by Jim Benjaminson - part of the Illustrated Plymouth & DeSoto Buyer’s Guide
Chrysler was late getting into the compact market. Perhaps the market’s rejection of their “smaller on the outside, bigger on the inside” marketing strategy a decade earlier in favor of “bigger is better” left Chrysler wary of jumping back in the smaller car wars. But the ever-increasing popularity of the European imports and the domestic Rambler drove General Motors and Ford to plan models of their own.
Still, Chrysler dawdled. Ford and GM were well on their way of designing their compacts when Chrysler finally entered the fray.
To make up for lost time, Chrysler’s compact became one of the first automobiles to be designed with the aid of computer simulation, however primitive it was compared to 1990s technology.
Originally to be called Falcon after a Chrysler dream car, the proposed compact had to be renamed when Ford registered the same name for its compact. Eventually, “Valiant” was chosen.
Ford had chosen thoroughly American styling and engineering for its Falcon. Chevrolet enveloped the European-style rear-engine chassis of its Corvair with fairly conventional domestic styling while Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner incorporated European styling for the Valiant’s relatively conventional chassis.
Most of the styling cues favored by Exner appeared on the Valiant: radiator-sized grille opening, headlight shapes flowing back onto the fender sides, full wheel openings, and a spare-tire stamping on a semi-fastback deck lid.
The Valiant also featured quad headlights, a rounded six-window greenhouse and cat-eye taillights that capped canted mini-fins. It was Chrysler’s first car in six years not to be blatantly finned.
In dimensions, it was slightly larger and heavier than it competition and its new six-cylinder engine was a bit more powerful.
Chrysler’s first new six-cylinder engine since 1931 was canted 30 degrees to the right to aid hood clearance and, as a bonus, create room for a mini ram-effect intake manifold. With 170 cubic inches, it was given a 101-bhp rating. The Slant Six, as it quickly became known, proved to be an extremely reliable power plant that would remain in production more than a quarter century.
Traditional Chrysler torsion bars and rear leaf springs suspended the 106.5-inch-wheelbase, unibody chassis. Pushbuttons, another Chrysler tradition, controlled a version of the Torqueflite automatic transmission called the 904. Especially designed for the Slant Six, it was the first with an aluminum case. A three-speed manual transmission, with a floor shift, was standard.
Two model series were offered, the base V100 and the slightly upscale V200. The latter was identified by thin bright trim that followed the edge of the rear fenders and the lower-door character lines. Wheel covers were unavailable but trim rings could be ordered to supplement the small hubcaps on the 13-inch wheels.
The V200 interiors featured color-keyed cloth and vinyl upholstery with matching carpet. Gray upholstery and black rubber mats were installed in V100 cars.
At mid-year, a station wagon was introduced. Featuring six-window styling to utilize the sedan doors, it had a tailgate with a roll-down window and spare tire well beneath a flat floor. For its inaugural season only, Valiant’s wagon was available in a three-seat as well as a two-seat configuration.
Another mid-year addition was the Hyper-Pak for the new slant six engine. Designed specifically for racing applications, it consisted of a long, tuned, ram-intake manifold with a four-barrel carburetor and cast-iron dual exhaust manifolds. The package increased the 170 horsepower to 148 bhp but racing mechanics were able to raise it as high as 185 with domed pistons and a high-lift cam. Led by Lee Petty, the seven Valiants entered placed 1-7 in the inaugural NASCAR Compact Division race. When Valiant similarly dominated the 1961 race, the series was cancelled.
Unlike its competitors, the Valiant was an independent marque in the Chrysler corporate lineup. Although built in a Dodge plant, Valiant was sold exclusively by Plymouth dealers in the United States. In Canada it was sold at both Dodge and Plymouth dealerships.
Total U.S. production was 253,432.
Valiant became a Plymouth model in 1961, identified as such only by a diminutive “By Plymouth” plate under the Valiant script on the trunk lid. In Canada, it continued as an independent make with the plate reading “By Chrysler” instead.
Primary news for the model year was the introduction of two-door models. The V100 two-door was a sedan with framed glass. The V200 version was a hardtop. Both continued the four door’s six-window styling with fixed quarter windows.
The grille was restyled into an egg-crate design with the use of flat-black paint. The side trim was redesigned into a single spear on the door character line of V200 models. Bright trim also swept back, following the upper front fender flare onto the front door where a Valiant medallion was mounted. Full wheel covers were available for the first time.
Supplementing the 170 engine was the optional 225 Slant Six introduced as a mid-year option. Called the Super 225, the 145-bhp powerplant was borrowed from the full-size Plymouth line. An aluminum-block version of this engine was also available. However, quality-control problems led to most being replaced by cast-iron engines. An aluminum-engined Valiant is a rare find today.
Production, in the United States, dropped to 143,078.
For its third season, Valiant’s sheet metal remained unchanged except for the deletion of the spare-tire stamping on the deck lid. The grille opening was outlined with a heavier chrome frame with valiant stamped onto the upper edge. A new finely textured grille of horizontal strips filled the cavity. The hood latch which previously had been the emblem in the center of the grille, became a chrome lever centered beneath the upper grille frame.
The taillights were changed to round units mounted below the now capped-off fins. The lower body side trim on the V200 models was a wide molding featuring three rectangular “ventriport” markings just ahead of the rear wheels. A Spring two-tone option featured a contrasting color beneath this molding and back onto the rear fender. Also on V200 models only was a large circular Valiant nameplate that somewhat compensated for the lack of a spare tire impression.
The instrument panel was redesigned. Manual transmission cars lost their floor shifters in favor of Chrysler’s new concentric steering column shifter.
A new sub-series was the sporty Signet 200. The two-door hardtop featured bucket seats and unique outside markings. A large circular Valiant medallion was mounted in the center of the blacked out grille. The headlight frames received a similar treatment. The upper fender flare was highlighted by a color-filled trim spear. The lower body and rear fender character lines were left unadorned to lend a sporty flavor to the car.
To preserve the uniqueness of the Signet, the standard V200 two-door was changed from a hardtop to a pillared sedan. Neither of Valiant’s primary competitors, Falcon and Corvair, had hardtop models.
Production rose slightly to 157,294.
Valiant’s first major restyle brought it a more conventional appearance. Although designer Virgil Exner had departed the company by the time of the car’s introduction, it did bear some of his styling cues. The grille remained a radiator-shaped entity, but it was widened to stretch to the new single-unit headlights. The headlight shape continued to flow onto the fenders just below another of Exner’s favored cues: the hairpin. A bent ridge was stamped into the upper edge of the fender to provide some character to an otherwise rather plain design.
The rear of the car was to bear a rounded, sloping appearance not unlike the 1996 Mercury Sable. Elwood Engel, Exner’s successor, muted the design by squaring off the rear quarter panels with vestigial fins. Horizontal strip taillights were mounted below these “fins.” Similarly squared off were the previously fully radiused rear wheel openings. An unbroken molding—an Engel trademark—ran along the upper beltline from front to back on V200 models.
Although its wheelbase was reduced a half inch to 106 inches, the ’63 Valiant’s overall length was increased by two inches. Mechanically, the car was virtually unchanged from 1962.
A convertible was added to the Valiant lineup for the first time. In the V200 series it featured a bench front seat. A bucket-seat version joined the Signet 200 hardtop. All convertible tops were manually operated although there are reports of power lift mechanisms being installed by the end of the model year.
Again the hardtop was a Signet exclusive. The Signet grille was blacked out, as were its wheel cover centers. A mid-year Signet hardtop offering was an optional vinyl covered roof, the first on any Plymouth.
Chrysler Canada modified its Valiant by using the new Dodge Dart 111-inch-wheelbase body to which Valiant front fenders, hood, and grille were added. Other Valiant trim was used as were the Valiant dash and other interior appointments. Since it was sold by both Plymouth and Dodge dealers, the Valiant remained an independent Chrysler make in Canada.
Reflecting the popularity of its new styling, Valiant’s production jumped to 225,156 in the United States.
For a restyle that was only in its second year, the 1964 Valiant offered numerous changes. Exner’s radiator-shaped grille disappeared in favor of a fully horizontal unit. A raised center section created a tri-segmented grille that, in one way or another, would be a Valiant trademark for the rest of its existence. Centering the grille was a round inset Valiant emblem. The leading edge of the hood was redesigned to match the raised middle grille section.
The side edges of the sedan and hardtop roofs received a beveled crease. Each mini fin received a vertical tail light with small square back up lenses at the base.
Inside, the heater controls were moved from a panel below the dash to its upper center. The plastic instrument surround was also slightly modified.
A new Chrysler-built, Hurst-shifted, four-speed transmission could be ordered installed in any Valiant. By December, Valiant’s first V8 engine was being sold as an option, and Plymouth advertised it as the lowest-priced V8 in America.
Although the new engine owed its heritage to the 318 V8, it was essentially a new design with thin-wall casting which made it 55 pounds lighter than the 318. This first of Chrysler’s LA engine series—which was still in production in the late 1990s—had a 273-cubic-inch displacement and produced 180 bhp. Cars in which it was installed were identified by a V8 emblem located at the open end of the fender hairpin stamping.
On April 1, a sporty Valiant with a fastback roofline was introduced to the public. Called “Barracuda,” was a Valiant with a roof dominated by a huge 14.4-square-foot hand-formed rear window. The deck lid was unique to the car. A carpeted trunk space could be opened to a large cargo area beneath the rear glass. This area could be expanded even further by lowering the rear seat back, station-wagon style, making a sporty car very practical.
The Barracuda was further identified by a special three-piece grille. The center section was painted body color while the side sections were blacked out with single bars extending inward to parking lights styled like driving lamps. The fenders bore hairpin stampings that were narrower than those on the regular Valiants. The V8 emblem, on cars so equipped, were mounted just behind the headlights.
Standard wheel covers were regular Valiant items with simulated knock-off hubs added. Optional were wheel covers styled with a mag wheel appearance through which real chrome lug nuts protruded.
Mechanically the Barracuda was no different from any other Valiant.
Although it was introduced just before Ford’s Mustang, the Barracuda wasn’t intended to be a Mustang competitor but simply a sporty Valiant.
A 1964-½ Barracuda can be differentiated from the ’65s by its pushbutton controls if it has an automatic transmission and by the Valiant script under the right corner of the deck lid.
American combined Valiant/Barracuda production of 251,028 nearly matched Valiant’s first-year record.
Chrysler Canada continued the practice of mounting a Valiant front clip on a Dart body and selling it as Valiant at both Dodge and Plymouth dealers. The 273 V8 wasn’t available in Canadian Valiants until 1965. The Barracuda, however, was introduced approximately the same time as it was south of the border. Since it, like the Valiant, was sold as an independent make, the Plymouth name did not appear on the car. The block letters on the trunk read Valiant instead of Plymouth.
In the third year of its styling cycle, the ’65 Valiant sported a new stamped grille and fenders that appeared on the 1964-½ Barracuda. The Barracuda’s round back-up lenses also were installed on all Valiants.
The Barracuda was unchanged except for the deletion of the Valiant script that had appeared under the lower deck lid corner. Although it still bore a Valiant medallion, the Barracuda was being divorced from Valiant identity and soon would be known simply as the Plymouth Barracuda. Optional racing stripes were also made available.
Between the bucket seats, a mini console with an automatic shift lever could be installed. Other automatic transmission cars bore a column shifter since all Chrysler products had abandoned pushbutton controls.
New to the engine lineup was a the Commando 273. With 10.5:1 compression and a four-barrel carburetor, it produced 235 horsepower. Since the Valiant chassis wasn’t designed for dual exhausts, a single exhaust system was installed. It ended with a large square-tipped resonator which produced more noise than most dual systems.
Although available on all Barracudas and V200 Valiants, the Commando 273 was found primarily in Barracudas with the Formula S package. In addition to the engine, the package included heavy-duty suspension parts and extra-wide rims on which were mounted Goodyear Blue Streak tires. (14-inch wheels became a mid-year option on V8 cars.) Formula S medallions replaced the usual V8 emblems just behind the headlights.
U.S. Valiant/Barracuda production dropped back to 231,749.
Chrysler Canada offered two distinct Valiant lines in 1965. The V200, including Signet, was the complete Dodge Dart body but with Valiant nameplates, wheel covers, and interior. The V100 line was the complete U.S. Valiant body. The Custom 100 was the same as the U.S. V200. Both lines, along with the Valiant-badged Barracuda, were sold by Dodge and Plymouth dealers.
In the final year of its styling cycle, the Valiant received significant one-year-only styling changes. Displaying Engel’s influence, the fenders, quarter panels, deck lid, and roof pillars were all squared-off. Massive bumpers eliminated the need of under-bumper pans. All Valiants received a Barracuda-style painted grille center section. The side sections contained fine mesh on the Valiants; cast-aluminum-appearing egg-crate stampings on the Barracudas. The Barracudas lost their driving lamp style parking lights.
The Barracuda was further distanced from Valiant as it received new medallions bearing a fish-likeness to replace the familiar Valiant emblem in the grille and under the rear window. However, the Barracuda had to share Valiant’s vertical tail lights which bore large rectangular reflectors with small square back-up lenses mounted underneath.
Unlike the other Valiants, the lower-production station wagon remained unchanged behind the cowl.
Argent paint treatment was available for the lower body panels on Signet models. Lacquered belt-line pin stripes were standard on Barracudas; redesigned racing stripes could be applied. Fender-mounted turn signal indicators were standard on Barracudas, optional on other Valiants.
A redesigned instrument panel contained two large nacelles. The left contained the speedometer. On manual-transmission Barracudas, an optional tachometer was mounted in the right nacelle; or a vacuum gauge in automatic transmission cars. Between new thin-shell bucket seats a full-length console could be installed from which protruded a Hurst four-speed shifter or an automatic selector, depending on how the car was equipped.
The engine lineup remained the same this year but the Commando 273 could be installed in any Valiant except the station wagon. Identifying V8-equipped cars was a small rectangular plate mounted low behind the front wheels.
Production in the U.S. dropped further to 176,166.
Chrysler Canada returned to a single Valiant body for 1966. A complete Dodge Dart body was given Valiant identification and sold as such. This was Valiant’s final year as an independent make in Canada. The Barracuda was just that—Barracuda. No Valiant or Plymouth scripts appeared anywhere on the car.
Valiant’s third and final complete restyle (and redesign) came this year. Fully the product of Engel’s design philosophy, it bore a tasteful blend of squared-off lines and beveled edges. The styling, surprisingly formal for a low-priced compact car, led some to dub the new Valiant a “mini Mercedes.”
The wheelbase of the revised car was increased to 108 inches, and the width was increased. Although unchanged in length, the new Valiant was one inch taller than its predecessors. This Valiant was the first compact to have curved side glass. It had a split grille divided by a body-color panel bearing a filigreed Plymouth emblem. Its taillights were vertical items that curved onto the fender tops.
The model lineup was significantly changed. The slow-selling station wagon was dropped; the hardtop and convertible were shifted to the expanded line of the redesigned Barracuda.
The V200 was dropped as a model line but retained as a decor option for the V100. The V100 and Signet lines each had a two and a four-door sedan. The former was a bare-bones economy car; the latter dressed up with bright window surrounds, rain gutters, and lower trunk, rocker, and wheel-lip moldings as well as interior dress-up items. The Signet sedans could be ordered with either a bench or bucket front seats.
The 200 decor option offered colors and upholstery midway between the two lines and was identified by full-length bright side moldings and a nameplate with “Valiant two hundred” fully spelled out.
The 170 engine was given the 225’s camshaft to increase its horsepower to 115. The 225 engine was standard for the Signet line but the 170 could be ordered as a delete option. Both 273 V8s were available in all Valiants. The four-speed manual transmission was now available only with V8 engines.
Introduced on November 25, 1966, was a new Barracuda. It was specifically designed from the ground up as a sporty car rather than as a revamped Valiant. Featuring curved and flowing lines, it was quite in contrast to Engel’s general preference for more angular styling.
Barracuda’s usual driving lamp-style parking lights returned to the split grille. Taillights were set in the ends of a concave rear panel. The gas cap was a racing-style flip-open unit.
It shared the 108-inch wheelbase of Valiant but was 4.4 inches longer.
No longer an exclusively fastback line, the ’67 Barracuda picked the hardtop and convertible dropped by the Valiant.
The fastback, called the Sport Barracuda, remained the flagship of the Barracuda lineup. Its rear window, much smaller than that which made previous Barracudas famous, fit the body lines in a very natural manner. As before, its rear seat and trunk divider panel could be folded down to provide a large uninterrupted storage area.
The two-door hardtop had an unique concave rear glass and a sedan-type deck lid, a first for Barracuda. The convertible was basically a reinforced hardtop body with a choice of manual or power tops.
Dominating attention in the engine lineup was a B-block 383. Due to space limitations, it could not be ordered with air conditioning or power steering. Also, redesigned exhaust manifolds cut its horsepower to 280, 45 less than the four-barrel 383s in larger Plymouths. The standard engine for Barracuda was the 225 six. The base V8 was the 180-bhp 273. The Commando 273 continued. Although the new Barracuda chassis was designed for dual exhausts—as used on the 383 engine—the Commando 273 carried on with its single exhaust, square resonator system.
The Formula S option continued as a sports suspension and instrumentation package. It was identified by the usual circular medallions mounted low, behind the front wheels.
A slight drop in production led to a total of 171,503.
New in 1967, the Valiant and Barracuda lines had minimal changes for 1968.
The new Valiant could be identified by a narrower separation piece between the split grilles which featured a slightly changed mesh texture. The taillights were changed to three-segmented units with the lower segment housing back-up lights. Some of the exterior bright trim, such as the Signet trunk molding and the 200 decor option side trim (which featured an indented red stripe), were changed. The hood bulges had insert panels that identified the high-performance engines, if the car was so equipped.
The Commando 273 was discontinued (replaced by the 340 in the Barracuda line). In compensation, the 273-base V8 was upped to 190 horsepower, and the 230-bhp 318 from the larger Plymouth lines became Valiant’s most powerful engine.
Like all other makes, all Valiant and Barracuda cars featured mandated side marker lights, four-way flashers, and dual brake systems.
Barracuda exterior changes were limited to grille, taillight, body stripe, and trim changes. The former consisted of inserts of finely spaced convex vertical bars. The taillight and back-up lights were reversed. However when tail, brake, or turn-signal lights were activated, the white back-up lenses glowed red to compensate for the overly small red lenses.
The hardtop’s concave rear glass was abandoned after one year in favor of a more conventional window that was straight from top to bottom.
The standard V8 for Barracuda became the 318. Replacing the Commando 273 was the new 340, a high-revving small-block engine of underestimated 274 bhp that would gain legendary status during its five-year lifespan. For 1968 only, the four-speed manual transmission 340 had a hotter cam than the engine installed in Torqueflite-equipped cars.
New heads and a redesigned intake manifold combined to increase the 383’s horsepower to 300. Ordering either the 340 or 383 engine automatically got you the Formula S package.
For racing applications only, a 426 Hemi-equipped Barracuda could be ordered from your local dealer. In addition to a special drag-racing chassis, the cars featured fiberglass front fenders and a hood with a large scoop. These cars quickly became dominant at sanctioned drag strips.
Another decrease in production: 156,207.
A minor sheet metal change, in the form of a new hood, greeted the ’69 Valiant buyer. A new one-piece horizontal grille was set, with parking lights at the ends, in a dished satin-finished panel that included the headlights.
A Plymouth “rocket ship” emblem was mounted in the center of the Signet grille but not those of the 100 or 200 decor option cars. The taillights returned to a single lens unit similar to those of 1967 but with flat lenses that did not curve onto the fender tops.
Mechanically, the Valiant was essentially unchanged from the previous year.
The Barracuda, too, had a new hood, which necessitated a change in the grille surround cap. The split grille shapes were slightly changed and filled with a mesh pattern similar to that of 1967. The taillights also returned to a configuration similar to that of ’67 but with larger red lenses. The rear cove insert panel was wider and came with either flat black or brushed-aluminum finish.
New to the lineup were the ’Cuda 340 and ’Cuda 383. Officially named what many had commonly called the cars for years, the ’Cudas were intended to be no-frills muscle cars in the vein of the previous year’s hugely popular Road Runner. Either of the two performance engines was coupled with a standard four-speed manual transmission and the Formula S suspension package installed in a fastback body with a bench front seat and non-folding rear seat. Non-functional twin hood scoops and tape stripes were also a part of the ’Cuda package.
A more upscale were the 383-S and 340-S packages which included bucket seats and other more plush appointments such as map pockets and bright pedal trim. These cars were externally identified by a wide stripe that flowed through the left-side racing-style gas cap, extending from taillight to headlight. Just ahead of the doors, the numbers 383 or 340 appeared in the stripe, denoting the engine under the hood.
Initially, aluminum sport wheels were offered on Barracudas, as well as other Plymouths. Defects led to their early recall, and they were never replaced. The few that escaped recall are highly prized among collectors today.
A sign of the times was the Mod Top, a vinyl hardtop roof with a floral “flower power” pattern that could be combined with a similar floral-patterned vinyl upholstery. The fastback also got optional vinyl—a panel with painted sheet metal around the edges.
The engine lineup remained unchanged until mid-year. Then, a 375-bhp 440 engine was made optionally available in Barracudas. A “limited number” were installed. Actual production figures are unavailable.
Only 139,205 Valiants and Barracudas were produced, the lowest number ever. It was merely the calm before a Valiant sales storm.
Coming soon: good-bye Valiant Barracuda, hello Valiant Duster
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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