For those of us who call ourselves car people, our personal holy grail of collector cars is not necessarily rare, fast or exotic; there may only be a single qualification that drives us to seek it out: It’s just like our first car.
Years later, some try to find a duplicate of car № 1 and make a daydream of our past selves real again. The luckiest manage to find the exact vehicle again (whether it’s a good idea is debatable) and might see the reunion of themselves and their baby recorded:
But even if the search is merely for a twin, there’s no certainty it will work out. For me, the white whale is a green wagon: a 1963 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Suburban like my mom’s, the first car I got to drive.
The problem isn’t the rarity of the make and model. ’63 Valiant wagons aren’t that hard to find, even after almost 60 years.
That is, unless you want a V-200 in Metallic Green Poly. For years I have kept my eyes open and ears tuned for a car with the right boxes checked on its build sheet, but no dice. The sphere of the search has grown, fed by the internet, yet the Valiant of my dreams remains as unknowable as this version of the factory postcard, which only exists online, because I recolored it in Photoshop. In my quest, I’ve settled for near misses on six separate occasions, only to pass them on to new owners because they didn’t satisfy down to the most obsessively searched detail.
Dad loves to tell the story of how Mom got her Valiant. He was friends with the folks down at Hiway Chrysler-Plymouth, and liked to stop in now and then for conversation and to check out the cars. One morning he pulled in to see the new ’63 models. After church that afternoon, he told Mom, “I want to show you something, and piled the family into the Belvedere. Ushering us into the showroom, he asked Mom what she thought of a sharp green V-200 wagon parked there, equipped with push button automatic, full wheel covers, whitewalls, and a nifty chrome roof rack.
“It’s beautiful!”, she exclaimed.
Dad smiled. “I’m glad you like it, because it’s yours.”
I’m sorry to say, I don’t have a dedicated picture of the Valiant. I guess it was too busy working for us to sit still for one. The wagon put up with Mom’s famous lead foot. It also suffered through three boys’ worth of driving lessons and erratic learning curves. On my first day as a legal driver, I took Mom to the A&P, and decided to drive around the parking lot while she shopped. I embarrassed myself by bouncing a back wheel over the corner of a curb (a mistake I still make). I also clipped the garage doorway and bent a wheel arch that same summer.
The Valiant just kept running, serving us with working-class aplomb for the next half-decade. I wasn’t embarrassed to drive it to school, even at the worried age of 16, because it cleaned up so well. My oldest brother Terry eventually took it to college, though the tinworm had begun to attack. That’s him in the front yard on his high school graduation night in June of 1964.
Fast forward to the early ’90s. I was running an ’80 Pontiac Phoenix, paired with a series of oldsters: a BMW 3000S, then Mercedes 280S 4.5 among others, and I saw an ad in the Auto Locator for a ’63 Valiant, across the Hudson in Westchester. The price was right, and I drove it home with plates borrowed from the Mercedes. It was a 2-door, base model, “V-100” but had power steering, and was repainted in refrigerator white. On the way, a brake line sprouted a leak, and I used the parking brake and transmission lock (click-click-click-clack!) to stop it by a conveniently located auto parts store, where new line, a tube bender and a flaring tool were used to get it home. I enjoyed that car for a number of years.
This reminds me of the ’63 Valiant convertible a buddy of mine bought to drive from coast to coast across the Lincoln Highway for its 100th anniversary in 2013:
My first car that I bought was a base 1970 Charger, B3 blue, w/ bright blue metallic interior; it was totaled in an accident. After various searches, I ended up with my current 1970 Charger 500, Alpine White w/ bright blue metallic interior! So, yes, sometimes you can go home again! 🙂
Wow, that is a beautiful car!
Many thanks to COAL Editor, Daniel Stern, who found this old unpublished article in the archives and deemed it worthy of a premier. I didn’t remember writing it, and was intrigued when contacted about releasing it.
I might add that there’s more to the story of the day I brought home the white V-100 coupe.
As mentioned, I borrowed plates from another car to bring it across the Tappan Zee Bridge. It hadn’t been run for some years, leading to the blown brake line and repair in an auto parts store lot in Nyack. From there, I headed down to the far end of Main St. to O’Donoghue’s Tavern — where I was the day bartender — to show off my new baby. About halfway there, a police car pulled up behind me, and I thought, “Uh oh.”
The patrol car pulled into OD’s lot behind me, and I readied myself for a scolding and summons (“Hello! “Scolding and Summons”, this is Jennifer, how can we help you?”).
A tall, imposing peace officer in blue exited the cruiser.
“Barry, is that you? What’s that, a ’64? I haven’t seen a Valiant in a long time!”
Officer Palmer was a Valiant fan from way back, and just wanted to get a look. He was so excited to see one, he never thought of running the plate.
He also had no reason to run your plate. Bit that’s a different matter altogether.
Yeah, but when a police officer follows you into a parking lot, you figure you did something wrong. I could have run a stop sign — which I actually got ticketed for once, because I was obsessing over the police car in view and went right through one. I didn’t want to imply it, but there’s a good chance I would not have been ticketed because of the traditional relationship between constables and barmen.
Here in Springfield Illinois, there was a gathering of Plymouth owners last weekend. There I saw many Valiant vehicles, two were the same generation wagon as the one you describe. There were also many other Valiant sedans and coupes of that same generation. I would easily say that Valiant and Fury represented a full 2/3rd of the group. It wasn’t a muscle car show, so the lot looked like a typical parking lot of Plymouth vehicles. Very nice!
The 1963-1966 Valiant is a much more attractive car than the original Valiant, and the severe square box that after. My favorite front end is the 1964.
You might care to see the Australian offerings. Here’s the AP5.
And the VC, with the new fender design.
Your mom’s old wagon was a beauty! I hope you can eventually find one that makes you happy.
Sadly, I might be aging out of Valiants. I drove a ’61 coupe with a spindly 3 speed on the floor a couple of months ago and found it harsh, loud and generally uninspiring. I get my rocks off with a threesome of a ’02 Honda Civic EP3 hatch with 5-speed sprouting out of the dash, a ’90 Miata with 42K miles and a ’98 Olds 88 LS for trips (on which I have mounted a replica GM Rocket 88 emblem (with rocket) reissue for the 1951- ’53 models.
But if a green angel happened by….
If you disliked the Valiant don’t drive a three-on-the-tree same year Falcon.
Love the story. So were those the 2 family cars? The Valiant wagon and the Bug?
I want to hear more about the search for just the same/right car. It seems that you’ve found other Valiant wagons…just the wrong color (in the background of the last picture).
Friend of mine in college had a 62 Dart, which was a cool car but for its propensity for catching fire after he’d driven it somewhere and gotten out. More than once he was called out of various shops by people asking if anyone knew whose car that was that was on fire out front. More than once he fixed it and motored on.
Well. There were several wagons: a light green V-100 with manual 3-on-the-tree that was pretty rusty but ran well, a tan one that my Dad bought (see it behind the white car above) which had an interesting history, having been brought to Sicily by an American Army Officer as his personal transport, a pristine ’66 wagon in white with a 4 barrel carb, big exhaust and manual that was as fast as a V-8 and as loud as a tank, then, finally, a nearly perfect white ’63 200 wagon with a red interior that looked like it should be in a showroom and is now in the hands of a new owner who covets it. Its only problem was that it wasn’t a pushbutton, and it wasn’t green.
Oh yeah… a metallic blue ’65 Dart wagon with low miles, quarters that kept rusting through and nascent California emissions equipment (a flexible hose to an air box on the front wheel arch).
H’mmm. Tell us more about this flexible hose and airbox, will you? That doesn’t sound like any factory equipment, nor does it bring any of the retrofits to mind.
(…however, the power brake setup on the pre-’67 cars did involve a box-shaped vacuum tank on the left inner fender).
I bought the car at Chryslers at Carlisle in the early ’90s. The setup was either factory or mandated by California (they have always been ahead of the curve on emissions) because there was a sticker on the airbox that announced the legislative edict by number.
It was very simple: an extra hole in the air cleaner with a flexible tube that went over to the wheel arch, on which a cubic metal box was mounted. I don’t remember anything being inside it, and it had a round hole in front, presumably to ingest cooler air, some inches away from the radiator and engine. Maybe other parts had been removed. There is a slight chance I have a photo somewhere.
Respectfully: I think you might have misinterpreted what you saw. This what you describe was definitely not a factory item, nor a retrofit emissions device. It sounds like it was one or another of two kinds of quack/fraudulent miracle item (triple your gas mileage with the amazing new etc). Your description of its configuration suggests it was either a “hydro-catalyst”—sort of an engine-bong with air drawn through a solution claimed to contain platinum, which was fraudulently said to catalyse more complete combustion—or an “HHO generator”, the bogus idea of which is to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen, which is then ducted to the air intake to hypercharge the gasoline’s molecular quintessence and stuff. These things are nothing but a perpetual-motion scam; there is no gain in anything except gullibility.
The label you saw on it probably bore a CARB EO number. CARB is the California Air Resources Board, and EO stands for Executive Order, and when it’s found on aftermarket parts (such as nonstandard air filters) and add-ons (such as this what we’re describing) it means the item has been demonstrated not to push a pollution-controlled vehicle’s emissions out of compliance. That’s all it means; it doesn’t mean it actually works as claimed, doesn’t mean it reduces emissions or brings any benefit at all—only that it doesn’t make the vehicle’s exhaust too dirty to comply with the regs.
See this recent post for more info on California’s early emissions control programs.
The white Belvedere was a company car that my Dad drove. He had lobbied his company to get Mopars when all they were leasing were Fords and Chevies. It was a huge improvement in styling over the same body on his 1962 powder blue Belvedere sedan. Someone can probably confirm whether Elwood Engle oversaw the update, but whoever it was, it was masterful, particularly in the rear quarter/greenhouse merge on the wagons.
The ’63 car averaged almost 20 mpg with its 318, and was a beloved family vehicle. The VW belonged to my cousin from Pennsylvania. I think it was also a ’63. It was unusual for someone in our family to own a foreign car, but there are gazillions of German-Americans in PA (I am from that stock), and Bugs had a reputation for quality. My own Dad rejected them out of hand because they were “unsafe without the engine up front to protect you”(!).
I found this article written by the guy who bought my white ’63 wagon from the dealer in town I had consigned it to. He got it home to VT and I spoke to him several years later. It was a beauty. The photo accompanying the story is the only one on the web of it as far as I can tell. I had cut a piece of red carpet to put over the color-keyed rubber mat in the cargo area because it was original and pristine, save for a tiny amount of aging in the rear corners.
Regarding the lead photo of the red Valiant wagon and the one of the green one…
Does anyone else remember the acetates that car dealers used to show prospective buyers the cars in diiferent colors? The basic scene was a normal transparency image but the car was uncolored, with shadowed areas in grey. Sandwiched with it on a viewer was a colored image in the shape of the car, done in whichever color. The combined image could easily be changed from a red car to green to blue or whatever to help the customer decide on a color.
These days, such a rig would be computerized with various shades of BMW metallic grey.
re. the color brochures…Yes 🙂
I can’t say that I’ve ever seen one in person at a dealership, but I’ve come across these at flea markets/tag sales from time to time and also for sale on eBay. Here’s one now:
This one is for 1966 Buicks. I’m rather surprised that these existed so recently. I think the other ones I’ve seen were from the 1950s.
What you say is absolutely true. I no longer carry the Ford torch as strongly as I did at age 17, but a lime gold metallic 67 Galaxie 500 convertible with a black top and interior would be a real charge for me to drive around. I am not sure I ever saw another exactly like mine in the years since I sold it, even though it was a popular color and trim combination. I have always known that if I saw one to check for a shim I made for where the driver’s side hinge mounts to the hood.
Those Valiant (and Dart) wagons are cool as can be. I remember actively avoiding wagons when I was young. I’ll bet I missed some good ones.
I think their look was unusually cohesive for a wagon, J. P., and the deluxe models had just the right amount of chrome in the right places, which showed best on medium and dark colors.
Keep you eye out for those shims 🙂
Some other wagons’ designers tried to conceal the adaptation of sedan rear doors to their wagons (Gen 1/2 Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Volvo) but in these Plymouths and Dodges, Chrysler was unapologetic about it. That was one of the design factors that contributed to this car’s cohesiveness.
Volvo 240s are even more unapologetic about it :
The only exposure I ever had to anything close was a ’66? wagon in gold that had been the family car of a kid I went to middle school with. They had a farm up the road from us, and when we were around 7th or 8th grade it was retired from regular duty due to major rust. My school mate then was allowed to use it as a “field car” around 1980ish, He invited me on several occasions to go bombing through the fields with him, but Joe was a kid who (we’d easily see it now) clearly had ADHD, and hanging with him tended to result in some kind of trouble or drama literally every single time. I’d probably have loved to join any of the other neighborhood kids for such excitement, but not Joe. Cut to the early ’90’s and I ran into Joe and one of his older sisters at a bar in a nearby town where his family had moved. We started chatting about old times and he was very forthcoming about his struggles in the years since I’d known him in getting his ADHD in check with proper meds and care. Had a really pleasant evening that night and still remember leaving there thinking what a genuinely nice guy he ended up being. Off topic rambling, but I always think of Joe when I see one of these.
When my Father traded off my Mother’s first gen Valiant without telling her; she sat on her kitchen floor and cried.
Unlike the usually hot and humid weather in September in New Orleans; I’m sure that the temperature was quite c-c-cold in my parent’s bedroom that night.
I can imagine your mother’s distress. Not just because a car she liked was taken away, though of course there was that, but maybe even more because her vote—her agency—was taken away. No discussion between adults, dad just decided unilaterally; mom’s opinions and preferences didn’t matter or count. She’ll take it and like it (or not, it doesn’t matter). Ugh!
This kind of thing is in mind lately; the other day while searching newspaper archives for some family-tree work we’re doing, I came upon a letter-to-the-editor from my mother, printed in the early 1970s. It’s attributed to “Mrs. [father’s first name, middle initial, last name]”. Her identity was erased; married women existed not as their own entities, but only as adjuncts.
I used to see mail.come to my Grandma’s house with Mrs. (Grandpa’s name; Last name). She passed in 2016. He passed in 1972. Always thought it odd.
My wife always has the say in what car she drives. Even before we married. -And I paid for all of them. I can’t imagine wanting that kind of control. I have many faults but being controlling isn’t one of them.
Daniel and TheMann, This is a bit off topic of cars, but… I was at college during the two pairs of years on either side of 1970, and felt very much as you about my mom’s position. The pill and the women’s movement had begun to change things for my generation, but not so quickly for depression era babies. We must understand that most women who married in the wake of the war wore their “Mrs. Joe Blow” titles proudly through the 1960s as the mark of a mother and homemaker whose children had a provider who (hopefully) lived up to his responsibilities. Dad discussed things with her before acting, but his word was the last one, by mutual agreement. It didn’t always make her happy, but she believed in the concept. In the case of the purchase of the Valiant, he knew her well enough to know she would love it, and she did. It’s simplistic to see women in those days as indentured servants to their husbands; indeed, a woman who retained her identity as a “Mrs. —” in widowhood had her reasons (keeping away the riffraff, being one). One thing I have learned in my senior years is to resist time-traveling current sensibilities into a past that was a critical step towards whatever level of enlightenment we have reached, and a foundation for the further enlightenment we seek.
Yes, the world was a much different place in the early/mid 1960’s; and New Orleans was “behind the curve” of the rest of the USA.
I suspect Dad’s stupidity-in-action set the seeds for “The Women’s Liberation Movement” in our otherwise traditional household.
My father’s dream Valiant was the convertible in a more interesting color than the grey 64 Valiant sedan we had from late 63 to 1970 or so. The station wagon was never a desire because growing up we always had sedans and I also raised two kids with sedans until our oldest was in college. I share his preference, the convertible was the least sensible Valiant.
My first Valiant was 1964 grey sedan I drove to uni for 4 years in the 70s.
I customised the rear lights respray in dark green and did new rings cam carb etc. Great reliable car I sold for $150 back then
The first thing I noticed was the rego plate in the wrong place, up above the bumper bar instead of down below. The second thing I noticed was the taillights: AP5-AP6 units rotated from their original horizontal orientation so they’re vertical, roughly approximating the appearance of the US ’64 Valiant lights. They don’t look bad this way—in fact, they look pretty nice, but this trick destroyed their safety performance—wrong light distribution, sent out at the wrong angles. I don’t imagine you ever got ticketed for it.
No tickets ever..
Number plate in factory position for Australia
Right, I wasnt’ speaking clearly: I meant “wrong” like “Hey, that’s not a [North American] ’64 Valiant!” What I meant to convey was that your rotated taillights made me think it was an American ’64 as viewed quickly in the thumbnail, then as I saw more detail it dawned on me that yours was an Australian AP5.
I don’t see a “reply” button in your description of the added thingy on the Dart, Daniel, but you cleared up a false memory for me. Now that I think of it, I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I made a guess. Bravo!
I would have left it on for sure, with the knowledge of its real (lack of) purpose. Pretty hilarious!
I always liked the look of these Valiant wagons. Especially the ones with these taillights, before they went to vertical ones. Looks lovely in the green!
It was a masterpiece of understatement to a 13-year old. I still think so.