based on articles by Jim Benjaminson
In 1928, T.J. Richards & Sons started building touring bodies for Chrysler chassis, imported from the United States. “T.J.” himself was Tobias John Martin Richards, born in 1850; his company ended up with two sites, both carrying three full shifts working six-day weeks. In 1934, a production line boosted production; by 1936, they had achieved 88 cars per day.
In 1935, T.J. Richards was building all the Chrysler brands as well as bodies for Studebaker. In this same year, the four-cylinder Dodge DM, a Plymouth-based Dodge, was exported from North America.
Managing director Claude Richards saw the bodies Chrysler was using in the US, and replaced most of the coaches’ woodwork with steel. The “Chrysler Hell Drivers” were able to put on their usual performance using T.J. Richards bodies, replacing the glass with US specification safety glass. In 1937, T.J. Richards launched Australia’s first all-steel body.
The company’s name changed “Chrysler-Dodge-DeSoto Distributors,” possibly just before it was retooled for the war. In 1951, Chrysler Corporation bought a controlling interest and renamed it to Chrysler Australia, Ltd.
There were other companies building bodies for Chrysler chassis in Australia, notably Melbourne Body and Lane’s; what happened to these companies is unknown. Lane’s Motors appears to have been the sole agent for selling Chrysler, Plymouth, and Morris in one region.
(Riverina is a region of the state of Victoria, Australia.) Jim Benjaminson photos courtesy of the Plymouth Bulletin
In the mid-1950s, Chrysler Australia was producing Plymouths and Dodge Kingsway/DeSoto Diplomat clones locally. In 1955 they imported 20 new Belvederes, but sales were not strong; the cars were likely too large for the market.
Chrysler Australia appears to have continued with the 1954 models through early 1957, when they were superceded by the Australia-exclusive Chrysler Royal AP1 (“Australian Production 1”), a restyled 1954 Plymouth using a 1956 Plymouth-like front clip and tail section, later including the Canadian 313 V8. Right hand drive versions of current American cars did not return until 1958 and 1959, when small numbers of Belvedere four door hardtops, Coronet four door sedans, and Firesweep four door sedans were brought over in small numbers; one 1959 Firesweep got blown up in one of the Mad Max movies.
First part by David Hoffman; based on articles and brochures sent by Brendan Lepschi and by Mike Sealey’s original article (following).
Chrysler Australia’s share of auto sales dropped to a mere 5% in 1955; Ford and Holden were much quicker to take advantage of the post-war market. There were not enough funds to produce the brand new ’57s sold in the States, though this may have been a good thing in the long run.
To bring their cars up to date without a complete retooling, Chrysler Australia made some fairly radical changes to its old bodies. The original plan included three separate lines, all based on the original 1953 Plymouth with an added enlarged curved rear window. A last minute decision by Chief Engineer Roy Rainsford called off the threesome and combined elements from each of them into the new “Chrysler Royal,” the name of a popular Chrysler model going back to the thirties. To the company, it was the AP1.
“Australia’s Car of Distinction” was introduced in February 1957. The styling themes of the 1954-56 US Plymouths and DeSotos were integrated, carrying the “Forward Look,” Chrysler’s motto in the mid-fifties. From the rear, the Royal resembled a 1956 Plymouth, with long, sharp tailfins (Plymouth’s first) and thin vertical taillights. The side trim was similar to that on the 1956 DeSoto with almost the entire lower rear quarter and a thinning sweep-spear pointing to the front end painted in a contrasting color. An egg-crate grille was topped by a large hood ornament. The new Chrysler logo (two overlayed boomerangs, most likely representing their rocket business) was included on the hubcaps.
Chrysler boasted that its car was first to bring to the Australian market power brakes, automatic overdrive, full-time power steering, and Powerflite automatic transmissions activated by pushbuttons. The interior was trimmed in vinyl with seating for four to six. The dashboard was made up with circular dials.
At first, the car came equipped with Chrysler’s reliable six-cylinder engine (230 cubic inches, 115 hp with manual transmissions, 251 cubic inches, 117 hp with Powerflite). Later, the 313 cubic inch V-8 was imported from the Canadian subsidiary. Although this 220-hp engine was ordered on less than 500 Royals during that first model year, it eventually powered almost half the output.
At £2071, it was £1 more than an automatic Ford Customline and £4 more than a Chevrolet.
The 1959 Royal (the AP2) entered the market towards the end of 1958, bearing perhaps its most controversial styling change. The DeSoto-like side trim of the AP1 was dropped in favor of a chrome-surrounded spear similar to the “Sportone” 1957 American Plymouth Fury. However, sitting atop the high fins were yet another set of fins, inspired by those adorning the 1957-59 Dodges (and 1958 Packards). The appearance of these fins were a matter of contention even within Chrysler Australia’s styling department. A compromise made them “optional,” but it is doubtful any left the factory doors without them.
Other cosmetic changes included a new horizontal bar grille in the form of a loop enclosing the parking lights on either end, and, on the V-8s, a chrome "V" on the grille. (The sixes and V8 also differed in that the bigger engines had more elaborate trim.)
Features of this car, according to the brochure, included two-cylinder hydraulic brakes with optional power boost; full time power steering; a 35-cubic-foot trunk; dual sealed-beam headlights; non-glare dashboard; modern pull-out door handles; controlled ventilation; sway bar; sway-resistant non-parallel rear springs; tapered roller bearings in the rear axle; synchronized suspension springs; wraparound rear window; automatic overdrive; suspended pedals; and screened cowl vent, a feature that Chrysler would forget about for some years.
The Plainsman added a full width tailgate that doubled as a loading platform, and a completely flat floor level even with the rear seat folded down. The cargo bay was 50 inches long, but with the rear seat folded and the tailgate down, that would become 95 inches.
Sales dropped to 4404 AP2s from the AP1’s 4748. The car got what many believe was its best looking facelift.
The AP3 Royal was released in 1960. The car shifted gracefully from the more moderate tail fin extensions to a vertically stacked quad headlight system up front, a design not to appear on American Chryslers until 1961. The rear end took the taillight display from the 1956-59 US DeSoto, three round lenses going down the edges of the high tail fins. Chrome side trim was borrowed from the DeSoto, a broad check mark filled in with a contrasting color on the luxury V8s.
The Royals had three lamps stacked one on another in the rear of the fins - the top and bottom were tail-lamps, the top doubled as a brake light, and the middle was amber and acted as both a turn signal and a backup light!
Inside was a new ribbon-type speedometer sitting atop rectangular instruments. As the 3-speed Torqueflite transmission had replace the 2-speed Powerflite, there were now five buttons spread out to the right of the speedo. Under the hood, the 250-c.i.d. Six and the 313-c.i.d. V8 remained the same.
To jump-start sales, they even lowered the prices. The new Royal was reduced to £1667 for the manual 6 to £1967 for the Torqueflite V8. Sales rebounded slightly to 4444.
The AP3 remained unchanged until well into 1964, when it was finally dropped.
During this period, Chrysler marketed two more utilitarian models, the Plainsman Station Wagon and the Wayfarer; both were Royal sedans in the forward portion, with different roof, glass treatment and side panels behind. The Wayfarer had a carrying capacity of 1/2-ton. Special versions were sold as ambulances and hearses.
There were several commercial versions of the Plainsman. There was a “panel van” which was essentially the Plainsman without external door handles on the rear doors (these don’t seem to have been popular), but hearses were simply standard Plainsmans with the rear seats removed.
Ambulances had specially built bodies and were not converted from Plainsmans as far as we know. A few custom built hearses (similar to ambulance bodies) also exist in the AP3 series.
The Wayfarer was an early example of the popular “utes,” coupe/pickup combinations now seen everywhere in Australia. Both models are extremely rare; just 224 Plainsmans and 1,205 Wayfarers were sold between 1958 and 1960. The Plainsman was made in both AP1 and AP2 series, while the Wayfarer was made in the AP2 and AP3 series. 1961 saw the demise of the Plainsman and by 1963, only the 4-door V-8 remained.
In 1960, Chrysler Australia introduced the Dodge Phoenix — a Plymouth with Dodge’s branding, which in 1962 sold 42 more than the Royal’s 669, even though the Dodge cost more. The Vedette and Aronde, products of the newly acquired French concern Simca, were also added. What really saved Chrysler, however, was the introduction of the Valiant.
Original Royal, Plainsman, Wayfarer, and Phoenix article with Royal review
Hey Charger! the book | Reviews of Australian Valiants | Australia’s Chief Engineer
The Valiant remains prominent in Australian motoring history, with their unique engines and bodies. The triple-carburetor Australian Hemi Six engine easily outdistanced many V8s and helped Valiant Charger to become the fast accelerating production car made in Australia (until 1998).
In January 1962, Chrysler created the R, a locally-assembled version of the Plymouth Valiant. The 225 (3.7 liter) slant six put out about twice the horsepower (145 vs 75) as the popular Holden, and had a push-button Torqueflite automatic or a three-on-the-floor manual transmission. It passed the quarter mile in 19.5 seconds, and cost just 10% more than the much slower Holden. 1,009 R series Valiants were made, slightly more than the goal.
The Valiant S series took over one or two months later, with a larger gas tank, better braking, lower maintenance, and a three on the column manual transmission replacing the balky console shift (the pushbutton automatic continued). 10,009 S Series Valiant cars were made, with local assembly from largely American components. Cosmetic differences included a finer mesh grille, neater tail lights beneath the fin, and a Valiant logo replacing the dummy spare. Demand was high, and Chrysler decided to expand local production to 50,000 units per year.
The AP5 (Australian Production 5) cars took over in 1963; a new Regal version added some luxury. It had a different body shell than the American Valiants, and higher quality upholstery. Wheels had double-sided safety rims; self-adjusting brakes had twin servos and a total 154 square inches of effective area.
The AP5 used the Holley 1920 carburetor and an automatic choke (used in its American counterparts, along with the BBD) with electrical components from local suppliers. The AP5 cars and later Australian Valiants were also sold in New Zealand and South Africa. A wagon was also launched, though they couldn’t build enough Valiant AP5 cars to meet demand, with sales of 49,440 in 22 months.
The new AP6 (1965) was a facelift, with a three section grille and new rear end, and “Diamonite” acrylic lacquer paint. The TorqueFlite automatic was now column-shifted; and the carburetor went back to the Carter BBD, due to the Holley’s problems with surge and low mileage.
Valiant’s speed advantage was evaporating, so the American 273 V-8 was added to the AP6 Regal. It had a top speed of 107 mph, and a 17 second quarter mile time. Its performance dominated the market, even with the smooth, reliable three-speed TorqueFlite automatic. In addition, Chrysler brought out a two-barrel, 160 bhp “Super Six” as a $60 option on all Valiants. They V-8 later became an option ($210 plus disc brakes) at all price levels. Prices now ran from $2500 to $3650.
Around 2,000 slant-six Valiant Utilitys (“utes”) were built, many used by farmers and as work vehicles. Chrysler took over Rootes Australia in 1965, including its plants in Melbourne.
The AP6 was superseded by the VC series in 1966; within Chrysler, the VC was called AP7. The Valiant VC cars shared the same structure as the AP6, but added a new nose and tail to give the impression of a much longer car.
The three-speed manual transmission was now fully synchronized in every forward gear. The alternator, still a relatively new innovation, was now standard (it had been standard in the US since Valiant’s launch).
The VC brought two new cars: the first long wheelbase option for the Valiant, and the Safari wagon.
The Safari had 105 inches of space from the tailgate to the back of the front seats (84 inches with the tailgate closed), with less than one inch of extra total length. The rear seats had a one-step fold-down operation.
A 1966 Wheels article considered Valiant to be “a biggish car,” saying that the average driver with an automatic would get around 21 mpg. “The Chrysler Torqueflite transmission is one of the smoothest and trouble-free units in the world, even when compared to Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royce.”
All Valiants came with electric windshield wipers, a windshield washer (foot operated), dual sun visors with a visor vanity mirror, armrests on all doors, coat hooks, cigar lighter, front-door operated dome light, turn signals and reverse lights, and seat belt anchorage points for the optional seat belts.
In 1967, Chrysler opened a new engine plant in Lonsdale, and hit third place in national sales with over 13% market share, similar to its position in the United States but with fewer carlines. An average of 95% of each car was locally produced, and the company was sending cars to South Africa and other countries, becoming the second largest vehicle exporter in the nation.
The Valiant VE cars appeared in 1967 and were sold through 1968, based on the new American 1967 A body (Plymouth Valiant midsections with Dodge Dart style front and its own tail). The cars had a uniquely Australian roofline; it was more squarish in shape than the past Valiants, and between the more conventional styling and two-inch longer wheelbase (to 108”), had greater interior space. Numerous mechanical improvements were made, including dual-line brakes and standard front lap belts.
The VIP was created to fill the extended wheelbase luxury sedan market; the name derived from an upmarket full-size American Plymouth. The VIP’s wheelbase was initially unchanged (108") but was later extended to 112" and the styling made more distinctive (quad headlights, standard vinyl roof, frenched rear screen).
The VE was a critical and sales success; it was given Wheels’ Car of the Year award, and sold 68,688 units during its run.
The VF was introduced in March 1969, continuing the middle section but taking new front and rear styling. A new Regal 770 was slotted in just under the VIP model, which was pushed upwards. The padded instrument panel was now joined by an energy absorbing steering column.
The 273 engine was replaced by its close relative, the LA 318 (an increased-displacement version of the same engine), increasing power to 150 net horsepower (230 gross hp); with a weight gain, it ended up being only a little faster.
A new hardtop coupe used the Valiant front end on the US Dodge Dart body (it used the latter’s longer 111" wheelbase and had the just detectable kinked body crease at the hipline). The VF hardtop was the longest two-door car ever made in Australia. It had the same front clip as the VF Valiants, and the standard engine was the 160 hp Super Six.
In mid-1969, Chrysler brought out the sporty Valiant Pacer, with the 160 hp Super Six, beefed up suspension, floor-mounted four-speed, snarly exhaust, and built-in tachometer. It used a red and black grille with special body stripes, decals, colors, and faux-alloy wheels to establish itself. As with the American Road Runner, the interior had sports features but conserved on comfort items, with high-back bucket seats and black-on-white gauges and an “afterthought” tachometer.
The Pacer cost less than competing cars, but had a high top speed, a 125-mm lowered suspension, standard front sway bar, and optional Sure-Grip differential; it had standard drum brakes, with optional front discs. It was lauded by the critics, and Modern Motor recorded 0-60 mph in 10.4 seconds, with a 17.5 second quarter mile at 106 mph — while getting 23 Imperial mpg (around 18.4 US mpg).
The new Pacer and VF Hardtop brought Valiant car sales to a new record, with 42,654 sold (around 2/3 of Chrysler’s sales) and a stunning $7 million net profit; the Pacer grabbed 11% of all Valiant sales. Chrysler market share in Australia actually topped its share in the U.S., at 13.7%. Overall, 52,944 VF Valiants were sold.
New for 1970, the Valiant VG series coupled minor cosmetic changes with the first true Chrysler Australia engine.
Australian Hemi Six Engines Page
Work on the Hemi engine had started in 1966, using an approach opposite from the past: instead of starting with something heavy duty and lightening as needed, they started with a light structure and beefed it up. The engines were the 215, 245, and 265; the 265 used the same pistons as the 318 to save money.
The VG could now run the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds; the Pacer, with a four-barrel carb, could do it in under 16. Still, sales were slow, possibly due to the conservative body.
Around 200 VG hardtops came with the buttress-like sail panel extensions shown in the South American Charger article. These were known as “Mexicanas” in Australia.
Long wheelbase models in the VH, VJ, and VK series were known as CH, CJ, and CK, and were called “Chrysler by Chrysler,” loaded up with luxury items unusual in Australian-made cars. They resembled elongated Valiants and replaced the Dodge Phoenix; they tended to be fitted out with power seats and windows.
Chrysler sold a Mitsubishi Galant with a Valiant badge in 1971; it sold well compared with the less reliable Simca and Rootes/Hillman cars.
The new VH was introduced in 1971, a joint United States / Australia engineering project; all interior design was done in Australia. Though only slightly longer than the VG, the VH was five inches wider. Like the American “E” body, it mixed Valiant and Belvedere body attributes. Mike Stacey told Hey Charger author Gavin Farmer that it was “virtually an 111 inch wheelbase American B body,” while Burton Bouwkamp told us that it was an enlarged A-body incorporating B-body designs. Chrysler Australia produced all the tooling in-house.
The Australian Valiant was created by and for Australians, albeit from American basic designs; engineering the new lineup cost $22 million.
The VH Pacer had a higher performance 265, and set a record for being the fastest mass-produced four-door sedan produced in Australia (the record was undisputed until 1988). The key to its success, other than a well-designed and well-made engine, was the addition of triple Weber side-draft carburetors, tuned by Weber and Chrysler engineers in Italy.
Chrysler Australia leader David Brown’s method for telling the Valiant’s performance story was a new car, the Charger. The Pacer was not making the desired impression; Brown, in a story detailed by Gavin Farmer in Hey Charger!, discussed the problem with chief engineer Walt McPherson; the idea of the Charger came from that. (See valiant.org for the full story.) The Charger was built on a shorter wheelbase, with a clean, sporty look; it was 130 kg lighter than any Valiant sedan, but it still had room for five.
A $2800 base model led to high production runs, lowering the cost of the sportier models. The stock Charger XL came with a 245 six-pack; the base Charger came with a 215. The R/T came with a 265 Hemi. Finally, the Charger 770 added some luxury touches, and had either the stock 265 or a smoother 318 V-8. Torsion bar suspensions provided good handling.
The 1971 Charger was based on the Valiant VH, with a small V-8 or the “ordinary” 265 Hemi (203 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, making it competitive with V-8s). The high-performance Hemi was reserved for the Pacer — for now.
The Charger R/T had a 3.23 differential rather than the 2.92 standard in other Chargers; six-inch rims; a front anti-roll bar; a tach; and an oil pressure gauge. Stock, it could run a 15.7 second quarter mile. Optional was the “six-pack” package, using three two-barrel Webers to put the 265 up to 248 hp (30 hp more than the standard R/T 265).
The final option was the E38 engine, with a higher compression ratio, different gear ratios, and 280 hp (gross) - about 80 hp more than the standard 265! This brought the quarter mile down to 14.8 seconds, with a single gear change. Zero to sixty (mph; about 100 km/h) was 6.3 seconds. Performance was about the same as Ford’s 351 V-8 Falcon GTHO. Handling was “exceptional,” possibly due to the light engine. Racer Leo Geoghegan noted that the Charger E49 R/T handled well on the track, straight off the assembly line, while most cars needed a great deal of tuning. Just 1,300 were made.
The 1972 E49 Charger was another significant move forward, and not just because it was the first to get a four-speed manual gearbox (from Borg-Warner). The E49 pushed the 265 engine to a full 302 hp, and had the quickest acceleration of any Australian production car - 14.4 seconds in the quarter mile, six seconds and change 0-60, respectable even when compared to American big-blocks or 1990s sport compacts.
Sports Car World tested the E49 and archived 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds (faster than a 2006 Dodge Charger Hemi), and 0-100 in 14.1 seconds. [Thanks to Hey Charger! for these figures.]
The 340 V-8 was Chrysler’s last high-performance V-8 for cars of this era. It became a VH Charger option in late 1972; but it was used, like previous V-8s, mainly as a status feature. It was only available in the Charger 770 E55, a full-luxury version of the Charger. With an automatic, its performance was better than the manual XA GT Falcon. Zero to sixty (mph) was 7.2 seconds, and the quarter mile was an impressive 15.5; top speed was over 200 km/h. The camshaft was nonperformance (the same as that of the 318) and the exhaust was restrictive; it was capable of more, but that role was given to the 265 Hemi.
Reviewed: the ultimate Chrysler Valiant Charger book, Hey Charger!
The Chrysler Centura was a Simca imported from France to Australia in the early 1970s. Chrysler Australia fitted the Simca with their Hemi six and a locally made four-speed Borg-Warner gearbox, tailshaft, and differential; they also sold a 2.0 liter, four cylinder version with a French differential. The light weight of the car, coupled with the strong six-cylinder engine, resulted in good straight-line performance. Even the base engine was an overhead cam model with a crossflow head, topped by a two-barrel Weber carburetor with a water controlled choke and thermatic fan.
Todd Motors assembled Chrysler products, including the Hillman Hunter, Avenger, and Alpine, in New Zealand — but these were not imported to nearby Australia.
Getting very little attention from writers, but quite a bit from buyers, were the Dodge trucks sold in Australia through these years. As in the United States, they ran a full range; unlike the United States, their range included trucks made in the United Kingdom, where Chrysler had purchased the Commer truck business. There must have been some local assembly and customization, especially since they used the local 245 six-cylinders in trucks — engines never used in North America.
Commercial truck ranges most likely included variants of the American D-series pickups, as well as the Commer SpaceVan, Dodge 50, Dodge 100, Dodge 500, Karrier, and other “Kew Dodges.”
The VJ and VK Chargers continued with the same powertrains. The Valiant VJ spawned a new model, the Ranger.
In 1976 the CL Series of Valiants was launched; the long wheelbase Chrysler by Chrysler was dropped.
The CL series introduced the first Valiant “Panel Van” model, looking like a Utility with a roof. Sports versions of the Panel Van and Utility were offered during the panel van craze of the late 1970s, known as the “Drifter.” Drifters were fitted with a Charger honeycomb grille, wide side stripes, blackout treatment around the side windows, and styled steel wheels. Drifter Panel Vans are fairly common, but apparently less than ten Drifter Utilities were actually produced, and are now quite rare.
The CL series Charger disappeared in 1978, and the last sports model Valiant was the CM series Valiant GLX. By this time, Mitsubishi Australia was half owners of the Valiant factory, and Valiant compliance plates were starting to have “Mitsubishi” printed on them, and referring to the “Chrysler” name as being used “under license from Chrysler America.” The writing was clearly on the wall.
The GLX had a substantially upgraded “Radial Tuned Suspension.” Allegedly, a Valiant was shipped to America to have the suspension tuned further, and it was returned with Chrysler stating that the Valiant had better handling than any large car they had produced. The GLX was also fitted with a 4 speed floor shift Borg Warner gearbox, and the Electronic Lean Burn (ELB) 4.3 Litre Hemi 6 cylinder; this combination was in the right hands able to achieve fuel economy of over 30 miles per gallon (Imp.). The GLX can be identified by a black stripe down the side (similar to the "Drifter"-style stripe) that ends at a "GLX" badge on the rear C-pillar.
Later cars were designed to look bigger than they were, with dual headlights and imposing grilles; but buyers in Australia and the United States alike now wanted large interiors with small exteriors. There were quality problems each time a model was introduced, and racing support was minimal. The Charger had died in 1978 as part of the “muscle car scare,” and with it went much of the Valiant’s sales along with all of Chrysler’s home-grown production performance.
The Sigma, a Mitsubishi with a Chrysler badge, sold well but did not help the local plant. There was some talk in the late 1970s of bringing K-cars (Reliant/Aries) into Australia, but it never happened. The last Valiant, the CN, also never saw production.
Mitsubishi took over Chrysler Australia in 1980, buying 99% of the equity in the company. The name Chrysler was dropped in October 1980; the last Valiant was produced in August 1981, bringing the total to 565,338.
When Valiant production ceased, ex-Chrysler Australia engineers concentrated on designing the Mitsubishi Magna. Rather than working out ways of reducing the size American cars to fit Australian tastes, in the case of the Magna, they widened a front wheel drive Sigma, to give it the interior room that Australians wanted, and created a success story that was adopted by Mitsubishi head office in Japan. The new car was exported around the world as the Diamante.
See the original article and these links:
Chrysler eventually returned to Australia, selling versions of the standard product line; the company re-introduced the Dodge brand, as well, after many years. Distribution was switched to Daimler control after 1998, and to Fiat control after 2008. Sales in Australia remain small. In October 2013, the company was selling the 300 Limited for AUS$43,000, “drive away.”
The SRT8 Core, a reduced-price car, was launched in Australia in early 2013 and later brought to the United States. The 300 series was the only Chrysler sold in Australia for 2013, but it was joined by Dodge Journey (and only Journey), and the full Jeep line — Patriot, Compass, Grand Cherokee (starting at $45,000; and including SRT8), Wrangler/Wrangler Unlimited, and (new) Cherokee.
Though Dodge Journey was sold in Australia in 2013, Fiat Freemont was also sold there — essentially the same car. Other Fiats in the country were 500, 500C, 500 Abarth, Panda, and Punto. Alfa Romeo sold Giulietta, Mito, and 4C.
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