Chrysler Australia and Valiant History

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Chrysler Australia and Valiant History


Chrysler Australia

 1951 - 1981

T.J. Richards & Sons

Until recently, the Chrysler name had not been used commercially in Australia since 1981. But for more than 50 years Australians had been buying Chrysler's for almost every purpose a vehicle could used for, from towing the family boat to racing around circuits and charging across the country.

Chrysler Australia was a subsidiary of the U.S. Chrysler Corporation, a giant multinational concern started by the remarkable Walter P. Chrysler. Walter P. Chrysler, a former railway worker, made his reputation working for Buick, then took over the Maxwell Motor Company which was heavily in debt. Soon afterwards he bought the Chalmers company and, in 1924, launched a completely new car called Chrysler.

This six cylinder model had a number of engineering refinements including four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Chrysler cars came to Australia during the 1920's and, in 1935, 18 independent agents formed Chrysler-Dodge-De Soto Distributors (Australia) Pty Ltd. The distributors used their combined strength to purchase and market Plymouth, Dodge and De Soto vehicles.

The company acquired a controlling interest in T.J. Richards & Sons, a highly successful Adelaide based body building company which had been the main competitor for Holden's body builders since 1922. For several years T.J. Richards had designed and fitted bodies to locally made Chrysler vehicles. For the 1937-38 selling season, T.J. Richards beat Holden's to the punch by producing Australia's first all steel sedan body.

For several years T.J. Richards had designed and fitted bodies to locally made Chrysler vehicles. For the 1937 - 1938 selling season, T.J. Richards beat Holden's to the punch by producing Australia's first all steel sedan body. During World War 2 Chrysler-Dodge-De Soto Distributors manufactured munitions and aircraft components. Most of the skilled workforce remained when the firm returned to motor vehicle production in 1945. The company was entirely owned by Australians until June 1951 when Chrysler Corporation bought a controlling interest and Changed the name to Chrysler Australia Ltd.

Simca Automobiles of France

A vigorous expansion plan followed, and inspired by the success of Holden, Chrysler Australia aimed at producing a range of cars and light commercial vehicles with 90 percent local content. While this plan was being implemented, the company continued assembling and partly manufacturing a range of six cylinder and eight cylinder Chrysler Royal and Dodge Phoenix vehicles, based on U.S. designs. Toward the end of 1958 Chrysler Corporation acquired a 30 percent interest in Simca Automobiles of France, thus enabling Chrysler Australia to import and assemble a range of Simca cars. Chrysler Australia is best known, however, for the Valiant, which was introduced in January 1962. The Valiant was a sensation - and it arrived at just the right time. In the early 1960's Chrysler's operation had been looking shaky with its range of big American cars continually losing ground to the all conquering Holden (GM). Simca sales had tapered off, and with the release of the Ford Falcon, Chrysler's problems became worse.

The response came in early 1961 when company officials devised a plan to assemble a US-designed compact six-cylinder car in Australia. To get the new model released as soon as possible, the firm imported just over 1000 US-built R Series Valiant sedans. These were assembled in the Mile End plant in Adelaide, and when they hit the showroom floors in early 1962 the response left no doubt that Australians were going to fall for the new brand in a big way. By the time the R Series went on sale (it sold out within days) Chrysler had imported a large number of S Series sedans and local assembly had already begun. Chrysler assembled 10,000 Valiants in 1962, lifting its registration figures for the year by 146 percent, but the company still could not meet the demand. This spectacular introduction was the start of a twenty year story which saw Valiant's fortunes snowball for a while and then slide in dramatic fashion.

Tonsley Park

The 1962 Valiant was slightly dearer than the equivalent Holden or Falcon models, but it was bigger and far more powerful. It immediately won a reputation for being a superior performer and its popularity led Chrysler into a $36 million expansion plan to build over 50,000 units a year, with local content increasing progressively. Construction of the Tonsley Park manufacturing plant began in 1963, and by May of that year, the 'Australian Valiant' sedan was introduced. With high local content and a design adapted for local conditions, this 'AP5' Valiant strengthened the brand's position. The Australian Valiant AP5 station wagon followed in November 1963. In March 1964 the first Valiant was completed at the new plant, and in April it was announced that the $36 million expansion program had been doubled to $72 million.

In 1965 Chrysler took over Rootes Australia and acquired that company's Melbourne, Australia, manufacturing and assembling facilities. In 1967 Chrysler's Lonsdale engine plant opened and the company gained third place in the national sales chart, with 13.5 percent of the new vehicle market. Local content kept rising in leaps and bounds. It went from 1962's minor assembly work on the R and S Series to 65 per cent in 1965 and an average of 95 per cent in 1967. By that year some models had as much as 97 per cent local content.

Chrysler Australia's Best Year

The mid to late 1960's were halcyon times for Chrysler Australia because the company could not satisfy demand despite regular increases in production. By this time it was the eleventh largest company (of any kind) in Australia and the second largest exporter of cars. 1969 was Chrysler's best year with 42,654 Valiants sold. Net profit was a record $7,225,931 and total Chrysler Australia Ltd sales stood at 66,948 units. Most people in 1969 thought that Chrysler's great automotive success would continue into the 1970's, but it was not to be. A series of misfortunes, fuel crises, quality control problems, unpopular models and blunders saw the Valiant lose sales during the early 1970's.

The marque then slipped further and further down the list of best sellers, despite such trump cards as the mighty Charger sports coupe. Many problems were sorted out and the company became the local pioneer of such features as electronic ignition and computer aided fuel management. It also produced the fastest accelerating Australian production car ever made, the awesome E-49 Charger. But the fightback came too late as public confidence was down, and with reduced sales combined with an ailing US parent company, the funds needed to retool for new models were no longer available. In retrospect it seems one major mistake was that Valiant prices were held back in the late 1960's to meet Holden and Ford head-on.

Assembling the Mitsubishi Galant

When this happened, people seemed to stop considering the car 'a cut above' its opposition. By 1977 Valiant was still producing a variation of its six year old VH model. Sales that year slumped to 17,500 units. Nevertheless, the company was making good progress in the smaller-car field. The US parent company had bought into the vehicle division of the Japanese Mitsubishi company and in 1971 Chrysler Australia arranged to assemble Mitsubishi's Galant. The Galant wore a Valiant badge and succeeded brilliantly in Australia, giving Chrysler the share of the small-car market it had failed to win with the Simca and Hillman.

Chrysler expanded once again, this time to manufacture the Sigma, a local version of Mitsubishi's Japanese Galant model. The factory continued producing Valiants in ever diminishing numbers but with higher standards of equipment and finish. Small car sales went from strength to strength and in 1978 Sigma became the top selling four-cylinder vehicle on the market. Despite this success, Chrysler Australia Ltd ran into severe financial problems. In the US the Chrysler Corporation had run into even harder times and was on the brink of being closed. Former Ford president Lee Iacocca took charge of the US Chrysler Corporation during the late 1970's and set in motion some drastic measures to keep the company afloat.

These included selling off almost all of Chrysler's overseas interests, including the Australian operation. Ninety-nine percent of the equity of Chrysler Australia Ltd was acquired by Mitsubishi, and in October 1980 the name was changed to Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd. The last Valiant wasproduced in August 1981. By that time 13 model series had been released with a total of 565,338 units built. During 1962 the original R Series had been replaced by the S Series. This was followed by the AP5 (1963), AP6 (1965), VC (1966), VE (1967), VF (1969), VG (1970), VH (1971), VJ (1973), VK (1975), CL (1976), and finally the CM (1978). Of these the VJ was the biggest seller, with 90,865 units built. The least successful model was the final design, the CM, selling only 16,005 units in three years.

RV-1 Valiant January 1962

Due to delays in the commencement of full production the first Australian Valiant was assembled from CKD packs. Only 1008 were produced, the price being 1299 pounds - well on a par with Ford's XK/XL Falcon and Holden's EK/EJ models. This was the "hot" Valiant with a 3688cc long stroke six cylinder engine, mounted with a 30° inclination in order to reduce hood height. It also had a three speed manual transmission with floor mounted shift. Styling gimmicks included a dummy spare wheel cover moulded into the boot lid, and a strong egg-crate grille treatment. Suspension design basis was the same at the car's introduction as when the last version came off the line- and that consisted of a torsion bar sprung front and a leaf sprung live axle at the rear. Wheelbase was 2705mm for an overall length of 4673mm.

Top speed of the RV-1 approached 160 km/h with 57 km/h available in first, and 105 km/h in second. From standstill to 100 km/h took 13.6 seconds which was, in its time, fairly quick. So was an 18.8 second standing quarter mil e. On the other hand, fuel consumption at 12.3 litres/100 kms (23 mpg) was not considered very economical. This was particularly marked in conjunction with a minimal 49 litre fuel tank. Notable in the RV-1's design was negative earth electrics, with an alternator replacing the hitherto traditional generator. Bench seats featured in the cabin while instrumentation in the facia mounted binnacle was restricted to a speedometer and a matching dial containing other minor gauges. The entire panel was a single plastic moulding.

SV-1 Valiant 1962 - 1963

The SV-1 was Australianised and in production before the end of 1962. a number of changes marked the first locally manufactured Valiant. Cosmetically, the grille was simplified and the dummy spare wheel boot lid was replaced by a smooth pressing. There was sealed chassis lubrication, said to need no attention for 50,000 kms. Still powered by the 145 bhp 3688cc pushrod engine, the SV-1 also retained the three speed gearbox, although the original floor mounted shifter gave way to a steering column mounted lever. There was also a torqueflite automatic operated by facia located push buttons. As might be expected, price had risen to 1388 pounds, but 10,009 examples were sold, indicating clearly to Chrysler that the. were onto something good. To the car buying public, the image of the Valiant being a "cut above" the opposition was gathering momentum.

AP-5 Valiant 1963 - 1965

Advancing the amount of local content in the Valiant, it was given a new body for 1963, the AP-5 having more conventional straight through lines which, with minor variations remained through to the VC model of 1966. A Holiey carburettor, Autolite rather than Bosch electrics, and various other small changes were aimed at improving 3688cc engine, which still drove through same gearboxes as previously. In 1964 the Safari wagon was added to the vehicle range with wider tyres, but using the same wheel base as the sedan. The commissioning of the Tonsley Park stamping and assembly plant in 1964 allowed Chrysler to start catching up with demand. It was something of a relief to be independent of US plants too, giving loca stylists the opportunity to create unique cars. 49,440 AP5 Valiants were built, in this, only the third year of production.

AP-6 Valiant 1965 - 1966

A new camshaft, self adjusting drum brakes; zone windshield and a full width padded facia gave the face lifted 1965 Valiants something for the admen to get excited about. Its body was 63mm longer, although the wheelbase remained as before. Gone was the pushbutton system of gear changing in the automatic, replaced by a steering column mounted lever. In place of the simple grille of the AP5 was a more fussy design flanked on either side by slightly protruding headlights. Two tone interior trim and a wider range of paint finishes became available. On the upper range Regal windscreen washers, carpets and various other luxuries came as standard. Performance was still considered a highlight of the Valiant, keeping it a cut above its Holden and Ford counterparts. But as if that wasn't enough, Chrysler introduced the 4.5 litre V8 engine used in the Plymouth Barracuda with 180 bhp and 260 ft. lb. torque the V8 was available in either the sedan or wagon version.

The former received a vinyl roof and a roof rack to denote their V8 power plants, with acceleration from standstill to 100 km/h in under 11 seconds the V8 was very powerful for the time, providing a top speed of almost 180 km/h. Only the automatic transmission was available with the V8, but it did feature a stubby floor mounted shift lever to give a sporting flavour. There were also separate front seats, although they could hardly be described as buckets. Disc brakes would have inspired extra confidence with all the performance available, but instead there were finned drums. Front suspension remained unchanged, but an extra leaf was fitted in the rear end. At this point the Tonsley Park factory was producing 200 cars a day on a single eight hour shift, but was still unable to keep up with demand. The complete range comprised ten models and Chrysler was achieving 65% local content, heading upwards towards the 95% required by the government within the next five years. A total of 43,344 of the AP6 model was built.

VC Valiant 1966 - 1967

New front and rear sheet metal brought the VC Valiant's styling back into line with American Dodge Dart looks. Mechanically, the three speed manual transmission was given an all synchromesh mechanism, this being the first of the medium sized Australian sedans to gain the feature. Engines remained unchanged, but top speed had dropped away to just over 145 km/h. Zero to 100 km/h was 13.3 seconds and the standing quarter mile time had risen to 19.3 seconds. Production volume jumped to an impressive total of 65,634 units during the VC's currency.

VE Valiant 1967 - 1969

An extra 140mm in body length and crisp straight through lines highlighted the 1967 Chrysler offering, which also had an extra 50mm wheelbase. The 225 engine gained an extra 1 5 bhp from a new camshaft, a two barrel carburettor and improved exhaust system. Similarly, the V8 engine was up to 195 bhp. Although drum brakes were still standard, discs were now an option throughout the range, which, at the end of the VE's run, totalled 68,688 units.

VF Valiant 1969 - 1970

Undoubtedly influenced by the huge upsurge of interest in GT models, the VF Valiant range was notable for the appearance of the youth orientated Pacer 225. But just as important commercially was the fact that Chrysler had reached the 95% local content piateau. This was achieved when all Valiant panels became exclusively Australian pressings. In some models, local icontent was as high as 97%. In essence, the VF was a face lifted VE with a simple horizontal grille treatment. Parking lights and indicators were located in slits on top of the front guards, with side mounted slots giving a view of the lights to the sides. This was in answer to criticism regarding the shrouding of the VC's lights, considered to be a safety problem. Once again, the six cylinder engine and the various transmissions remained unchanged, but the V8 was enlarged to 5.2 litres (31 8 cubic inches). Two versions were available, one with 210 bhp, the other with 230 bhp.

The end of the sixties was the beginning of a time of proliferation for Chrysler. First came the 180 bhp Pacer with three speed manual transmission. Taking a leaf out of the RV-1's book, this had a floor mounted shift lever for the first time in seven years. Top speed was 174 km/h with 112 km/h available in second and 68 km/h in first. The sprint to 100 km/h took 10.8 seconds and over the standing quarter mile the Pacer managed 17.8 seconds. Later in 1969 the two door Valiant was announced. Unlike Holden's Monaro, however, it was aimed more at the prestige market than the sporty types, despite its sporting overtones. To short cut the system, Chrysler Australia simply picked up the American Dodge Dart and grafted on a VF Valiant front end forward of the windscreen pillars. It was available with six or eight cylinder engines and either automatic or manual transmissions with steering column mounted shift levers. Wheelbase was up to 2819mm an increase of 76mm. Total VF production was 52,944.

VG Valiant 1970 - 1971

A shuffle of design, taken from an engine which was virtually stillborn in the USA, produced for Chrysler Australia one of the best locally made six cylinders ever, to replace the old 225 "Slant Six." Having a short stroke, oversquare layout, the Hemi was mounted upright in the engine compartment. With a capacity of four litres the unit produced 165 bhp, with 185 bhp, and even more powerful versions for Hemi Pacers. The completion' of the Chrysler engine plant at Lonsdale, then as now, one of the most advanced of its type in the southern hemisphere, ensured that "Hemi" engine quality was always very good indeed. Another mechanical advance for the VG was the introduction of optional ventilated front disc brakes, following Ford's lead with the XW Falcon. Despite the lack of power assistance, these anchors worked well - the extra effort, it was claimed, was worth the better pedal "feel." Biggest changes were in the Pacer, with many previously extra features made standard.

The retention of the old three speed manual transmission was a disappointment but, gear ratios were altered to suit the Hemi. Standard diff was a 3.23, but 3.5 and 2.92 ratios were available. A divided free flow exhaust and disc brakes were standard. The 225's "tombstone" seats were replaced by new ones with lower backs, and the strip tachometer gave way to a proper dial. The four barrel Pacer 245 was created tor Bathurst with 35 gallon fuel tank, twin plate clutch, shot peened crankshaft and water heated inlet manifold. In a standing start quarter mile, the VG Valiant could manage 15.6 seconds compared with the Torana at 15.8 seconds, with the 351 GTHO Falcon's 15.2 seconds. But it still wasn't good enough to topple the Holden Ford establishment. Production of the VG Valiant reached a total of 46,374 units before it was reoiaced by the entirely new bodied VH.

VH Valiant 1971 - 1973

A long 1 1 1 inch wheelbase. curving almost trendy lines, they all came as a bit of a shock after the square shapes of previous Valiants. So did the bigger bodies with, -nore overhang and distinct American overtones. Perhaps at its introduction, the VH was appropriate. Clearly however, it quickly became inappropriate as year followed year. Base model became the Ranger with a 215 inch, 140 horsepower engine, three speed column gearshift and drum brakes all round. Other six cylinder engines — all now Hemis of course — were the 1 65 horsepower 245 and the 200 horsepower 265 incher. There was also the 318 inch V8. Disc front brakes were now standard on all but the 215 engined models. The Pacer 265 was the sporty image car with 218 bhp at 4800 rpm, driving still through a three speed gearbox. Zero to 60 km/h was achievable in well under four seconds, with a very creditable 8.4 seconds for the 100 km/h standing start. Over a quarter mile, the VH Pacer managed 16.5 seconds. With 70 km/h available in first, 128 km/h in second, and a top speed of 192 km/h, performance, despite three gears, was acceptable.

But the big story had to be the Charger. Unashamedly it was designed as a sort of Australian Mustang, a flagship to uphold Chrysler honors in racing. In commercial terms however, it added a great deal to the problem of model proliferation, 60% of the Charger's panels being unique. With a production of 14,000 units a year projected, it must have been an expensive venture, and yet, in its 21 5 engined base form, it became the cheapest six cylinder Chrysler of its time. There was a wide variety of equipment to choose from, including 245 inch and 265 inch six cylinder engine options. There was the $3975 "Six Pack" with three twin choke Webers and extractors producing 280 horsepower and 318 ft lbs torque. There was the track pack with 160 litre fuel tank, limited siip differential, magnesium alloy wheels and a quicker steering ratio, XLs and R/Ts quickly became the rage.

A little known fact concerning the Charger is that 300 or so examples were actually exported to Japan. According to Mitsubishi's Yatao Shimamura, however, narrow roads and spiralling fuel costs made the program less than successful. More proliferation came with the long wheelbase two door Regal and 770 models, which featured wood grain interior, radial tyres and quartz iodine lights were featured in the vehicle which was unique from the windshield pilla-backwards. In December 1971 the long wheelbase Chrysler by Chrysler added yet another model to the upper end of the small volume luxury level. There were 67,800 units produced in the VH series before the VJ came along in April 1973.

VJ Valiant 1973 - 1975

Increasing costs were forcing all companies away from two yearly model changes towards the end of the first half of the seventies. In this case the face lift was minor, leaving customer attraction to special equipment offered. The rectangular shaped headlights were replaced by a conventional round type, and the grille was made more ornate. Inside, the seats were given a plush look. Electronic ignition became an option for the first time on a locally made car, the discs became power assisted, sound aliening was improved and a glovebox lock introduced, along with a boot light. The Pacer was dropped, as was the Ranger XL, the Regal 770 and the Charger RT.

These cars could still be obtained however, as customers were left to option up remaining models to their standards , and the same theme applied to the Chrysler by Chrysler, in which a number of previously standard features became options. In 1974 the 340 inch V8 engine, which had been based on the 318, but which used too many unique parts, was replaced by the 360 inch unit in the Charger. Thus powered it was good for 16.3 seconds in the standing quarter, and could reach 100 km/h in 9 seconds. No less than 90,865 VJ mode s adduced, the largest number for any Australian made Valiant throughout its production of twenty years.

VK Valiant 1975 - 1976

In essence, some rationalisation of tie line-up occurred when the Valiant range was split up into VK Ranger and CK Regal models, plus the Charger. The Charger was the only one not to get a basic form of flow through ventilation but like the Regal, it was given a heated rear screen in its 770 form. The VK/CK obtained a new grille and revised interior. It was also the first of the Big Three to go over to multi-functional steering column mounted control stalks, looking after wipers, headlight flashers, low beam and direction indicators. A Carter two barrel carburettor replaced the Bendix type as Email closed down its Bendix operations. For the first time the economy orientated "Fuel Pacer" was introduced, a light appearing when driving technique became uneconomical. The Valiant utility became a Dodge to round off a rationalisation process which applied to 20,555 VKs produced.

CL Valiant 1976 - 1978

At its introduction it was hoped the CL would enjoy 10-12% of its market - roughly 18,000 units a year. This was hoped to rise to 25,000 units. Certainly the Mercedes-like grille and revised tail lights improved the looks of the model, but the Ranger base line was no longer available and the long wheelbase Chrysler by Chrysler was dropped, to be replaced by the Regal SE. Generally, standard equipment levels were up, and prices were kept reasonable in the hope of achieving success, tasted at this sage across, improving the Valiant appreciably - but too late. Further efforts in this direction included the handling changes made to the CL's suspension in April 1978.

The changes were available when the CL was first introduced, but America didn't believe their cost to be warranted. It took the arrival of Holden's Radial Tuned Suspension to get the message across, improving the Valiant appreciably - but too late. Improved power steering and computer controlled Electronic Lean Burn was imported straight from the USA, and incorporated in the optional V8 engined cars. A limited edition of the Regal SE, called Le Baron was released with a wealth of standard features and a silver grey body finish. During the currency of the CL, Chrysler celebrated its 25th anniversary in Australia, along with the production of the 500,000th Valiant, 32,672 units of which were CLs.

CM Valiant 1978 - 1981

The last of the Valiant models was, ironically, also one of the best, featuring excellent quality, and fine ride, good handling and steering, together with amazing economy, thanks to the Electronic Lean Burn now being available on the Hemi six. Based on the type used previously on the V8s, this was developed in Australia for Australia, and it resulted in the four litre six with manual transmission, being capable of approaching close to 10.5 litres, 100 kms (27 mpg) economy. The second last Valiant to come off the Tonsley Park production lines on August 28th was offered in a free raffle amongst the 3000 or so employees at the plant. The very last Valiant, the 16,005th CM, was presented to Purnell Brothers s of Bankstown near Sydney, who added it to their comprehensive collection of Chrysler products in their museum. The Purnell Brothers held a long standing record of more than 20,000 Valiant and Regal sales over the years, which explains why they got the very last one.

Also see: Chrysler Valiant Car Reviews | Mitsubishi History | Chrysler Valiant Specifications | Chrysler History (USA Edition)
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