Not a lot of people remember it now, but fifty-six years ago San Francisco was overrun with new 1961 Valiants, as shown in this documentary complete with a musical cue at 0:43 to let you know we’re in Chinatown. I’m lifelong crazy for the ’60-’62 Valiant/Lancer/Rebel, so I don’t know that I’d’ve minded living in a city full of them, but I’d start to get maybe a little antsy about it upon learning the invasion force were also sweeping in clear across the continent in Bennington, Vermont:
Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle between VT and CA, it was still a time when the booming, echoey voice of god (okeh, maybe that’s just the narrator) and a rhyming jubilant chorus could move metal:
A chicken in every pot and a 1961 Valiant in every garage!
I have to admit that I’ve always like those first generation Valiants. Ok, not as much as the Corvair, but it was certainly a lot more interesting car than a Falcon or Rambler. Especially the two-door hardtop.
Then again, you’re talking to a guy who always liked the ’62 Plymouth Fury and (a little less) Dodge.
Love it. I wonder whose idea it was to feature the Valiant’s cat’s eye taillight in the Chinatown scene with its little burst of generic oriental music.
I never owned a 1st generation A body and would still be open to one. Those wagons still make me weak in the knees.
I have to say, however, that if there was ever a location in which a Studebaker Lark would outshine the Valiant it would have been SF. The 259 V8, the Hillholder and a locality where road salt was never used would have been a perfect pairing of location and machine.
Well, there’s an Australian sniffing around mine, but he’s doing it in slow motion, so it’s still available. 🙂
Wagon-induced knee-weakness: Oh, hell yes. A few years ago I hesitated too long (or just long enough, if I have to be a grownup about it) and missed a honey of a ’62 Lancer 770 wagon with aluminum 225, disc brakes, and other correctly-done upgrades. It was even local to me!
I hadn’t made the cat-eye taillamps/Chinatown connection. Oh dear.
The 2 doors and the wagons are becoming quite scarce. I hope to find a hardtop with a stick.
I’m another fan of the first gen Valiant/Lancer. And truth be told, also of the downsized Chrysler lineup for 1962 (smaller, lighter, fully instrumented, and – in some cases – faster).
I was already a push button torqueflite fan from the late 1950s, and this little version felt like its big Desoto brethren but with a more modest level of motivation.
The alternator sealed the deal with its battery charging capability at stop light idle.
I guess you had to be there. It was a tumultuous and exciting time for car fans. Now when I see a new-ish car, I have to look at the front grill medallion to see who made it.
Minor nits to pick from a native San Franciscan: in the scene where the Valiant is climbing the steep, two-block Hyde Street hill, it is going against flow of traffic. It’s a two-way street…note the STOP lettered on the pavement at the top of the hill, at Chestnut St., a notorious clutch-killer.
In the opening scene on the Golden Gate Bridge, “ahead” is Marin County. San Francisco is BEHIND the Valiant.
But thankfully they DIDN’T call it “Frisco.”
I do have to agree, even now, over a half-century later, the Valiant is quite good-looking. The years have been kind to its style.
Nitpick on my own nitpick: the “wrong-way” Valiant isn’t on Hyde St….but in the next scene it is!
The City is considering imposing a toll on that one twisty block of Lombard Street. Anything for a few kopecks of extra revenue, I guess. As kids, my brother and I (we lived two blocks away) used to run downhill through those bends. Had to slow down, for cars ahead!
Unfortunately, sales figures proved that “frugal” Americans wanted boring. Falcon outsold Corvair and Valiant combined. You could probably throw in Lark as well.
I always thought Valiant was Virgil Exner’s last great effort. The post-’59 big cars are awful, IMO. Valiant, especially the six window sedan, does look like it is worth “twice the price” of the Falcon. Just the extra $2 spent on quad headlights went a long way, same with the Corvairl.
The ads emphasize unit body construction. Did they think that the Lark was the main competition?
Unit body went across Chrysler lines to combat some of the blowback from the low quality of it’s 57 models. It was sold as superior against rattles and rust.
Doubtful competition from Studebaker would have motivated them to use unit body construction as a sales tool. Too little volume comparatively.
It could be inferred that was the case, but I have my personal doubts, Nikita.
All the compacts of 1960 except Lark were unit body. And all of them touted it’s virtues. IIRC Corvair’s front fenders were welded in, not bolted on, but happy to be corrected if I am wrong.
Unit body construction was considered a “modern” way of building vehicles for many. Especially useful in small cars, but the 58 Lincoln and Thunderbird used it too, the Lincoln the largest unit body ever built.
Don’t forget the Rambler, also unit construction which Nash had pioneered in low priced vehicles in the US with the 1941 Nash 600. So it would seem that the entire universe of American compacts was unit construction with the Lark being the only outlier.
Of course. Nash/AMC go without saying. It was one of the claims to their competitive advantage in their X-Ray books in the 50s.
Was there ever a BOF domestic compact besides the Lark post 1960, JP ? I can’t think of any.
Funny, unit bodies seemed to rattle and rust as much as BOF products did, for all of the “superior” rustproofing procedures and lack of bolts.
My grandad’s old ’52 Rambler Country Club may have been unibody, but squeak free it was not, even at low speed. If you ever got it to 65 mph, it would start a harmonic body shake with the front fenders visibly moving out and in, a phenomenon my ’62 Galaxie rag top did at 100 mph.
Vauxhall’s first car was unit construction and that was 1903 and mass produced Vauxhalls by GM of 1938 were unitary so it was hardly a new idea by 1960
Bryce, this happened in the US, not in the UK or Europe.
Even though the real competition, Corvair and Falcon, were also unibody, the marketers were looking at the reputation of pre-’60 Mopars when touting the unibody Valiant construction. That makes more sense. Maybe, the public was not even aware that the traditional looking Falcon was not BOF. So, Valiant used that to advantage in the ads.
Was it that Americans were being frugal? Or was it that Americans were fed up after half a decade of flying buttresses and soaring tailfins and other such flight(sweep)s of fancy?
Rambler’s popularity soared during the 58 recession. And people were fed up with the excesses of the late 50s, Daniel. I’d say both were big motivators.
Exodus to the suburbs and two car families became more common as well.
For all of Ford’s portfolio diversification, by the end of the 60s they were selling roughly the same # of cars as they were at the beginning.
I don’t think anyone but a small # of people truly see frugality as a lifestyle choice [ see current buying trends and what constitutes “stripped” these days ].
So yes: marketing buzzwords to justify buying a new car. Big old gas guzzling late model 50s used car or a brand new “frugal” 1960 compact ?
True that the Valiant was Exner’s last good car, but it wasn’t the 1960, but the 1963 which was nearly entirely Exner. But with Exner gone by then, Engel got the credit. A real shame, too, because the ’63 to ’66 Valiant was the car that cemented the reputation of being the solid, well built compact of the sixties, especially in the slant-six, torqueflite combination. I’d go so far as to say it may have been the first, non snowbelt car capable of routine six digit mileage.
Love it. Great clear video.
I had Mothra, my 63 Valiant Signet out for a joyride the other day, on the two lane remote roads outside Tucson: 3 speed manual, knee knocker aftermarket AC blowing cold, wide open trails.
No chic suit ensemble though, nor swinging background music but “Suddenly It’s 1963” whenever I do that.
That is a very nice remembrance of the little Plymouth Valiant. What great cars, beautifully engineered, reliable, competent and much-loved by those who owned them!
My very first car was a used, formerly wrecked, 1956 Chrysler 300B. It was inexpensive to purchase, but it was not properly rebuilt after its wreck. It had issues, including a cracked cylinder head, but I managed to drive it for many miles back-and-forth across the country without a breakdown, changing the coolant frequently!
However, by 1962 I could take it no longer, and I traded it for a new Plymouth Valiant, Super-225, 3-speed manual white 4-door sedan, a car that had stagnated at the Chrysler dealership’s new-car lot because of the manual transmission and big engine in a stodgy white, 4-door sedan. I drove that car for many years without any issues. I put Dunlop Road Speed tires on it along with Gabriel “Silver E” shocks, and it was a fast, competent car that served me well. One slight issue: I mistakenly oiled the nylon, through-the-firewall throttle-shaft bushing, and it expanded slightly causing “stiction” with throttle movement. Advice: don’t to that. Otherwise, I rotated tires, changed the oil and had the occasional tune-ups.
After many cars—Fords, Honda Accords, Toyota Highlanders, VWs, Chevrolets, BMWs, (even a Porsche 928) and other MoPars—I think the little ’62 Valiant was the most-loved car I’ve ever owned!
Hey, that’s a nice set of recollections! I still have my ’62.
I’ve always loved these first-gen Valiants, and I like the ’62 best, for the round taillights and the round trim replacing the faux spare.
I’ll bet those front eyebrows and rear fins make it easy to see the corners when parking.
And you wouldn’t lose it in a parking lot.
57 years later, I’m still trying to reconcile myself with its styling. Yes, boring it’s not. But really good design? Some details/parts, yes. But something about its hunchback shape, the side “extrusions”, sloping rear trunk, the horrible “toilet seat”, the very compromised hardtop coupe roof, and a few other aspects just don’t work for me. Transforming Exner’s “Imperial d’Elegance” (below) into a compact economy car was a bridge too far.
Of course it was mechanically superior to the Falcon, but it just goes to show that’s not always good enough, especially when the styling is so polarizing on a basic economy car. Frankly, that part was a big mistake; the “fuselage look” should have premiered on something more upscale and ambitious overall. And once the ’63 Valiant came along, that was proven.
I think it was the same kind of design as so many other Exner designs: Very, very complex. Whether that is good or not is up for debate.
When I was maybe 5 or 6 we had a family friend with one of these, a baby blue sedan. I still recall being endlessly fascinated by the many unique design details that were so foreign to my young eyes (that were used to the relatively straightforward Gen1 Olds F-85). This design fascinates me still. And like you, I cannot decide if it is good design or not. That it is cool as hell is undeniable. 🙂
If it started in ’60 out as the ’63 design, it may well have been the best selling compact during this time. But as a 9 year old child I loved riding in my aunt’s red ’62 Valiant and loved it’s cat’s eye tail lamps. I thought the car looked great, inside and outside.
Today though, the ’63’s exterior is far better looking to me. But the interior is not as nice looking as the ’62’s.
Adults do tend to buy more new cars than children.
’63 intro video.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vSfdHY7fXU
’60 intro video Valiant vs Corvair.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pnO3fMox8E
A few more ’60 Valiant commercials https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hodncVpNVjk
Is it me, or does that Imperial have a very similar look to the 58 Mercury?
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an apt description here. These first generation Valiants are fairly good looking in the videos, but were a little hard on the eyes in person. Movies and pictures are kinder to their proportions. In real life, they’re short and stubby. So many styling details on so little sheet metal come off as awkward. It’s probably been a couple of decades since I’ve spotted one, though.
Of course, these were Valiant commercials, so they weren’t shown next to any other cars. It’d be interesting to see them in some photos or videos of traffic, parking lots, etc. to get a sense of scale.
(Did the mailman’s first shot in the second video remind any one else of Moe Howard?)
If I were shopping one of the first generation compacts, a slant six Valiant would probably win first pick. It’d be hard to choose between Torqueflite or stick. Fast-forward to 1965 and I’d want a Corvair with 4-speed.
Quite possibly the homeliest car ever made.
This Lark and this Valiant front end styling are very much alike . Wonder who had it 1st ?
I like the simple boxy styling of the 3rd generation Valiant, which they held onto for many years until the Volare.
Thanks Paul for the other CC on the Lark and Valiant. Kind of interesting.
Looking at these old commercials it is quite evident, just how good the hairspray was back then. The ladies could drive with the windows down and not a hair out of place. The hole in the ozone layer was so worth it.
Make mine a fully loaded 4-door, with the ‘big-six’, push-button shift, and of course, the ‘Chinese-eyes’ and ‘toilet-seat’ trunk!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Also prominently featured (along with the whole ’61 line) in Chrysler’s delightful drivers’-ed comic, a real period piece: http://digital.hagley.org/1979262_x0001?solr_nav%5Bid%5D=78961ff0b184ea7ccfe2&solr_nav%5Bpage%5D=0&solr_nav%5Boffset%5D=0#page/1/mode/1up
Hey, I have that in hardcopy!
Pretty cool, DS–I love all the fun odds/ends at the hagley site. Chrysler was also running this ad in place like Boys’ Life at about the same time:
Many [if not all] CCers will be familiar with this scenario…-the very first time we ever encounter some particular model, we “imprint” it in some part of our brains. Thus, the neighbour’s Jeep station wagon imprinting itself in an 8-year-old’s brain. AND our dad’s fancy new Valiant 2-dr hardtop imprinting itself on a recently-licensed teen-ager’s brain.”.This is unusual”- , the car salesman admitted, re the premature failure of the differential. In the intervening years, the idea of “a car like Dad’s'” could maybe work, or .not.
Ahh, David. The motivator in my wanting a Sebring/200/ Avenger: like my parent’s 78 Fury in Spinnaker White and the 72 Ambassador Brougham in Cordoba Brown: ” a car like Dad’s”.
200 in Autumn Bronze for the win, I think.
In the handbook, Chuck exclaims “GEE-LOOK AT THE SEATBELTS IN THAT VALIANT.
WE DON’T HAVE ANY IN OUR CAR!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Valiants were very popular with artists and were depicted in many cartoons, Mad Magazine was full of them. Corvairs and Valiants were popular with movie makers that wanted street scenes to look modern. When the ultra cool Buddy Love (The Nutty Professor, 1963) makes his first appearance swaggering out of a nightclub, stunning everyone with his suave look, almost every car on the street is a Valiant or Corvair.
Having never seen the interior of one of these, the last commercial kinda threw me…. at the 0:43 mark on that shorter 1:00 commercial, there appaers to a Nav Screen on the dashboard! I know this wasn’t possible in 1961, but you get a one second glimpse of it, and that is what it appears to be. Futuristic design indeed.
That’s the radio speaker grille. See here.
I still love the way these look, and yeah, I am also a big fan of the ’62s especially the Plymouth; when they were new I thought the coolest car on the planet was a ’62 Fury convertible, and was seriously disappointed when the bigger, fatter ’63s appeared. My only reservation about Valiants at the time was about the fake spare-tire motif on the trunk lid, so I switched my preference to the Lancer. However, the wagons were cooler looking anyway, and there was one that belonged to friends that I got to borrow a few times. 3-speed floor shift, and a lot of fun to fling around – I’d sure love to have one now!
However, I was a bit surprised to hear the voiceover guy brag about the rustproofing, since that was THE major weakness with the cars. There was a hardtop for sale in Nashville, not even twenty years old, and the floor was almost completely rusted out. Between that and the pillarless body construction, the whole thing flexed very noticeably just driving down a moderately lumpy street, enough to scare hell out of my wife, rinding in the back. We did not buy it …
The rustproofing on the Valiants (and other ’60+ Chrysler Corp cars) was quite a bit better than all of the American and most of the international competition, except for Volvo and perhaps Mercedes. GM and Ford vehicles of that time had essentially no effective rustproofing at all.
I miss the days when each car had its own song.
Peter Griffin (if you have to look him up you won’t think this is funny anyway) thought everyone should have a theme song for when they enter a room.
The only thing I didn’t care for on the early Valiant was the faux spare on the trunk.
This car looked like a space ship in 1961 ~ you had to have been there to understand .
At the time I didn’t understand why there were so many A Body enthusiasts, now I do .
If you got a good one it was rock solid and durable plus a great driver .
Actually, take a look at what people were saying about the Valiant’s styling at the time. Also here, and here, and if we include ’61 Lancers as Valiants and rockets as space ships, see here.
(Can’t resist sharing this hair-raising complaint by a New York photographer demonstrating ignorance and stupidity typical of the time)
Actually, I was there at the time and complaints from an Enthusiast Magazine are not what I’d call reliable Daniel .
I’m talking about the responses from regular people who bought or wished they could buy, these cars .
Not Mechanics .
Me, I thought they were FUGLY but they were IMO pretty good cars and I’m a GM fanboi .
I’d still rather have a Corvair or Nova but I’ve driven A body MoPars hard and they took incredible abuse .
Erm…no, that’s not it at all. The links all go to quotes about the styling from regular people who had recently bought these cars when they were new, in “Popular Science” and “Popular Mechanics” magazines, which aren’t quite as general-interest as Time or Life or Look, but certainly aren’t “enthusiast magazines” and aren’t issuing “complaints” of their own.
Maybe try again after you actually read the links, good sir?