Valiant. Mention the name to anyone who was a kid in the ’60s and you’ll almost certainly prompt some diverse memories. “Oh, my Aunt Freda and Uncle Sid had one, it was the toughest car they ever had!” Or, “I drove one in high school, got it for $100 off a shady used car lot and it was the dullest, slowest car I ever owned!” Or, in the case of my mother, “Oh, I remember those. Chicken Delight in Davenport used them as delivery vehicles. They all had a cartoon chicken on the roof!”
(By the way, does anyone remember Chicken Delight?)
Anyway, in approximately 99.895 percent of these circumstances, these nostalgic speakers will refer to the Plymouth Valiant. Of course, Valiants were Plymouths from 1961 through 1976—but not in the nameplate’s inaugural year of 1960. Yes, 1960, a Buck Rogers year for sure! It was also The Year of the Compacts: Corvair, Falcon, and of course, the Valiant.
Chrysler Corporation’s response to the mini-import boom of the late 1950s—an influx chiefly led by Volkswagens, but also by Fiats, Renaults and various English Fords and GM-made Vauxhalls—was much more
stylish distinctive than the shrunken-full-size-Galaxie Ford Falcon and the far-out, rear-engined Chevrolet Corvair. Virgil Exner was clearly the father of the Valiant; its wild sheetmetal bore witness to its ancestry. From every angle, the Valiant was its own car—definitely not a mini-me Fury, Belvedere, or Polara.
The 1960 Valiant was every bit a Chrysler product, with unibody construction, torsion-bar front suspension, and an optional push-button automatic transmission. A floor-mounted three-speed stick was standard equipment. Valiants came in two flavors: the plain V-100 and the somewhat-fancier V-200.
The V-100 was the base model, with minimal chrome trim and the sole interior choice of gray cloth seats. Regardless of model, though, all Valiants had the brand-new “Slant Six” engine. Displacing 170.9 cubic inches, it produced 101 hp at 4400 rpm. The optional “Hyper Pack” engine produced 148 hp.
At first, only four-door sedans were available. Later in the model year Chrysler added a station wagon, but no two-doors were available until 1961. Even then, the coupe was clearly derived from the four-door, and even wore the same roof panel.
Optional extras for Valiants included a push-button radio, a padded dash, a power rear tailgate window for wagons, and the usual power brakes, power steering, and whitewall tires. Air conditioning was a princely $446 (the two trim levels, as we’ll see below, differed by only $77!). An automatic transmission rang in at $172.
The up-level V-200 offered much nicer upholstery in three color choices. Seats boasted vinyl bolsters and nylon inserts, and the doors sported two-tone interior panels. Outside, V-200s were set apart by bright side moldings that wrapped around the flared rear wheel arches, as well as bright window trim.
A V-100 sedan started at $2033, and the V-200 at $2110.
As mentioned earlier, soon after the sedans made their debut, V-100 and V-200 station wagons were added to the lineup. These little haulers were perhaps even more wild-looking than the sedans. Wagons were available in six-passenger V-100 and V-200 configuration and as a nine-passenger V-200 model.
At $2546, the nine-seat wagon was the most expensive ’60 Valiant, and it was also the rarest: just 4675 were built. Try and find any 1960–62 Valiant wagon now. I’ve never seen one, and I go to a lot of car shows.
I spied this pristine 1960 V-200, one of 106,515 built, at the AACA Grand National meet held in Moline, IL in June 2013. Living ten minutes away from the event guaranteed my attendance. Despite rain that never entirely went away that afternoon, I saw plenty of great classic cars. The styling is certainly polarizing, but I love them!
That almost Italian-style race-car grille is a big plus to me. It was not until recently that I realized the Valiant badge on the grille did double duty as a hood release. Functional and attractive.
The Valiant stood alone in 1960–but for that year only. In 1961, it officially became a Plymouth. Plymouth needed the extra sales, since Dodge’s full-size, Plymouth-based 1960 Dart had led many Plymouth loyalists to cross the street to the Dodge dealer. While 1960 and 1961 were not good years for full-size Plymouth sales, the Valiant was a bright spot, and would continue to be for years to come.