Article by David Zatz based on materials sent by...someone. Write to us if you sent us the literature!
Chrysler Corporation dominated the police car business throughout
the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, with U.S. market shares ranging from
45-60 percent. Details.
Oil crises - where gasoline was expensive and often not available - threatened the dominance of traditional squad cars, but automakers rose to the challenge. GM, Ford, AMC, and Chrysler all featured a smaller car with a bigger engine (or simply a more rugged body) to serve alongside the intermediate cars still favored by police. (Indeed, the first truly successful compact squad car would be the Dodge Diplomat / Plymouth Gran Fury starting in the 1980s.)
In most of the United States, the Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco (now downsized to the B body) were the standard police vehicles in the late 1970s, thanks to their surprisingly good cornering ability coupled with an exceptionally tough body and comfortable interior. But the Valiant did have a strong showing in some parts of the United States, and more so in Canada.
The Valiant police pursuit was new for 1976, and Plymouth boasted that the “compact 111 inch wheelbase and 199.6-inch overall length make it ideal for use in traffic and congested areas. Its tough Unibody construction and proven Electronic Ignition system offer the kind of dependable performance that's a must for police duty." Amusingly, the short wheelbase of the Valiant did not affect legroom, which was shown as being nearly identical to the 18-inch-longer Fury; the Fury had a much longer hood and trunk. But the narrow width of the Valiant reduced shoulder and hip room — though with four passengers, that was not an issue most of the time.
Unlike civilian Valiants, the pursuit version could actually be ordered with a 360 four-barrel V8 engine — which, given that the 318 was moderately hot in the light car, must have made it quite an exciting vehicle, especially given the police extras in the suspension, steering, and overall sturdiness departments. (A dual exhaust was standard on most, though the California emissions package limited it to a single exhaust.)
All V8 Valiant pursuit vehicles included a wide 70 series police special radial (with two plies of fabric cord and four full-width textile cord belts under the tread). They also came with a special handling package with . A calibrated speedometer ran up to 120 mph (standard cars had 100 mph speedometers), while the power steering had a firm-feel chuck and an oil cooler. The radiator was made larger (22" with slant six, 26" with V8), with a coolant reserve system, and heavy-duty brakes included front power discs with metallic linings and rear 10 x 2.5 inch drums with automatic adjusters. Interior trim was vinyl, in gold, green, or black, with heavy duty front cushion springs and air foam cushioning, and a full foam front seat-back.
Plymouth took their squads seriously in those days. The police models - Valiant, Fury, Gran Fury, and Chrysler - all featured added structural welds, a heavier duty alternator (100 amp in all but Valiant, which had 65 amp), heavy duty brakes, maximum capacity radiator with seven-blade fan and shroud, electronic ignition, grass shield for catalytic converters, dual horns, power steering pump cooler (on V8s), firm-feel police power steering chuck, the aforementioned heavy duty seats, heavy duty stop light switch, transmission oil cooler, and a special handling package with heavier duty sway bars, torsion bars, leaf springs (with lowered front eye attachment), upper control arm pivot reinforcement sleeves, and large 1 3/16" front and 1 3/8" rear shock absorbers. (The big Chrysler was an exception to this handling package).
The Valiant did lose out on some features. The 500 amp battery with long-life heat shield was reserved to the B and C cars; the auxiliary oil cooler was kept for 400 and 440 dual-exhaust engines; rear crossmember reinforcement (or extra welds) was likewise reserved for the bigger cars, along with a special heat reflective rubber splash shield and thermostatic ignition control valve.
Across the board options for 1976 included air conditioning, locking gas caps, tinted glass, and automatics with low-gear blockouts. Some items were special-order only for Valiants and Chryslers, including the remote trunk release, single keys for all locks, single keys for all cars in a fleet, radio suppression, roof reinforcement, screw-type stainless-steel hose clamps, and spotlights. Why? Who knows?
Again, Valiant missed out on some: the fast-idle throttle control with manual lock for quick getaways right remote mirror, automatic parking brake release (Fury didn't get it either), and auxiliary transmission oil cooler.
A large number of features were available as special orders, including paint, a siren bracket, instrument panel radio speaker, special spotlight bulbs, horn and siren switches on the steering wheel ring, additional dome lights, provisions for various types of radios, exhaust system bonding, added stop and turn lights on the shelf panel, extra holes for wiring, and special seats.
The pursuit package (code A38) included standard and optional wheels and tires depending on the application. 14 inch wheels were provided for Valiants regardless of engine, with the D78 size for slant sixes and ER70 size for any V8s. All other vehicles used 15 inch wheels, with GR70 standard on Fury and Gran Fury, HR70 on wagons (except Gran Fury wagons which got L78 and LR78 wheels and tires). Chrysler recommended that police only buy specially certified replacement tires for vehicles traveling over 100 mph; these were provided on the V8 sedans, and were optional on wagons and slant-six Valiants and Furys. Rear sway bars, not standard on all vehicles, were standard on all V8 police sedans, but Chrysler recommended that it be removed if bias-ply tires were used. (Rear sway bars were also part of the towing and radial-tire package for civilian cars.)
The recent trend towards reducing front and rear overhangs becomes obvious when one compares the 1976 Valiant to the 2006 Dodge Charger squad car: with 9 inches more wheelbase, the Charger has the same overall length! Just about all came out of the rear overhang, which was rather excessive in 1976 (partly a limitation of leaf-spring technology). The 2006 Charger rides about the same wheelbase as the old C-body Gran Fury, but is a whopping 22 inches shorter. The Charger is between the width of the Valiant and Fury, with about the same headroom, but even better legroom than the big Gran Fury, thanks to modern design efficiency - the engine bay is smaller, thanks mainly to the lack of a need to design for 440 cubic inch engines. The trend to thinner doors is also shown in the large shoulder room.
The B-body police cars for 1976 continued and started to gain in popularity due to fuel prices; they were the most popular solution for departments, a middle ground between the old full size cars (still available) and the rare compacts.
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) tested the 1976 Dodge Coronet (with a 440 V8) and found it to be comparable to the 1973-74 cars, and better than 1975. The top speed was 125 mph (after two miles from a standing start); the shorter wheelbase of the Coronet, four inches less than the 1975 Dodge Monaco, and a quicker steering ratio made the cars feel as though it had a light rear end, but in testing this was not an issue. The 6.75 inch ground clearnace was half an inch lower. Headroom was the same as the 1975 Monaco; legroom increased by an inch; both outside mirrors had remote controls; and the seats had more comfort, with the split allowing separate adjustments. The CHP bought 1,511 1976 Coronets, at $4,530 each — $282 less than the 1975 Monaco — and estimated an additional savings of half a million dollars in operating them.
A large number of engines were available in 1976...all the figures below are conservative net horsepower figures. Chrysler advertised that all the pursuit engines (360/four barrel, 400 four-barrel, and 440 four-barrel) had a double roller timing chain, hot-pressed valve springs, chrome-flashed exhaust valve stems with hardened tips, windage tray between crank and oil sump, molybdenum-filled top rings, and a shot-peened cast iron crankshaft. On the 440, special connecting rods, high-strength rocker arms, high-load valve springs, and heavy chrome oil ring rails were used. On the 360, silichrome-1 high temperature steel intake valves were used along with heavy chrome oil rings.
* Dual exhaust
I was pleased to see a posting for my
Pursuit Valiant on the Web. At many famous shows, Spring Fling being
one, the car generated absolutely no interest.
There are some real
differences between my car, a '76 valiant pursuit and the civilian
version. My car as weighed on an NHRA certified scale weighed 3680 lbs
with a virtually empty fuel tank. My civilian car, also a low price
class 4 dr only weighed 3350 and that was with approximately 1/4 tank
of fuel. Over the years I have documented notable differences in the
unibody structure when comparing the Pursuit to the civilian model.
Where the front frame rails attach to the underside of the floorpan at
the firewall area, my pursuit has extensive reinforcements. These
reinforcements are similar to those added to many "E" body convertible
cars with hemi engines and earlier "A" body cars with big blocks. While
similar, the reinforcements on my pursuit are more extensive and of
thicker sheet metal.
The rear sub frame area at the leaf spring
attachment points are also reinforced similar to the cars mentioned
above. My pursuit also uses thicker sheet metal for the outer skins of
the rocker panel areas. Finally the cross brace located behind the
vertical portion of the back seat is of thicker material than my
civilian model although the stamping looks identical to my civilian
I disagree with two statements in the pursuit narrative. First,
the E58 360 engine was absolutely available in all civilian cars if
ordered. Second, the rear sway bar was not included in the tow package
for civilian cars, regardless of what the factory literature might say.
The 1976 "A" body pursuits were the only "A" bodies ever available with
a factory rear sway bar.
In over twenty years of
buying/selling/reviving Valiant and Darts specifically I have only seen
five of these cars. Four of the five were seen at Pick-a-Part auto
salvage in Wilmington, CA. and were crushed. One was a SL6, three were
318 2bbl, and mine is a 360 HP. I have often believed that these cars
were built on a separate line. All of these cars had sequential build
numbers with the first four digits 1999... They also all shared a "G",
or St Louis factory code. I once inquired of Galen Govier at a spring
fling meet as to the existence/legitimacy of my car and its odd
sequential number and was summarily dismissed as a nut. At the time I
was saddened by his seemingly closed mindedness. Maybe I should have
told him it had a hemi?! I would certainly like to know if his records
cover this particular year. Given his acknowledged expertise, I'm
certain he could shed some light on this very unique mopar.
other owners out there have "A" body pursuit vehicles I would love to
start a registry.
I had the misfortune of watching many A38 Darts get demolished on The A-Team. ...
Back in the early 1990s I saw a Valiant A38 at Ecology in Santa Fe Springs. It had the "Certified" 120 mph speedo, and was at one time home to the "L" code 360 (E58); it also had California Emissions (N95) , but no signs of catalytic converters; no "unleaded fuel only" indications, either. The car had been badly modified and I wanted to buy and restore it, but couldn't raise the money. I wish to thank Steve for restoring his A38 Valiant, and I hope he brings it to Fall Fling. (I also had problems with Galen.)
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