1973 Plymouth Valiant
It 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.
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.
Once 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.
Ironically 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.
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.