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Creating the 1960 Valiant: Tales of 403 Midland Avenue

by Al Bosley

The original Valiant was created outside of Chrysler’s Highland Park headquarters, in a building on Midland Avenue. It’s now called Midland Street, but then it was Midland Avenue, by Oakland and Davison.

map

That building never belonged to Chrysler; we leased it. That was the source of some consternation too. It was a good 10 to 15 minute drive at that time from the Highland Park headquarters, through the mid-day traffic.

In the later press releases, they said it was secret. I don’t know whether it was secret, because it wasn’t secret within Engineering; everybody knew we were there and knew we were doing it, because we bothered the hell out of them.

Midland and PROC

Using the Midland Avenue building was a simple, easy way to get a big enough space for all of us to work together; it would have been hard to do in Highland Park, which was pretty tight at that time, space-wise.

At the beginning, nobody really believed we were going to build a car. Over at Midland, we were working like the dickens on this car, and engineering management and top management didn’t believe they were going to do the car, so they just totally left us alone. We were able to get a few believers in Manufacturing and Purchasing; occasionally there were a few guys that would come and help.

first Valiant

It wasn’t until the last two or three months of winding down the release process that it really became obvious that we were going to build a car, and the manufacturing guys really came and helped. Prior to that time, Chuck Kelly did his absolute best to get it, but he was a one-man gang, and though he would get some people over and they would come and work on this stuff, it was not as effective as it could be.

I just wish that we would’ve had more resources — we could’ve done a lower-cost and probably a lower-weight car if we’d done things differently.

Photo note: When the Valiant was being created, the building front was yellow brick with large front windows at the north and south ends, and an industrial style door where the front door is now. The employee entrance was off the parking lot.

Creating a car, under pressure

It was a high-tension, full-time process — from six or seven am sometimes to six o’clock at night. Those hours were based on the fact that union rules said that if we went after six, we had to pay guys the usual time-and-one-half overtime rate, and give them time off for supper. If it was a Saturday, we ran from eight to one. That was every day, so it was a fairly intense activity.

Some of the Body guys were working in job shops in the evenings too, so every chance they got during their lunch hour, they would climb up on the drafting table and sleep. They brought pads.

One time, one of the guys used a whole lot of drafting tape while a Body guy was asleep and taped his legs down to the table. He woke up and he screamed, “I’m paralyzed! I can’t move!”

valiant engineering building

One of the body guys, a model maker and I think a watch maker, a very talented guy, made little harnesses for the flies. This was in the summertime, and there was no air conditioning; we had a lot of windows open and a lot of flies. He would catch the flies, numb them with an ice cream, then put a little harness on them, made from the little red cellophane thing used to open cigarette packs. He would attach that to the back of the harness, let the flies go, and we would have five or six flies flying around the design room with little streamers.

During the end of the program, Dave Cohoe had one of the first cars, and he started bragging about the fuel economy, so some of the guys decided to help him. They would go out and sneak a gallon of gas into his tank, and he finally got up and he was telling us that he was getting 60, 70 miles per gallon on the car. After he said that, the guys would go out and they would siphon a little gas out every day, and he got down to eight miles per gallon, and then they finally tipped him off.

Another person was very nice, a super woman, but gullible, in a separate office with the administrative people. They convinced her that you had to change the air in your tires every season — to have winter air and summer air. Summer was coming, and she went to a gas station and asked the guy to let the air out of her tires and put summer air in. That’s the kind of hijinks that went on.

Snow and ice

One winter, we had a lot of snow, and the driveway and parking lot became impassible with ice. We continually asked the Chrysler facilities management to get their truck over there, plow the place out, and put some salt on the driveway. This turned into some kind of a pissing contest between Chrysler and the building owner, each insisting it was the other’s job, so nothing got done.

driveway

The guys – union and non-salaried people — stayed one Saturday and shoveled the driveway, cleaned it out, put some salt on it, and started a collection to pay for having somebody come in and plow it. The kind of spirit they had — they could’ve gone on strike, but they didn’t do that. They had enough concern and interest to take it on themselves to get that fixed.

I always thought what real Chrysler spirit that was — and I always faulted Chrysler for not being able to deal with that kind of a problem.

Materials man

We had an embedded materials engineering specialist.

Before this project, the original drawings were sent to a group which specified the materials on the drawings and signed them, a process that typically took four or five days, but could take up to two weeks. When we worked at Midland Avenue, the materials engineering people were not very responsive, and I didn’t want to let the original drawings out of our possession and haul them over to engineering.

drawing
This drawing is older than the Valiant blueprints by around three decades.

I told them, “We’ll call you and talk about it and put your material specifications on the blueprints,” and they said, “Absolutely not. We’ve got to do this the old way.”

I said, “I am not giving up our design time to do this. We will release the drawings with what we think the correct material should be.”

There was a big flap, and the matter went up to the director of engineering. I thought I was going to get fired. He said, though, “No, you’re right. Materials guys, get over it and take care of it some way.” So they sent a materials engineer over to us.

Body and Chassis together, the buried spare, and the gas tank

Someone on high chose to put our people and Russ Cooper’s Body Engineering people all together in one room. That really was a stroke of genius; it made our communications with Body easier. When we had been in separate buildings, communication between us had been tenuous and difficult.

A design leader in Body Engineering was trying to figure out some of the packaging issues, and they made a little sketch of a buried spare tire in the Valiant. They came to Bill Shelman, our design leader, who spent some time every day with his counterpart in Body, continually trying to route components under the car such as exhaust systems, assuring we had enough space for the drive line, and similar kinds of things.

compare

He said to me “Al, you’ve got to see this.” The guy had made this sketch of the buried spare, but their question to us was, “Can you guys get a fuel tank in there?”

I said, “That is so good, we’ll do it.” Right there. It was a five-minute discussion, which in Central Engineering would’ve taken 17 weeks.

We said, “Get the spare as far back as you can, and we’ll get the tank in.” That brought up another issue; the manufacturer of the tank, either a vendor or Chrysler itself, could not get the draw [depth of the stamping] that had been promised, so the tank ended up a couple gallons short of what it was designed to be.

That Valiant fuel tank is two halves, cut on an angle, with two deep draws. Top and bottom are deep draw, using deep stampings. They weren’t able to get it quite as deep as they had promised. As time went by, Don McDonald went back to one of the departments in charge of fuel tanks and such, and he was able to fix it, so we got the Valiant fuel tank capacity up to where it should be.

Plymouth and Chrysler Valiants at valiant.org
Designing the Valiant axle (by Al Bosley)
Valiant Through Advertising: Launching the 1960s
Valiant and Barracuda 1960-69Valiant and Duster 1970-76


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