subtle, sophisticated way. I get the feeling that Chrysler knew, early on, that the Valiant’s appearance was going to be ‘polarzing’ (to put it kindly) and this was an effort to appeal to its true strengths. If a prospective buyer really wanted to know why it would be worth spending more to get an admittedly goofy looking 1960 Valiant over a better styled Corvair or Falcon, getting them to sit through this tape would certainly have been a persuasive argument.
I can’t agree, for you are conflating popularity with rectitude. This is basically the same as saying “Madonna sucks!” when what one really means is that they don’t like her music, or saying McDonalds is better than Sardi’s (just look at the sales volume difference!).
The Corvair and Falcon were not “better styled” than the Valiant. They were more conventionally styled, for sure. They were less imaginatively styled, more conservatively styled. None of that implies superiority.
The Corvair and Falcon sold better than the Valiant? Yes, as GM and Ford products tended to, almost always. Was that because of the styling? Perhaps to some degree, but we’ll never know—too many confounding factors: the first few years of Valiants had to struggle against headwinds of poor build quality on the early-production units and poor dealer service experience, the recent memory of thoroughly lousy ’57-’59 Chrysler products, and the hesitation to buy something with so much mechanical newness. The redesigned ’63s had tailwinds from much sturdier build quality and a new, unprecedented, giant-leap-over-everyone-else 5/50 warranty.
And that’s just the short list of objective objections to this notion that the Falcon and Corvair were “better styled” than the Valiant. Subjectively: ah yoo nuts or somethin’?! A sad-sack Falcon or a bathtub-on-wheels Corvair both scream “We were cynically designed with a full measure of our makers’ scorn for small cars and the people so cheap as to think they want one”.
But yeah, cool movie, though, we agree. 🙂
bathtub-on-wheels Corvair…scream “We were cynically designed with a full measure of our makers’ scorn for small cars and the people so cheap as to think they want one”.
Oh boy….the world’s leading designers at the time would like to have a word with you about the Corvair. I guess you haven’t read this:
Daniel, you’re allowed to have your stylistic preferences like for the clearly odd, poorly accepted and obviously not-influential dead-end ’60 Valiant, but dismissing the most influential car on global styling of the whole era as just the result of a cynical ploy to foist a mediocre design on Americans is a bit much. You might want to expand your horizons a wee bit and give some credit where it’s due while still liking your Valiant. Life is not just either-or.
…is exactly why I spent the bulk of my comment deliberately keeping subjectivity out of it, and then disclaimed my subjective opinion as such. :^)
Stands in stark contrast w/ how the unfortunate Falcon came into creation:
Mr. McNamara famously drew up the specs for the Falcon on the back of a church program during Sunday worship.
The Falcon was a conventional homely slug but outsold the good-looking unconventional Corvair and the quirky but solidly engineered Valiant.
Chrysler had the engineering in spades but Ford was always better at marketing than designing vehicles.
Sales of the Valiant got on track with the very nice 1963 restyle. Imagine how differently things might have panned-out if that was the Valiant that had been released in 1960.
On top of much better compact sales, there might have been quite a different outcome of the disastrous 1962 Mopar downsizing if those cars, likewise, had styling closer to the 1963 Valiant than the original 1960 version. The downsizing, in and of itself, was bad enough. But then when Chrysler decided to ape the 1960 Valiant (which hadn’t exactly been well received), that’s all she wrote.
I wouldn’t want to live in that world.
Thanks for this, I owned quite a few Valiants back in the day, mostly way past their use by date but they always got me home, and any issues were easy to work on.
I wonder how much thought was put into right hand drive versions in the development process, as they seemed to cope well in Australia without major problems, the only one was the cracking of the frame rail at the steering box, which would have not been an issue in the US, as I believe the box was solidly bolted to the crossmember,
For reasons too boring to tell here, I have been without the internet for awhile and missed the QOTD “Which car would you buy from the year of your birth”
So it would have been a Red 1962 base model Valiant 2 door sedan (not available in Australia though)
with a 225 and TorqueFlite with some period aftermarket 14″ wheels.
I will be buying a new smallish car in about 3 months, wish they still made basic 2 door sedans.
Edit – i think the cracking frame wasn’t an issue when the cars were new and took a few years to show up,
I owned a 69 Valiant 2 door sedan with the slant 6 and automatic and agree with you and others here that they were solid and good looking cars. Just this morning I was thinking that I would love to find the modern equivalent of that Valiant.
But the real reason why I am replying is that I share your feelings about a 2 door small(ish) car. My current car is a retired police car and while it has been reliable, I wish I could replace it with a smaller car with 2 doors. My current choices are a lightly used Mustang (I would like to find one with a V6 and manual transmission), and a Mazda MX-5. The Honda Civic is almost in the running, too.
Thanks for this great film! We Mopar homers have always known how much better it was than the Falcon or Corvair and now this engineering presentation backs us up. 🙂 I really loved the footage of the 59 Plymouth in action. I’ll bet driving it was a treat compared to the ancient flathead.
A family friend owned a 60 or 61 Valiant when I was a little kid and I was completely intrigued with the odd little thing. I have come to appreciate the unique styling. Imagine hpw these would have sold if they looked like a Falcon.
I find it interesting that they admitted to the Airflow being unsuccessful.
Almost no corporate PR propaganda ever does that.
I caught that, too. Of all the failures in the automotive world, the Airflow might be the most disheartening. It was definitely way ahead of its time in all facets, including styling. Unlike other failures, there was really nothing wrong with the way the Airflow looked; it was just too different from everything else of the period.
As much as I do admire and love the ’65 thru-69 Chevy Corvairs; in 1960 a new V-200 Valiant would had been the easy choice for me. The ’60 Corvair was too slow and cheap looking inside, the ’60 Falcon was also plainer looking inside and homely looking (to my eyes, anyway) than the Valiant and slower than the Slant Six Valiant…esp if optioned with the smooth but power robbing 2 speed Ford-o-matic automatic transmission.
I wonder if the 3 speed TorqueFlite automatic tranny was any faster or slower than the 3 speed manual transmission? Was first gear synchronized on this year’s model?
Did Mopar offer factory air conditioning on a ’60 Valiant? Or was that only for the full sized models?
No synchro on Chrysler’s 3-speed manuals until 1970(!). No factory air on the Chrysler Corp compacts until 1965, but Chrysler-engineered and -built dealer-installed air was first available for them in ’61.
Thanks for your quick reply, Daniel Stern.
The non-synchro first gear would had been a “deal killer” for me; would have had to go with the Torqueflite. Push button up and down shifting has always been a “guilty pleasure” for me.
There was plenty of different add on air conditioning systems in the hot & humid New Orleans area, even in 1960.
I drove several 1963/64 Valiants and Darts, found the steering kinda-sorta slow geared (had to “wind the wheel” a lot), but with easy effort.
I wonder if the optional power steering would had given a faster steering gear ratio/less wheel winding than the manual steering set up?
Nonpower steering on the ’60-’61 Valiant/Lancer had a Saginaw box with a real nice 20:1 ratio with 4-1/2 turns lock-lock. The new Chrysler-built box first used in ’62 had a slower 24:1 ratio with 5-3/4 turns lock-lock. You’re right, this is too slow. Power steering had 16:1 and 3-1/2 turns: nice and fast, but no road feel and insufficient self-centring action.
Starting in ’65 or so Chrysler did offer a 16:1 (3-1/2) “quick” version of the manual steering box. Meant as a racing piece; even in a lightweight A-body, this thing drains most of the joy out of street driving. Parking is a real chore, and at road speed it’s twitchy. Through their Direct Connection (later Mopar Performance) hop-up parts operation they offered a 20:1 worm and ballnut assembly for the ’62-up box: Ahhhhhh, perfection: now we’re back to 4-1/2 turns lock-lock and an excellent balance of effort, road feel, and ease of parking.
Aftermarket air: yes, for sure. Vornado, Sears, Frigi-King, etc.
I agree with you: the Torqueflite would’ve been the easy pick over the 3-speed with unsynchronised 1st gear, especially with the ’62-up column shifter (yuuuuuck). The ’60-’61 “charmed snake” floor shifter might’ve tempted me, and I’ve long daydreamed of an early Valiant or Lancer with a 4-speed overdrive (’75-up) and an adapted original ’60-’61 shift lever.
I love watching films like this. It’s clear these people BELIEVED they were ushering in a bold, new era. What was the end result? A rather odd looking car (despite styling that “grows from the design”) that didn’t make such a big splash. It has little collector interest and is largely forgotten today. Dave Barry hated his parents’ 1961 wagon, describing it as the ultimate dorkmobile: “I would stomp violently down on the accelerator, and basically nothing would happen for several lunar cycles because the Valiant was no more capable of acceleration than a fire hydrant.”
Even in the 1970s when these weren’t that old, I rarely saw any 60-62s; although the ’63s and later were quite plentiful. I think they were serious rusters, despite the multiple body dips and fantastic paint jobs described in the film. One lone example I found in my neighborhood (circa 1976) was a white ’61 Lancer sedan. It sat in someone’s driveway for years–never moved. Bad front end damage. One day I asked the owner about it, and he told me–and I quote–“A telephone pole ran into it.”
I actually kind of like these 60-62 Valiants/Lancers–an interesting expression of late ’50s-early ’60s space-age, swoopy design. However, my favorite early ’60s compact is the Comet, although it might even be slower than the Valiant. Not everything is about speed!
In North America, maybe. But in Australia these cars are highly collectable and sought-after.
Not much happening at 403 Midland these days:
Be it ever so crumbly…!
“It was up to others now to sell Valiant.”
This is where, arguably, the best of the new compacts struggled. Not only were there fewer dealers, the confusing Chrysler dealer structure and branding was a handicap. A FORD Falcon and CHEVROLET Corvair had instant brand identity, each a compact placed directly under standard cars in the same brand showrooms in the majority of markets.