Chrysler Valiant CL Panel Van, Drifter and LeBaron

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Chrysler Valiant CL Drifter


Chrysler Valiant CL Drifter

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


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 Colour Codes
Valiant Option Codes
Valiant CL Specifications
Chrysler Valiant History
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