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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