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Chrysler Valiant turns 50

It is 50 years since Chrysler sold its first Valiant in Australia.

Based on the American Plymouth it went into the market place with bold styling and big power from its six cylinder engine. The styling of the Valiant was the work Chrysler's head of design, Virgil Exner. 

He was determined to create something which stood out in the "small" (for the USA) car class. And he succeeded. Contemporary motoring magazine reports usually described it as "European".

Exner even applied for, and was granted, a US patent for the styling of the Valiant. It is design number 190,533 and dated 5th July 1961, if you are interested.

For Australian car buyers the styling was only one distinctive aspect of the car. It offered automatic transmission, with gears selected via a space age looking push buttons located on the right hand side of the instrument cluster.

Those with extra cash could order a heart, with its press button controls on the left side. And to make it complete, the radio was a push button "Moparmatic Deluxe", slotted into the centre of the dashboard. Mercury astronauts had less buttons to push than the driver of a 1962 Valiant.

The front suspension was by torsion bars, and it gave the Valiant a big American car ride, so the advertisements claimed. But it was the 3.7 litre motor, pumping out 108kw, compared to Holden anaemic 60kw, which really captured everyone's attention.

Back in the day, the Valiant was one fast car. It had a top speed of nearly 160km/h and did the 400metres in a little over 19 seconds. Just as importantly, the extra power and torque of the engine meant you could now easily tow a boat or caravan with locally built car, rather than having to buy a very much more expensive Chevrolet, Chrysler Royal or Ford Fairlane.

By the end of the first year, Chrysler has sold over 11,000 Valiants, winning sales mostly from Holden The early Valiants are sought-after classics today, though in the early 1970s they could be had for a little as $250. I know, because I almost bought one as my first car.

I purchased a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta instead, for $200. These days a good quality Valiant can be had for $12000 to $15,000, while ones need a little TLC go for between $5000 and $7000.

As a first time classic car, these Valiants are ideal, because the motor and gearbox are just about unbreakable and body, trim and interior parts are easy to come by in Australia and the USA.

David Burrell is the editor of