Chrysler Valiant VG Pacer
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
Chrysler brought out the sporty Pacer in 1969. Powered by a high-performance slant six, it featured a beefed up suspension
, floor-mounted four-speed, snarly exhaust
, and built-in tachometer. The slant six put out about 170-180 hp, and the quarter mile was about 17.8 seconds. The VF model Pacer was only available as a 4 door sedan coupled to a 3 speed manual floor shift.
The VG Pacer (1970) was the first model to offer a Pacer 2 door coupe (as pictured). The VG Pacer sedans were available as the standard Pacer (245 Hemi, 185 hp with 2 bbl), E31 Pacer (High Performance 250 version of the 245, with a 2 bbl carb, about 195 hp)and the E34 Pacer (Even higher ouput version of the 250 E31 engine with a 4 bbl carb, wilder camshaft, etc, around 235 hp).
Due to Chrysler Australia's policy of using only locally produced components, and the fact that no local manufacturer was producing a 4 speed gearbox, the Pacer was limited to a 3 speed floor shift manual gearbox. The Pacer got new power in 1970. Its new, Australian engine used hemispherical ("hemi") heads in a 245 cubic inch in-line six, a two-barrel carburettor, and a higher lift cam.
The Pacer, with a four-barrel carb, could do the quarter mile in under 16 seconds. A 1972 VH Pacer Sedan, with a manual 265 two barrel, originally sold for $3235. The engine ran 218 hp (163 kW) @ 4800 rpm, 273 lb-ft (370 Nm) @ 3000 rpm. Top speed 112mph (179km/h), 0-60 mph 7.6 sec, standing quarter 15.9 sec, weighing in at 3120 lb (1415 kg). The next year, the VH models came out.
The VH Pacer had a higher performance 265, and it set a record for being the fastest mass-produced four-door sedan with a six cylinder engine produced in Australia (the record was undisputed until 1988). The relatively inexpensive Pacer's 265 had 218 hp and 273 lb-ft, leading to a 15.9 second quarter mile, 8 second 0-100 km/h, and top speed of 185 km/h (with a three-speed).
Sheer Straight-Line Performance
For Chrysler enthusiasts the Hemi Pacer two-door should have been the most exciting Valiant to have ever been available in Australia. But would anyone know or understand its potential when you parked it in the driveway? To those that were not Chrysler die-hards, the Pacer offered none of the driving flair found in European coupes. To those that loved Australian cars, at least it was a local. But Australian muscle cars of that era required a certain pose value - and the Pacer lacked that to some extent.
Some paint schemes went a ways to fixing that of course, such as the red with black-keylined spoiler stripes and palamino trim. But other colour combinations were a little more subtle. What was important, colour choice aside, was that Chrysler Australia had produced a value-packed two-door with a cold, hard nature. And value-packed it was being priced at the time at A$3178 - there was then no other Australian car (other than its own 4-door brother) to touch the Hemi Pacer for sheer straight-line performance. The engine torque band stretched from around 1500 rpm to 4000 and between those figures the Hemi engine just got up and went making laughable the critics at the time that said the Pacer screamed for a four-speed box.
That's not to say there were not other cars in the price bracket at this time - for example we can think of the Mazda R100, Twin Cam Escort, Capri V6 and Torana GTR, but none of these could offer similar outright performance-for-dollars or "Bang-For-Your-Buck" value - and none could achieve it with the ease of the big four-litre Chrysler engine from the Lonsdale plant. Roy Rainsford and Roger Stapledon, senior Chrysler men behind the Hemi project, really had struck upon a winner for the versatility of the Hemi engine. So what did that A$3178 give you? A car which went like mad, had an easy-to-use three speed gearshift, good handling, heavy brakes, rakish if garish eye-appeal and comfortable accommodation for two. But we can think of many other cars in the desirability stakes which exuded more driver-appeal than the Pacer ó - the type of appeal which makes it hard to leave the cockpit.
Essentially the Pacer two-door was the now familiar VG Valiant Hemi engine and transmission grafted into a two-door hardtop body. It carried no modifications at all - and most of all, the hoped-for four-speed gearbox was missing. At the time Chrysler did not state the Pacer horsepower but on the basis of 165 bhp for the two-barrel carburettor hi-performance version of the 245 engine, 195 bhp seemed an expected output. And what a punch it packed. It was neither as smooth or quiet as the old 225 cu. in. long-stroke slant six engine but it rocketed the two-door, which was fractionally heavier than the four-door, over 440 yards in a shade over 16 seconds.
The Pacer would return around 17 mpg in most conditions - not much worse than the original automatic Valiants could produce. With only three ratios there was not much "cheating" available to save fuel as the "down-to-third" for corners technique as used in most sports cars of the time. Instead drivers would just lean on the strong torque for instant power. Top gear gave a fraction over 20 mph to every 1000 rpm on the rather low 3.23 to 1 diff ratio. This was used instead of the 2.92 diff for the standard cars, to keep those quarter times down. At the other end, 112 mph came up equal to the tacho's red line sector. That was a usable top speed, although the engine would start to sound busy much over 4000. Most people were left wondering what could have been with four speeds and a four barrel carb. It would likely have unleashed the ultimate performance potential from the Australian-produced four-litre engine.
Behind The Wheel
About the only criticism you could level at the Pacer's operation was the pedal location, gearshift and brakes. The clutch was too far to the left (a criticism of all preceding Valiants too), making it impossible to slide your foot between pedal and tunnel. That could lead to clutch riding. The shifter on a normal H-pattern could put a nasty dent on the nose of the guy behind if you were to forget there were only three up but regular Pacer operators would have had to get used to that. The downstroke from two to three could be impossible if the lever was not pulled slightly left. Otherwise the expectedly heavy shift was precise, quick and had unbeatable synchro.
Chrysler's first-with-unboosted-turbo-cooled-disc-brakes were not all that great given the performance potential of the car. Vigorous braking would make the Pacer become more and more reluctant to slow down, and by the time you had conjured up enough pedal pressure it could become very easy to lock a wheel unknowingly with consequent instability. The optional power-assisted brakes were a must, according to not only road testers, but owners of the time. The cut-price unassisted discs may have had a place on the lesser-performing Regal 165 bhp Valiants (where they were standard) but not the Pacer.
The Pacer On The Road
The two-door Pacer's forte was touring. The Pacer was capable of covering distance comfortably and quickly without drama. It responded well to using the wide top gear power to flatten hills or pull the Pacer quickly from slow corners without disturbing the passengers. Around town, the two-door body with its enormous "flight-decks" was not conducive to making the most of traffic situations or lane swapping. You tended to move in great bursts of acceleration in one gear rather like using one gear as a drive-range in semi-automatic gearboxes. First peaked at 45 mph and second 75. Rolling second gear starts were possible, and this technique took considerable load off the heavy left-hand muscle work.
The steering too was better geared to lazy highway work than rapid city manouveres. Four-point-five turns of lock would leave you with corkscrewed arms if you tried opposite lock power-sliding. But at least it was light, even when parking, and complemented the Pacer's excellent handling. The first cars to leave the production line were fitted with Australian made Olympic GT radials which favoured wear more than roadholding. Despite this the Pacer two-door could lap the Hardie Ferodo Pitt Town test track in an easy 54 seconds - which was equivalent to a "fast" standard Cooper S on good tyres. The Pacer would always lay flat through turns with an effortless, balanced feeling. You needed to be an external observer rather than driver to note the fast Valiant would understeer and oversteer simultaneously rather than handle neutrally! This was mainly caused by the alarming degree of negative camber the front wheel developed and a heavy overhang weight bias to "hang the tail". The overall result was, surprisingly, flat and quite stable.
On The Inside
Inside there was nothing to pick the two-door in trim over the four-door. The reclining, "semi-tombstone" seats were used, haircord carpets covered the floor and a heater/demister was standard. The rear passengers scored no more legroom than those in the standard and Regal model hardtops and that meant children only if you liked to have the driver's seat positioned as far back as possible. One strong attribute of the Valiant VG range
and evident on the two-door Pacer was the high standard of Chrysler finish. The Hemi Pacer two-door wore its "Clean Machine" slogan well for even in the boot surround seams there were no signs of caulking dags or slap-happy finish. All the paintwork, carpet seams and trim edging matched up with obvious attention to detail.
To complete the pillarless hardtop look, Chrysler accommodatingly made the seat belts convertible from three to two pointers. Whilst the latter may be less effective in an accident they at least pleases those who liked to combine looks and safety and also allowed much easier access to the rear seats. We doubt these would pass muster these days. Both rear quarter windows would wind-away flat. With a chrome bead frame and supple sealing rubber, water and dust penetration was considerably less than in the Holden Monaros
Whilst the combination of two-door hardtop body and Pacer mechanicals seemed to have no direct advantages over the four-door car, bar aesthetics, it did produce one practical drawback. The two-door Pacer would whack its exhaust pipe with a heart-rending grind on anything but the most gentle driveway incline. But that was a minor concession to make in a machine which offered such tremendous performance and stability for under A$3200. Today it is a genuine classic, and while most seek the Charger - the Pacer was very much a genuine Aussie muscle car and worth a look should anyone be silly enough to decide to sell theirs.