Prev NEXT  


1960-1962 Plymouth Valiant

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.

For more information about cars, see: