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Chrysler Valiant CL Panel Van, Drifter and LeBaron

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Chrysler

Chrysler Valiant CL Drifter

1976 - 1978
Country:
Australia
Engine:
Hemi 6 & V8
Capacity:
245ci/265ci Hemi / 318ci V8
Power:
152kW Hemi 265
Transmission:
3/4 spd. man / 3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
109 mph / 175 km/h (V8)
Number Built:
n/a
Collectability:
5 star
Chrysler Valiant CL Drifter
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5

Introduction



The model range of the CL was certainly nowhere near the heady days of the VH series, when 56 different model variants were available. In fact, there had been a continued rationalisation of the model line up, and the CL Series was no exception, that number dwindling to only seven. Even the brilliant Chargers had fallen from favour, sales of the powerful steed once counting for over 50% of Valiant sales, this number had dwindled to just over 8 %.

The development then of an entirely new model seemed at odds with the conservative approach being taken by Chrysler. Nevertheless the company embarked on a research and development plan for the production of a panel van. Indeed panel vans had become increasing popular throughout the early 1970’s, both for trade and recreational use. The reasons were many and varied, lower sales tax applicable on vehicles deemed to be “commercial”, and when decked out with mattress in the back few doubted the intentions of the owners to be “on the job” every Saturday night.

When the Chrysler Panel Van hit the market, panel van sales had reached a staggering 18.5% of the total commercial vehicle market share. Powered by the 4 litre 245 Hemi low compression engine mated to a three-speed column shift manual transmission, it was possible to option it up to suit your needs. The standard equipment list included electronic ignition, dual headlights, dual-rate rear springs, front anti-roll bar and power assisted 280mm (11 inch) disc brakes at the front.

Rear entry and egress was made via a two piece tailgate, the upper gate being supported by gas filled struts. For the youth market, Chrysler released the “Sports Pack” and “Drifter Pack”, both designed to take on the likes of the Holden Sandman and Ford Surferoo. The sports pack came fitted with the Charger grille, quartz halogen high beam headlights and a three-spoke sports steering wheel. The Drifter was released a few weeks after the sports pack, and became an overnight cult classic.

The Drifters bold exterior paint and decal treatment was in tune with the fashion of the day, the colour combinations consisting of Impact Orange, Alpine White and Lemon Twist. It naturally featured all the trimmings of the Sports Pack, but came standard with the 4.3 litre Hemi 265 engine mated to a four speed floor mounted manual transmission, along with radial ply tyres, styled wheels and colour-coded  bumpers.

The Drifter Utility



Chrysler were quick to also offer the Drifter Pack in utility form, such as Holden were offering with their Sandman. The base Valiant panel van was priced from $5308, the Sports Pack from $5663 while the Drifter cost $6307. Despite a concerted marketing campaign designed to make the Drifter look the coolest of the Panel Vans around, it remained a sales disappointment for Chrysler. In 1977 Chrysler Australia were to announce a staggering $28 million loss; it seemed hard times had also hit the mightiest of the Big Three, with Holden also posting a loss for the first time since the introduction of the 48/215, however their loss was contained to a more manageable $8.4 million.

But Chrysler were far from ready to throw in the towel, and continued their push to improve all elements of the CL so that it could keep pace with Holden and Ford. The biggest improvement of that time had come from the General, with their Radial Tuned Suspension. Claimed to be vastly superior to the competition (and it was), Chrysler set about a full reworking of the Valiant’s suspension.

The Chrysler handling Package



The Chrysler “Handling Package” would beat Ford to market by a couple of weeks, and while arguably not quite the match of RTS is came mighty close. Engineers managed to give the car a firmer, flatter ride while improving high speed cornering, directional stability and steering precision. Other minor improvements included lowering the steering wheel position. The geometry of the rear suspension was completely redesigned, the addition of positive castor and negative camber to the front wheels also helping improve the overall handling qualities. The anti-roll bar diameter was increased, larger diameter rear springs fitted, low-friction interleaf liners along with isolating clamps and deeper, softer rear bump rubbers. The revised suspension layout received critical acclaim from motoring journalists of the day; while obviously a catch up attempt to counter RTS, it could stand alone on its own merits as providing the Valiant vastly improved roadholding – and nobody argued.

Electronic Lean Burn System



Also announced with the later CL models rolling off the production line was the introduction of “ELB”, Chryslers new Electronic Lean Burn system. At first available on the 5.2 litre 318 V8, the computer controlled engine management system afforded the big V8 fuel savings in the magnitude of 15%. This system comprised an analog spark control computer located in the engine compartment and a new, more efficient carburettor. Devised by Chrysler Corporation in the US (the system having been fitted to US Chryslers for about a year), ELB was claimed to incorporate technology developed during the Corporations participation in the US space program.

The ELB system was modified to suit Australian conditions, including adoption for use on the Hemi engines. In April 1978 Chrysler announced both the suspension modifications and engine management system changes were to be fitted to their new Chrysler Le Baron luxury model. This new derivative had even more standard equipment than the Regal, and came at a $619 saving! The Le Baron was finished in lovely silver duco with matching silver vinyl roof. Fitted as standard with the 4.3 litre 265 Hemi engine featuring ELB, among the other standard fare fitted to the Le Baron included improved power steering, cast-alloy wheels, steel belted radials, a tinted laminated windscreen, tinted side and rear glass, a console shift automatic transmission and bumper overriders front and rear.

Le Baron, A Sell Out



A limited production run of 400 Le Barons was announced at a price of $8998, and all sold extremely quickly. Bouyed by the success of the Le Baron, Chrysler again turned their attention to the flagging Charger, deciding to give the car a “Drifter” style makeover. Only 75 of these now highly collectable Chargers were made; the colour choice was restricted to three, white, orange and yellow. Fitted with the 5.2 litre ELB V8, you also got as standard equipment a push-button radio, bumper overriders and “Boca Raron” cloth upholstery.

The price was an extremely modest $7764. This last run of Charger Drifters exhausted the stocks of Charger panels, and the model discontinued shortly after. The Charger had enjoyed a production run of just on 7 years, and was undeniably a great success story of the Australian motoring industry in the 1970’s.
Valiant CL Drifter

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Also see:


Valiant CL Specifications
Chrysler Valiant History
Reader Reviews page 1 of 1
Click here to add your review
chargerdan
Posted 896 days ago
hi Robi:-)
as an avid chrysler enthusiast..and have owned 13 valiants in my 30 years.
would love to see any photogrraphs if you have any from the factory:-D
i am enthraled in every aspect of chrysler australia limited history..and live if it on a daily basis mopar or no car!:-)
i would like to tell you about my latest barn find in my quest in saving the valiants out here in rural nsw, and it would be great is you could help me find out more information on the cars history as it is an oddball to say the least...
1975 VK Dodge Utility
acid green
E44 318 optioned on compliance and C16 column auto.
aparently the previous owner said the ute eas a prototype showroom vehicle..and was one of 2 built in grean and one of 13 v8 vk dodge utes in the whole utility vk range...if you could shed some light on this vehicle because in black and white no v8 vk dodge utes ever existed.
chargerdan340@yahoo *** ***
craig gray
Posted 1087 days ago
i have had mine about 15 years now and also will keep it and pass it onto the kids.had a couple more valiants a 75 charger 318 and a VJ regal.
i love it and it gets plenty of attention where ever i go,i took out the steering box and replaced it with a rack and pinion set up ,now she doesn`t drive like a boat,all shae needs now is some disc brakes on the back.
blair sauer
Posted 1163 days ago
nice van but ugly colours.
Rees
Posted 1371 days ago
I have owned many valiant models over my life. All V8s bar 2. My favourites were a 4 speed manual Arctic white drifter ute, An impact orange auto drifter ute with every option available at the time, and a Lime-lite VJ E55 Charger. All my friends were Ford or Holden or Chev.
I still own a VK Charger that was built for Club Car racing, specifically Group 2E, Super Street Sedan. I am at the start of a restoration to bring the car back on the road and looking forward to the day I can fire it up and go for a drive. Robi I clearly remember that picture of you. I hope you do write your book.
chris
Posted 1555 days ago
ive got a drifter panelvan very hard to find took about two years had it for eight years will keep it forever.
Robi
Posted 1667 days ago
If you go back to the 'Wheels' & 'Modern Motor' circa 1978 where the press release of the Le Baron model incorporating the handling package & the ELB system, I'm the hairy bearded bloke pointing at the underside of a Valiant on a hoist, the project engineer responsible for the handling package. So I speak with some knowledge of the topic when I say it's a pleasure to read a review that touches all the facts so faithfully. One day I may write the story of the whole team of car guys that made these things happen, and the senior managers that were brave enough to let them do it, and even join in the fun at the race track.
Rob
Posted 1751 days ago
my daughter has one - top sin-bin. she paid $10,000AUS. Goes and runs well. good for another 200,00k
Ray
Posted 1878 days ago
Glenn,
I would also love to know, as I have one in my backyard
Glenn
Posted 1889 days ago
Nice! It still looks good even today. You dont see many of these around today. I'd be curious how much they are worth.
 
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