1960 Plymouth Valiant
Chrysler actually thought about building a small car before WWII, but never quite got around to it. Granted, the early 50s Plymouths weren't as large as the Fords and Chevy's, but big was big and small was small.
However, around 1957 the management at Chrysler heard about the upcoming Falcon and Corvair (nothing in Detroit is ever really secret) so plans were launched to produce a competitive "compact" car of their own, code named the "A907." Aside from its somewhat radical styling, the new car would have a number of mechanical innovations, capped off by its slant-six engine. It would be called the Valiant and initially be offered for sale at both Plymouth and Dodge dealers.
Dodge or Plymouth?
The new Valiant was to be sold by both Plymouth and Dodge dealers in 1960. We all know that the Dodge "sister" car was eventually called the Dart, but that name was already taken for a full-sized Dodge car that year. Internal changes brought about by the demise of DeSoto, along with dealer issues, delayed the introduction of Dodge's own compact car.
The Slant Six And Other Advances
The slant-six engine gave Chrysler superior performance. This was due to the ability to install a longer intake manifold, providing the engine with a "ram" effect. Wedge shaped combustion chambers took advantage of the greater breathing and tuned exhaust pipes added to efficiency. With a 30-degree slant the overall weight of the car was better balanced and the shift lever was more conveniently located. Further, the transmission tunnel could be made lower, taking up less real estate in the car.
The engine had a far more rigid crankshaft, larger bearings and stronger journals, making it one of the most reliable six-cylinder engines ever produced in the U.S. Higher horsepower options were offered later on which stepped up performance at the cost of fuel mileage. The engine was so reliable, by the way, that it was still available in 1983 to buyers of the Plymouth Fury and Dodge Diplomat and Cordoba, and through 1987 in trucks.
The Valiant also introduced the alternator to the automotive public, as it was the first car to offer one over a generator. The advantages of alternators were not widely appreciated, but they were - and are - very significant. First, alternators weight about 10 pounds less than generators, saving weight and bracketry. More importantly, alternators charge at idle, something generators couldn't do, and that meant no more dead batteries when cars idled in heavy traffic at night, particularly in snowstorms.
Valiants also utilized the industry's best automatic transmission at the time, the TorqueFlite, and were the only compact cars to use torsion bars in the front suspension. Even the engine mounts were tuned to vibrate out of phase with suspension-induced vibration, making the cars ride quietly and smoothly.
Billed as Euro-styling, the appearance of the Valiant was either something you liked or not. Cat's-eye tail lights capped off the slanted fin at the rear and deeply sculpted front fenders mimicked the full-size Chrysler models of the era. The trunk lid sported a vestigial continental wheel imprint that harked back to the Virgil Exner days of style.
Inside, the Valiant offered simple-but-elegant instrumentation that included oil pressure and ammeter gauges, something the competition didn't have. Vertical-mounted pushbuttons controlled transmission shifts and heater settings. Surrounding the instruments was turned aluminum trim plate.
Seating was bench type, covered in a plaid vinyl. There wasn't much style or luxury here, just functional comfort. Side panels had a little detail, but sportiness wasn't the way with Valiants.
Two models of Valiant were offered, the V-100 and V-200, with the main difference being better vinyl and thicker foam on the seat. Color choices were red, black, blue, green and white. All this came for a sticker price of $2,110 plus delivery, but options were sparse. If you wanted whitewall tires, tinted windshield, automatic, side mirror, carpeting, backup lights, windshield washer and undercoating you had to pay more.
Although Valiants were loved by their owners and served them and many used-car buyers very well, time hasn't exactly been kind to the "collectability factor." Few are restoring them and demand doesn't seem to be increasing. Perfect examples can be had for about $6000 these days.