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1973 Plymouth Valiant

ValiantIt all started simply enough. A couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine casually mentioned that he had a 1973 Plymouth Valiant just sitting in his backyard that he would be willing to let me have for free. To my ears, that pitch was as seductive and destructive as the Sirens were to Jason's Argonauts.

Of course, at the time my wife and I had an infant to care for, we weren't particularly well-off, and we already owned two cars. On the list of things our family needed, a '73 Valiant ranked somewhere between flesh-eating bacteria and and an infestation of locusts.

Also, this example wasn't exactly perfect. My co-worker had mentioned that the Valiant tended to stall if the driver was overly gentle with the throttle; that exhaust poured into the passenger compartment, likely due to a cracked manifold; and that thanks to a breakdown in the weather sealing, there was likely to be moisture in the car. It had been sitting in his lawn for some time, and was a a faded, dingy, somewhat mossy shade of brown.

Of course, I instantly accepted. Frequent readers here are aware of my fascination with mediocre American sedans of the 1970s, and there are few 1970s American sedans more relentlessly mediocre than a '73 Valiant. As it would turn out, this example failed to clear even that bar.

Valiant2 I began to realize that the Valiant might not have been a great idea when I was dropped off one night to drive it home. Reassuringly, the Valiant started right away, but a few of its foibles made themselves immediately clear. The headlights and dashboard lighting were almost invisibly dim. The moisture in the car left the windshield and all windows fogged up to a degree I had never before seen. Fortunately, the rapidly accumulating toxic exhaust fumes forced me to open the windows; hopefully the nearly freezing outside air would help clear the moisture from the windshield, or at least keep me awake enough to fight off the dose of carbon monoxide I was getting. So far, not a great start.

"I'm no old-car dilettante," I reminded myself. "Besides, it's free."

Five blocks into my drive home, I started thinking that perhaps I had overpaid. Aside from the exhaust fumes that continued to pour into the cabin, and the loud but powerless chug-chug-chugging of the clearly out-of-tune 225-cubic inch Chrysler slant six, the Valiant began displaying a rather diverting habit of stalling in the middle of busy Seattle intersections. Forget overly-gentle throttle--when starting from a stop, anything less than full-throttle power dumps would make the Valiant stall in the middle of the intersection.

Valiant3Once underway, the steering and brakes were nearly non-functional. I'd estimate nearly a full revolution's worth of the skinny steering wheel was play. Combined with the Valiant's reluctance to track straight, keeping the car going down the road involved crazed sawing at the wheel.

With a combination of full throttle and profuse cold sweat, the Valiant and I somehow managed to limp the eight miles back to my house. Upon arriving safely home at last, I resisted the panicky urge to light the Valiant on fire and instead began to draw up a plan of action.

The plan was to solve both the exhaust and stalling problem in one fell swoop. A common modification for mid-1970s slant six Chryslers is to replace the one-barrel carburetor and intake and exhaust manifolds with a slightly improved two-barrel carburetor and manifolds from a donor late 1970s Aspen/Volare. That alteration would bring a few more horsepower and, hopefully, solve both the exhaust and drivability problems.

Valiant4_2Ironically enough, Chrysler dubbed that two-barrel Aspen/Volare setup the "Super Six." Those of you unfortunate enough to have driven an Aspen/Volare will know "super" is a significant misnomer, but at least in the context of the Valiant even a two-barrel carb seemed a useful upgrade. Asking the Valiant's willing but gutless slant six to breathe through only one barrel is like asking child to drink a thick milkshake through a coffee stirring straw.

The added power would be welcome. I found a road test of a 1974 Valiant Brougham in which Car & Driver flogged the 105-horsepower Valiant from 0-60 in 13.8 seconds. With a lot of work and expense, the two-barrel conversion could pump the engine up to roughly 120 horsepower--in a still-disheveled, worthless car. After that mighty power infusion, my plan was to buy a ridiculously undeserved "Screaming Chicken" Pontiac Trans-Am hood decal and apply it to the hood of the cringing dung-brown Valiant.

Unfortunately--and this is one reason taking on the Valiant was such a bad decision on my part--I only had a one-car garage, so I had to park the car in the street. And, since I lived on a busy street, I had to park the Valiant on a side street and move it every 72 hours, lest it be towed. No biggie, I thought--I'd certainly move it every day, and even if I didn't, I'd seen other cars stay rooted in the same place for weeks at a time without towing.

Valiant5 Unfortunately, I eventually stopped moving it often enough, and the Valiant was promptly towed. Evidently my neighbors hated having my slime-brown Valiant parked on their street and called it into the towing company. I can't say that I blame them.

My wife, already lukewarm at best regarding this project, wasn't eager to give up the money to get the Valiant out of the towing yard, and I'd played around enough with it to work through its novelty. So, heart heavy, I sold the Valiant to somebody willing to pay its towing fee. When I saw the buyer at the towing yard and knew him immediately by his Valiant keychain, I knew I'd made the right decision. I probably would have fiddled with the poor thing off and on for a year or so, leaving the car worse than I'd found it.

He, on the other hand, was evidently a Chrysler nut who had already restored several Valiants and Darts and was full of big plans for mine, including a Super Six conversion. I was afraid that once he saw the car he'd back out of the deal, but was relieved when he walked up to the car, put his hand on it, and said, "What a sweetheart!" I knew I had found the right guy.

Today, when I tell people about the Valiant, they invariably give me the same pitying, slightly incredulous look normally reserved for an eight-year-old who just wet their pants. But at least I know that somebody else out there understands, and he's in the process of turning my forlorn old Valiant into a prince.

Only the top photo is of my car; the others are from a gentleman named Carlos Pomares who seems to have exactly the same car, except in a different color and in somewhat better condition. His Valiant page is worth reading if you have any interest in these cars.

--Chris H.

Comments

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As mediocre as the valiant may have been - I think it gets credit for some pretty clean lines. At the time it was out ranked by many cars. But if you look at it today it's pretty fresh looking. Lack of brakes and an inability to steer would however be a drawback - not to mention asphyxiation. Glad to hear the valiant Valiant found an even more valiant owner. What a nice story.

"As mediocre as the valiant may have been - I think it gets credit for some pretty clean lines."

I admit I never much liked those model years. A friend of mine had a dark green Aspen 4-door that he drove all over Wisconsin for quite a while. He loved it. It was such a simple, basic car. I liked the styling of those much better than the squared-off Darts and Valiants.

Another friend of mine bought a Dart that had been originally outfitted as a police cruiser but never actually taken possession of by any law enforcement agency. Man-oh-man that thing hauled. I don't remember what exact engine it had, but it sure wasn't any 105-hp slant 6.

Mochi Mochi: "As mediocre as the valiant may have been - I think it gets credit for some pretty clean lines."

Frank Black: "I admit I never much liked those model years."

I liked the Valiant's styling - you're right, Mochi, it was pretty clean. I especially like the rear end.

But, and this is more of a comment on me than anything else, the Valiant's looks are completely un-memorable. I don't mean they're bad - I just can't ever remember what the Valiant looks like. I'll sit, puzzled, trying to remember what the front, rear, sides, detailing of that car looked like, and I'll have to pull up photos to remind me. Five minutes later I'm blank again.

Every other car I've owned, and most other cars I've seen, I have the details locked into memory. But for whatever reason, the Valiant is a complete cipher for me. If it was a person, it'd make a great secret agent.

but I can never remember how it looks. No matter how much I looked at the Valiant - and this is a weird phenomenon - it's difficult for me to remember how it looks.

There's nothing memorable about the styling, but at least there's nothing memorably offensive about it. No opera windows, vinyl landau half-roof treatment, hood ornament, fake-crystal carriage lights, or tri-tone disco color accessory group.

Be grateful for the small blessings.

Good points, Cookie the Dog's Owner. I actually do like the styling, especially the rear. I think it's more a funny quirk of my memory than anything else that I just can never remember what the Valiant looks like.

It's like picking up a wet bar of soap - you think you have it, then it's gone.

You guys sorely underrate the mighty valiant/dart. I don't think the valiant/dart were mediocre at all. While the cars are probably the most nondescript cars made of that era, they also had the most reliable and bulletproof drivetrain made in that era. The slant 6 was not a monster in the horsepower department, but in terms of reliability, I don't think there ever was a motor that was as tough as a slant 6.

If I remember correctly, the block was originally designed to be aluminum, but it wasn't economical to build it with aluminum, so they used the same casting as a cast iron block. As a result, it weighed a ton, but was an absolutely bulletproof block.

According to chrysler engineers, the slant six was sorely underutilized as a motor, and the 170 cu in motor was capable running at 8500 rpm!

John Bono: "You guys sorely underrate the mighty valiant/dart. I don't think the valiant/dart were mediocre at all. While the cars are probably the most nondescript cars made of that era, they also had the most reliable and bulletproof drivetrain made in that era. "

Perhaps substitute "characterless" for "mediocre?" I do agree that the Slant 6 was completely bulletproof--it was a legendary engine for a reason completely separate from virtually every other legendary engine (i.e. horsepower).

I don't want to make it sound as if I'm coming down too hard on the Valiant/Dart. I like them and was excited to own my own Valiant. It's just that my example wasn't too hot, and I didn't get a chance to sand off the rough edges.

I have a 73 Valiant also. I have rebuit the motor and now can not remember how to hook up the alternator wiring. Can u help by sending me some good pictures of your engine Please

My only brand-new car was a 1975 Valiant. What a load of crap that was! The rear door gaskets didn't seal even though the door panel was flush to the fender. The dealer added more gasketing until the "door ajar" road noise went away. I owned the car 5 years and didn't mind trading it.

My only brand-new car was a 1975 Valiant. What a load of crap that was! The rear door gaskets didn't seal even though the door panel was flush to the fender. The dealer added more gasketing until the "door ajar" road noise went away. I owned the car 5 years and didn't mind trading it.

i like the car it needs some work but it is cool

I had one as my first car in 1981 or 82. Funny thing was it looked like it was 20 years old when it was not even 10. Bulletproof sure. Any engine putting out no power is going to be bulletproof. Except it wasn't. Mechanically okay, but had the first year of Chrysler's elec ign and failed the "ballast resistor" or somesuch all the time. Sounds like the problem the writer had here as the symptom was that it wouldn't run other than idle or wide open. Would die coming off a stop every single time. Ended up keeping a spare in the glove box all the time. No power, ugly has a refrigerator box, horrible handling and brakes. I think I have forgotten the "good" part. Oh yeah, it was plain, that's it.

Except for the fact that your '73 was still running, it could have been the same Valiant that I drove into the ground during the mid-80's as a teenager. Having already wrecked my dad's '80 VW Scirocco (I dearly loved that car), my parents decided I needed something decidedly slower and found a neighbor with a solid looking brown '73 like the one pictured above. In addition to the high performance stats noted above (mine was 0-60 in about 15 sec), my car also took on enough water during a rain storm that I had to put a paint tray in the driver's side floorboard so that I did not step into an inch of water after a storm. Being 17 and having no regard for my safety or the safety of others, I took it upon myself to push the Valiant to its limits. Those thinking of driving a '73 Valiant on the interstate at 110-115 (it takes a while to get it there but it can be done) should be aware that the play in the steering wheel requires that you look like you are driving through a slalom course in order to keep it between the lines and to be sure to slow down before going under the Lawrenceburg overpass heading North on I-275 - unless you want to answer the IN State Troopers question "Where's the fire Boy?" My '73 eventually died ingloriously while driving down a side street at 25 mph when it's engine locked up...proving that the oil indicator light that had been lit the entire 2 years I drove it might have been trying to tell me something important. Good times...glad to hear that I was not the only one pimping this ride.

I can remember my 1973 Valiant in metallic Brown paint that i bought from my dad when it was 5 years old . I drove it as a teenager and had it till it died from engine seizing up on the Verrazano Bridge in 1984 in my case no oil light ever came and i was religious about checking the oil once a week. Overall it was
an ok care , from time to time i had issues with it starting
it had no air conditioning so we used the vent boxes to let air in the summer and i guess it was a 4/50 car 4 windows at 50 miles and hour to stay cool. Great memories an i guess like all cars one day it will find its way into a car museum.

I just love the Plymouth Valiant! Cars like that need to be restored to original condition and then taken to a car show to show everybody what beauties they really are!

I really do love the looks of a Plymouth Valiant. What classic lines! More of them need to be restored to Number One condition and then showed in a car show. Sure to attract a lot of attention and maybe win a prize.

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