Chrysler VF Hardtop
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
FoMoCo started the ball rolling with the Falcon GT
, a hard-charging runner which immediately captured the imagination of the youth-market and, not by mere chance, also captured its fair share of competition success. Then in 1968
the General countered this move with the announcement of the Monaro – it did set the pace in looks, and, to a lesser extent, performance.
Obviously the die was cast for better looking, better performing, cars than the Australian public had been used to; Ford went pretty much for the performance bit with the GT remaining essentially Falcon in appearance while GM-H
tried to get the best of both worlds with two door fastback appearance and in the case of the GTS 327
, performance also.
At the time Chrysler was renowned for its conservative approach, with some considering the company was almost as conservative as BMC – but that was a little harsh. Then, in 1969
some rumours surfaced that Chrysler had some wondrous new beast on the stocks - 340 cubic inches, four on the floor, fastback styling - the lot. These rumours were given substance when, in the early part of 1969
, the Adelaide factory announced the new image Pacer - a 105 mph performer bedecked with stick on decals, speed stripes, rally seats and a three-at-the-knee gearshift.
Those in the know were convinced that the Pacer, while a very good car, was not Chrysler's final answer to the two door challenge. Many believed the company would look to its US parent for inspiration, and introduce the high-performance Barracuda, or at least an Australianised version. Then, in mid-July 1969
, the Bathurst 500
regulations were announced and were immediately followed by the withdrawal of all Chrysler support for the race.
This was in protest against being obliged to compete the six cylinder Pacer against the V8 opposition BUT it was also a pretty firm indication that Chrysler had no intentions of releasing a hard-charging V8 two door in the near future. It seemed the Barracuda rumour had no legs. At the time Chrysler were not convinced by the mantra “performance sells”, despite the Pacer success which had completely outstripped its original estimates.
Prestige over Performance
Instead, Chrysler opted for a prestige, not performance, two door. By "not performance" is meant not 130 mph type performance of the Falcon GT and GTS350 school of thought. But it was no sluggard. Why Chrysler elected to not join the performance market was something of a mystery; they already had a full line-up of prestigious machines and even the base Valiant was more a class car than the opposition.
But the Valiant two-door remained prestige all the way. Based on the Stateside Dodge Dart, the two door utilised VF
front panels but from the bulkhead back was strictly imported metal. Chrysler began with the importation of Dart panels – although they were intending to switch to local pressing if production volume had warranted it (we do not know if this ever occurred). The profile was distinctly American Dodge with a very slight hipline kicking up just to the rear of the door. Disappointingly, the range of engines at release was limited, embracing only the Valiant models and excluding the Pacer configuration. The base engine was the 225 ci six developing 145 bhp along with the 160 bhp version, and both engines were mated to an autotamic or column mounted three speed manual – and no floor shift.
In the V8 range there was only be the 318 ci unit with either console or column automatic
- no manual and again no "on the floor" change. From a head-on view the two-door was virtually indistinguishable from the Valiant range but side-on there was no mistaking the difference. Measuring an overall 16 ft. 3 inches, the car was three inches longer than the Valiant in body and, with a wheelbase of 111 inches, also three inches longer than the Valiant's 108 inches. Very wide doors opened onto either a split bench front seat in the base model or Regal buckets as optional equipment; leg and head room was adequate, not brilliant. The rear seat story was not quite so good with leg room considerably more limited. Headroom was quite good.
Somewhat strangely Chrysler decided to retain the normal Valiant fascia panel - a practical move as regards tooling, etc., but surprising in that a two-door buyer would have probably expected something a little different. The rear end styling was completely Dodge with small rectangular tail light inserts located on the outside edge of the rear guards for additional side warning. One of the more unusual features of the car was the curved, and concave, rear window which was something of a wrap-round in reverse - rear visibility was good but parking was not so easy given the lengthy boot had a considerable overhang.
Suspension and braking systems continued in line with the VF Valiant
, and the wheels and trims were also be duplicated on the two-door. In that regard, Chrysler’s two-door was a nice, tidy and very prestigious vehicle – but it was no Falcon GT or GTS350 opponent. Many lamented the fact that Chrysler did not fit a 383 cube engine, perhaps a 4 barrel carb, heavy duty suspension, dual exhausts
, wide wheels, and performance rear axle ratio. Whatever the case, Valiant fans were only forced to wait a little while longer, with the release of the VG Pacer Coupe
The Regal 770
At the time, Chrysler proclaimed: "...the new two-door hardtop names will follow their Valiant lineage rather than carry new model nomenclature." That meant the then new hardtop range consisted of Valiants, Regals and Regal 770s. Prices started at A$2898 for the Valiant two-door 160 hp manual and ran to A$3838 for the top-of-the-line Regal 770. And this model was brimming with prestige. To be honest, even die-hard Ford and Holden aficionados will admit that Chrysler had the wood on them in the luxury stakes, and the Regal 770 hardtop seemed to push the envelope even further. Better still, the 770 was one of the best looking cars then getting about (and to our eyes, even today, it still looks the goods).
As told above, the body-panelling from the firewall back was straight Dodge Dart. But that was not such a bad thing, as the Dart had clean lines, was attractive and remained uncluttered with chrome. Disappointingly the front grille was VF all the way - and the Regal 770 really should have had something better. At the rear a Dart tail-light arrangement differentiated it from the stock Val's, and from the side there was no chance of confusion. Entry was achieved via extremely wide doors (42-inch) which opened to an almost 90-degree angle, and a sensible thought was the placement of the door locking knob midway along the door rather than at the rear.
Seating in the Regal 770 was standard on individual buckets, buffalo grain vinyl with a centre console transmission selector between them. These seats hinged forward for rear seat access, that being a bench seat which provided comfortable accommodation. Rear leg-room, with the front seats on full rearward travel, was limited, but rear headroom, while not generous, was ample for most. The concave rear window treatment was unique on the local market and certainly added to the luxury appearance; it also added to the car's practicality as., unlike the Monaro
, which had very poor rear vision, Chrysler's two-door range had a wide angle of vision and all corners of the car could be sighted from the driver's seat.
Behind the Wheel
Considerable use of sound-deadening material was made, but the hardtop version was still a long way from being the ultimate in quietness; wind-noise around the windows was lacking, but road-noise was higher than in the four-door models. Several road testers from the era were also critical of the noise coming from the heater fan. We are not sure if this was common to all models, but more than one motoring journalist was to single it out as being almost unbearably noisy when at full tilt. But on the flip side, the air-conditioning
was class leading, featuring easily operated controls and great effectivenesss. The fascia panel was standard VF
however the Regal 770 featured a soft-grip leather covered steering wheel which was obviously much better than the stock uncovered wheel.
Early examples to roll of the production line did have some fit and finish issues, but as production got into full swing Chrysler quickly got this sorted. Still, if you were an early adopter, it was likely you would be looking at a fascia panel that was not a perfect fit, as were the carpets. The two-door was about 100 lbs. lighter than the VIP, and with its somewhat better aerodynamic
lines was a shade quicker than the four-door "prestige" vehicle all along the line.
On the Road
The 318 cubic inch engine was ample for fast motoring and, like the V.I.P., the two-door got down to the job with no fuss or fury. An initial amount of wheelspin was quickly transformed into acceleration and zero to 70 mph took a creditable 12.1 seconds. With a shift into top taking place at 78 mph, the 0 to 80 mph figure dragged out a bit, taking 16.2 seconds (against the V.I.P.'s 17.8) and 100 mph came up in 23.6 seconds. Top speed figures varied depending on which car review you read, suffice to say 103 mph was on the low side, and 110 mph on the high. Although identical in suspension
to that used in the four-door VF range, the ride of the two-door was considerably softer. There was none of the rather harsh torsion bar action and even when pushed quite hard over unsealed surfaces the tyres
remained in solid contact with the road and the passengers remained comfortably cushioned.
Regal's fitted with manual steering had 4.5 turns lock to lock and, while relatively heavy at parking speeds, this ratio was perfect when the car was moving. The brakes
were 11-inch discs up front with nine-inch drums at the rear, and were weil up to the car's performance. Although power assisted to the discs they did require a higher than anticipated pedal pressure; fade was almost nonexistent and panic stops were carried out in a straight line time after time. At the time many automotive observers felt Chrysler had, for years, engaged in a never-ending pursuit of the prestige market. Perhaps they were right, but which ever way you looked at it, the Chrysler line-up represented plain good value. There was performance to match the rest, and a supple ride to compliment the prestige persona. Good looking, reasonably hard performing, and value for money. And did we mention, very individual?