The 1960 Plymouth Valiant had its beginnings the year Detroit "blinked." After years of fretting about the rising sales of imports, and unexpected challenges to its long-held sacred bigger-is-better product philosophy, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler bit the bullet and introduced compact cars of their own. With great fanfare, Chevrolet brought forth the Corvair and Ford the Falcon. Chrysler's entry was named Valiant.
This 1962 Valiant was part of the first foray
into small cars by Plymouth. See more pictures of classic cars.
To Detroit's credit, each of the three offerings was distinctly different from the others. Chevy's entry was the most radical; the air-cooled, rear-engine Corvair being an Americanized Volkswagen. On the other hand, the Falcon was thoroughly conventional, a smaller version of the standard Fords. Valiant was somewhere in the middle: conventional in layout (front engine, rear drive), but uniquely different in appearance and initial philosophy.
The introduction of these three downsized automobiles in the fall of 1959 was even more remarkable considering where the industry had been a scant five years earlier. The 1955 model year was celebrated by American automobile manufacturers as a new high-water mark in terms of sales and production, but by 1958, the industry was suffering in the midst of a nasty recession.
Worse than slumping sales, many long-established medium-priced makes were dead or dying. Buyers were beginning to rebel against what they perceived as Detroit's egregious excesses: huge tailfins, excess chrome, and the seemingly inexorable growth in the size of American automobiles, particularly among the low-priced three.
Moreover, much to the annoyance and consternation of Big Three executives, the champion of the small car, American Motors president George Romney, was running heretical full-color ads in national magazines openly deriding the Big Three's finned fantasies as automotive dinosaurs (even though Romney's Ramblers also had fins).
Detroit's critics gained even more ammunition via a bitingly sarcastic tome on the automobile industry published in 1958 -- The Insolent Chariots -- wherein author John Keats excoriated the industry's mania for making cars bigger and more costly.
Of the contemporary American automobile Keats wrote: "She grew sow-fat while demanding bigger, wider, smoother roads. The bigger and better the road, the fatter she became, and the fatter she grew, the greater her demands for even bigger roads. Then ... she put tail fins on her overblown bustle and sprouted wavering antennae from each fin. And, of course, her every whim was more costly than the last."
Criticism, however derisive, Detroit could ignore. What could not be ignored was the disquieting growth in foreign-car registrations -- from a mere 27,000 in 1952 to more than 668,000 in 1959, with the Volkswagen "beetle" garnering the lion's share despite its obsolete package, quaint 1930s styling, and nearly forgotten association with Herr Hitler.
Very well; if the American public wanted smaller cars, Detroit would give them smaller cars. Like petulant children, Detroit's leading car companies had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the decision to design and market these new compact cars.
To give Detroit its due, it had taken a quite serious look at building and marketing smaller-than-standard cars immediately after World War II. Each of the Big Three designed and tested smaller cars, and each independently came to the conclusion that the market just wasn't there -- in America, at least.
Detroit realized that the cost of making a smaller car wasn't all that much less than making a standard-size car. And since smaller cars would of necessity have to be sold with smaller price tags, smaller cars would yield less profit. Besides, with an abundance of paved highways and cheap gasoline for the foreseeable future, Americans would continue to buy the most car they could for their money.
Chrysler's flirtation with smaller cars began in the mid-1930s. Concurrent with the development of its pioneering Airflows, Chrysler engineers also investigated smaller editions to be marketed under Plymouth and DeSoto nameplates.
Even more ambitiously, an engineering team headed by R. Ken Lee was involved in extensive research on an experimental front-wheel-drive small car with a water-cooled 66.6-cid five-cylinder radial engine. Mounted on a 98-inch wheelbase, the car resembled a Volkswagen. More than 200,000 test miles were logged before the project was shelved.
By 1947, Chrysler Engineering was working on another small car. Dubbed Project A-106, the 104-inch-wheelbase, four-passenger, rear-wheel-drive sedan featured a horizontally opposed water-cooled four-cylinder engine.
Less radical was the Plymouth "Cadet," a stillborn 105.5-inch-wheelbase economy variant of the upcoming all-new 1949 Plymouth. That car, together with the other Chrysler marques, championed the "smaller-on-the-outside, bigger-on-the-inside" design philosophy that was heavily influenced by Chrysler's experimental work in small cars -- and the convictions of its inimitable president, K.T. Keller, and his famous hat.
Furthermore, alone among the "low-priced three," Plymouth did in fact introduce a smaller postwar car. When its new 1949 car was announced, a subseries on an 111-inch wheelbase was included, the shortest-wheelbase Plymouth since 1934. Plymouth's second all-new postwar car was also heavily influenced by small-car thinking.
All 1953 Plymouths rode on a 114-inch wheelbase, a calculated compromise between the 111-inch and 118.5-inch chassis of 1949-1952. Moreover, Plymouth and Dodge began sharing bodies with the result that 1953-1954 Dodge two-door hardtops, convertibles, and wagons also used the 114-inch wheelbase, a crippling disadvantage against bigger competitors in the medium-price class.
The change to a smaller car was a milestone for Chrysler. To read more about this change, continue on to the next page.
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A Change for Chrysler
Chrysler paid dearly for its obsession with sensibly sized cars. In 1954, its market share plummeted to the point that wags in Detroit began joking about the "Big Two-and-a-Half." This marked the beginning of a change for Chrysler.
The 1961 Valiant was part of a change for Chrysler
toward smaller family cars.
Not only had the public steadfastly rejected its "sensible-sized" 1953-1954 models, Chrysler executives were also keenly aware of the commercial failure of native small cars. Crosley, Henry J, Hudson Jet, and Aero-Willys had all come and gone, leaving the Rambler as the sole success story among domestic entries heading into the late 1950s. All of this left Chrysler planners and executives understandably gun-shy when it came to investing tooling dollars into a smaller automobile.
Still, aware that its chief crosstown competitors were seriously looking at smaller cars, and also aware that sales of imports were moving sharply upward, Chrysler in early 1957 set up an internal Special Corporate Car Committee. Its object was to establish the guiding concepts for the development of a smaller car.
Headed by Harry Chesebrough, then director of corporate volume planning, the committee included director of engineering Alan Loofbourrow and representatives from the styling, engineering, manufacturing, finance, legal, and public relations staffs.
Chrysler explored a wide variety of approaches to its new small car. In an SAE paper, Chrysler stated that "Numerous engine and car layouts were considered and discarded. Four, six, and eight-cylinder engines were studied -- inclined, flats, and vees -- air-cooled, and liquid-cooled."
Fortunately, the four-cylinder-engine option was rejected. Reintroduced into American cars in 1961-1962 by the Pontiac Tempest and Chevrolet Chevy II, four-cylinder-engine production peaked in 1962, but virtually vanished by 1964.
One early thought was for a 100-inch-wheelbase vehicle with European styling, emphasizing economy over performance. The idea was to build this vehicle somewhere in Europe for sale in both Europe and the U.S. Chrysler explored buying an existing plant, building a new one, or even entering into some kind of licensing deal with an existing producer. After all, Austin of England had been successfully building the Nash-designed bite-size Metropolitan for AMC since 1954.
In autumn 1957, Chrysler officials toured Europe in quest of a potentially satisfactory arrangement, but found nothing suitable. Looking again at the needs of the American motorist, the company began moving away from a European design approach.
For one thing, Chrysler was in the process of acquiring Ford's interest in French automaker Simca. Soon Simca cars would be appearing in domestic Chrysler showrooms, giving dealers a European small car to sell against General Motors' imported Vauxhall and Opel, and Ford's imported Taurus and English Ford.
Reasoning that its dealers didn't need -- and couldn't sell -- two European-type cars, the committee settled on an American-built automobile with a 106.5-inch wheelbase and a forward-mounted engine powering the rear wheels. While not radically different in the vein of GM's rear-engine Corvair, this layout, unlike the Corvair, would provide the most familiar and predictable feel and handling in the hands of American drivers.
With this redirection came a change in the basic overall philosophy regarding the new small car. It was not to be designed and marketed as a second or third car, but rather as a "prime-market" car, a six-passenger automobile that would be entirely suitable as a family's "prime" or only car.
Consequently, according to Chrysler, "deviations from larger car standards in seating dimensions, seating comfort, ease of entrance and exit, luggage carrying capacity, etc., were to be absolutely minimized. This meant that the Valiant had to be designed around its passengers and their luggage. ... Optimum use of every cubic inch inside the body was a fundamental ground rule."
To read more about the task force that worked on developing the Valiant, continue on to the next page.
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The Valiant Task Force
Once the package size and layout had been determined, the Valiant Task Force was established in May 1958 under the leadership of Bob Sinclair, who was just 28 years old at the time. Chief engineer was Jack Charipar, who had served as liaison engineer between the Italian coachbuilder Ghia (builder of styling chief Virgil Exner's one-off "idea cars") and Chrysler.
Otto Winklemann, chief engineer of powertrain research and advance development (and former chief engineer at Mercedes-Benz and thus a portent of Chrysler's future), was responsible for the overall layout of the vehicle, specifically the size and type of the engine and drivetrain.
Others on the team included Bob Rarey, 35, assistant chief engineer for engine design; John Betti, 29, responsible for chassis and electrical design; Russ Cooper, 36, in charge of body design; Bill Clark, assistant chief engineer for body; Ben Shea, 38, staff engineer who coordinated lab and vehicle testing; and Dave Cohoe, 29, assistant to Sinclair. It was a young team faced with an enormous task.
To speed development by allowing the 200-plus team members to concentrate solely on the small car's design, the Valiant Task Force -- in effect Chrysler's first "platform team" -- was set up in a rented factory building on Midland Avenue in Detroit, some 2.5 miles from Central Engineering in Highland Park. The activities at Midland were cloaked in secrecy. Most Chrysler employees didn't know what was happening there and many assumed it was some kind of hush-hush defense venture.
Again, basic body dimensions were determined "around a family of six -- their comfort, their convenience, and their needs." In the end, the only significantly smaller interior dimension was in overall width. While the Valiant was just 67 inches across the B-pillars, hip room, front and rear, was only 1.4 inches less than a 1954 Plymouth, a car fully five inches wider across the B-pillars.
Although its 106.5-inch wheelbase was shorter than either Corvair or Falcon, at 184 inches, the Valiant was longer than either of its rivals. The extra overhang, front and rear, not only allowed for a bigger trunk and engine compartment, it gave the stylists a larger canvas on which to sketch styling themes. This time around, Chrysler was going to make sure that its new "sensible" compact was going to be perceived as stylish and not merely pragmatic -- and certainly not "stripped down."
The doors were thin in section, with rolled upper frames and flush side windows. While most contemporary vehicles exhibited a distinct sheetmetal bulge or "shoulder" at the base of the windows, the side-glass planes of the Valiant and the sheetmetal just below were as nearly flush as possible. This gave the body's center section a "fuselage look" reminiscent of airliners. (Curved side glass would have facilitated this concept, but was deemed too expensive.)
Ingress/egress was carefully considered. In-swinging hinges, for example, allowed for a full 70 degrees of travel. Additionally, to provide a taller opening, the outboard longitudinal roof rails were raised into the roof and made into a style feature by a sheer line that blended with the lines in the lower body. Especially important for the driver, the angled A-pillar was straight in side view, with, thankfully, no "dog leg" to maneuver past when entering or exiting the vehicle.
Other areas were also designed to be space efficient. Providing nearly 25 cubic feet of best-in-class usable space, the cargo-carrying capacity of the luggage compartment was achieved by placing the spare tire beneath the floor under a cover, a clever idea blatantly copied from Kaiser-Frazer.
For safety, the 13-gallon fuel tank was nestled ahead of the tire well and behind the rear axle. The decklid stamping extended upward to the base of the backlite, eliminating the customary "Dutchman" panel.
Up front, to minimize toeboard intrusion, the engine was located well forward in the car. Fan-to-grille surface dimensions were unusually tight, something stylist Dick Watson once had cause to regret.
Leaving work one afternoon in stop-and-go traffic in his 1962 Valiant Signet, he rear-ended -- at very low speed -- the car ahead. While exterior damage was nil, the sudden stop caused the fan to somehow contact the radiator core, shredding part of it and making the car temporarily undrivable.
One of the most important space-saving ideas also lay underhood. The Valiant's new 170-cid, inline six-cylinder engine was inclined 30 degrees toward the passenger side. This allowed the water pump to be mounted alongside the block, significantly reducing engine length by nearly four inches, and reducing front overhang and overall length.
Other advantages included room for a long-branch manifold, minimum side-view silhouette, and a slightly lower center of gravity. Left and right inclinations were studied; the right was chosen for reasons of engine-compartment layout, driveline geometry, simplifications of controls, and engine serviceability.
The decision to employ the inclined configuration came even before such basics as cylinder-bore centers and displacement potential, and followed a practice favored by Mercedes-Benz racing cars and employed in the design of the famous 300SL.
However, retired engineering executive Bill Weertman, who worked on the engine, maintains that the decision to use an inclined cylinder bank was based strictly on the Valiant's own package requirements. The inclination of the engine precluded the use of symmetrical engine mounts of known design; after extensive analysis, a new three-point mounting system was developed.
Designated the "G" engine and built at Chrysler's Trenton, Michigan, engine plant, the 101-bhp "Slant Six" was Chrysler's first ohv six. It had a bore and stroke of 3.40×3.13 inches, respectively; wedge-shaped combustion chambers; and an 8.5:1 compression ratio for efficient operation on regular-grade fuel. The cylinder block was cast iron, the four-bearing crankshaft was forged steel, and a torsional vibration dampener was fitted for maximum smoothness.
The aluminum intake manifold had branches that varied in length from 9.6 to 15.1 inches, facilitating a high, flat torque curve. Tests showed that this arrangement developed eight percent better performance than a conventional setup. A Carter single-throat downdraft carburetor with an automatic choke was fitted.
Replacing the conventional DC generator was an AC alternator -- an industry first -- powering the 12-volt electrical system. The alternator eliminated the conventional serrated commutator and with it, the specter of worn brushes. With its aluminum diecast housing, the alternator was 9.5 pounds lighter.
More importantly, the alternator provided a full 10 amperes at engine idle, improving battery life and charging conditions when electrical demands were heavy. The unit was Chrysler designed, and built in its Indianapolis plant.
In keeping with the program directive that "every part of the Valiant was to be designed for the Valiant," two new transmissions had to be engineered. The A-903 three-speed manual transmission was rotated 30 degrees opposite the inclination of the engine to allow space for the shift linkage within the low, narrow floor tunnel.
Second and third gears had blocker-ring synchronizers. A torque shaft was inserted in the linkage to isolate the shift lever from engine vibration. Shifting was accomplished via a short-throw floor-mounted lever close by the driver's leg. This was the first floor-mounted shifter in the corporation's passenger cars since the arrival of the column-mounted lever in 1939.
For those preferring an automatic, a lightweight unit with features similar to Chrysler's famed three-speed TorqueFlite was created. This was an important advantage over the two-speed automatics offered on Corvair and Falcon.
Housed in an aluminum diecast casing, the A-904 transmission was 107 pounds lighter than the lightest TorqueFlite used with Chrysler's V-8 engines. All internal components were tailored to the torque of the Slant Six engine and thus were smaller in size and lighter in weight. Activation was via Chrysler's customary pushbuttons, with a "park" lever to lock the output shaft.
To see how these designs worked out in practice in the 1960 Plymouth Valiant, continue on to the next page.
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1960 Plymouth Valiant
Transmission installation for the 1960 Plymouth Valiant was about 50/50, with 93,303 customers choosing the manual and 100,989 the automatic. A carrier-type, Chrysler-built hypoid rear axle was supplied, offering two axle ratios: 3.55 standard for all, with a 3.23 ratio optional with the automatic. A 3.91 ratio was available for export.
The 1960 Plymouth Valiant was a small car, but
designed to comfortably seat six passengers.
Torsion-Aire front suspension incorporated Chrysler's well-respected torsion bars combined with 6.50X13 tires. Hotchkiss-type rear suspension featured sea-leg shocks and a highly asymmetrical 55-inch leaf spring with 20 inches forward of the axle.
This arrangement played a major part in controlling body roll, acceleration squat, and brake dip. It was an excellent setup, but the irrepressible Tom McCahill found an unusual peculiarity in the car's handling. Reporting in the March 1960 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, McCahill wrote:
"Because the engine is mounted off-center to the right, the characteristics when you make a hard right turn are quite different from those when you make a hard left turn.
"When I first drilled this Valiant over the Daytona International Speedway sports car course, I found it the best-handling American car I've ever driven through a tight turn -- while bending to the right. When I hit a tight curve going to the left, I experienced a very deep plowing effect. Later, in making circling tests on the beach, I found that in left turns I could almost spin the Valiant on its nose in its own length. This is something the average American driver might never notice. ... But on a tough mountain road, if he descends too fast, he'll definitely feel the difference.
"This condition isn't dangerous but it is interesting."
Turning radius was 37.1 feet. Power steering was available for those who wished it, as were power brakes, but these were hardly popular options. Less than eight percent of 1960 Valiants were fitted with power steering (which reduced lock-to-lock travel from 4.5 to 3.5 turns).
Not quite two percent came with power brakes. Valiants employed nine-inch-diameter Bendix duo-servo brakes with a total lining area of 153.5 square inches. Rear-wheel parking brakes were foot-actuated and hand-released.
Beginning in the spring of 1960, customers desiring more power could obtain a "Hyper-Pak" similar to the one that helped Valiants race successfully at Daytona. The package increased the horsepower from 101 at 4,400 rpm to a "very underrated" 148 at 5,200 rpm. Higher pistons raised compression to a premium-fuel-fed 10.5:1, while timing changes to both intake and exhaust duration increased total valve-opening overlap from eight degrees to 44.
A huge new intake manifold of cast aluminum with "arms" nearly two feet long provided a ram-tube induction effect similar to that being offered on the company's V-8s. A four-barrel Carter AFB-3083-S carburetor was fitted, with either an automatic or manual choke.
The distributor was tweaked to advance more rapidly at low speeds, then flatten off until maximum advance was attained at 6,800 rpm compared to the normal 3,850. A special close-ratio manual gearbox was optional.
Accompanying suspension upgrades included optional heavy-duty 0.89-inch-diameter front torsion bars and two rear-spring alternatives: the sturdier five-leaf Suburban springs or heavy-duty six-leaf springs. The wide-base 5.5×13-inch wheels could be had with six brake options -- three different lining grades plus the choice of finned aluminum brake drums with cast-iron liners.
In 1960, all Chrysler Corporation cars save the Imperial switched to unitized body construction, eliminating the customary frame. The corporation was undoubtedly pushed into this quite radical change in the way it constructed its cars by the notoriously less-than-satisfactory quality of its high-finned 1957 offerings.
Instead of the bolted-in forestructure employed on the larger cars, Valiant incorporated a welded-in understructure and stressed front sheetmetal. While performing the same structural functions, the all-welded structure ahead of the cowl was specially designed to facilitate car assembly, with the front rails spaced to receive the engine from beneath in the body-drop operation. The only two bolted-on structural members were the front K-section suspension crossmember and the crossmember that supported the rear of the engine.
The fenders, quarter panels, floor, and roof contributed to the overall stiffness of the body. Internal studies showed the Valiant to be 95 percent stiffer in torsion and 50 percent stiffer in beam than a body-on-frame 1959 Plymouth, partly as a result of the more than 5,300 spot and seam welds employed during construction of the Unibody.
To facilitate the design, Chrysler made extensive use of early computers. Engineers also constructed 3/8-scale car-body models consisting of clear plastic pieces "welded" together. The engineers found these plastic miniatures could be twisted and stressed to simulate torsional bending of yet unbuilt full-size prototypes.
Aware of the rust problems that plagued the 1957 bodies, Chrysler made an extra effort to protect its new Unibody cars where corroded metal could lead to structural failure. Each was subject to a comprehensive seven-stage immersion in special cleansing, rinsing, and coating baths.
The final dip involved a newly developed water-reducible zinc-rich primer, which coated every nook and cranny of the lower third of the body. During these procedures, protection for the upper body was provided by a series of six high-pressure sprays.
The exterior was sprayed with two base coats of epoxy paint and wet-sanded by hand. Two baked-on coats of Lustre-Bond enamel followed in one of Valiant's six color choices: red, black, white, and three metallics: medium green, medium blue, and silver. (Red was restricted to the costlier V-200 series.) In spring 1960, two more colors were offered -- light blue and light green, which the stylists contemptuously referred to as "kitchen green" and "kitchen blue." No two-tones were available.
For all its unique engineering, the first thing people noticed about the Valiant was its styling. Commendably, one thing can be truly said of the Big Three's 1960 compacts -- park them a block away and you don't need to read a nameplate to distinguish one from another. Since the Valiant was introduced about a month later than its two rivals, there was a bit more of a "tease" about what it was going to look like.
The first photos of the new Valiant frankly flabbergasted many people. It had no fins! Every speculative sketch in Motor Trend or Motor Life showed a Chrysler compact with fins. Suddenly, here was this finless car.
It must be realized that the Valiant was "Exner's baby," or as it was said in Detroit, the Valiant was "100 percent Exner." Virgil Exner, corporate vice president of styling, embraced two distinct design philosophies in his 12-year tenure at Chrysler.
One favored fins as the way of achieving a wedge-shaped profile that Exner likened to the shape of speed, epitomized by jet fighters and hydroplane boats. The other was his "pure automobile" look, exemplified by his successful spate of show cars like the Chrysler K-310, the d'Elegance, and the first DeSoto Adventurer. It was these earlier efforts that Exner chose for inspiration in designing the Valiant.
Maybe fins wouldn't have worked on a smaller car. Furthermore, since the Valiant was to be a prime-market car, the goal was to design a vehicle that, unlike the Falcon, didn't look like a scaled-down big car. "There must be," said Exner at the time, "no impression that Valiant is a smaller version of any other car." Or, as the ads later boasted, the Valiant was "nobody's kid brother."
Continue on to the next page to learn more about the 1960 Valiant's styling.
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1960 Valiant Styling
The 1960 Valiant styling was under the supervision of Robert Bingman. He began his career as an architect and building designer, and spent 11 years at General Motors Styling working on diverse projects like advanced trains for its Electro-Motive Division before joining Chrysler in 1949.
Some 1960 Valiant models had two rows of seats,
while others had a third row that faced backward.
Jim Roberts, a now-retired Chrysler designer who joined the company in 1957 after 10 years at Raymond Loewy and Studebaker, was assigned to the styling team in March 1958, working alongside five other designers like Larry Nicklin and studio manager Bill Braathen (formerly of Packard). Roberts, who has the design patent on the car's distinctively dimpled hubcap, remembers the Valiant studio was in Highland Park, not at Midland Avenue.
Exner was after a look he called "directed motion," an individualistic look that could still be identified as having the family characteristics of Chrysler Corporation automobiles. Noting that most American cars had hoods and decks of approximately equal length, Exner decided to emphasize instead the length of the hood.
Was this heresy? Here was a man who had emphasized the rears of cars by being the first (in 1956) to adopt fins for a corporation's entire line of automobiles suddenly deciding to shift the design emphasis to the front of the car. Perhaps Exner realized, at least subconsciously, that fins were about to run their course.
One styling theme considered was a slightly Jaguar-like three-box design. But around July 1, 1958, that proposal lost out to a six-window, semifastback roof configuration and a down-sloping decklid that presented a more radical silhouette.
Many of the design elements of Exner's early 1950s Ghia-built specials were applied to the Valiant. For example, in contrast to customary full-width grillework, the Valiant's inverse-trapezoid radiator grille candidly mimicked the size of the actual radiator core, like the idea cars and the Chrysler 300-C. A raised hood plateau higher than the fenders reinforced the central grille motif.
Wheels were fully exposed, dressed only with a functional hubcap and optional trim ring -- no wheelcovers were available. At the rear, a wheel image was stamped into the sedan's sloping decklid, a K-310 design cue used effectively on late-1950s Imperials and Plymouths. In addition to being, in Exner's words, "strongly automotive," these design elements also served to establish the Valiant as a Chrysler product.
The fuselage shape of the center body eliminated the usual bulge at the belt, but the body was heavily sculpted nonetheless. A distinct blade formed over the dual headlights and extended horizontally over the front wheel and onto the front door. A similar formation began low on the body, arched up over the rear wheel, and proceeded horizontally to the rear, terminating at the slanted, cat's-eye taillights.
The bodyside's distinctive sculpturing, with its sheer lines, initially created manufacturing concerns about tearing and wrinkling metal during the stamping process. As Exner recounted, "We were asked to soften the lines. We were very reluctant to do that ... since it might destroy the crisp look we were trying to achieve. You can imagine the interesting discussions we had at this point." In the end, judicious modifications were made to facilitate manufacture without compromising the design.
With its sculpted sides and Chrysler family cues, the Valiant was a fairly "loud" design, perhaps even busy. But the stylists certainly had succeeded in making sure the Valiant didn't look like any other car on the road. Some loved it, others hated it, but few observers were indifferent. Journalists searching for descriptive adjectives, invariably used terms like "European" and "continental" to define the appearance.
Happily, the exterior ornamentation was restrained. Brightwork on the base V-100 models was restricted to the grille texture and frame, bright and black doors surrounding the dual headlamps, a bright trim ring around the outer perimeter of the spare-wheel impression on the decklid, and rubber-enclosed Mylar strips around the windshield and backlight.
The more expensive V-200s added a thin horizontal rub rail low on the body that arched over the rear wheel, terminating at the taillight. Early V-200 sedans also sported an inner trim ring on the decklid's wheel impression, but this piece was deleted early in the model year.
Initial V-200s also had stainless-steel moldings surrounding the windshield and backlight, but soon reverted to the cheaper V-100 treatment. At midyear, the black paint was deleted from the bright headlamp bezels.
Optional trim included seldom-seen front-fender ornaments and, for V-200s, bright side-window reveal moldings, accenting the V-200's standard bright drip-rail molding. One clever note on all cars was the rectangular Valiant badge on the grille, which also served as the hood-release lever.
Interiors were also unique, especially the instrument panel. The basic panel surface dropped down away from the base of the windshield, then tucked under, giving a spacious feel to the front compartment.
An upside-down U-shaped "bonnet" straddled the steering column in front of the driver, a concept reminiscent of the 1957-1958 Imperial. Beneath its hood sat two large circular dials: The left one containing the speedometer; the right the fuel, ammeter, and temperature gauges, plus an oil-pressure warning light. The plastic lens also served as the trapezoidal cluster's faceplate, decorated with a simulated engine-turned finish.
On cars ordered with automatic transmissions and/or heaters, actuating pushbuttons were strung vertically on either side of the "bonnet." This looked pretty neat, but cars sans these options were fitted with blanking plates that made it obvious something was missing.
On V-200s, the panel was two-toned horizontally around a cross-car bright molding. Upper-dash padding was optional, as were padded sun visors. A two-tone steering wheel with bright half-ring for the horn was available, too.
Interiors in V-200 models were available in blue-, green-, or red-black, while V-100 trim was gray and black with all exteriors. Fabrics were nylon-faced rayon. A trim wire was used to recess the front seatback, adding nearly an inch of knee room.
The sedan wasn't the only Valiant model. Four "Suburbans" were also offered, the Valiant being the first of the Big Three compacts to offer a four-door station wagon, and a three-seat version to boot. (Four-door, two-seat Falcon wagons arrived in March 1960, while a Corvair wagon had to wait until 1961.)
To save design time and tooling costs, designers used the sedan front and rear doors as the basis for the Suburban. Taking a cue from the Rambler wagons of the mid-1950s, the stylists specified a rakish backward-leaning pillar aft of the rear door, with a small triangular fixed window fitted into the space between the pillar and the upper rear door.
Aft of the pillar, large trapezoidal quarter windows were capped by a roof which overhung the steeply sloping backlight and tailgate. By avoiding the station wagon's usual "extruded" look, the Valiant Suburban had an unexpectedly jaunty appearance that many preferred over the sedan.
The backlight -- power-operated on three-seat models -- retracted into the tailgate, a featured pioneered by Chrysler in 1950. Like its larger siblings, the Suburban's third seat faced backward, with ingress/egress from the rear.
With the third seat occupying the space normally given over to the spare tire, run-flat Captive Air tires were standard on three-seat models and on two-seat models with an optional in-floor locking luggage compartment.
With rear seats folded flat, the flush cargo floor extended to the back of the front seat, giving a full 72 cubic feet of cargo space. Interior materials were similar to those of the sedans, except that the V-100 Suburban featured "breathable" all-vinyl seats.
At 2,635 pounds for the V-100 four-door sedan, the Valiant was heavier than its rivals and hundreds of dollars costlier, too, ranging in price from $2,053 for the base sedan to $2,566 for the V-200 three-seat Suburban. This apparent competitive disadvantage was discounted by Chrysler, which believed Valiant had an inherent worth for which buyers would be willing to pay more.
Then, too, the Valiant was not a Plymouth. It was a Valiant, period, thereby giving Chrysler Corporation its sixth brand nameplate. This course was pursued to underscore Chrysler's vision of the Valiant as a prime-market six-passenger family car, one that would be purchased on its own merits and not as a junior edition of something else.
Not every Chrysler-family dealer could sell the Valiant. By January 1960, slightly less than half of America's 4,138 Chrysler-Plymouth and DeSoto-Plymouth dealers were franchised to sell Valiants. Meanwhile, the 2,236 "Dodge exclusives" concentrated on their new lower-priced full-size Dart.
Curiously, the name Valiant wasn't Chrysler's first choice for its compact. The company was planning to name it "Falcon" after Exner's striking 1955 two-seat idea car. But, as we know, Ford used the name instead.
One story is that Ford asked Chrysler's permission to use the name, which was graciously given. Another version is that Ford was first to register the name with the industry's Automobile Manufacturers Association, leaving Chrysler to hunt for another moniker.
Reportedly, in a survey of more than 2,000 car owners in 15 cities, the name "Valiant" was the preferred choice over "Liberty" and "Columbia." Despite the contretemps over the name, the official announcement came on May 21, 1959, that Chrysler Corporation would introduce "a new economy automobile … named Valiant" with its 1960 product line. (Ford picked the same day to declare its new Falcon.)
On August 9, responsibility for marketing the Valiant was assigned to the new Plymouth-DeSoto-Valiant Division headed by Harry Chesebrough, who joined Chrysler in 1932 as a student engineer after graduating from the University of Michigan. As Mike Davis noted in his fine article on Valiant's development in the December 1959 issue of Sports Cars Illustrated, "Thus an engineer who first worked on Chrysler small cars in the early Thirties also [had] the responsibility of selling the Valiant."
Whatever the name, automotive journalists naturally couldn't wait to get behind the wheel. Most of them liked what they drove.
After a 30-day, 3,000-mile road test, Car Life gushed, "Hats off to Chrysler Engineering! ... Who could ask for anything more in a motor car? [Valiant] combines a rock-solid body, sparkling performance, economy of operation, and ... the best handling of any sedan made in America -- ever."
"As for the engine," said Road & Track, "this brand new unit is extremely satisfactory .... It is smooth, quiet and vigorous." The magazine was also impressed by "Valiant's startling, but genuine, 95 mph top speed." After 10,000 miles in a Valiant, Popular Science reported, "The Valiant outpaced the Corvair and Falcon going away," adding, "This is a car that likes to go." What Popular Science didn't like was "Valiant's one serious imperfection ... the quality of its construction."
What did Valiant owners think? In its May 1960 issue, Popular Mechanics published a report based on 1,432,308 owner-driven miles. Owners said they picked Valiant because of its exterior styling, overall size, and economy of operation. They liked the car's handling ease, riding comfort, power, and performance.
"It represents a return to sanity in American car design," wrote a California engineer, while an Illinois traffic manager enthused, "Best fun is racing Volkswagens, Falcons and Corvairs. It leaves them cold." A Massachusetts physician said his Valiant was "[a] pleasure to drive. Driver feels he's part of the machine," while "Handles like a sports car" was the verdict of one Kentucky salesman. "Its agility in traffic is wonderful," testified one New York owner.
But Valiant owners disliked poor workmanship and body water leaks. They also complained of gas mileage markedly lower than the 30 miles to the gallon promised in the catalog.
"I would much rather buy an American car," said a Michigan supervisor, "but they should be delivered in better shape. My Volkswagen was delivered in perfect condition." Many early buyers were astonished to find their Valiants delivered minus an owner's manual (it was printed late); others objected to the "cheap" cardboard glovebox the manual was supposed to fit into (later cars added flocking for a better feel).
When asked what should be changed, owners cited the gearshift design and the gas-filler tube, complaining that the floor-mounted shift lever "is awkward and interferes with the center rider in the front seat," while the nearly horizontal left-side fuel-filler tube made it virtually impossible to fill the tank without gasoline cascading down the fender.
Still, after evaluating the responses of a thousand owners, Popular Mechanics editors concluded that the new Valiant was "an excellent car. The best of the three new compacts for overall use as a family car .... It doesn't look like a small car." In other words, it pretty much was what Chrysler had in mind when designing it.
On September 21, 1959, Chrysler president L.L. Colbert was on hand as the first Valiant rolled out of Chrysler's Hamtramck, Michigan, assembly plant. Wagon assembly didn't begin until November 5.
Following dealer introduction of the sedan on October 29, public demand for Valiants was brisk, requiring production be extended to the company's St. Louis plant in January and to Newark, Delaware, in February.
By the close of the 1960 model year, Valiant production totaled 194,292 units, an eminently respectable showing compared with Chevrolet's 250,007 Corvairs. Both compacts would have had higher totals but for shortages caused by the 116-day nationwide steel strike that began on July 14, 1959, and continued until November 7.
Fortunate in having its own in-house steelmaking facilities at the Rouge, Ford was able to sustain Falcon's initial momentum. With a first year's production of 435,676 cars, the Falcon became the most successful new car ever introduced in America, breaking a record set by DeSoto in 1929. The downside for Ford was that many of its loyal customers bought Falcons instead of full-size Fords on which Ford presumably made more profit.
The production of nearly 1 million compacts by the Big Three caused them to deemphasize their "captive" imported brands. Chrysler restricted Simca imports to the Etoile model, while Ford pared its English Ford offerings. Buoyed by the building of 116,331 1960 Comets, Lincoln-Mercury announced in October it would no longer import the German-built Taunus.
Going the other way, Chrysler International, convinced that Valiant would find a ready market overseas, air-freighted a white V-200 sedan across the Atlantic for a surprise debut at the London and Turin auto shows. In addition to manufacturing Valiants in its Windsor, Ontario, plant, a confident Chrysler announced a program to build the car essentially unchanged in Australia and revealed the planned start of Valiant assembly in The Netherlands, South Africa, Venezuela, and Mexico.
Continue on to the next page to learn about the 1961 Valiant.
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While the 1961 Valiant looked pretty much like its predecessor, it was, psychologically, an entirely different car. For one thing, it was no longer alone in the Chrysler family. Dodge dealers were given a variant to sell as well.
Minimal exterior changes for the 1961 Valiant
included spoked wheel covers.
With its pert circular taillights and raffish 1960 Pontiac-type grille, the new Lancer was poised to attract customers who might otherwise have bought Valiants. More importantly, the Valiant was no longer a separate make. It was now a Plymouth Valiant, and was identified as such on decklids and tailgates. (Valiant even lost its unique corporate model code.)
Much of this downgrading had to do with the precarious position of the Plymouth brand, which was struggling against fast-rising rivals to maintain its cherished third place in sales. At the end of the 1960 model year, Plymouth was embarrassed to find itself bested by not only Rambler and Pontiac, but also by Dodge's popular new Dart. If Valiant's nearly 200,000 units had been included in the Plymouth totals, the beleaguered marque might have retained third place.
Additionally, promoting the Valiant as a separate brand flew in the face of confused customers who needed to "hook" the plethora of new compact-car nameplates to familiar brands. Remember that at the time Chrysler was still attempting -- with limited success -- to convince a dubious public that the haughty Imperial was not a Chrysler.
Finally, Chrysler Corporation was itself in turmoil during much of 1960 and 1961, beset with upper-management conflict-of-interest scandals, the demise of the DeSoto brand, and three regime changes. Grandiose plans to market the Valiant as a separate make crumbled as the corporation fought for survival while realigning its dealer network following the "stranding" of its 1649 DeSoto-Plymouth dealers.
Thus, in 1961, instead of being a "prime-market" car, the Valiant became one of the pack. Perhaps this was inevitable, given the explosion of compact and larger "senior compact" nameplates. New entries in 1961 included the Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile F-85, Buick Special, and Dodge Lancer, which were added to the Corvair, Falcon, Comet, Rambler American, Studebaker Lark, and now Plymouth Valiant.
Appearance changes for 1961 were minimal, but generally not for the better. Black paint was added to the grille texture for a different "big squares" look, the black and bright headlamp bezels reappeared, and a trio of bright louvers were added above the taillights.
An attractive but conventional spoked wheel-cover option replaced the previous hubcap and trim ring.
V-200s were given new side trim including a shortened bodyside molding with a fluted and flared "stone guard" on the rear door, and a bright molding on the front upper-body "blade." Rather than complementing each other, the two side-trim treatments competed for attention, resulting in a busy appearance.
V-200 interiors, however, benefited from extending the vinyl door bolsters up to the belt. The new, optional, pillow-type dashboard crash pad was shared with Lancer.
Two new two-door body styles were added, a V-100 sedan and a V-200 hardtop. Both used the basic sedan roof stamping so that windshield and backlight were carried over. This minimalist approach was acceptable for the proletarian two-door sedan.
However, while dispensing with the V-100's B-pillar, the V-200 hardtop retained a fixed portion of the rear quarter window, necessary since a full-length window would have been too long to be lowered fully into the body. The fixed glass certainly marred the hardtop look and resulted in a car that had none of the sporty élan of the Corvair Monza coupe.
A more stylish solution mocked up in February 1959 featured a reverse C-pillar, large wraparound backlight, and sloping roofline, but the idea was stillborn. Tooling monies that might have facilitated the racier roof were instead diverted to the necessity of making the new Lancer different from the Valiant.
A taxi package was made available in two equipment levels, and in the spring, buyers in four southern states could buy a "Dixie Special" Valiant sedan painted Confederate Gray metallic and highlighted with a symbol on the door commemorating the War Between the States. Why Valiant was chosen for this tribute is unknown.
Despite the fact that nearly 18 percent of 1960 Valiant wagons were three-seat models, the third seat became an extra-cost option in 1961. Consequently, installations came to a mere 593 units. The second seat, however, was made 4.5 inches wider to improve comfort.
By mid 1961, customers could specify a new factory engine option -- an aluminum version of the cast-iron 225-cid "RG" Slant Six previously available only on the full-size Plymouth and Dodge Dart. Made at Chrysler's Kokomo, Indiana, plant with an enormous 2,000-ton diecasting machine, the aluminum block was 76 pounds lighter than the cast-iron version. A cast-iron cylinder head was used as the best solution for durability and manufacturing costs.
Also to lower costs, a cast-iron intake manifold replaced the aluminum design used in 1960. This was true of the smaller-displacement 1961 Slant Six as well, where the compression ratio was lowered to 8.2:1 to better reflect existing regular-fuel octane ratings. The 225-cube engine, which featured a one-inch-longer stroke than the 170, developed 145 bhp.
Lancer buyers got first crack at the aluminum Slant Six. Consequently, during 1961, 11,881 Lancers and 6,612 Valiants were built with the lightweight engine, which continued as an option into the early part of the 1963 model year. During this period, another 36,000 or so engines were built before Chrysler ended the program in November 1962, citing low demand, high costs, and unspecified manufacturing problems.
According to Weertman, who worked on the project, "The cost of the aluminum block was higher than anticipated. There was more processing involved, and because of aluminum's greater porosity, scrap rates were higher with the aluminum blocks versus cast iron. Also, switching back and forth at Trenton Engine from machining aluminum to machining cast-iron blocks was too costly." This would be Chrysler's last aluminum-block engine until the Viper V-10 in the early 1990s.
Even though Chrysler's Los Angeles assembly plant was added to the list of production points, Valiant assemblies fell to 143,078 in 1961, a decline of more than 51,000 units. Some of the drop might be attributed to the closing of many DeSoto-Plymouth agencies in the months following DeSoto's departure.
But add the 74,776 Lancers to the total and production of "Valiant-type" cars showed an ample increase to 217,854 cars. Clearly, the Lancer cannibalized Valiant sales in the same way Dart did to Plymouth a year earlier, but obviously Chrysler felt it was more important that Dodge dealers have a compact to sell. Both were outdistanced by the 282,000 Corvair and 474,000 Falcon passenger cars.
Continue on to the next page to learn about the 1962 Valiant.
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The 1962 Valiant was better looking than its predecessor. Sedans and wagons were given an all-bright grille texture with five vertical flutes. The grille was ringed by a frame with an expanded header accented with black-painted block letters.
The 1962 Valiant added the
luxury Signet 200 to its line.
All models featured new circular taillights placed below the rear fender blades. The lower-bodyside trim of the 1961 V-200s was replaced by a variant of the original 1960 molding. It featured a wider ribbed horizontal leg that included three reflective rectangles ahead of the rear wheel openings.
By substituting Lancer's simpler stamping, the decklid lost its controversial simulated-tire impression, but gained an odd assortment of nameplates. V-200s sported a large chrome diecast circle bisected by a wider horizontal crossbar in which "VALIANT" was spelled out, with vertical chrome spears projecting above and below the circle, a complement to the new V-200-only hood centerline molding. V-100s made do with just the decklid crossbar. Suburban tailgates, however, used a circle and crossbar sans the vertical spears.
Six two-tone treatments were made available, with roofs in a lighter color. Then, beginning February 1, 1962, buyers could opt for new "spring special" two- and four-door sedans with a "Color Sweep" ($19.95 extra) in eight two-tone combinations, with the lighter color below the bodyside moldings.
Inside, the twin-dial instrument cluster and bonnet were replaced by a hooded, rectangular, black leather-grain instrument "board." Underneath, the tangle of wiring was replaced by a new printed-circuit board, a sheet of phenolic resin embedded with copper-foil strips serving as electrical circuits. An all-vinyl interior in three color choices was a new option on V-200 four-door sedans.
Strategic substitution of lighter components resulted in an overall weight reduction of 50 pounds; this was in addition to the 60-pound reduction accomplished in 1961. Other engineering enhancements included an aluminized exhaust system, faster and easier steering, and a gas tank enlarged to 14 gallons.
A V-200 two-door sedan was added to the line, but the biggest news was a new two-door hardtop, a top-of-the-line variant named Signet 200 that displaced the V-200 hardtop. The Signet apparently was an 11th-hour addition; an internal company booklet from March 1961 detailing the 1962 Valiant product line makes no mention of the Signet.
Mimicking Corvair's astonishingly successful Monza and the Falcon Futura, the Signet was Valiant's entry into the "bucket-seat brigade." Available in blue, green, red, or cocoa, the Signet's attractive saddle-grain vinyl interior featured a bench rear seat with twin buckets up front. Six-passenger seating was becoming less essential as fully 10 percent of American automobiles in 1962 were equipped with bucket seats.
The Signet was further enhanced by distinctive exterior cues: a blacked-out grille sporting a large vee-in-a-ring center ornament (reprised on the decklid); special wheel covers; and a dechromed body featuring bright-outlined spears of color (keyed to the interior) on the front body blades. The interior and exterior enhancements made the Signet the handsomest of any of the 1960-1962 iterations. Priced at $2,230, 25,586 were built, an increase of 7,000 units compared to the 1961 V-200 hardtop.
Surprisingly, the advent of the bucket-seat Signet was accompanied by the introduction of a column shift on cars with manual transmissions. A new, shallower steering wheel was required to provide adequate clearance to the shift lever.
In customers' hands, the Valiant's original floor shift had never been completely satisfactory, despite a rework in 1961, when the gearbox was mounted upright instead of at the previous 30-degree incline to the left. Ironically, in just a few years, a floor-mounted shift lever in a console placed between the front seats would become the sine qua non of any car claiming a sporty demeanor.
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1962 Valiant Production
In 1962 Valiant production rose somewhat to 157,294 assemblies. Moreover, during 1962, the Valiant was the leading compact car exported from the United States and Canada, with nearly 9,000 shipped to Australia, 1,700 to Switzerland, and 1,500 to Sweden.
The 1962 Plymouth Valiant set a styling standard
for the small-car market.
Popular Mechanics again queried Valiant owners, who continued to cite quick, precise handling; a smooth, sway-free ride; and good performance as the most-liked features. Meanwhile, complaints about workmanship were halved from 1960. An astonishing 80.2 percent of owners indicated they would buy another Valiant.
Despite its improved appearance, the Valiant lost more of its styling distinction in 1962. Not only were Dodge dealers selling a Valiant clone, but Valiant did indeed become "somebody's kid brother." That was because the styling of the downsized 1962 Plymouth and Dodge mimicked the look of the compacts to the disadvantage of all four automobiles.
The Plymouth and Dodge were dismissed by the buying public as "overgrown Valiants," while Valiant's unique appearance was further diluted. Consequently, Chrysler's overall market share fell to less than 10 percent in 1962.
One of the unhappy consequences of this debacle was the forced departure of Virgil Exner, ironically because of his fascination with his own creation. So enamored was Exner with the Valiant's appearance and proportions that he initially planned the corporation's entire line of 1962 full-size cars on themes springing from the 1960 Valiant.
But the DeSoto, Chrysler, and Imperial proposals were scuttled while the Plymouth and Dodge were hastily downsized in the disastrously mistaken conviction that Chevy was going to shrink its Impala in tune with the trend to smaller, more-sensible automobiles.Despite all that, the Valiant went on to enjoy a 17-year model run and the satisfaction of outlasting rivals Corvair and Falcon by many years. Indeed, during much of the 1960s and 1970s, the Valiant, its spinoffs like the Duster, and its Dodge companions commanded more than 30 percent of the compact-car segment at a time when Chrysler Corporation's overall market share hovered around 16 percent. The Slant Six engine enjoyed an ever more-productive life. Offered in U.S.-built Chryslers cars through 1983 and domestic trucks until 1987, it continued as a marine engine until 1991.
Brought to market at great effort and expense, the Detroit compacts -- Valiant among them -- successfully (if only temporarily) stemmed the tide of imported vehicles, which receded to 375,000 vehicles in 1962. Imports took just 4.9 per-cent of the market while the Big Three commanded an 87.8 percent share.
It was a great time for American car buyers who suddenly could choose from myriad alternatives: a conventional Falcon, a rear-engine Corvair, a "rope-drive" Tempest, an F-85 Jetfire with a turbocharged V-8, a V-6 Special, or an exotically styled Valiant with an inclined engine. "One-size-fits-all" cars were passé and the American car market was fundamentally changed.
To see the specifications for the Plymouth Valiant from 1960-1962, continue on to the next page.
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1960-1962 Plymouth Valiant Specifications
The 1960-1962 Plymouth Valiant blazed a small-car path with its distinctive good looks, eventually inspiring its competitors to imitate its design features. Here are the specifications of the 1960-1962 Plymouth Valiant:
The 1962 Plymouth Valiant Signet 200 had distinctive
spears of color on the sides.
1960 Plymouth Valiant V-100 Vehicle Specifications
1960 Plymouth Valiant V-100 Models, Prices, and Production
|Model||Weight, pounds||Price ||Production |
|Suburban 4-door wagon, 6-passenger||2,815||$2,365||12,018|
|Suburban 4-door wagon, 9-passenger||2,845||$2,488||1,928|
|Total 1960 V-100||66,734|
1960 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Vehicle Specifications
1960 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Models, Prices, and Production
|Model||Weight, pounds||Price ||Production |
|Suburban 4-door wagon, 6-passenger||2,855||$2,443||16,368|
|Suburban 4-door wagon, 9-passenger||2,860||$2,566||4,675|
|Total 1960 V-200||127,558|
|Total 1960 Valiant||194,292|
1961 Plymouth Valiant V-100 Vehicle Specifications
1961 Plymouth Valiant V-100 Models, Prices, and Production
|Model||Weight, pounds||Price ||Production |
|Total 1961 V-100||54,642|
1961 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Vehicle Specifications
1961 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Models, Prices, and Production
|Model||Weight, pounds||Price ||Production |
|Total 1961 V-200||88,436|
|Total 1961 Plymouth Valiant||143,078|
1962 Plymouth Valiant V-100 Vehicle Specifications
1962 Plymouth Valiant V-100 Models, Prices, and Production
|Model||Weight, pounds||Price ||Production |
|Total 1962 V-100||59,380|
1962 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Vehicle Specifications
1962 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Models, Prices, and Production
|Model||Weight, pounds||Price ||Production |
|Total 1962 V-200||72,328|
1962 Plymouth Valiant Signet 200 Vehicle Specifications
1962 Plymouth Valiant Signet 200 Models, Prices, and Production
|Model||Weight, pounds||Price ||Production |
|Total 1962 Plymouth Valiant ||157,294|
Includes Canadian production. *Valiant marketed as an independent make and not a series of Plymouth. Source: Encyclopedia of American Cars, by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®, Publications International, Ltd., 2002.
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