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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