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The Compact War: Valiant Racing

by Pete Hagenbuch, retired head of Chrysler engine tuning

In the 1960 model year, the Big Three automakers introduced their new compact cars. Ford's Falcon was pretty much a scaled down version of a big sedan, with no major new features. Chevrolet rolled out the Corvair; it had a six cylinder engine, as did the Falcon, but there the resemblance ended. The new Chevy engine was an aluminum air cooled, horizontally opposed six cylinder located behind the rear swing axle. In Europe the Chevy Corvair would have been just one more rear engine car, but not in the US. In fact, it was so different that it made an unknown consumer advocate named Ralph Nader into a household word. But that's another story.

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Chrysler's compact ran a little late for 1960 model introductions. The 1960 models at Chrysler were code-named P Series; because the Valiant was late, it was designated Q Series. Like the Falcon, the Q Car was not plowing new ground, except for the fact that it introduced a brand new six cylinder engine which became known and loved as the "Slant Six" because of its right-leaning block, which reposed at an angle of 30 degrees from vertical. Another difference was its displacement of 170, roughly 20% larger than its compact competitors. Another aspect of the 170 was to become common knowledge later on, that is its near-unbreakable nature.

Since the related 225 cubic inch RG (raised G) engine shared most components and dimensions, with its 4.125" stroke, a full inch more than the 170, it could be said that the 170 was somewhat over-designed. It was.

There was a lot of interest in the three new compacts in 1960. So much so that Bill France, the major-domo of NASCAR, scheduled races for them as part of "Speed Weeks" at his Daytona Super Speedway, which culminated in the crown jewel of NASCAR, the Daytona 500. The first race was on the 3.8 mile road racing course, followed an hour later by a 20 lap sprint on the high speed oval.

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CBS TV carried the road race live on national TV, sponsored in Detroit by Dick Shalla Chevrolet. Eight Valiants were entered, lead by driver Marvin Panch in a car sponsored by a Daytona Beach Chrysler-Plymouth dealer named W. Brewster Shaw. There were also Corvairs, Falcons, and a few imports.

Qualifying ended up with Panch in pole position and the other Valiants filling the front of the starting grid. After a couple of laps, it became clear that no other cars had much of a chance. The race was pretty much a procession of Valiants, which Mr. Panch led from start to finish. The first seven places were all taken by Valiants, while a Volvo driven by female journalist/race driver Denise McCluggage came home in 8th.

During the hour between races, Panch's mechanic, Red Vogt, switched his car to a lower numerical axle ratio, which gave him an edge in top speed on the oval. However, the crew was still completing the pit work when the flag fell. Marvin found himself in last place, one lap behind the field. There was much jousting for the lead among the Valiants with no others in contention. However, this was one of those days race drivers dream about, where everything they touch turns to gold. Richard Petty had one of them four years later on the same race course.

The four leading Valiants removed themselves from the race in a monster of a crash. The resulting yellow flag gave Panch the opportunity to rejoin the field, which he passed quickly once the green flag dropped. He was timed at better than 128 mph on the oval. He later was clocked on the beach, historic scene of many land speed records, at 117.187 mph for the two-way flying mile.

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The car which dominated at Daytona included the dealer-installed "Hyper Pack," which sold for a bit over $400, not exactly pocket change in 1960. It consisted of an aluminum intake manifold with long branches made possible by the slant of the Slant Six. The carburetor was a Carter AFB 4-bbl with the mechanical throttle linkage operating the secondary throttles. For racing there was a whole raft of stuff, mostly Mopar parts. The Marvin Panch car had 10.5:1 compression ratio pistons, a wild camshaft, inner and outer valve springs with surge dampers, an engine oil cooler, heavy-duty clutch, brakes, and shock absorbers. Larger diameter torsion bars and an extra leaf in each rear spring completed the suspension modifications.

The exhaust system on the winning car was fabricated of stainless steel tubing; the front three and the rear three cylinders were connected after about two feet of separate pipes to two collectors, each two feet long. These came together into a single 21/2" diameter exhaust pipe which ended ahead of the left rear wheel. I was not part of engine performance at that time so I don't have any insider data, but I can assure you of one thing; the advertised bhp of 148 was hugely understated.

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Two of my friends at Chrysler Engineering made a trip from Detroit to Chicago in a Hyper Pack equipped Valiant. On the way they hit a snow storm. As they drove through the storm the car began to lose power, going slower and slower until they had to pull off the road to see what was happening. When they raised the hood, they found the entire engine compartment was packed with snow. And when they excavated down to the carburetor, they found it and the intake manifold coated with ice. And, of course, ice was blocking airflow past the throttle blades. If you ever wondered why your car is equipped with a butterfly valve in the exhaust manifold, this is it. Such are the joys of owning a race car in snow country with no provision for carburetor heat.

Disclaimer: The foregoing is accurate to the best of my memory. I watched the telecast from beginning to end. A lot of my story is supported by two magazine articles: one from Sports Illustrated and the other from Sports Cars Illustrated.

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