Given how fundamentally similar most full-sized American cars were, it’s refreshing to see how relatively different their 1960 compacts came out, given that they all had roughly the same brief. The Corvair was of course quite unique. The Falcon was utterly pragmatic, and as minimalist as possible, resulting in the lightest weight and modest dynamic qualities. How best to describe the Valiant?
Certainly different from the other two, most of all in its bold but challenging styling by Virgil Exner. It was also more ambitious, with a longer and heavier body, a bigger engine, and a more capable suspension. The standard floor shift for the manual transmission was an odd throw-back, limiting room in the front seat to two. Its fuel economy was mediocre. As were aspects of its assembly and certain materials. If it hadn’t been for those, Motor Life said “it would rank as one of the most excellent motor cars made in America”.
There’s no critique given of the Valiant’s bold styling. The Motor Life editors were more open-minded than the public, undoubtedly. Their only comment was “The Valiant looks like a big car. It appears to be longer, wider and higher than the other new compacts”. It was four inches longer than the Corvair and three more than the Falcon. Width was actually the same as the Falcon, but three inches less than the slender Corvair. And it was actually an inch lower than the Falcon, but of course still over two inches taller than the very low Corvair.
As to performance, the Valiant was “easily the quickest car in the compact class”, which assumes they excluded the Lark V8 from that category. The tester had the floor-shifted three speed manual, and first was described as “punchy”, “a second gear that winds and winds”, and a well-chosen final drive ratio of 3.55.” That last bit about the axle ratio was undoubtedly a dig at the Falcon’s too high 3.10 ratio, and its resultant sluggishness.
And it probably doesn’t need repeating, but in terms of handling “The Valiant handles very well and probably the best in its class…it will handle as well as a good gran turismo, and when forced into a fast bend, comes out going the same way”. That last line is undoubtedly a dig at the Corvair, with its terminal oversteer.
Fuel consumption was 20.0 mpg for the test, well below that of the Falcon’s, and on par with the automatic transmission Corvair.
As to quality, ML noted that “for too many years, Chrysler cars have run third in quality ratings…in 1959 and 1960 there were substantial improvements in both materials and assembly. But the Valiant, unfortunately, is not off to a good start.” Suddenly it’s 1957, again!
The Valiant’s interior design is “neat, and functional, and a comfortable place to spend long hours behind the wheel”.
Foot room was adequate front and rear, and the rear seat could sit three in a pinch.
The instrument panel was praised for being functional and compact.
The new 170 CID slant six was rated at 101 (gross) hp @4400 rpm. “It is responsive for its 170 cubic inches and propels the car in a fashion that belies its size. The top end potential is probably 100 mph”.
The summation: “The Valiant is unique—there is nothing else quite like it anywhere in the world. And if it is to be compared to anything else, it would be a European vehicle, rather than a domestic one. If it is successful, and the prospects are good, then it may become the first of a whole new trend in automobiles.”
This is an interesting observation, but it didn’t quite turn out as it might have. The ’60-’62 Valiant was a relatively modest seller, with its sales dropping in both 1961 and 1962. The Corvair handily outsold the Valiant and the Lancer combined during those years. But starting with the 1963 restyle, it slowly worked its way into greater success.
But I read “it may become the first of a whole new trend in automobiles” as something the Corvair did instead, by morphing into a genuine sporty car. And of course the Falcon morphed into the madly successful Mustang in response. Yes, there was the Barracuda, but realistically it was a sales dud too, as it was really no more than a Valiant with a big glassy fastback. It came into its own after 1967, but it was always more of a follower than a leader.
But what if Chrysler had turned the Valiant’s excellent underpinnings into a genuine gran turismo? As in a bold new sporty coupe in 1961, instead of the rather awkward hardtop coupe that was just a sedan without the pillars.
Virgil Exner wanted badly to build a genuine sports car; his earlier Falcon almost made it to production. In 1960 he used the new Valiant as a basis for his XNR concept. It was another two seat sports car, with a very hot Hyper-Pak slant six under the hood. Styling was classic Exner, and it was of course not put into production.
But what if Exner had been able to design a more palatable sporty coupe? The Valiant already had the long-hood, short-deck proportions of a pony car. It shouldn’t have been all that expensive.
And if that loop front bumper had been put to good use, it might have presaged certain Mopar coupes ten years later. A guy can dream, eh?
But yes, the Valiant had the best underpinnings of the three to potentially create “the first of a whole new trend in automobiles.”
Off on a road trip with the new Valiant. And the author gets pulled over by an Ohio State trooper, who just wants to check it out. Now that doesn’t happen anymore.
One undisputed win over the other two: the Valiant has by far the biggest and most usable luggage compartment, with the spare under the floor of the trunk. And the handling came in for more lavish praise “magnificent“. The ride is on the firm side, which undoubtedly has to do with its handling prowess. And the brakes are “better than any car in its class“. But fuel economy was still middling, at 20.2 mpg for the 607 mile trip.
The author has some doubts about the engine’s 101 hp rating: “but it is generally believed that the rating is low, and the true figure is 10 to 15 hp more”. Now that’s an interesting observation, as the 170’s rating did suddenly jump up to 115 hp in 1967, without any apparent changes (although I’ve been told there were some minor ones). Still, the fact is that the 170 was a little dynamo, especially if it was uncorked with a bigger car and some headers.
The optional Hyper-Pak, which included a new intake, a four barrel carb, and a split header bumped power to 148 hp, more than enough for the Valiants to trounce the Falcons and Corvairs in NASCAR’s new compact stock car class. Even a stock 170 could rev to 6000 after a good tune-up. I certainly learned to make the most of it in my father’s ’68 Dart.