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The Plymouth Valiant was one of the most popular sedans in the United States for nearly 20 years. Launched as a 1960 model just as Detroit was rediscovering the small car, the Valiant earned a following with its efficient slant-six engine and cool styling. The Valiant went through four generations, spinning off popular variants like the Duster and the Barracuda, before being replaced in 1976 by the Plymouth Volare.
The Valiant was a hit overseas, as well. Plymouth was part of Chrysler back in the early 60s, and the Valiant was actually marketed as the Chrysler Valiant in Australia, South Africa, the UK and New Zealand, lasting until 1981 in those countries.
Thanks to its high volume (4 million sold) and reliable engine, there are still quite a few Valiants on the streets (or at least in the driveways) today.
EPA estimates .
- 4 Cylinder: 24/34
- 6 Cylinder: 20/29
- Hybrid: 25/34
Virtual-Museum's Valiant Timetable has lots of photo links
Valiant.org has a ton of photos
Detroit had produced few and lackluster compact cars during the 1950s, but Chevy, Ford and Chrysler all decided to turn that around at the same time. Chevy came out with the Corvair, Ford the Falcon (the original name for the Valiant!) and Plymouth (Chrysler) the Valiant. The Valiant was generally considered the most stylish of the three models, and it offered more overall space and better engine performance.
Slant 6 Engine
The Valiant's Slant 6 engine was shared with some other Chrysler-Plymouth models -- most notably, the Dodge Dart -- and its reputation for reliability gave the Valiant an advantage over other compact sedans. While the Slant 6 gets its name from the 30-degree tilt of its cylinders, it was excellent engineering behind the entire engine that made it more durable. The engine also earned a reputation for performance -- helped by early NASCAR victories -- although the competition caught up more quickly on that front.
The first Valiant made a big splash in large part because of its distinctive styling. Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner gave the Valiant a sporty but not muscle-car look that appealed to male and female shoppers alike, although even a Plymouth dealer at the time said it was a look "that took some getting used to". One owner reminisced about her beloved "Cricket" -- probably referring to the angled lines sculpted onto the front and rear fenders of the Valiant's first generation, as well as to the light-green color available on the 1960 model (although the Chrysler engineers preferred to call it "Kitchen Green"). Another signature feature was what owners affectionately called the "Toilet Seat", a raised circle on the back hood that made it look like there was a spare tire just underneath (there wasn't).
Ensuing generations of the core Valiant were not as radically different from the competition; beginnning in 1964, corporate's design creativity went more into trims and spinoffs like the Duster, Scamp and the Barracuda, each of which made a splash of its own thanks to distinctive styling.
Criticisms of the Plymouth Valiant are hard to come by now amid the nostalgia evoked by the car -- but here are a few:
- Neglect. Capitalizing on the Valiant's initial success, Chrysler focused style and feature innovations on spinoff models like the Duster and Barracuda, allowing the "traditional" 100, 200 and Signet trims to languish or disappear. While this approach made some marketing sense, it also made for many years of ho-hum Valiant trims. As the Honda Accord and Toyota have proven in the 30 years since the Valiant died, it is in fact possible to keep sales of core models strong over a long period of time by doing more convincing redesigns and adapting to changing consumer needs.
The first Valiant appeared in 1959 as a 1960 model, and it wasn't a Plymouth, it was a stand-alone brand -- advertised as the "Valiant by Chrysler Corp". Chrysler, like GM and Ford, had been neglecting the small-car market for years, and all three companies invested heavily in new models for 1960. GM's entry was the Chevy Corvair, Ford's the Ford Falcon.
The Valiant was less mechanically radical than the Corvair, which had an air-cooled rear-mounted engine. It was considered more daring than the also-new Ford Falcon, however. The Falcon was totally conventional, while the Valiant boasted fairly radical styling and a new engine configuration, the famous Slant-6 engine, which had its cylinders inline but canted 30° to one side. This allowed a lower hoodline, a shorter overall engine (the water pump was now mounted alongside instead of up front), and efficient, long-branch individual-runner intake and exhaust manifolds. The 170 in³ engine gained a reputation for durability and dependability, partly due to the fact that the engine design was specifically engineered to support either an aluminum or a cast-iron block. Somewhat more than 50,000 die-cast aluminum versions of the larger 225 in³ version of the engine were produced between late 1961 and early 1963. With a "Hyper-Pak" dealer tuning kit, the Valiants were sigificantly faster and quicker than any of their competitors. Even European imports and V8 models were trounced by the Valiants at NASCAR's inaugral compact stock-car race at Daytona (FL). The eight Valiants entered in this race in 1960 placed 1st through 8th; after a repeat performance in 1961, NASCAR quietly cancelled the series.
For 1961, the Valiant was assigned to Plymouth, while Dodge's 1961 version was called the Lancer. The first generation Valiant and Lancer rode on a 106.5 in (2705 mm) wheelbase.The 1960 Valiant was also a Chrysler Engineering exhibition of their leadership in aluminum die-casting. While the aluminum slant-6 engine block wouldn't make it to production until 1961, the 1960 oil pump, water pump, new alternator, intake manifold, automatic transmission case and extension, and a myriad small parts were all made of aluminum.
Chrysler marketed Valiants at both Dodge and Plymouth dealers in Canada from 1960 to 1966 as a stand alone product. The 1960 to 1962 Canadian Valiants were substantially similar to the American-made cars, except the trunklid had a by Chrysler instead of a Plymouth badge. There were minor differences in interior and exterior trim, and the alternator that had made its much-ballyhooed industry debut as standard equipment on the American-market 1960 Valiant remained an extra-cost option in Canada through 1962. A carburetor anti-frost system, engine block heater, battery warmer, electric car interior heater and other cold-climate items were available as factory and/or dealer-installed options, while air conditioning, which was first offered in the US 1961 models, was not made available North of the border until 1966. Some Canadian-made Auto-Lite (now Prestolite) electrical components were used in lieu of the Chrysler-built components installed on American-built cars. Chrysler Canada's Windsor, Ontario plant was also the source for left- and right-hand-drive export Valiants.
In 1961, Plymouth offered a "Dixie Special" version of the Valiant, "painted Confederate Gray metallic and sporting a symbol on the door commemorating the War Between the States", according to the Plymouth Bulletin.
The Valiant was totally reskinned for 1963, with a ½ in (12.7 mm) shorter 106 in (2692 mm) wheelbase. The Valiant was successful, and as was the usual Detroit practice, several different models were spun off it. The Dodge Lancer, which had appeared in 1961, was discontinued, and the Valiant's new Dodge counterpart became the Dart, the name of which was recycled for the A-body platform. With this redesign, and it rode on a longer 111 in (2819 mm) wheelbase. The Plymouth Barracuda, considered by some to be the first pony car, was built off the Valiant platform in 1964. This generation featured a station wagon version, but this bodystyle was not continued in 1967. Also manufactured for the 1963 through 1966 model years was a five passenger convertible.
For 1963, the Canadian Valiant used the Dodge Dart body with a Valiant front clip. This continued for 1964. For 1965, Chrysler Canada sold both the 106 in (2692 mm) wheelbase Valiant and the 111 in (2819 mm) wheelbase Dart as Valiants, with all using the Dart dashboard. For 1966 the Valiant was based on the Dart. With the coming of the US-Canada auto trade agreement in 1965, Chrysler could ship cars and parts both ways over the border and in 1967 began importing Plymouth Valiants and Dodge Darts from Detroit.
The Barracuda was built in Canada in 1964 and 1965 and imported for 1966. But it was sold as a Valiant, not Plymouth. The imported 1966 Barracuda did not have Plymouth nameplates on the trunk as the American market version did. The 1965 Barracuda also used the Dart dashboard.
The Valiant reached its greatest heights after a total redesign in 1967, with the wheelbase now 108 in (2743 mm). The station wagon model was dropped, leaving only the 2 and 4-door sedans. This generation acquired an excellent mechanical reputation and produced such hot-selling variants as the 1970-1976 Plymouth Valiant Duster/Dodge Dart Swinger, 1971-1976 Plymouth Scamp and 1971-1972 Dodge Demon. There was a Dodge Demon for 1971 and 1972, and a Dodge Dart Sport from 1973 to 1976. Chrysler's ponycars, the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda, used a modified version of the Valiant architecture.
With these cars Chrysler took 40% of the total American compact market in the early 1970s. They also enjoyed considerable success in foreign markets, where they were often assembled by Chrysler affiliates or subsidiaries. 1970 was also the first year that the successful 340 in³ V8 engine would be installed in a Valiant-badged car (the Duster 340). 1970 was the only year that the Duster was called the "Valiant Duster" - in 1971 it became simply Duster.
The Valiant would also achieve worldwide movie fame in the 1971 road rage thriller Duel, directed by the then unknown Steven Spielberg. A 1970 Plymouth Valiant was also featured prominently in Howard Stern's autobiographical 1997 movie Private Parts.
Engine choices for the 1967 Valiant consisted of the 170, 198 and 225 cid Slant-6s, and the 273 V8 in 2 or 4bbl guise. In 1968 the 273 was replaced by the 318 2bbl, and remained available until the car's end in 1976. In 1970 the 170 was dropped, leaving the 198 as the base engine but found in very few examples (the 225 was a far more popular choice).
Australian Valiants; a different path emerges
It was also on this platform that the Australian Valiants began differing from their US counterparts, particularly with the VE series of 1967, the VF series of 1969 and the VG of 1970 (which featured the introduction of the HEMI 6), where the four-door sedan had a different, though related, bodyshell, more like the Dodge Dart of the time. Unlike the U.S., station-wagon and pick-up versions were also available, which were indigenous to Australia.
1971 - 1973
The American Valiants were little changed for 1971 and 1972. There were minor engineering changes for convenience, driveability and compliance with emission regulations. Taillamps, exterior and interior trim were revised. An aggressive "shark tooth" grille was offered on the fastback Duster 340 and new-for-1971 Duster Twister models.
For 1973, all Valiant and Duster models were given a new grille that would carry through to the end of production in 1976. Front bumpers able to withstand without damage a 5mph impact were mandated by US Federal law; the resultant bumpers were much more massive than the 1972 and earlier items; their added mass and the heavier impact-absorbing telescopic mounts increased the Valiant's front-end weight.
The Valiant was facelifted again in 1974 with the primary goal of cost-reduction; the sedan was transferred to the Dart's longer 111 in (2819 mm) wheelbase such that the only differences between the Valiant and Dart were minor cosmetics. 1973's US Federal bumper standards requiring front bumpers to survive a 5mph impact were extended to rear bumpers for 1974. As a result, Valiant rear bumpers and their new impact-absorbing mount systems grew much more massive and heavier.
1974 also saw the introduction of the Valiant Brougham and its twin, the Dodge Dart Special Edition. Available with two or four doors, they were a compact luxury version of the Valiant/Dart and were designed to provide an attractive oil-crisis alternative to larger luxury cars. Plymouth's coupé version was oddly badged as simply the Plymouth Brougham, although the very similar sedans carried the Valiant name. There had been no two-door equivalent to the Valiant sedan since 1969; the Duster and the Scamp taking over that market segment. Apparently neither of those names were considered upmarket enough for a luxury offering, so no model name was used.
These cars were differentiated from the regular Valiant and Dart by generous chrome trim, a vinyl top, shag carpet, interior door padding, and a scripted "Brougham" logo ("Special Edition" on the Darts). Color-keyed wheelcovers and a special, limited selection of paint/vinyl combinations also characterized the upmarket models. Power steering, power brakes, and TorqueFlite automatic transmissions were standard; engine options were the 225 in³ Slant-6 (3.7 L) and the 318 in³ (5.2 L) 2-barrel carbureted small-block V8. The Brougham/SE cars were available to the end of Valiant and Dart production.
1975 models were carryovers from 1974 in virtually every respect, except that California and certain high-altitude models received catalytic converters and required unleaded gasoline. The grille of the Plymouth models was restyled somewhat.
In 1976, the somewhat larger F-body cars were introduced as Plymouth Volaré and Dodge Aspen. Unfortunately, these did not maintain their predecessors' reputation for quality; in fact, they reversed it. These replaced the Valiant (and Dart) which were discontinued in the middle of the 1976 model year. The change hurt Chrysler's reputation and profitability, contributing to its near-bankruptcy in 1979-80. 1976 Plymouth derivates of the Valiant can be identified by amber parking lights between the headlights; previous models used clear lenses with amber colored bulbs (GE #1157NA).
While generally following the progress of the American Valiant throughout the 1960s, Chrysler Australia became increasingly dissatified with the car's styling direction, which was becoming more box-like with each facelift. The result was that for the 1970s, Chrysler Australia developed the whole car locally, particularly from the 1971 VH model. Production continued through the CM model (released in 1979) which production ended in 1981.
Design quirks and oddities
At launch, the Valiant's exterior design was notable for what it didn't have: fins. Detroit had been slapping fins on cars throughout the 1950s, and, at least in retrospect, observers felt that car-buyers were "finned out".
Under the hood, the big news was a new engine configuration, the famous Slant-6, whose cylinders were inline but tilted 30 degrees. This allowed a lower hoodline and a shorter overall engine that also became known for durability.
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- Motor Vehicle Data Book, Sanford-Evans Communications, Ltd., Winnipeg, MB : Published annually, 1948 to date
- Valiant sales literature, Chrysler Canada Limited, 1960 to 1966.