COAL: 1965 Valiant, Part I • Verschlimmbesserung

I turned 16 early in 1992, and about half a year later I spotted a text-only ad in the back of Cars and Parts magazine:

1965 Dodge Valiant Custom 200 sedan, low miles, never winter driven, excellent condition, $3,000.00 OBO. Stoney Creek. Ont, Canada 416-(nnn)-6609

There’s a feature article on Canadian Valiants in one of the back issues of the Slant-6 News in the complete collection I’d bought, so I knew straight off this “Dodge Valiant” was probably no misprint or clueless-owner fumble. The American Valiant had been its own make only for 1960, its introductory year, before becoming a Plymouth model for ’61. But in Canada, Valiant carried on as a make, rather than a model, all the way through 1966. The ’61-’62 Lancer and ’63-’66 Dart weren’t sold in Canada; Chrysler’s compacts were all Valiants in that market, and they were sold at all Chrysler Corporation dealers.

I called and was soon speaking to the car’s original owner: Mr. Moffat, a recently-retired longtime Chrysler dealer mechanic. He had good answers to all my questions, and promptly sent a stack of photos. Those looked good, too; a whole lot better (and more forthrightly and completely presented) than the red 1961 Valiant. It wasn’t what I originally had in mind—not a ’60-’62, no pushbuttons—but it really did look to be a creampuff (mmmmm, creampuffs).

My sister was in the middle of a summer stock theatre thing in upstate New York, very close to the border with Ontario, which in turn is very close to Stoney Creek. And we were already planning to go visit her there. H’mmm…! A plot hatched, as plots are wont to do; in the middle of our New York visit, mother and dad and I crossed the border in the rentcar and went to see the Valiant. Left to right here are Mr. Moffat, me, the car, and my dad:

In the seller’s driveway we had our first encounter with the notion and actuality of a “winter car”: a ’79ish Diplomat or Caravelle that was just moth-eaten with rust. Even the vinyl top appeared to be rusting! It was a sort of remote sacrificial anode for the Valiant, which was in astoundingly solid, clean, well-kept condition. A ding here and a scuff there, and the bumper chrome wasn’t the world’s shiniest, and there was a sheetmetal screw drilled through the left “Custom 200” nameplate-cum-fenderside-trim to hold it on. These were the kinds of picky little faults I was finding.

The car was very well kept as close as practicable to original, too, with Chryco and Autopar replacement parts widely in evidence. Those were how “Mopar” was translated into Canadian for many years; I think Mopar was phased into Canadian use very gradually starting maybe in the ’80s, finally shoving the other two brands aside in the early-mid ’90s or so.

The seller didn’t budge much on the price; I don’t (and didn’t) blame him. I think we agreed $3,000 including his trove of parts. He let me dig around his grudge in a kind of impromptu Easter egg hunt. And boy, did it ever yield! Lots of maintenance parts—fuel and air filters, points and condensers, caps and rotors, spark plugs. Many repair parts like voltage regulators, switches, gaskets, a new-in-box carburetor for a later-model Slant-6 car (but not late enough to suit the ’79 Caravelle). He was selling the Valiant because he’d got a new 3-season car just before he retired, a 1990 Caprice Classic (“Chrysler wouldn’t sell me what I wanted any more”), and three cars were one too many.

While I was rooting and pawing around on his upper shelves, separating out the Slant-6 gaskets and other flat-pack parts, I –came– happened upon his porn stash. He and his wife were standing outside the grudge keeping an eye on me, probably chuckling at my enthusiasm. I think he saw me reaching for that shelf, and I think he was trying to think how to steer me away without calling additional attention to what he was trying to distract from, and I think he saw the moment it was too late to try. He and I made an instant eye-contact pact: I’d pretend not to have seen anything, and he’d pretend not to have noticed me not seeing what I didn’t see.

Mother and dad drove the rentcar and I followed in the Valiant, down the highway back toward the States. I don’t recall any substantial hassle at the border, except the Customs agent scoffed that I’d paid more than the car had cost new. We turned in the rentcar and used the Valiant for the rest of the New York visit, and—the second half of the plot—my sister’s friend’s brother and his buds, who needed a ride back to Denver, would have it in the form of driving the Valiant.

On the plane to New York I’d found and circled a Hemmings ad for a complete factory A/C setup out of a ’65 Dart in Texas. At the airport to head back to Denver, I called the seller in Texas and said I’d take it—$300 plus shipping, I think, about 10% of the purchase price of the car. Not a self-contained knee-knocker add-on, this; it was the whole integral HVAC-D system, complete with all underhood and in-car parts. ’65 was the first year it was available in the A-bodies, and it was a late-availability item at that; not many cars were equipped, and a small proportion of those had the six-cylinder engine. So that was quite a find and I added its fortuitous timing to the list with the others as favourable omens.

The drive to Denver went fine, except the brake pedal gave way when they pulled in for gas at one point. They’d been going slowly enough that they could stop the car with the handbrake and the parking pawl; adding brake fluid to the master cylinder brought the pedal back up and they carried on with no further incidents (whew). It wasn’t long, maybe about a week, before the gang arrived in Denver, and the 15-minute trip from our house to theirs felt like it took at least 15 years. But we eventually got there, and smiles were smiled.

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