by Noel Keenan
In 1981, an era in Australian motoring came to an end with the production of the very last Valiant. Chrysler Australia Ltd had ceased to be a couple of years earlier; with the parent company in the US in dire financial straits, the Australian arm was sold to Mitsubishi for a bargain basement price. Mitsubishi gained a fairly modern foundry and manufacturing facility, with access to the nationwide dealer network; for a time Mitsubishi continued to manufacture Valiants, as the tooling was more than paid off and a reasonable profit was to be made on each unit. But the writing was on the wall for the aging ‘A’ body based car, sales trickled, and the decision was made to stop producing the ‘Val’ down under and instead localize the Japanese Galant – later to become the very successful wide body Magna sedan – the first truly Angloized Japanese car. The Magna proved the business case for Toyota to invest in the ‘wide body Camry’ a few years later.
Australian performance cars in the 1960s and 1970s were a mix of two-door (Monaro/Charger/Falcon Coupe) and four-door sedans (Falcon GT/Monaro/Valiant Pacer). The Pacer was produced across three models. The 1969/70 VF sedan was powered by a special high compression 2-barrel 225 slant 6; the 1970/71s VG was powered by four performance versions of the 245 Hemi 6. The 1971-73 VH pictured here (red) was powered by a high performance 265 cubic inch Hemi Six. These VHs were vastly outsold by the more sporty looking Charger, but surviving examples are highly sought after by enthusiasts today.
At the turn of the century, the twentieth anniversary of the production of the last ‘Val’ was approaching, and in 2001 a loose collective of Sydney-based Mopar enthusiasts, aided and abetted by the newly blossoming interwebs and the miracle of the chat room, decided that such an important milestone must not go un-noticed. Hence, the inaugural Chrysler Wake Run was held.
Several dozen of Chrysler Australia’s (“CAL’s”) finest vehicles and their owner/operators met on a glorious late winter/early spring Saturday morning, outside the hallowed Sydney Cricket grounds, for an informal parade through the city of Sydney. They went down through “The Rocks,” across the Sydney Harbor bridge and up the F3 freeway to the Hunter Valley region and a small country hotel in the town of Cessnock, approximately 80 miles or so distant, where sorrows were sunk and tales regaled. This supposed “one off” event was so successful, the same loose confederation semi-organized a follow up run the next year.
Special limited edition Valiant Chargers were produced at the end of the VJ (Sportsman), VK (White Knight), and CL (Drifter). The owner of this particular White Knight is Bill Papanicolaou, who runs a service called Valiant Infobase. He has compiled a database of every Valiant produced from the early 1970s till production end, including statistics on other cars, such as Centuras, produced at Tonsley Park. For a modest fee, he can provide a breakdown of option codes, numbers produced of that particular combination, etc., and can cross match engine numbers to help locate the original engine and re-unite it with the correct vehicle. Bill provided some of the inspiration for restoring the featured Police Charger, as it was discovered by matching the VIN number to an image of the orginal licence plate on a photo produced for a road safety campaign; the owner then decided to accurately restore the by now well modified and wrong color Charger.
After a couple of hiatus years, the original crew decided that a more formal gathering was in order, and passed the torch on to the Hunter Valley Chrysler Club (HVCC). Traditionally, a Winter/Spring event it breaks up the year nicely, and gives the usual suspects an excuse for a get together. This year’s event was held on the Weekend of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th of August at Canton Beach – near Toukley on the New South Wales Central Coast. Positioned just south of Newcastle and approximately 90 minutes or so north of the City of Sydney, it is an ideal spot for such a gathering, as it’s an easy drive from two of the east coast’s larger population bases.
Friday evening is about checking in, getting settled and relaxed at the facility – a large holiday (RV) park. Then the faithful gather at the central “camp kitchen” to drown a few sorrows and regale each other with stories of the departed – a traditional Irish style wake theme permeates – this is no mournful gathering. The host club (HVCC) do an excellent job – especially the sub-committee and organize movies on the big screen, music and a BBQ dinner.
Saturday morning this year dawned bright and clear, and after a pancake breakfast for the entrants, the Mopars gathered for a mystery cruise. This year I was in my 1967 New Yorker hardtop, with a friend riding shotgun for the blast. All four windows down, settling into the middle of the cruise pack of around 50 or so Chryslers. The destination was a private museum of 1950s and ’60s Americana, probably the largest outside of the US. The owner has an eclectic collection of vehicles and memorabilia – anything and everything you could possibly think of (including a complete period diner). Several dozen vehicles are on display over several rooms, a mixture of tastes, models and styles with Mopars making up about a quarter of the collection, including a couple of beautiful finned Imperials, Dodge Coronets, Plymouth Furys, and even a four door hardtop New Yorker Wagon. Not too many “exotics” – mainly your usual cars you would have seen on the street in the era – oh, and most of the vehicles are used on a regular basis as well as being shared with the wider enthusiast community at the facility – not just locked away to gather dust.
Back to the grounds several hours later for a quick freshen up, and it was then time for the main evening’s formal proceedings. Well about as formal as it gets at an RV park anyway. A spit roast dinner, more ‘sorrow drowning’ and a very informal games night – followed by another movie on the big screen.
The following morning was greeted by a few sore heads, but fortunately the benefits of camping on the grounds are many – including not having to move too far to the show fields – a beautiful reserve on the shores of Tuggerah Lake, just outside the fenceline of the RV park. The only access was through the park itself.
The cars started to roll in around 7am, and by the time the gates were closed at 10am, around 120 Chrysler products of all descriptions and marques were lined up. Over the years the popularity – and affordability - of American iron has improved dramatically, with many Aussie Mopar enthusiasts having cut their teeth on the local Australian Valiants, moving on to enjoying the homeland products. Most Aussie Mopar enthusiasts are a loyal bunch, usually with more than one car and have embraced the modern Mopars as well. Your PT or Jeep Grand Cherokee daily driver may have a Valiant Pacer Sedan, or Ute, or Wagon, or Charger or two or more of the above at home for weekend duties. My family, we have a 2013 Dodge Journey as well as my 1967 New Yorker.
This year was spotlighting Chrysler Service Vehicles. Most Aussie ‘utes had a hard life – but a few have survived. CAL also had a proud intermediate truck division, and many of these are still on the road today. Several Australian state governments also used and preferred the Australian Valiants and Dodge trucks for fleet duties, due to the rugged construction and durable drivetrains.
This year we were fortunate to have a genuine ex-Police Highway Patrol Valiant Charger in attendance. These were produced in a variety of configurations for different states – but again few have survived. All items including the genuine radar unit and light/roof bars are intact, and it was a painstaking process for the current owner to piece together all the items for the resto.
In keeping with the light hearted nature of the show, proceedings were wrapped up by about 1 pm, with top 12 trophies being awarded by entrants’ choice in no particular order, with the only judged entry being the ‘Police Choice’ and a couple from the sponsors of the event as well as HVCC members choice. All proceeds from the weekend go to the local branch of the Special Olympics – helping to send local athletes around the country and hopefully the world to compete. The 2014 dates are August 1-3, so if you happen to be in the area, make sure you come along to Canton Beach.
One for Mopar Norm. This is no show pony, it recently completed the trip to the tip of Cape York along the infamous Old Telegraph Track: several hundred kilometers of sandy, boggy Hell, resplendent with salt-water croc-infested river crossings.
Also see: Walt McPherson, Chief Engineer of Chrysler Australia • Vintage Dodge exports to Australia • Chrysler Royal, Wayfarer, and Plainsman in Australia • (at valiant.org) Valiants, Chargers, and Pacers in Australia
Chrysler Heritage • History by Year • Chrysler People and Bios • Corporate Facts and History
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