Chrysler Valiant Charger E38
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
So what was so special about the E38 Charger?
Up front it was all VH Valiant, which helped to keep the costs down. The rear end treatment was an entirely different story, but it was not extrordinary nor revolutionary. The E38 ran on a 105-inch-wheelbase, and apart from the highly developed Hemi, the Charger featured power disc brakes
up front and drums at the rear, a 35-gallon tank, 3.23 or 3.5 final drive ratios, twin fuel fillers and 16.0: 1 steering. That was it, basically.
The E38 version came with 7 in. ROH mag wheels as a handling and
dress-up touch, and also a toss-pot (in our opinion) dealer-installed dummy bonnet scoop, which we think it would have been vastly better off without. The interior was exactly the same as the VH Valiant Pacer with the comfort pack option, except that there was less headroom in the rear due to the sloping roofline.
There was also slightly less legroom in the back due to the shorter wheelbase, but if you get the chance to sit in the back of one, we bet you'd never pick it. So there you have it. A VH Valiant slightly tricked up. Read no further - provided you are a Ford or Holden fanboy. Because the truth is the E38 was bloody brilliant - period.
Chrysler went to unbelievable lengths to tune the engine, the highly-developed 265 Hemi
being fed by triple dual-throat Webers - yet it remained surprisingly docile for such a highly tuned affair - it idled steadily at 1000 rpm. The gearchange was positive, if a little notchy, although the box remained as the three-speeder with no reverse lock-out.
Given the performance, the twin-plate clutch was heavy, but it was not as bad as you would expect. It was smooth, but had a very definite take-up point. However the most pleasing single improvement over the VH Valiant was in the steering. Gone was the traditional Valiant "wallowy" feel; in the E38 it was light and very direct, thanks to 16:1 steering
ratio (as opposed to 20:1 on the Valiants).
Steering So Much Better Than The Standard Vals
The slack that was apparent in the VH Valiant may have gone, but it still took four turns to pull it from lock to lock. The steering
still lacked a little feel - particularly compared to cars of today, but it was so much better than previous Valiants that nearly every road reviewer and car tester described it as a revelation.
Initial road testers likened the engine to the old Pacer unit - but that meant it was flexible and smooth and perfectly happy to glide along at 35 mph in top gear. Away from the confines of the city the E38 really came into its own. The compromise three-speed gearbox (before you write in to correct us - yes there was a a four-speed unit available from March 1972) was disguised by the engine's immense power and smooth torque. The engine ran smoothly at 1000 rpm, but it was not until 2500 rpm came up that the car really started to get up and go, and it would then run to 6000 rpm - 1000 rpm beyond the redline but absolutely safe according to Chrysler enthusiasts we have spoken with.
The E38 was accompanied by an excellent little booklet "Hemi/Weber Six Pack", and after reading this it is obvious that Chrysler thought owners who intended towing a caravan or pottering around town would have been better off with the E37 with its mild cam. They didn't actually spell it out - but it was obvious that was the implication. Where the normal two-barrel Pacer engine ran into valve thrash at above 4000 rpm the E38 engine dispensed with this problem altogether, even if it did get noisy above the redline.
Over the standing quarter mile the Charger was a little slower than the Phase Three Falcon GT HO, with a best time of 14.8 seconds on a non-skid surface which allowed for clean, take-offs (something almost impossible unless you were to bang the clutch home with 6000 rpm on the tacho
- and we would never ask a current E38 owner to risk damage by proving the point). On smoother surfaces the Charger galloped away so easily that a best of 14.5 seconds is easily achievable.
The Limitations of a 3-Speed
It is here that the limitations of the three-speed box were most apparent. When the E38 was fitted with the four-speeder, the subsequent lower first ratio made getting away simple, regardless of the road surface. The slightly higher top gear also gave the car the long legs of a HO or 350 Monaro - and yes - we are taling about a straight 6 against the best American bent 8's then available.
All things are relative, of course, and the three speed Charger would cruise happily at a genuine 115 mph or around 5000 rpm in top. But on the open road the three-speed box was able to cope with any situation. A simple down-change to second and the engine's vast performance reserves could be transferred to the road. Up to 90 mph, the Charger stayed with and in some areas was ahead of the HO - fact. You may need to read that again - and yes, we are talking about the original 3 speed versions.
Above that the extra cog and V8 power of the HO would begin to tell, but even so the Charger's time of 16.5 seconds to the ton was outstanding from a six-cylinder, five-seater vehicle that, as we said at the start of the article, was mearly a VH Valiant after all. Above 110 mph the E38 would begin to slow down, although it would still run out to around a 130 mph top speed. We don't want to labor the point - but just in case you are rubbing your eyes in disbelief - yes, thats 130 miles per hour - with a 3 speed. Better still, we figure 140 mph would have been easy down Conrod straight during the 500.
As you would expect, the Charger was a little on the thirsty side, thanks to the 3 x Weber 45DCOE carbies.
Overall fuel consupmtion figures seem to be around the 13.6 mpg range, but in reality we doubt many bettered more than 16 mpg. Not great, but much better than the GTHOs 10 mpg, and given the size of the tank it blessed the E38 with a touring range or around 400 miles.
Through The Gears
Close ratio gears - close anyway for a three-speed box - gave a top speed of 55 mph in first and 95 mph in second at 6000 rpm, although from 5200 rpm the gear-lever got the rattles. Thankfully the engine was very tractible, as the change was so stiff it would quickly become tiring if you needed to work it a lot. Going back to second wasn't so bad, but the long and heavy shift from second into first took time and in the long run it was probably quicker to leave the Charger in second. Charger owners we have met at car meets agree - although far and away all have the 4 speed versions.
Handling Close To Perfect - Especially For An Aussie Car
The handling/roadholding/ride compromise was close to perfect, and in a different league altogether to the VH Pacer. The Charger improved upon the Pacer's excellent roadholding but the tight steering, firm but comfortable and quiet ride and lack of body roll gave it a point to point ability few cars of the era possesed - and no Australian cars of the size came close. The steering
was generally neutral with a tendency towards oversteer when really booting the Charger along. But this was at speeds no sane person would ever use on the road.
The braking was up to the rest of the car. Without power assistance the pedal needed an enormous push. Once the discs warmed up, though, the brakes
were excellent. And again - before you comment below to correct us - power assistance was available as an option. In fact, it would have been one of the option boxes we would very much have ticked, unless we were buying the E38 for track work - which is why it came by default without. The bucket seats are very comfortable, offering for the time excellent lateral support down low - essential really with the "g" forces the Charger could reach - but not enough at shoulder level.
So - what was so "special
" about the Charger E38? The answer is obvious - nothing really. Because even with Bruce McAvaney saying the word, "Special" falls well short. The E38 was freakin brilliant.