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Inside Stories of the Valiant: 1960’s Class-Leading Compact Car

by Al Bosley

A lot of cars at that time were just done from experience. On the Valiant, we had help from some people in the laboratories.

Bob Penn, in particular, had invented a method of making small model plastic models and putting strain gauges and brittle lacquer on them, to interpret load paths. He did a lot of work for us — making plastic models in quarter-size, half-size, and in some cases full-size.

plexiglass model

Bob Penn stuck electronic strain measuring devices onto the models, like band-aids, so he could get us pretty close on the stress levels; and that was a big help on some of the new and unusual parts on the Valiant. That was the first time Chrysler had done that.

This method was used to help convert most of Chrysler’s cars from body-on-frame to unit-body in the year the Valiant was launched, as illustrated in the photo above.

As we got better and better, the car bodies got stiffer and stiffer. Later on, we may have doubled the torsional and bending stiffness of those cars. They just got better and better; if you compared it to a 1960 car, today’s car is perhaps 10 times stiffer than those cars.

The four cylinder Valiant yields to the slant six

They orginally laid it out as a four-cylinder car, with a 150 cubic-inch four-cylinder engine. Bill Weertman described the initial studies, and how it became clear that the car had to be a little bigger and had to be a little better; leaders recognized what GM and Ford were doing and said “Well, you have to have a six-cylinder.”

In practically all engines of that time, even V8s, the water pump is on the front of the engine. It was run by a belt from the fan or from the crankshaft, and the fan was on there, and they ran the alternator and power steering pump and air conditioning and other stuff off the belt.

slant six

One of the guys in Bill’s team came up with the idea of tilting the engine over and putting the water pump back in line with the front cylinder. Other people did it in other ways. Lancia made some narrow-angle V-engines that have an angle, maybe 10 degrees, in which they offset the piston bores to shorten the engine. You can do it any way you want to.

I thought the water pump on the side was an excellent solution. I’m not sure they leaned the engine the right way. I know why they leaned the engine to the passenger side, because that put the water pump more in the center of the car. Ed Guyer always thought the engine should have leaned the other way, to give us more space to do the suspension and make access to the starter better.

Keeping the weight down; the only NASCAR compact car race

The weight target was 2,750 pounds, and we came in at 2,775.

Later on, those numbers came into some question, regarding what the cars actually weighed when they were as-built. But as for the performance and economy targets, we all took credit and went around shaking hands for saying we did better. I think we proved that down at Daytona when Bill France had the one race and gave it up.

We were still at Valiant, and the race guys came to us and talked about some things. We gave them some tips and said “Whatever you do, don’t lose.”

inside story

The engines were specifically individually tuned, and they were all engine-room built engines, with shot-peened connecting rods and such. It was a team effort in which we said “We are not going to lose, and our goal is to finish one through eight.” I think they let their race teams do them, and those cars were done by Chrysler. (The Valiant won first through seventh place, and NASCAR never did a second compact-car race.)

How quickly was the Valiant created?

It depends on how you count; it’s 18 months by my counting. Other people would say “No, you’ve got to go back to the time you formed the committee,” but we, the guys who did the car, did it in 18 months. If you start from when they started planning the car, it would’ve taken nine years.

Unibody

These were the first full unibody cars from Chrysler. The other cars that came out in 1960 were stub-frame cars. The Valiant was a full-unit body as we built unit bodies today, with the welded-on rails running all the way back.

The other cars had their stub-frame for the same reason – for exactly the same reason – that the Airflow had that lightweight frame under it. And that is the cars could not make the turns at the Jefferson Avenue plant at that length.

New brakes

Chrysler used center-plane brakes on all its cars at that time. We didn’t have any center-plane brakes in the Valiant; we did not know how to get them tuned, or to get new ones re-engineered to be small enough and tooled in time. Besides, the volumes would’ve been low, as well, or so they thought.

bendix brakes

So we went to a supplier, Bendix, with the self-energizing brakes which broke all tradition at Chrysler — which did not use, at that time, a self-energizing brake. [They had actually been an industry first in the 1949 Imperial, but had been dropped afterwards.] The brake group thought they were unstable, that they didn’t work in water, and we caught some hell about that.

Suspension innovations

Before the Valiant, the torsion bar height adjustment was in the cross-member that supported the rear engine mount transition engine mount. That was a tension bolt which, over time, could fail or be hard to adjust. The Valiant design was far easier to service and was safer if there was a problem.

height adjusters

The compression lower ball joint is another one. The 1957s, and some of the larger suspensions after that, had a tension lower ball joint. The lower control arm pulls down and it’s in tension. If there’s failure to properly grease it by the directions or maintain the seals, if it’s in tension, it can wear out the housing of the ball joint and pull out the ball. That can spoil your whole day.

Whereas this one [in the Valiant], with compression, it just buries deeper and deeper into the ball joint housing itself, and it can go a long way; so they don’t fail that way. That was an invention of Ed Collier, a major improvement.

lower ball joint

That’s one of the things that we tried to do in our engineering group — the beginnings of what’s now called failure mode and effect analysis. We talked about how the things we were dealing with would fail and what the result would be.

Another invention by Ed Collier was the cam adjustment for caster and camber. Prior to that time we’d use shims and such. I wanted to do it with a bar, like Ford does it with a couple of downward-facing bolts and kind of serrated area, so that you would adjust it by doing that. Ed said, “No, I think this is better.”

We spent a little extra money to do the cam adjustment, but it makes it a lot easier to do it on the line. It probably helps in service, although my personal experience with cars that have it is it rusts and doesn’t work so well. But that’s something that the line guys appreciated.

Hubcaps and wheel covers

We were trying to save money throughout the whole car. Paul Thrusti did our estimates, and we would say, “If we do it this way or if we do it this way, which is the least-cost way?” So he did mostly either/or estimates. He was a long-time manufacturing expert and was assigned to us to do those alternative studies, cost studies. He was really a help in our studying alternatives.

Hub caps and wheel covers had a tradition of being short-term items, and we didn’t think we had a lot of things to save money on, so Gary said “Let’s do aluminum hub caps.”

1960 valiant wheel closeup

They tended to pop off, and had other problems; but, compared with steel, you don’t have the polishing or the chrome plating problems, so we thought we could just bright-anodize the hub caps.

After we got the car nearly done, the styling and marketing guys said, “We need wheel covers for this car.” That was an “oh, shit” minute for us. They’re reasonably long tooling items and they’re always a problem to design.

Dick MacAdam was, at that time, was the studio assistant head for the Valiant. And I said to Dick, “You know, I always liked trim rings. I think we could do a set of trim rings by rolling them, rather than having to make stamping dies as you do for stainless steel hub caps or wheel covers.”

He said, “That’s neat.” The marketing and sales guys liked them, because they could order the cars without them and the dealers could put them on — or not — depending on what the person wanted. So we did these trim rings, and they were rolled; they’re a roll shape and then they’re curled up and spiral all together right at the valve stem.

Building a Valiant at Dodge Main

When they decided to build a car at Dodge Main, Bob Sinclair and I went over. Bob made this whole presentation about the car; there were two brothers that ran Dodge Main at that time, pretty gruff European-descent brothers, and they alternated. One of them said “What is the name of this car?” and Sinclair said Valiant.

Dodge Main

The guy said again “What is the name of this car?” And Bob said “Valiant.”

He said “Valiant? We build Dodges here.” Never before had any car with a brand on it, name brand on it, ever come out of Dodge Main. They were aghast that they were being asked to build a car and put a name on it that wasn’t Dodge.

Losing weight

Dawson was the weight guy. He created “hate weight” campaign posters, and there was a new one every week, so we were always awaiting to see the appearance of this “hate weight” campaign poster. His wife was an artist, and they would draw them up.

We put “lightening holes” in a lot of parts to try to get the weight down — punch a hole into metal, and it’s called a lightening hole. One day, I got a call from a guy at a stamping plant who said “Please, can you change those hole sizes?”

I said, “Sure, I think, if you’ve got a good reason why.”

He answered, “Well, it appears that some of the guys over there, instead of taking any normal size, they trace around a quarter or a nickel and put it on there. The metal comes out, and it fits into the vending machines, so we’ve been for years having a campaign to try to get people to use elliptical-shaped lightening holes.” So we went through and changed all the holes.

What I wish we’d done differently

When we had a discussion with the marketing and service people, they said the number one complaint we had about Valiant other than build quality was the spit back of the gasoline filler tube. We chose to put it there, as low as we did, to try to save trunk space. We could’ve done a better job on that, and I wish we had.

jack and fuel tube

I wish, because of the number of times that Chrysler has had to appear in court about that pipe not being covered as those in some other cars are, it might’ve saved money to put a metal piece on there to cover it up. But that’s another issue.

One of my friends, Don McDonald, has testified in some court cases; and one of the things that he says, it’s better than having it in the rear. No matter how you do it, it’s better than having it in the back. The only advantage to having it in the back is that you don’t have to remember which side the filler tube’s on, especially if you have two cars with it on different sides. Fortunately, some bright guy finally put a little arrow on the fuel gauge saying where it is.

1961 aluminum slant six engine

We went with a rod and ball joint throttle engine. Some of the guys at Central Engineering were working on cables, and that was another reason that Ed Guyer and I thought that the engine ought to lean the other way.

pedalsThe other thing is I was never happy with the floor-mounted accelerator pedal because of the issues with the carpet and the hole in the carpet and things getting jammed around it. I just wish that we had pushed harder to get to a hanging accelerator pedal, which they did later.

I wish some other people had done things differently. I always worried about the alternator mounting. We had to put a big dent in the fender shield for it. Everything was really tight and I just wondered if they could’ve found a better way to do that. As I said, the guys at Midland always had a question about the engine slant, which way it went. The way it is is the way it is, and that’s the way they did it, but I just wish they’d studied it more.

1960 Valiant seats

I never liked the floor shift. I always thought it was in the wrong place. We had a fellow who worked with us, Chuck Lutten, I think, who made more money off making little machine extensions for the gear shift lever, so that people could reach it, than he made at work.

One inch more wheel base. I just wish that when they’d planned the car they’d put another inch in it because this brings me to one of the few times that I really feel about lying – guilty about lying in my life.

The car was laid out and designed at 106. Late in the program, the people said, “For competitive reasons, knowing what our competitors are doing and where we want to position this, we need a longer wheelbase. Can you put a longer front hanger on the rear springs and move the rear axle back?”

I said, “Hell, no. The fuel tank is in there tight and we don’t have the space. We can’t do that.”

Then they said “Well, could you move the front suspension forward?” And Russ Cooper said “Hell, no. Those parts are all released in build.”

I said “Well, give me a little while to think about what we can do. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

valiant v-100 suburban

We went back and made a layout and checked the nominal wheel base with the suspensions and various height positions. And we found that because of the caster and camber, if you raise the front wheels all the way up, raise the thing so that the front wheel was in the fully-lowered position, and you change the rear axle height at the position, that you could put a ruler in there and get a wheel base of 106.5 inches.

We looked at the way the AMA specs were written, and there was no requirement at that time as to what position the car was in. It just said, you know, wheelbase. I said, “Well, I can put the car in a position that will generate a 106.5 inch wheelbase. But the car’s not nominally – and actually it’s 106.”

The second part of that is, there’s no telling what they actually build at, because there’s probably at least a quarter of an inch one way or the other, the way the cars are built, because of the stack of tolerances at that time. Now the tolerances are much tighter, but at that time, there even could’ve been a half inch difference.

We told them, “Use 106.5 inches, and nobody will catch us.” That’s how it got to 106.5.

The Valiant name

valiant901 - QX1 - Valiant. Yes, indeed, Loofborough’s secretary, ultimately wife, did submit the Valiant name. She told me that she knew about the contest, but wasn’t planning to enter. She was reading the Sunday comics or something, saw Prince Valiant, made a connection with what a valiant person is, and thought it would be a great name and turned it in.

The 901 QX1 — although it was an A901 program, all the drawings were labeled QX1 because that was the Q-series. The X1 was the car. They ultimately changed it to another. You know, as the guys re-released it, they changed it to the normal Chrysler letter designation for the body.

Stories of Midland Avenue • Creating the Valiant Axle • Dodge Dart
Valiant Through Advertising: Launching the 1960s • more at valiant.org


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