by Jim Benjaminson - part of the Illustrated Plymouth & DeSoto Buyer's Guide
From 1960 to 1969, Chrysler’s compact car was the Valiant; starting in 1964, it was accompanied by the sporty Barracuda coupe, based on the same body but, from 1967 onwards, with very different styling. Valiant hit a low in sales in 1969, but that would change dramatically just one year later...
Description of Valiant’s 1970 model year can be reduced to one word: Duster. The new model was singlehandedly responsible for Plymouth regaining its traditional number-three spot in sales for the first time since 1959.
Plymouth created the new car to replace the Barracuda, which had moved up to its own E-body series. A sporty-looking fuselage-styled semi-fastback coupe was put on the A-body platform behind carryover Valiant front sheet metal.
The only other Valiant was a four-door sedan, offered at a single trim level. However a host of options could make a plain car rather fancy. The only change on the sedan was found in the taillights—which returned to a style similar to those introduced in 1967—and the grille which it shared with the Duster. The grille consisted of black horizontal bars with a raised center section. On this section was a Plymouth emblem. Next to the headlights were prominent rectangular parking lights.
Although the Duster’s body appeared to be a hardtop, its rear windows did not roll down but could be flipped out from the rear. The door glass was frameless, as on a hardtop, and came without vent windows. Its taillights were two pairs of frameless ovals sunk into the rear panel. Decals and a cartoon character carried the Duster’s identity. Optional stripes could be applied between the taillights.
The Duster 340 was a true mini muscle car. Powered by the potent 340 engine, the high-performance model came with a new heavy-duty three-speed floor shift or optional four-speed manual or automatic transmissions as well as disc brakes and wide tires on Chrysler’s new rally wheels. It was a full $600 cheaper that the 340 ’Cuda and, given its lighter weight, more potent. Many buyers snapped up the bargain.
The Duster 340 used the ’67-69 Barracuda dash with integral tachometer. The other Dusters and the sedan continued with the Valiant dash.
The standard six was increased to 198 cubic inches which brought its horsepower rating up to 125. The 225 six and 318 V8 continued in the Valiant lineup. The 340 engine could be ordered only with the entire Duster 340 package.
The standard three-speed manual transmission continued with a column shift lever. The new all-synchro three-speed, which was standard with the 340 and optional with all other engines, had a floor shift.
A Spring special model was the Gold Duster, which included, as standard, a number of otherwise optional equipment, such as wheel covers and whitewall tires. True to its name, it was identified by gold colored stripes on the front and rear and special “Gold Duster“ decals. It also featured an argent grille surround that would become standard the following year.
Nearly three out of every four Valiants sold was a Duster. With production at 323,501, Valiant accounted for nearly half of the total sales of all Plymouths.
The only visible change to the Valiant sedan and standard Duster coupe was the deletion of the Plymouth emblem from the grille center. However, sharing the showroom was new Valiant, the largest yet. Actually, the car was a carryover 111-inch wheelbase Dodge Dart hardtop body with Valiant front sheet metal and interior appointments. Dubbed the Scamp, it was the result of an inter-division exchange Dodge which had been given the Duster body to create its new Demon coupe.
The Scamp’s taillights were mounted in the bumper as were the Dart’s but were single rectangular units rather than the dual lights found on the Dodge.
The Duster 340 received a bolder look with its own grille, a vast series of narrow vertical ovals that stretched from headlight to headlight and appeared to be made of cast aluminum although it was really plastic. For those who wanted to advertise, there was an optional flat-black hood with huge 340 numerals angled on one side.
For those who just wanted the look of muscle, the Twister package was introduced. It featured numerous Duster 340 appearance items plus some tape stripes and fake hood scoops of its own, yet it was powered by either a slant six or 318 V8 engine.
Valiant’s total production dropped slightly to 296,081, two-thirds of which were Dusters. The sedan and Scamp split the remaining 90,000.
Narrower but wider taillights were installed on the 1972 Duster coupes. Above was a slightly modified deck lid featuring a raised center ridge. The new deck lid was actually a running change instituted late during the 1971 model year.
The only other Duster changes occurred when the rear side marker lights were moved higher on the quarter panel and cast Duster nameplates replaced the decals behind the front wheels.
The Twister package continued and the Gold Duster returned after a year’s hiatus.
While the 225 and 318 engines remained unchanged, emissions requirements caused the 198’s net horsepower to fall to 100 and the 340’s to drop to 240, the latter because of a reduction in compression from 10.3:1 to 8.5:1. For this year only, the 340 could now be installed in any Duster, Scamp, or even Valiant sedan.
A 1972 Scamp can be identified by the “Scamp” decal above the Plymouth nameplate on the lower right trunk edge. The sedan remained unchanged.
Total Valiant production increased to 348,843 for 1972. A reported 2,001 Duster hardtops (roll-down rear windows?) were built for either the Canadian or overseas markets.
A significant frontal change brought a new appearance to 1973 Valiants. A new hood was matched by the wide raised center section of a new three-segment grille flanked by squared headlight bezels. Below was a massive bumper with large rubber guards designed to meet more stringent protection requirements.
Large single-unit tail lamps were shaped to flow with the Duster’s rear sheet metal. The other Valiants remained unchanged from the rear.
In addition to the returning Twister and Gold Duster were the new Space Duster and the Special Coupe packages. The former resumed the old Barracuda concept of a folding rear seat and fully carpeted trunk and cargo space that could extend to 6.5 feet. A sliding sun roof was optionally available for the car. The Special Coupe was intended to be a luxury Duster. Pleated vinyl seats, a full vinyl roof, and vinyl-insert side trim enhanced the upscale package which also included the Spacemaker Pak created for the Space Duster.
The 340 returned as the engine exclusive to the Duster 340. The standard six for all other models was the 198, reduced, again, to 95 horsepower. The 225 six and 318 V8 continued as the other available engines.
Helped in large part by the 1973 gasoline shortage crisis, Valiant production rose to 402,805, approximately 265,000 of which were Dusters. Another 2,614 hardtops were reportedly built for Canada.
Since Plymouth had enjoyed success since 1971 using the Dodge Dart body for its Scamp hardtop, the division decided to appropriate the Dart sedan body as well. Its 111-inch wheelbase provided greater interior and trunk room. Buyers approved of the move, purchasing more than twice the number of Valiant four-door sedans as in 1973.
The flagship among the sedans was the Valiant Brougham, a mid-year addition to both the sedan and hardtop lines. It featured crushed velour upholstery and many other luxury interior appointments. Color keyed or simulated wire wheel covers were offered. Vinyl roofs, chrome grilles, and stand-up hood ornaments were standard equipment.
Government bumper protection requirements forced the abandonment of the Scamp’s (and Dart’s) taillight-bumper combo. New strip taillights were installed above the bumpers of the Scamp and the “new” sedan.
Government requirements also dictated rubber bumper guards on the rear of the Duster coupes. Otherwise, save for tape stripe treatments, the Duster remained unchanged.
The Gold Duster, Space Duster, and Twister packages continued.
The 340 engine—devoid, because of emission requirements, of its former powerful glory—was dropped in favor of a 360-cubic-inch version of the same block. Its horsepower was set at a net 245, just five more than the 340 it replaced. Though potent enough in a light-bodied car, the 360 just was not a high-performance engine like the 340.
Valiant production shot up to 470,817, thanks to continuing gasoline crisis concern and Plymouths efforts to provide variety to the expanding compact car market. One of every four compact cars sold in the U.S. during 1974 was a Valiant.
Valiant entered its final two years with a new fine-mesh grille for all its models. The Brougham sedan offered even more luxury. A new Valiant Custom sedan offered a trim level between the Brougham and the base sedan.
Radial tires, a Fuel Pacer system, tighter torque converter, and lower gear ratios helped increase the fuel economy of the unchanged engine lineup.
Dusters got more luxury appointments with full-length rocker and taillight panel moldings on the Gold Duster and new Duster Custom Coupe.
Valiant spent its final year sharing the showroom with its replacement, the Volare. Plymouth was following an industry trend to give a totally redesigned car a new name. Thus the popular Valiant came to the end of its road.
Although reduced in selection variety, the Duster lineup featured a couple new packages: the Silver Duster and the Feather Duster. The former, which replaced the Gold Duster, featured unique red-and-black tape stripes that followed the lower-body character line to set off its silver paint. It was available in optional Boca Raton cloth and vinyl upholstery.
The lightweight economy Feather Duster featured aluminum parts such as the engine intake manifold and inner fender and hood brace parts. About 22% of 1976 Dusters were so equipped and identified by “Feather Duster” lettering on the front fender.
Although the Volare was a much fresher design than the decade-old Valiant, it was unable to earn the reputation for reliability the Valiant enjoys to this day. Twenty years after its demise, Valiants were just beginning to disappear from common view on the roads.
This book is reprinted with the permission and cooperation of Jim Benjaminson, who holds the copyright to the text and to his photos. Also see his book Plymouth 1946-1959.
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