When I think about things I consider to be stylish or “cool”, one factor has remained crucial and essential: the lack of apparent effort. Effortlessness, or the appearance of it, can be very attractive when I think about people and things whose qualities I admire. Many of us want to seem like our best, externally obvious qualities just come oh, so naturally as to seem baked into our DNA. Let’s consider the opposite: aside from athletes, recording artists and performers with elaborate concert dance routines, and others whose apparent effort is manifested in small feats of strength which are to be admired, others who show just how hard they’re trying to do or be something (versus just quietly going about their business and getting it done) can come across as weak. I realize this is all subjective.
In elementary school during music hour, we used to sing a song called “Putting On The Style” written by one Lonnie Donegan while accompanied on the piano by our music teacher, Ms. Maggie Zerbst. The lyrics to this fun ditty describe a handful of individuals who go to great, apparent pains to impress other people. Some sample lyrics as just found on the internet are as follows:
Well the young man in the hot rod car
Driving like he’s mad
With a pair of yellow gloves
He’s borrowed from his dad
He makes it roar so lively
Just to make his girlfriend smile
But she knows he’s only
Putting on the style
There’s another entertaining verse about a girl who keeps doing all this stuff to try to get the attention of guys. In both examples in this song, both youths were simply doing too much. You know “doing too much”. We all know at least one, colorful person who does, acts, dresses, or talks in a manner that’s (at least) just a little bit “extra”. These can be Drama Queens (and Kings). These are extroverts who will do anything to try to command your attention, regardless of any unreceptive signals you might be sending out. These are individuals you secretly wish had a “pause” button, or a power cord that you could unplug. Hashtag: #doingtoomuch.
Let’s now look at the ’62 Plymouth Valiant. Now, before I get down to the basic premise of what I’ve started to say as it relates to this car, I want to qualify that I have great respect for this model. Valiant sales carried the day for Chrysler fairly consistently once it had gained traction in the marketplace starting with the second-generation cars that made their debut for ’63. The Valiant, so significant a car for Chrysler Corporation that it was established as its own, separate make for inaugural year of 1960, was one of the original compacts, alongside the Ford Falcon and Chevrolet Corvair.
It took on the successful, domestic compact Rambler and Studebaker Lark, as well as evergreen compact import Volkswagen Beetle. It was conventionally and solidly engineered, with its engine in front (unlike the Corvair), and it was also reliable and competitively priced. It was the only one of the original compacts from the Big Three to last all the way through model year ’76, with the Corvair having expired after ’69, and with the Falcon making a brief, one-year run in 1970 after having been upgraded to Ford’s midsize platform.
First-year sales for 1960 were very good, with 194,000 sold – most of which (106,500) were uplevel V200 four-door sedans. However, this was against 250,000 rear-engine Chevy Corvairs and a whopping 435,500 Ford Falcons. The Corvair, with its innovative configuration and novel engineering, was (should have been) the oddball, in a sense, even if the public’s faith in mighty GM’s engineering had not yet been shaken. Yet, the Chevy outsold the Plymouth, at a time when Chrysler’s engineering prowess was still revered among those in the know. Only $141 separated the base prices of the entry-level versions of each make, from $1,912 for the Falcon, to $1,984 for the Corvair (both being two-doors), to $2,053 for the base, V100 Valiant four-door (there was no two-door Valiant offered for ’60) – a range of 7%. So, what happened? I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but I have one theory.
I consider both the first-year Falcon and Corvair enduringly attractive cars, in different ways. The Falcon had a natural charm and simple beauty in its honest shape, detailing, and family resemblance shared with other Fords.
The European-esque Corvair, in any bodystyle, was strikingly styled, with a shape that had just the right blend of lines and curves, with exotic looks to match its novel engineering.
Then there’s the 1960 Valiant.
Draped over all the basic goodness of good packaging and solid engineering is that shape… a visual cornucopia of lines, circles, swoops and fins, and that hideous “toilet seat” on the trunk for its first two years. Mercifully, the trunk was smoothed out by the time our featured ’62 was produced, but looking at this car is not unlike seeing a reasonably attractive person wearing the worst possible attire that does him or her no favors. Crocs with socks. A braided rat-tail. Acid-washed, high-waisted jeans. Nooooo!!!…
I have a thing for underdogs, and for Chrysler Corporation, specifically, as the first, three Dennis household cars since the beginning of my life were a series of Plymouths, including an actual Valiant variant (a ’71 Duster), the Valiant’s pretty-but-abhorrent successor (a ’77 Volare), and with me almost having been born in the front of a ’72 Fury sedan in the middle of a terrible, Michigan blizzard while my parents were en route to the hospital. However, looking at the styling of this ’62 Valiant, I can’t help but wonder what might have been in terms of its initial success and impact within the Chrysler stable (especially in light of Chrysler’s disastrous downsizing of their full-size models for ’62) had this car not been doing, visually, entirely too much.
I’ll step back for a second and look at the styling of other cars of the period, and yes – there were some overwrought doozies, for sure. In my mind, however, part of the point of an entry-level car is to provide transportation that is basic in function, execution, and in how it looks. With its visual gymnastics, I can imagine many Chrysler loyalists who were looking for a second car for their households questioned their loyalty after looking at the wild sheetmetal of the Valiant. Sales dropped to 143,000 units for ’61 despite the addition of a two-door coupe and hardtop, and then rebounded to 157,300 for ’62, which changed from the prior year only in minor details (including the aforementioned revised trunk).
I realize that I tend to write often about the more subjective aspects about cars, as in their styling, cultural relevance, and other qualities I perceive in these cars that seem to mirror some aspects of the human condition. Perhaps that’s because those are the aspects of cars that I consider most interesting. In the case of the early Plymouth Valiant, I can identify the basic goodness of what lies beneath an exterior that, if just a little less effort might have been apparent, might have made this car that much more attractive in the eyes of its first wave of buyers.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, April 16, 2010.
Mamie Eisenhower had one of these, and liked it. So did her grandson. I believe it is now in a museum. This car should be saved.
Jonathan, I hope this car was saved. I took these pictures almost nine years ago. Since then, both this garage and the one across the street have been torn down. An urgent care facility has stood at the site of this former garage since about 2014.
And that’s a cool bit of presidential trivia!
This car is certainly worth of saving, but this design is a disgrace. I think Exner was not in a good mood the day he conceived this, or maybe the was fighting against some kind intestinal disorder. I can appreciate it, but it is a hard task.
Not a kind of intestinal disorder but it was around the planning and design of the 1958-69-60-61 models then Virgil Exner was in convalescence after his first heart attack.
Actually, Exner was very deeply involved in the styling of the Valiant, and was largely recovered. The Valiant was an opportunity for him to apply his latest ideas. It’s actually a very advanced design, if you can get past some of the details. It was the first modern sedan to have long-hood, short deck proportions, something that would become ubiquitous. And the fuselage aspect, the way the side windows meet the door skin was very advanced also.
But other aspects just didn’t sit so well.
And the Valiant very much predicts the ’62 Dodge and Plymouth, which both had advanced proportions and other aspects that were ahead of their times. As well as details that also didn’t go over well.
Exner is a mixed bag. Very advanced, but also trying too hard with details that just didn’t work well.
No Backwards Fins!!
I’m sure if you really want them, someone here can photoshop them in…
I had no idea the Valiant was the most expensive of the Big 3 compacts in 1960. $141 may seem like peanuts today, but in terms of 1960, adjusted for inflation, it was likely closer to $1500. Given that the Valiant cost that much more, even though sales trailed the Ford and Chevy, it still makes Valiant sales somewhat remarkable. Frankly, with that kind of price spread, I probably would have bought a Falcon or Corvair, too.
Simply put, the Falcon was a clean, modern (if conventional) looking car, while the Corvair had that chic Euro vibe. The Valiant, for all its engineering prowess, looked like it was a leftover from the fifties.
Then, too, the figures are a bit misleading, since the Valiant was joined by the Dodge Lancer in 1961-62. Adding in the Lancer’s numbers for those two years might make the Valiant’s drop in sales not quite as dramatic.
Of course, there was the addition of GM’s ‘senior compacts’, but I don’t know if they’re quite in the same category as the rear-engine Corvair.
Finally, the notion that the Valiant was the only original compact nameplate that lasted until 1976 is a bit misleading. Yeah, the Falcon was technically dropped in 1970 but the Maverick was essentially just another rebodied Falcon, and it lasted one year longer than the Valiant (1977). In fact, the Granada lasted until 1982 and I’m not sure it wasn’t that much different underneath from the 1960 Falcon, either.
The Falcon-platform Granada lasted until 1980. 20 years. 1981-2 Granadas were Fox bodies.
Since the Valiant was only a 4 door sedan or wagon in 1960 it is interesting to compare the base price of the competition as 4 doors. Ford’s Falcon was $1974, the Corvair was $2038, and the Valiant was $2053….so the gap narrows. It is even more important to compare these cars as 4 doors as that was the most popular body style.
And what is more interesting than the narrow price gap between the Chevy and Plymouth is the VERY narrow sales gap when comparing only 4 door sedans. My (mental) calculator tells me that Chevy and Plymouth were neck and neck, with less than 1,000 units separation.
Ford had the lowest prices and sold nearly TWICE as many 4 door sedans as the other two.
Just looking at the three 4-door sedans, I seems that the Falcon was the cheapest to manufacture. McNamara probably had some influence on that. Simple details like quad headlights all add to cost. Valiant was a six window body and Corvair had large wrap around rear glass. Under the skin, I’m sure you will find many areas the Falcon was cheaper to build. The complex Corvair engine is the biggest one, but even the Valiant’s separate large intake manifold had to cost a bit more than the Falcon’s.
McNamara out cheap-assed GM with the Falcon. It must have drove the GM bean-counters crazy to see an archaic, conventional car like the Falcon outsell the expensive to develop and build Corvair (and by a wide, 2-to-1 margin).
In fact, I might go so far as to say the Falcon was a ‘GM’ Deadly Sin. The Falcon lesson taught GM that developing a decent small car paid little reward and they hastily got the more profitable Chevy II built for 1962. It wouldn’t be for another half-century before GM would ever invest serious money into making a decent small car after the Corvair.
The cost-cutting on the Falcon was so extreme, I can easily see it being the template for something like the Vega, a car that GM went so far as being designed and engineered specifically so the car could be loaded ‘vertically’ onto rail cars and shipped with all fluids topped-off to cut costs.
And, yeah, that separate, long-runner style intake on the Slant-Six surely cost more than the cast-into-the-cylinder-head, one-piece POS log-type intake on the truly craptacular Ford inline six.
In counting time from fall 1959 when the ’60 Falcon debuted, to summer 1980 with last Granada, the Falcon platform lasted 21 years, amazing for the time.
I didn’t know until spring ’80 that Granada was underneath a Falcon, leaf sprung, narrow front struts, chassis.
And let’s add 1991 where the 1960 Falcon body ended production in Argentina.
In the Falcon platform’s defense, a 80 Granada(or Maverick, Fairlane, Mustang) shared almost no structural stamping with a 60 Falcon. it wasn’t a platform in the more understood sense where floor pans, cowls, shock towers etc. are common sheetmatal structures(with varying lengths) under a distinct “body”. The Falcon platform actually had all this pretty much bespoke to a given model, pickup points and running gear being the true common physical pieces to make them drive. For example, you can rob various bolt on parts off of a Granada or Versailles to fix or soup up a 65 Mustang, but don’t expect to be able to cut up the Granada to fix structural rust using its structural stampings.
The Falcon platform seems that much more archaic if one goes with the presumption that very model derived off off it is literally a 60 Falcon with different exterior skin, but in reality it’s par for the course of American cars of the time – how much did the GM perimeter frames and running gear vary from 1964ish to 1996?. Being derived off the Falcon doesn’t hurt the Granada, what hurts it is the Falcon’s suspension design is simply terrible and stayed terrible to the bitter end. Chrysler’s torsion bars were used as long but were excellent from the start, GM’s long used double A arm suspensions constantly were refined to the point of being the best of the 70s and even AMC updated their initially ancient suspensions on their platforms, with conventional hotchkiss drive replacing the torque tube rear suspensions in 67 and upper ball joints replacing the trunnions for 70. Ford did little to improve the basic Falcon suspension design in as many years.
Even as a Mopar guy, that’s a hard car to love. Even the ’63-66 cars were a bit too much IMO. The ’67-later Valiants were great looking cars though.
I just noticed the hubcaps on that car. Someone put the same caps on a ’68 Valiant I once owned, I always thought they were from a Ford Fairmont, lol
LT Dan, I agree that the ’67 Valiants were an exceptionally clean design – great lines and that beautiful, airy greenhouse.
This particular Valiant is like a three-legged, one-eyed mutt. It’s got a lot of challenges and any form of attractive isn’t an applicable adjective but you just can’t help but like it. Or maybe those traits help distract from what else is going on; most people will see that mutt and not realize it also has mange and heart worms.
Don’t worry about looking at the subjective qualities of a car; I have a suspicion you aren’t the only practitioner here. 🙂
Jason, this is great food for thought. You had me thinking about my first CC post of the year, of that ’74 Hornet, with my basic premise being that (to paraphrase Ray Stevens) everything is beautiful in its own way. This car is unique and cool, even if its styling is a bit out there.
And, yes – our writing styles and approach to our featured cars are sometimes similar that way! *fist bump*
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Something has long bothered me about this design (and the Lancer). It’s just too much. The stop-start horizontal fender blades that don’t match up. The fussy cats-eye taillights. The crowded front end. The odd bustle to the trunk line. And the. toilet. seat. Every time I look at one my eye keeps jumping from one design cue to another. It’s a bit dizzying.
Having said that, I’d love to have one now. I was seven when the Valiant came out. Dad was a long-term Buick guy, except for a disastrous purchase of a new 1958 Plymouth Custom Suburban. That car was constantly in the shop with one thing wrong after another, and Dad never bought another Mopar again for the rest of his life. When he gave me money for a car for my 21st birthday I had my eye on a sweet ’66 Barracuda. He vetoed that choice because it was a Chrysler product.
This is what bothers me about the design too, there are too many conflicting elements to the design mixing with each other. I vastly prefer the Lancer for fixing or at least better meshing those details together a little better.
I’d pick a 1960 Valiant over a 1960 Falcon in a heartbeat though, then or now.
I like the looks of these a lot, but can totally see why the styling wasn’t right for the time.
Fashion zigged and Exner zagged.
These early Valiants are among my all time favorite American cars. I would dearly love to have one today.
Many years ago I owned a ’61 Valiant station wagon in black. Unfortunately the rust monster was hard at work on it. When put up on a two-post life, it began to break apart. This broke my heart and I had to junk it.
Much later I purchased a ’64 Valiant station wagon in white. Same basic car ‘tamed’ to look presentable to the buying public. But it had lost the flair, inside and out, that had marked the ’61.
I love these, full stop. I even love the toilet seat tail. I know not why.
Where the Corvair predicted European design for the next 10 years or more, the Valiant was kind of a compilation of European (Italian, mostly) greatest hits from 1946-60. Exner seemed smitten with that voluptuous style and tried to bring it up to date on this car.
That roughly 50k unit spread between Corvair and Valiant in 1960 is pretty amazing considering the general fortunes of Chevrolet vis a vis Plymouth at the time, particularly with Valiant lacking a 2 door. My theory is that in 1960 the public was open to considering which was the more attractive design. When the 61 models came from both companies they served to confirm that the Valiant was indeed odd.
Yup, I think these are fantastic cars. Great thesis Joseph on what is really happening here.
However my happy thoughts for early 60’s Valiants are from 56 years of hindsight. If I had been shopping for a new car in 62 I probably would have thought differently.
I loved it then and have always loved it since. For all the reasons that others have pointed out, it was a very advanced design. Great dashboard too. Plus the legendary Slant Six, which I had a plastic model of. Outstanding styling and engineering, a rare combination.
I like the Valiant, too! It has a jauntiness, a bit of fun to it but the basic skin is still stretched tightly, conveying compactness.
I always thought the Falcon looked frumpy, and still do. The 1960 Corvair looked “distilled” to its basics; it was completely outclassed by its beautiful 1965 restyling, which added grace and flair.
A prior comment mentioned hubcaps. Actually, those are wheel covers. Hubcaps only cover the central hub of the wheels. Wheel covers were more upmarket, dressier, and cost more, as an option or as standard on higher-line models and high-priced cars. It is a distinction now virtually forgotten since nearly everything has alloy wheels, and even in the day, many did call all of them, “hubcaps.” But note the two advertising/publicity photos of the Corvair and Falcon. Both have the downmarket hubcaps, in an era when just about all ad photos showed deluxe options such as wheel covers. Were GM and Ford intentionally presenting frugality as a virtue in their new compact cars?
International Nickel, a major supplier of stainless steel, ran commercials on the CBS Radio morning news extolling the virtues of stainless steel wheel covers and encouraged listeners to order them on their next new car.
Examined from a purely styling point of view, I can see why these cars were originally a stand alone brand as they look more like the contemporary Chrysler than the Plymouth and the corporate execs probably feared the market would totally reject the idea of a small Chrysler.
But my only problem with these cars after seeing them for decades (I was 8 years old when these first hit showrooms), is that trunklid…an attempt to link it to other Mopars, and the car always struck me as a bit too wide for its length. It almost looks like a preview for the downsized full-sized models just around the corner.
But man, nowadays, everything else about these cars intrigues me: slant 6 engine, push-button automatic transmission, torsion bar front suspension.
During this period, one of Chrysler’s advertising slogans was, “We don’t make junior editions.”
Put me down as an unabashed admirer of the first gen Valiant. Loved everything about it with the exception of the toilet seat, something rectified in 1962. I can see where some might think it overstyled, but this was Exner unleashed and the result was striking. Add in the legendary slant six and Torqueflight, and this car was light years ahead of the competition. Thought the Falcon frumpy and the Corvair, while innovative, was very spartan. The Falcon may have been a sales hit, but many of those sales came at the expense of the big Ford, whose sales were down dramatically in 1960.
Let’s not forget the sales of the 1960 full-size Fury/Belvedere who taked a hit due to their design who looked like a refreshed 1957 with an ackward front end (and some joked when the 1960 Plymouth arrived by saying “Suddenly it’s 1957”) and the arrival of a more affordable full-size Dodge, the Dart with a more attractive look didn’t helped things either.
A great article on a very interesting car.
“Doing too much” reminds me of what Edsel Ford supposedly said when he looked at an over-styled vehicle – “They tried too hard.”
The attempt to sell the Valiant as a separate marque in 1960 was another reason it didn’t sell as well as the parent corporation had originally hoped.
The Valiant was largely sold through dealers that also carried the Plymouth franchise. To add to the confusion, 1960 was the year that Dodge dealers lost their Plymouth franchise, but gained the full-size Dart. The Dart was a companion model to the old medium-price Dodge that competed directly with Plymouth, as well as Chevrolet and Ford.
No doubt many Plymouth loyalists went to what had been their friendly Dodge-Plymouth dealer looking for either a Valiant or a Plymouth. The dealer wasn’t about to direct them to a competing dealer, so they got a hard sell for the Dart, which was available with the excellent slant six for 1960.
The result was a big drop in sales of the medium-price Dodges, and Plymouth losing sales to the Dart. One reason many people don’t realize that Valiant was initially sold as a separate marque was that Chrysler added Valiant sales totals to those of the full-size Plymouth for 1960. Without Valiant sales added to the divisional tally, it became apparent that not only had Plymouth lost third place, it had also been outsold by Dodge!
As for the Valiant’s sales drop in 1961 – that was the year that Dodge dealers got the Lancer, which was a slightly restyled Valiant. Just as the Dart stole sales from the full-size Plymouth, the Lancer stole sales from the Valiant. Particularly since many viewed the Lancer as being slightly better-looking than the Valiant.
Many good points, but I rather think that not too many folks interested in a Valiant were sold on buying a giant Dart instead.
My sense of compact buyers at this time was that many of them fell in two groups: younger buyers looking for a low-cost and compact car and one that was an alternative to the imports. And older buyers who had become quite unhappy with the way American cars had become so huge and excessive, including their styling. I’m talking about the folks who likely had bought a Plymouth in ’49-’51, and a Model A or T had likely been their first car. They wanted something basic. And they more likely felt that the Falcon represented that, due to its mild styling.
I suspect that Chrysler’s bad rep with quality from the ’57s also hampered the Valiant. And for good reasons, as the ’60 Valiant did have a number of quality glitches.
I agree with your take on the compact market of the time. The Corvair probably appealed to the younger buyers and the Falcon definitely grabbed the older buyers (especially Ford buyers who tended to be traditionalists). The Valiant’s demographic was unshakable Mopar buyers (a rapidly shrinking demographic by then) and young engineering-types.
The young engineer was the only family I knew back then who had one of these. It was a guy who worked with my father – his wife drove a baby blue 60 or 61 (with the toilet seat) and I remember walking around and around it in our driveway one day drinking it all in. It was so unlike our 61 F-85 wagon in every conceivable way to four-year-old me.
I remember reading an old magazine article that was published when these were new that called the Valiant the most stylish of the compacts. I don’t think that view held for long.
The first Valiant did have some major quality glitches.
Popular Mechanics surveyed the owners of all three new compacts for 1960 as part of its “Owners Report” series.
Based on the survey results, the Falcon had better build quality than the Valiant. Only 4.3 percent of Falcon owners complained about poor workmanship, while 7 percent complained about rattles.
Interestingly, the Falcon outscored its big brother when it came to build quality and owner satisfaction. (The magazine had also surveyed owners of the 1960 Ford.)
The top complaint of full-size Ford owners was poor workmanship (15.2 percent). Only 50.8 percent of full-size Ford owners rated their cars as “excellent,” while 82.7 percent of Falcon owners did. Those were the lowest and highest excellent ratings that the magazine recorded for surveyed vehicles that year!
But both Fords beat their Mopar counterparts. One-fifth of both Valiant and full-size Plymouth owners complained of poor workmanship, while another 19.6 percent of Valiant owners complained of serious water leaks. Chrysler Corporation was still having serious problems with build quality and workmanship in 1960.
Interestingly, poor workmanship did not show up on the list of most common owner complaints about the 1960 Corvair. In 1961, the magazine again surveyed Corvair owners, and 19.1 percent complained about poor workmanship, paint problems and rattles.
That doesn’t surprise me about the ’60 big Ford. It was a new body, and I remember them coming off as a bit flimsy. It took Ford a couple of years to nail down that new big body.
Fond memories here- my mom had a White 1960 with red interior
which was purchased new when I was a baby. Later, I remember
that she always stuck her arm out across my chest in tight braking
I was playing with the push buttons as a four year old and it rolled
out of the driveway into the street. It got replaced with a beautiful
new 65 Skylark coupe. Blue inside & out.
Rich, that’s terrifying. And sort of hilarious. I’m glad you lived to tell the tale. 🙂
So glad somebody else remembers Lonnie Donegan. I remember that his big hit ” My old man’s a dustman” needed sub-titles for the USA….
The Valiant was my favourite of the 1960 compacts, and it knocked my socks off when I saw it on a show-stand. Don’t mind the “toilet seat” either.
I’m pretty sure that Lonnie Donegan was responsible for the song “Does Your Chewing Gum Loose It’s Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight” as well. Donegan was well-known in his native England and, like many things from that country, didn’t translate well once in the United States.
The first generation Valiants were thick on the ground when I growing up but I can’t say that I ever knew anyone who purchased one new. By the time I started driving (circa 1967) they had become entry level used cars for the financially challenged; I can remember seeing several of them in my high school’s parking lot. As for the styling of the early Valiants we have to remember that many cars of this era look a little odd to our eyes today. Whether this is better or worse than now when most cars look pretty much the same I will leave up to each to decide.
Donegan also had a U.S. top 10 hit with “Rock Island Line” from 1954, a hugely influential rock/skiffle record that predated Elvis
I associate him with “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On the Bedpost Overnight.” He was an influence on the young John Lennon.
Here’s “I’ve Lost My Little Willie,” which I heard on the Dr. Demento show:
Donegan was singing Lead Belly songs when most folk in England thought leadbelly was a stomach complaint, and he influenced not just the Beatles but The Stones, Led Zepp, and all the British R+B groups.
I like your analysis of the Valiant. That ‘62 sedan was a real find!
I don’t think Valiant’s stand alone status was the reason for lower sales, Comet (originally to be an Edsel) with cat eye taillights was a stand alone “make” available at L-M dealers, wasn’t released until mid-March 1960, yet 116,331 were sold. In recession year 1961 the Comet “make” sold 197,263, likely due to it’s more conventional styling.
The stying of the 1st gen Valiant has grown on me over the years. I like the six window greenhouse on the sedan and weirdness of the wagon. Chrysler’s mistake was that it should of filtered down Valiant styling themes from larger models instead of doing the opposite with the downsized ‘62 Plymouth & Dodge.
I went to a fairly large high school (1,500 students) from ‘78-‘81. There were 3 cars driven by facility members that I vividly remember; a ‘51-‘53 black Packard sedan, a silver ‘63 split window Corvette, and a god awful industrial light green ‘61 Valiant 4dr with the rear toilet seat. I remember these 3 because they were much older than the other cars in the lot and each were special, including the Vailant.
I’ve always loved these things. They’re kind of like American Citroens…delightfully quirky and entertaining. I’d love to find a good wagon version to restore.
“Valiant Gets Styling Award” by Fred Olmsted, The Detroit Free Press, October 18, 1961
“In October 1961, the Society of Illustrators presented Exner the 1962 Styling Award for outstanding design of the 1962 Signet 200; the award lauded Exner’s “creative sculpted design” of the Valiant, “an automobile of outstanding originality, restraint and spirited beauty.”
I like the Corvair best, the Valiant next. For me, the Falcon looked so dowdy, so unfortunate. The Valiant has a certain Googie style. The Falcon looks well, cheap and apparently drove that way.
If this is restraint I’d hate to see excess.
Always did like these, but we’re talking about a design that was 20 years old when I was born. So to me it was another over-the-top design from the tail end of the tailfin era, albeit in a slightly less excessive size. And my childhood self never met a tailfin he didn’t like. The quirk factor has grown on my as I grew up.
Interestingly, a white ’61 Valiant was my mom’s first car, bought with the lion’s share of a $500 high school graduation gift in 1969. I don’t think she was ever all that fond of it, and I’m sure how dated that design looked in the late 60’s probably didn’t help. She only had it for a year or so if I’m remembering the story correctly.
Davis, I like that you likened the styling of these early Valiants to Googie architecture. I never would have made that connection, but it’s perfect! Googie architecture (which I love) with all of its cosmic- / space age- inspired details seems to be an acquired tasted for many, which I’m sure the looks of these Valiants were, as well.
I love all the love this Valiant is getting in the comments.
I liked them as a kid, since they were like cartoon characters.
Ah, the side-opening hood. Just like the early 50s Buicks……!
Thoroughly appreciate all of your added posts lately Joseph. Always a treat to enjoy your thought-provoking work. And look forward to your writing. Thank you!
I have to admit, growing up in the late 70s, I thought early 60s Chrysler styling aged perhaps the worst of any of the domestic makers. Studebaker and Rambler may have been frumpy, but at least they were generally inoffensively conservative about it. At least with their mainstream cars. Chrysler on the other hand, seemed to take the cheesy Jetson’s approach to advanced design. As a 10 year, whenever I saw a Valiant, I used to think how thoroughly dated they now looked. A zero on the cool scale. lol Trying so hard to look modern in their era, and aging so ungracefully.
I definitely appreciate them more today. They are well sized and proportioned. I especially like their greenhouse design.
Somehow the ’62 facelift adds to the muchness rather than cleaning it up. Clumsier grille and grille surround than the ’60-61, not so well-integrated taillights, and having spent all that tooling money on a fake-spare-free trunk lid for a one-year run they plunked a gigantic round chrome emblem on it that was almost as the old “toilet seat”!
Joseph, as you consider the ’60-’62 Valiant ugly—in however many words—and the Volaré “pretty”, we’re doubly unlikely ever to agree on matters of this sort. Fortunately for both (and all) of us, style is a matter of taste, for which there’s no accounting.
Plenty of people rejected the Valiant out of hand because Chrysler’s quality had been so crummy starting in ’57, and that would’ve been a double whammy because as with the ’60 Valiant, in ’57 they’d been trumpeting loudly and proudly about how their cars were all-new. “Suddenly, it’s 1960” and all that. And while the engineering and specification shortcomings of the ’57-’59 cars had been well rectified for ’60, the cars were still being carelessly thrown together; it’s mentioned in most of the road tests and owner surveys of the day. That, and its significantly higher price versus the competition in what was supposed to be the inexpensive-car end of the field, I think probably exerted the biggest drag on Valiant sales versus the Corvair and Falcon.
The Valiant’s unconventional (may we agree?) design seems to have been one of those polarising ones that helped and hindered at the same time. I’m sure plenty of people rejected it out of hand because they didn’t like its looks—either explicitly, or because they’d been through the 2nd half of the ’50s, were sick to damn death of tailfins and fashion-forward flying buttresses, and wanted a toaster on wheels. Still, 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, see here.
And in other markets—Australia, notably—this Valiant caught the public’s fancy immediately and hugely. All 11,017 of them offered down there found homes in a hurry, not just because they were so enormously mechanically superior to the competition, but because of their design and styling.
(Back to the states—can’t resist sharing this hair-raising complaint by a New York photographer demonstrating ignorance and stupidity typical of the time)
All of that said, I can’t help wondering if objections like yours to the design of the ’60-’62 Valiant-Lancer cars might’ve been nullified by curved side glass.
These appeared down under wearing Chrysler Valiant badging and 14inch wheels to suit local conditions far more durable than the brittle underbaked Falcon these were good cars with ample power from the only engine offering 225 slant six, the styling was a bit unique though kinda Studebaker at the front, good cars and subsequent Australian built cars were revered in NZand sold well, not in Ford Zephyr Vauxhall Velox, Holden quantities but well enough Todd motors assembled them locally as they had for previous MOPAR cars this poor build quality from 57 did not happen here.
Daniel, I can always rely on you for thoughtful commentary – thank you for this. And for the record, I do consider the Volaré coupe a legitimately good-looking car. Our ’77 was a looker, resplendent in burgundy with white bodyside moldings, a pebble-grained vinyl roof from the A- to B-pillars, and deluxe wheel covers. Every once in a while, I’ll scan classifieds for one…
»doffs cap« Y’welcome; thanks for the compliment.
I just cannot get onside with the F-bodies. I find absolutely nothing about them appealing. It’s probably partly my distaste for the overwrought gloop and brocade of what Stephen King aptly called the “sickie seventies”, partly my umbrage at the the slack engineering—that front suspension was a halfaѕѕed crapmess from the start—and partly my very old resentment that Chrysler replaced the A-body (of all things) with the F-body (of all things).
It’s partly the sadness of what the F-body represented both in its own right and versus the A-bodies and, more generally, the American cars of a decade previous—but that’s not entirely it, because I really like the ’77-’79 GM B-bodies, always have. Those might legitimately be called an outlier, though, so I’ll up that ante by admitting I’m even beginning to come around on the Colonnade cars (the 4-doors and the wagons, not the 2-doors).
A big part of my distaste for the F-bodies is that they look so carelessly generic to me—the 2-doors could easly be mistaken for the Nova/Omega/Apollo/Phoenix/Ventura; the 4-doors and wagons might as well be Fox-body Fords. Just not a damn thing distinctive or interesting about their design. Even the last (American) A-bodies, neglected and left to rot, had at least some design intrigue: that concave backglass was attractive (whatever its gritchments in winter weather) and so was the shelf area ahead of the forward edge of the deck lid, and the sill line that defined the top edge of the door sheetmetal. The F-bodies have always struck me as offensively blah—which is either weighty given that I like the early Valiant-Lancer, or hypocritical given that I like the AA-body Spirit-Acclaim cars. I guess it’s both.
So you can see why, if we’re going to be making this p’ticular comparison, I’m going to side with the ’60-’62 A-body over the F-body, every time. 🙂
To understand the Valiant’s success in the Australian market, you have to consider the competition. The Valiant arrived in 1962 to fill the huge gap in the Chrysler Australia range between the Simca Aronde and the ’54 Plymouth-based Chrysler Royal, taking over the position of the rarely-seen Simca Vedette.
The current Holden looked like a 3/4 scale ’56 Chevy, and had all of 75hp from a 138. It was regarded as slow, but GM had a new engine in the pipeline. Falcon’s 144 put out 90hp (so they said here) and the car looked much more modern, but it quickly established a reputation as fragile, especially in the front end.
And here was Chrysler’s Valiant, rather strange looking, a bit larger and more expensive but with almost twice the Holden’s power. Aussie drivers have always liked power. Unlike the Falcon, it proved to be as tough as nails. And the following year the Valiant’s looks were fixed but good, especially with the local revisions to the American ’63s styling.
On the other hand, us Aussies really took to the styling of the ’62 Dodge…
I always liked the first generation Valiant. I was never a big fan of the early Falcons and Corvairs, and it looked like a more substantial car than either the Ford or Chevy offerings. Under the sheet metal, it has a lot of baked-in Mopar goodness and you could do a lot worse than the /6 for motivation. I saw one at a Toronto used car lot about 15 years ago that was in nice shape – I’ll bet it made someone a fine summer driver.
Thanks, everyone, for reading and for the thoughtful comments. I seem to be in the minority in regarding this car’s styling as a bit excessive, but I didn’t say I didn’t like this car. 🙂 (No backpeddling here! LOL)
I really hope this car did get saved before this garage closed up shop (or moved) and got torn down about five years ago.
Something I haven’t seen mentioned (and, IIRC, it actually warranted a CC topic of its own) is how much the front of the first generation Valiant resembled the Studebaker Lark. Along with all the other styling faux pas, I can’t imagine that resemblence helping sales any.
Regardless, I’m still amazed at how many compacts (of all brands) were sold those first years. It was a huge, untapped market and a stunning rebuke of the wretched excesses of the fifties. I still tend to think that ‘Newberg’s Folly’ of downsizing the 1962 full-size Mopars at the last moment wasn’t that bad of an idea; it was just the piss-poor execution of the cars Exner called ‘plucked chickens’. Maybe if they hadn’t cheaped-out on stuff like curved side glass.
And considering how well the new A-bodies were selling, well, I guess I can see where Newberg thought borrowing the same general styling themes for the full-size cars would have worked there, too.
The details are a bit much, but I like the car overall. I like quirky and I cannot lie!
When it comes to Chrysler styling in the late 1950’s remember Chrysler literally had two styling directors – Virgil Exner and William Schmidt. Schmidt was brought on board in 1957 to fill in for Exner while he was recuperating from his heart attack in late 1956.
Thus the 1959 models that look like the front and rear ends were done by different people, were done by different people. The 1960-61 models also had some of that feeling – the smooth (if boring) rear styling of the 1961 Plymouth rear compared to the “Monster that Ate Tokyo” up front.
I have always liked the first generation Valiant, although my favourite is the 1961 Lancer with its 1960 Pontiac grille and rear taillights. And that instrument panel! 1962 was a disappointment – boring.
And when talking of 1961 sales, remember 1961 was a recession year with total production of 6.7 million in 1960 dropping to 5.5 million in 1961. Chrysler got hit the hardest of the Big Three falling from 1 million in 1960 to 648,000 in 1961 – a drop of 35%.
Dodge and Dart fell to less than half 1960 production in 1961 – 362,808 down to 166,158. Lancer built 48,858 cars in 1960 (5 months production) and rose to 54,621 (12 months) in 1961. Chrysler abandoned the middle price range (Dodge, DeSoto) for 1961 and it hurt. The Dart did a number on Plymouth in 1960 but everything fell apart in 1961 with both Plymouth and Dodge going downhill, although Plymouth did better than Dodge in 1961.
Agree that the ’61 Lancer was the best-looking of the first generation A-body. Besides having the best grille with none of the Studebaker Lark appearance, the trunk lid was completely devoid of any ‘toilet seat’ ornamentation.
In ’62, the Lancer got a different, vertical-style grille. Not as nice as the ’61, but still better than the Valiant. But, then, they added some silly scallops on the lower rear quarter panel behind the rear wheels.
In fact, I don’t recall there being a CC on the Lancer.
There’s this, and this.
I like the ’61 Lancer grille fine, but I also like the ’62. The seargent stripe ornaments on the ’62 quarters never bothered me over the most of three decades a ’62 Lancer was in my life. As for instrument panels: ’62, all the way; form follows function. Every gauge on the ’62 panel is much easier to read, and the vertically-arranged pushbuttons much easier to use than the clumsy horizontal ’61 arrangement.
If you don’t like Exner’s beloved faux spare tire pressings, the ’62 Lancer might’ve had the best deck lid: it had a strong but not overwhelming central longitudinal ridge. The ’61 Lancer deck lid, almost entirely smooth, seemed to be missing something—at least to my eyes.
Good call on the ’62 Valiant/Lancer instrument cluster. I had no idea that’s where that particular arrangement began and it’s worth noting that it effectively lasted throughout the rest of the A-body’s life with just minor cosmetic updates to keep it fresh, all the way through 1976. Fifteen years is a long time for a domestic manufacturer to keep the same basic instrument panel.
Because of the much better gauge panel (and the grille still looks okay), I’d have to agree that the ’62 Lancer bests the 1961 car. Plus, you could get a cloth sunroof for 1962, as well.
Aside from the car in that black-and-white publicity pic, I have seen pics of only and exactly one actual car equipped with the sliding cloth sunroof, that is a very well equipped Swiss-built 770 4-door.
…and now, having said that, here’s another Swiss-built ’62 with sliding cloth sunroof—pics here, here, and see others in the same collection. Probably not the same sunroof as shown in the American press photo, which sounds like it was an American-made and -installed item.
Those cloth sunroofs must have been a real fad in 1962. That was also the year for the short-lived Lark Skytop. I could see this for the Valiant/Lancer because there was no convertible in the line. Not so with the Lark. Not many were sold.
I also liked the way they made the fender blade terminate in a reverse kink on each door on the Lancer. When I was in college with my 59 Plymouth Fury another kid on my dorm floor was driving a gray 61 Lancer.
Our neighbors bought one to supplement/complement their ‘53 or ‘54 Chevy, but then got a ‘64 Chevy a few years later. The Valiant stuck around even after the newer Chevy was replaced by an LTD, into the mid-seventies, by which time I was old enough to drive the Valiant a few times. The two most memorable features were the push button shifter with the Park lever, and about 6 (or was it 10?) turn lock-to-lock manual steering with about 90° of free play.
Well, I wouldn’t presume to know what people in 1960 did or didn’t like. After all, the Valiant received American Society of Illustrators’ Styling Award in 1960, apparently not for looking ugly.
Low sales volume can be attributed to a number of other factors as well, including: lack of trust in the build quality of Chrysler products after the nearly disastrous 1957-59 model years; absence of 2-door models; relatively high price; etc. etc.
But yes, from the modern perspective, it clearly looks grotesque & overdone, with all that bulges, unnecessary trim, etc. Which is a pity, because the overall shape of the body is rather attractive (I, for once, especially like the greenhouse), and also quite modern, with “long hood – short deck” proportions, fastback rear end, etc. – just as Paul writes in the comments here.
The 1963 model clearly had much more appropriate look for a rational, no-frills compact car – although not without its own quirks, too.
More than anything else, the ’60-’62 Valiant/Lancer styling was design misappropriation. Here was a sophisticated new design language with the potential to set the themes for all Mopars through the mid-1960’s. As has been pointed out before, this new design language of long hood/short deck, fuselage passenger compartment, classic features, should have been introduced on the top-of-the-line Imperial or Chrysler New Yorker at very least. Imperial was in dire need of a new design direction by 1961-’62, better this design theme more thoroughly messaged and cleaned up, had been introduced on it.
Not to denigrate buyers of low-priced transportation but highly sophisticated styling has never been necessary to attract buyers who seek durable, dependable transportation at initial and ongoing low costs. As such, looking the part in pleasantly grand but bland styling was all that was necessary, the Falcons, Ramblers and Studebaker Lark the best examples. Corvair was also guilty of being more stylish than was necessary, something the Chevy II corrected in short order.
In hindsight, this is especially odd given that the big cars were all new as well. I do not recall the history well enough to know if the big cars were well along before the Valiant project got started, which might explain why one line was more or less an evolution of the Forward Look while the Valiant started a new path. Or could there have been a reluctance to bet the success of the main lines on the new styling while the Valiant was sort of a guinea pig? Or with Exner and his 1957 heart attack maybe there was just not enough of him to go around to push for a radical restyling of the entire line.
But in the end I agree with you – this styling language was wasted on the Valiant. But I must also argue that with the directions GM and Ford (particularly with the Thunderbird and Continental) were going, Exner’s new trend was never going to become the mainstream.
I still think that the ’60 big cars were a direct evolution of the ’57s, and not really all new cars, given the continuity of so many dimensions/proportions/etc. I think that the engineering staff, which was very powerful, wanted to switch to unibody for engineering reasons, and quite possibly production cost savings, as Chrysler was in a big push to reduce costs at this time.
And the way they went about it was by an extensive body “remodeling” job; starting with the ’57 body and systematically modifying it to be a unibody. Clearly it was not a “clean sheet” job.
That would undoubtedly have been cheaper than starting completely from scratch. This is a well-established fact. keep in mind that at GM, the various B/C bodies weren’t actually structurally the same either. The cars that used the X Frame had drastically different floor-sill members, as these were structural members.
Ever since cars got away from the old ladder frame, the bodies became an increasingly more critical part of the overall structure. The X Frame and the perimeter frames that became almost universal provide only a very limited amount of strength to the actual center section of the body. They function largely as a way to tie in the subframes at the front and rear. It may well be that the ’57 Chrysler bodies were already heading in the direction of playing a greater role in the car’s structural integrity, and the ’60 switch to full unibody was not all that huge a leap.
Keep in mind that it’s not that uncommon for some cars/trucks to have both unibody and BOF versions, with the same basic body. The Jeep Commanche is one example, but in Europe there were a number of others.
And today’s Euro-vans all offer unibody and BOF versions.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if the ’60 big cars were to have been “all-new”, they would have looked very different. And been much more expensive to develop. Stylistically, the ’60s were no more of a project than just another quick refresh. There was no need to go through a complex process of modeling new ideas and proportions.
Exner had been working with concepts that had very different proportions, and they ended up on the Valiant. If he had been given the task of developing all-new ’60 big cars, there’s no doubt in my mind they would have looked rather different.
I don’t think we are ever going to agree on this one. I need to start looking for 57-59 and 60-61 Mopars and start taking detailed pictures of hard points like cowls, door pillars and such. Sites like C2Cfabrication.com offer scads of Chrysler 300 sheet metal panels, and not a one of them seems to interchange between the frame cars and the Unibody cars – floorpans, rockers, and all the rest are different.
The part that makes it so confusing is that the cars were styled with an almost slavish devotion to the Forward Look design cues like the windshield/A pillar shapes – even though each generation’s versions are demonstrably different from one and other on close examination.
If I recall correctly, the 1960 Mopars were the first to have been created with computer-assist. As a first step, creating digital models of the existing 1957-’59 basic body structures, modeling stress analysis on those, then replacing lower cowls, floor pans, pillars and other stress points with new box units and ancillary parts to allow a unit body build isn’t an unreasonable intellectual leap.
I have voice inexplicable-but-genuine affection for the ’62 Chrysler “big” cars, but the Valient/Dart design is truly ghastly. They’re a mess. The ’63 was a vast improvement, particularly on the Valient. The lines are consistent, conservative — as if they recognized the monster they had created and purposefully went in the opposite direction.
I meant to send this on the 28th, but my home internet went down for over 24hr:(, sorry.
Great find, Joseph. I, too, am liking that you are writing more articles lately. Good stuff.
I personally like every Exner design released, the wilder the better. That’s from the perspective of someone who wasn’t around when they were new or even common old used cars. Perhaps I wouldn’t have liked them so much at the time. I would probably have chosen a GM car, like a Chevy II or F-85 in the compact field. But as a representative of the era of space age fancy in design, Exner’s stuff is great and I admire Chrysler for being willing to risk selling bold styling.
The Valiant seems to be hearkening to a 1930’s look, with the long hood/short deck, free standing grille, six window greenhouse, side sculpting suggesting separate fenders and the psuedo spare tire on the rear. Even the fuselage style sides in in keeping with this theme, being more like a 30’s car than the typical beltline ledge of the time. I think I read that somewhere, too. Does that mean they were aiming at the older part of the compact buyers?
The problem I have with these cars is the flat side glass and its relationship with the A pillars / windscreen shape, the top of the leading edge of the side glass is way too high and square compared to where the windscreen is, I doubt Mr Exner would have liked how this turned out .
The other issue is the cheap and nasty front and rear windscreen seals themselves which were inflicted on Valiants until 1968 and even longer in Australia, imagine how much nicer the cars would have looked with a proper stainless surround, hardly the sort of thing you would expect from one of the major car companies of the day.
Enough of the bad stuff, the design was popular in Australia through the years as car enthusiasts appreciated the exotic styling and the excellent Mopar powertrains.
Growing up in 1960s Australia, the appearance of one of these would cause comments from my non car loving parents such as “wow, there’s one of those Valiants “, and my Dad would say something like,” they must be a panelbeaters nightmare ”
My dream version of these would be a sporty 2 door with a shorter coupe roof, it was a shame the hardtop had to share the 4 doors roof, imagine a version in the vain of the Corvair Monza, what a missed opportunity for Chrysler .
One final thought, I know this makes no sense but I’m glad these cars were designed like this, there’s nothing quite like them, its like there had to be one car that looked like this in the world.
I will stop now…
I think the Italian term “sprezzatura”, or “studied carelessness” would fit your initial thesis.