In two years of writing for CC, I haven’t had many chances to feature Detroit’s fine products all that much. There are not many left around in most places I happen to frequent (Burma – where I did snap this Chevy, Thailand, Japan, France, Britain, etc.). By the latter half of the ‘60s, most American cars became just too big and thirsty for Asian and European tastes. American “compacts” are another matter, though. Here’s one that just barely managed to cheat the crusher for over five decades.
This is a Canadian “Plodge” Valiant, so that makes it more of a Windsor, Ontario car than straight-up Detroit. Still, what was it doing here, pretty much the furthest point on Earth from its birthplace? Let me rewind a little bit. It all started with a Karmann-Ghia.
I had to go to the Department of Land Transport, which is a sort of DVLA / MOT type of place. This is where folks come for all car-related paperwork: certificate of ownership, driving license, emissions testing, etc. One of the larger buildings has a six-lane rolling road out back, with a near-constant trickle of cars coming through. I was a bit slow to draw my phone out and only got couple of lousy photos. But there was a red car that seemed both very interesting and stationary.
I never grew up with these, so it took me a little while. I could tell it was a ‘60s Mopar, but which one exactly? I searched fruitlessly for some sort of badge or script on the car’s rear end. My mind went to the Dart after a moment of reflection, but I wasn’t so sure, The only script I could see anyplace was the word “Country” on the front fender, clearly not an original feature. As I took a few pictures of the tail, the car’s seller, buyer, a couple of mechanics and a Department guy were out front, discussing things.
I had a bit of a shock when I saw the interior. I know I shouldn’t have expected everything to be in its place, but this was pretty disastrous. The dreadful door trim and suspect seat covers were one thing, but that ghastly floor-mounted automatic did not bode well for the car’s originality, beyond mere esthetics.
I would love to be able to compare this with an identical but 100% original RHD sister car. Fortunately, as we live in the age of the Intergoogle, I was quickly able to find a good interior shot of a LHD model from Wikipedia, which is a start. Pretty much standard issue 1964 Valiant, just like the rest of the car from that point forward.
There seems to be a great deal of difference between the two. This dash is bugging me because I don’t understand it. Perhaps this heavily modified Thai car was given a different car’s dash sometime after it was originally built. (Subsidiary question: which car donated its dash? I’ve not seen this shape before, but I’m sure someone has). It’s unlikely that the 1964 RHD Valiants used hand-me-down dashboards from the previous generation, a phenomenon I’ve noticed on other cars I found in this region: no known Valiant has this dash. But then, aren’t 99% of Valiants LHD? Or was this car assembled from Windsor-sourced CKD kits somewhere else (South Africa, for instance), with a crude locally-made dash? If anybody has photographs of original 1960-64 RHD Valiant interiors, please don’t hesitate to share.
As I got to the front and took a look, I was even more shocked. The engine was a longitudinal 20-plus-year-old Toyota mill. Looked like the an old Crown’s 3-litre straight-6. Or could be from an old pickup truck. Wow. This was a complete Cuban maquina job. The new owner was a well-dressed Thai guy in his early 30s. Stroke of luck: he spoke very good English. We conversed briefly.
Me: You want to keep that Toyota engine?
Him: No, it needs the correct engine. Probably a V8. It’s in typical condition for this kind of car in Thailand.
He winced as he said that. The whole car was visibly a rusty mess, but labour is cheaper here for folks who have the means and the desire to restore a car. Then I noticed the front wings had decidedly Valiant-like features. But I didn’t put two and two together.
Me, gingerly taking a swing at a positive ID: “Beautiful car. It needs a bit of TLC. It’s a Dart, right? Er… 1965?”
Him, pointing to the ‘PLYMOUTH’ script up on the opened hood: “It’s a Plymouth Valiant Signet from 1964. Made in Canada.”
Me, wide-eyed and only now seeing the unicorn for what it was: “Oh? OOOOH! It’s a Plodge!”
I had still rather fresh memories of the Dart-based Canadian Valiant’s very existence thanks to Paul’s relatively recent CC post on the matter. I realized that a Plodge Valiant Signet RHD convertible must be in the hen’s teeth category. According to an authoritative-looking source (oldcarscanada.com), Chrysler Canada sold 83,429 “American” cars (Canadian and US-made Plymouths, Dodges, Chryslers and Imperials), along with a few hundred imports from Simca and Rootes. The text also mentions 34,468 Valiants for that model year, but it’s unclear whether this was total production or Canadian sales only.
Regardless, the number of RHD Valiants for export to the UK (until 1966) and various Commonwealth / other destinations is unknown, but cannot be much more than a few thousand. That would make this expensive convertible extremely rare indeed. Here’s how our feature car would look if it could still lower its soft-top. Quite a looker.
I love a good obscure Mopar oddity from unexpected corners of the globe, don’t you? There were several notable ones. The 1957-64 Aussie Chryslers and their heavily facelifted ’54 Plymouth body. The South African branch who never got the memo about DeSoto and just carried on regardless. The leather and unique interior of Barreiros Dodge 3700 (1969-77) turned a lowly Dart into a sort of Spanish S-Class. It was also the last series-built American passenger car made in Europe, if I’m not mistaken. Now, as to what “1980 Dodge Polara” means to a Brazilian…
Can’t really say much about the original engine, obviously. It likely left Ontario with 3.7 litre (225 ci) Slant-6, also used in some of the other “Global Chryslers” seen above, has a solid reputation for reliability and ample power (144 hp). On the other hand, the 4.5 litre (273 c.i.) V8 would be eminently suited to the car’s top-of-the-line status. And it arrived, sporting 180 hp and freshly imported from across the Detroit River, onto the Canadian Valiant Signet’s options list in the last months of the 1964 model year, so why not indeed? I hope the new owner will pick one of these two. And the push-button Torqueflite. Gotta have that. The amount of work this car deserves is daunting. Although I am not a religious man, a few words of encouragement in the form of a prayer would perhaps not be amiss. Ahem.
In the name of the Signet, the Dart and the missing Slant-6, I Plodge farewell to thee, Valiant traveler from the frozen north. We hardly knew ye existed, but you found a place in the sun and a new owner who will tend to your many woes. May you turn heads once more in the future. May your rag-top be mended back to its former drop-top glory. May your pitted chrome cast away its rust and shine again. And may your motor, transmission and other sorry misdeeds be thrown to the heap, to be replaced by what thy Creators intended.
Or at least, a Chrysler engine.
Curbside Classic: 1949 Dodge Special De Luxe – What the Plodge?!, by David Saunders