Wow, that’s a lot of 1960 Valiants all in one place! I count about 50 of ’em, but it gets a bit difficult at the far end of the train. And I don’t spot any wagons, which seems a little strange.
Oh, sure; as found, it was captioned The New York Central had several auto-carrier Flexi-Vans in the early 1960s. This is a publicity shot of carriers with new Chryslers on their way to New York City in 1960. At least they didn’t call them Plymouths, but could this actually be a rare uncensored glimpse of an early practice run for the Great San Francisco Valiant Swarm of 1961?
I didn’t know anything about Flexi-Vans. The concept seems to be mass-optimised carriers for hauling cargo intermodally (i.e., by rail and by road). I found an article by reputable trucking-and-transport expert Tom Berg, but I’m not quite sure it fits with this what we’re looking at. Anyhow, the carriers hauling these Valiants look as though designed in a markedly more reality-based manner than those Vert-a-Pac things they used to infect the land with Chevrolet Vegas.
This is one of those photos that makes me daydream about time-tripping with a well-disguised high-resolution digital camera; call me a philistine, but I’d love to see it in (real) colour. No such luck—and no such time machine—but Paul saw this post before it went live and found a couple of more photos on the site of one James Hurley, an apparent devotee of the Canada Southern railway:
These are brought to you in fabulous Post-Facto Selective Super ColouRamic (I just made that up), and that last carrier in the second image has ’60 Darts—one of them done up in what looks like taxicab livery.
Paul also found info about the Flexi-Van system on a British N-scale model railway site; I’ve concatenated it from a couple of pages and copyedited for clarity here:
As trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) service evolved in the late 50s, many railroads began trying to cut costs, opening the door to new ideas. Among these was the Flexi Van system, first tested by the New York Central in 1957. Designed to speed loading and unloading, the Flexi-Van design used a special turntable and a 36′ or 40′ trailer with a removable wheel assembly called a bogie. In operation, the trailer on its bogie was first aligned with the turntable and backed into place. The bogie was then unlocked and the trailer slid aboard the Flexi-Van car; the turntable allowed the trailer to be swung round onto the Flexi-Van car. Once in position, a pin locked the trailer to the turntable, which was turned to the loaded position using the on-board hydraulics.
The NYC introduced their Flexi-Van cars and trailers in 1958. These were low-profile skeleton cars, designed to meet clearance restriction on the NYC and carry two trailer units.
Early cars handled only 36-foot units, but as 40-foot was quickly becoming the standard length for highway trailers, the later Mark II models carried a 36- and a 40-foot unit; some Mark III and Mark IV cars built from 1961 to 1968 carried two 40-foot units.
Lighter and lower than standard TOFC cars, the unique Flexi-Van design proved well-suited for high-speed operation, and many cars were rebuilt so they could be moved in both freight and passenger service. The system eventually proved most popular for handling mail, including head end cars. These autocarriers were used to transport automobiles across the [New York Central] and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (more commonly, “Milwaukee Road”) railroads, as well as a number of others.
The rapid rise of containers; the acceptance of industry-wide methods for moving trailers on flat cars, and the unusual design of the Flexi-Van system ended Flexi-Van service by the early 1970s.
Well…now I know a little about Flexi-Vans!
Here’s the details on why this publicity photo was taken (this is from a New York Times article, attached below) – it was Chrysler’s first use of the Flexi-Van system, and the Railroad publicized the event to media outlets. The shipment contained 48 cars, identified as 44 Valiants and 4 Dodges, transported in 23 hours from Detroit to New York.
Like you mentioned in your writeup, the trailers were then switched onto trucks. “When the vans arrive at the terminal they are switched on to tractor units owned by the Central and then driven to the dealers’ showrooms.“
Great find! (How’d you do that?)
Thanks! I just took a guess that the photo was taken for a specific PR purpose, and that the New York Times would have written about it since it involved the New York Central RR. So I searched for “Flexi-Van” in the Times archives and was pleasantly surprised when this article came up.
In 1964, Dad bought a white 61 Valiant as a second family car. To me the Valiant was the best looking of the compacts introduced in 1960, but one day a 61 Dodge Phoenix red convert appeared on a local car lot. Having just acquired my driver’s license, working my way towards college, and knowing there was no way we were going to be a 3 car family, I set about trying to get Dad to trade the Valiant (which was actually a pretty good car) for the Phoenix. It took some effort, but both parents agreed. It would be Dad’s work car and I would get to drive it evenings and weekends. Also I was to take care of keeping it clean. Dad worked at Inland Steel, so the white top always needed attention. Keeping that beauty washed and waxed, top and white walls dazzling white was a labor of love. Driving that car, I felt like I was KING 🤴 of the road!
As Eric said above, this is definitely Detroit. I think it was taken near the railroad ferry docks just west of downtown. Today it is where Rosa Parks Blvd ends at the riverfront.
Auto carrying FlexiVan trailers were clever, but complicated & right about the same time other companies were developing the bi & tri level autorack rail cars that became the standard way to ship new cars.
Valiants on a Train — wasn’t that a song by Guy Clark? 😉
Strange Cars On A Train – wasn’t that a Hitchcock movie from the early 50s? 🙂
This looks to me like a very early example of what eventually became known as container shipping.
Nice snapshots that represents the opulence of U.S. America once upon a time … By the way if you didn’t know it , these Valiants II were also assembled in Argentina althought it was never sold as Plymouth Valiant neither Dodge Dart Two but was simply the Chrysler Valiant II . A very solid car but never as successful and reliable as the beloved Rambler Classic & Ambassador 660
Take the “Night Train” with Dick Lane, the Lions’ HOF cornerback. Wonder where he was at the time the pic was taken?
And I wonder if one of those white Valiant V-200s ended up in our driveway. Working for a paper company based in NYC, Dad’s company cars came through the Empire State on their way to being delivered to us in New England.
Nowadays, cars shipped by train are in covered boxcars, though still with many little holes in the side to peek in. Saves damage.
Very cool photos–and story behind them.
This from 1960 told me a lot about the history of the “piggyback” concept. No auto hauling mentioned, but NY Central’s version shows up later. The last paragraph sure saw the future—the standardized container:
Keen! One of the things I like about this site is the unusually excellent signal:noise ratio in the comment section. Mostly the story develops meat on its bones, not manure behind it.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, we were forever waiting for trains. Train tracks were everywhere. If you look at a map of North America, anything coming from the Northeastern US has to pass around the southern tip of Lake Michigan – where I grew up. So it seems that nearly the entire trans-US railroad crossings were in our backyard. I-80 crosses there today and we also have a huge intermodal Trans-North America hub in Harvey.
That said – we witnessed thousands of new cars crossing in front of us on their way across the US. These types of rail cars were used for generations. A great problem they had was theft. Slowing trains, awaiting green lights to share rail lines would slow to a crawl, or halt through the South Suburbs. Lots of guys with tools would hop onto the cars and begin stripping the cars as they creeped down the tracks. Especially at night.
This meant that we would see vandalized new cars, being shipped across the nation, along with the untouched models. It took another decade before anti-theft screens were placed over these auto shipping containers. Eventually, the cars ended up being shipped in enclosed carriers.
As to the Valiants, I suppose they had their moment in the fashion world. These were excellent cars, hobbled by hideous Exner styling. It took Chrysler three model years to correct this mistake, and sales then took off for the Valiant for the next 11 years. When I see the first generation Valiant – yuck. I guess I needed to have been there when they were brand new.
“Mistake”? No. (Here we go again, VD)
” … I guess I needed to have been there when they were brand new…”
I was there when they were new and I drove all three.
I got my license in 1960 and within the first two years of driving [legally] on public roads I had the opportunity, through either friends or work, to drive two Falcons (a sedan and a wagon), a Corvair convertible, a Greenbrier (an even odder Corvair), and a gen 1 Valiant. All were automatics.
All of these new cars were way nicer than my old rusty Chrysler, but the Valiant was a real runner with three full speeds in the automatic transmission, a taut suspension, an alternator (that was a really interesting feature) and to my eyes, a design that was way more attractive than the other two.
To be honest, the Valiant’s grill reminded me of the rare 1957 Chrysler 300C which was my then dream car. But I found the whole Valiant package to be more desirable than the Ford or GM entries in that market.
Of course, YMMV. That’s what makes the world so interesting.
When they were new, they were fresh and different, even though they were purposely retro. Ex had gotten a lot of press for his “classic touches” on cars like the Mercer Cobra, so they didn’t drop out of thin air. The “Cessna” air about them made them look relatively light-bodied. I had a ’61 Lancer in the early aughts, and it felt light and responsive with the small slant 6. Of course, they were love or hate, and lovers like me tend to understand, if not agree with, the haters.
Exner came up with the long hood, short deck five years before the Mustang. Flush side glass- again, ahead of its time. The elegant look of a six window roof on a compact car. It’s too bad Exner wasn’t allowed to develop these styling themes across the Chrysler line- “trickle up”. Instead, we get a bunch of ‘good old boy’ designs, culminating in the Plymouth Duster. From Dual-Ghia to Plymouth Duster. That’s pretty hilarious.
The Exner design of the 1960 Valiant and Lancer did “trickle-up” to the 1962 Plymouth Fury and Dodge Dart and Polara downsized “Full size” models.
The 1962 Plymouth Fury is one of my all-time favorite cars but, I’m in a small minority there. They were a sales disaster. They had to stretch them out and tone them down for 1963 to salvage some sales.
As mentioned by others, the 1963 Valiants and Darts were completely different and conventional designs.
It’s difficult for me to fathom the pace of change in the decades following WWII. People seemed to constantly come up with brilliant ideas, there were engineers and designers to turn the ideas into reality, and there was enough money to make it all happen.
From the piston-engined airplanes that helped win the war to space flight, all within 20ish years.
Mom had a white 60 Valiant.
Around 1963, 4 year old me let
the brake go while playing with the
push button transmission.
It rolled out into the street while the
line of school buses were streaming
out from the school next door.
Mom came to the rescue. No damage.
Still pops in my head whenever
I see one.
I have a book on the history of auto carrier trucks, and that industry was really hurt badly by the various piggy-back rail haul schemes, like this one. It bankrupted a lot of auto haulers, and there were lots of layoffs.
Prior to the piggyback schemes, cars hauled on trains had to be shoehorned into box cars, which was slow and labor intensive.
The more common thing was the regular auto carrier trailer driven onto flatcars, not this type of modular device.
Valiants on a train.
Sure beats snakes on a plane.
It took me a couple of days to find time to look for this.
My late father in law had a patent for a Vehicle Carrier that was issued in 1972.
The abstract reads:
A wheeled cargo carrier adapted for over-the-road travel as well as for stacking interchangeably with other cargo carriers aboard a ship includes a single or a plurality of adjustable ramps for supporting a number of vehicles thereon. The irregular shaped frame of the carrier includes supports displaceable from a retracted position when the carrier is adapted for over-the-road use, to extended positions for defining a stackable unit when the carrier is to be stored aboard a ship.
Back in college I had a part-time/summer job (early seventies) working for a large foreign car importer at the Dundalk Marine Terminal outside Baltimore. This importer had the VW contract and handled all VW products shipped east of the Mississippi. The Beetles (and a few Audis and Porsches) would be offloaded from ships, cleaned, undercoated and processed, then shipped all over the east. The overwhelming majority were shipped out on tri-level rail cars like shown below. Some local deliveries went out on truck carriers.
I was one of the guys who loaded the VW’s on the rail cars. The rail cars were open with no side railings. Quite scary, especially when loading the top level. There were maybe a string of thirty rail cars, so if you were loading the first car on you had a drive over thirty cars to the beginning of the train. The rail cars themselves had car wide floors, but each car was connected only by two narrow plates. Miss a plate and you were in trouble. A wheel would drop down between the cars and the only way to get it back up was to get twenty guys up there to lift the VW back on. Luckily, they didn’t weigh much. At the loading end of the string was a motorized ramp, that could be raised and lowered to access the three decks. Loading the top deck was harrowing, The ramp was steep and you had to get up enough speed to get to the top without stalling. There were two marks you had to hit and all you saw was sky until you got to the top. Then, you had to hit the two narrow plates to get onto the first rail car. Then, with no sides and thirty feet off the ground, you had up to a thirty car trip to the end. You got out, shimmied to the end of the car and climbed down a ladder to the ground. Funny what a 20 year old will try.
Sometimes I was on the crew that ratcheted down the VW’s to the deck of the rail cars. You would scramble under the VW’s, wrap chains around the axle and ratchet them down so they wouldn’t bounce around on their journey. A tough, exhausting and dirty job. In the summer the metal deck was burning hot and numbing cold in the winter. It did pay better, so most of us were happy to be picked.
Some “Dodge Lancer’s” on there as well??
No, when these pics were taken there was no such model.
The early ’60s were still the days of strict length laws for tractor-trailers (mainly imposed by railroad-friendly lobbiests!), so shipping autos by truck – at least in the east & mid west – was hamstrung by the limited # of cars that could be carried (Illinois was so restrictive that auto hauling carriers created a weird trailer called an “Illinois special”, just for that state). Now a days, car carriers can legally be longer than standard tractor- trailers!