1973 Plymouth Valiant: Blue Skying
The Valiant was first introduced in the great wave of compact American cars in 1960. Up until then, basically every American car was the same size, other than outliers such as Rambler and short-lived cars like the Henry J and Hudson Jet. Up until this point, only Rambler had really found a niche in the market; the others had long faded away as the ’60s dawned.
But that all changed in Autumn 1960 when the Valiant, along with the Ford Falcon and Chevy Corvair, appeared and unknowingly changed car lineups for good. While many buyers stuck with the standard-sized cars, newly dubbed “full size,” the compacts proved immediately popular.
While the Corvair faded away after 1969—due partly to a book by a certain lawyer and partly to the introduction of the utterly conventional Chevy II in 1962—and the Falcon survived through 1970 (fun fact: The ’70 Falcon was first sold as a near-identical version of the ’69, but partway through the model year became a “1970 1/2” Falcon, using the newly redesigned Torino midsize body), the Valiant carried on along swimmingly, along with its corporate sibling the Dodge Dart. And those A-body Mopars sold like dollar beer at a baseball game.
By 1973, the Valiant came in three basic versions: The sporty Duster coupe (which first appeared in 1970), the Scamp two-door hardtop (which shared its body shell with the Dodge Dart Swinger), and that favorite of librarians, school teachers, and grandparents near and far: the Valiant four-door sedan.
All 1973 Valiants got a new face to go along with their new 5-mph front bumpers that were federally mandated that year. Rubber-tipped bumper guards flanked the license plate and there was a new grille and power dome style front hood, all of which contributed to make the front end look much less flat than it did in 1972.
The 1973 Valiant sedans had a 108-inch wheelbase and overall length of 195.8 inches. As you’d expect for a 1970s Mopar product, the front suspension utilized torsion bars for better handling. Front disc brakes were standard on V-8 models and optional on Valiants equipped with the bulletproof Slant Six. A more robust 225-cubic-inch Slant Six was also optionally available.
Other options included air conditioning, electric clock, an AM/FM stereo radio, Rallye cluster (probably much more common on Duster 340s than Valiant four-doors), tinted glass, three-speed electric windshield wipers, and a trailer towing package.
The 1973 Valiant sedan had a base price of $2447 ($16,921 today) with the 198-cu-in Slant Six and $2564 ($17,730) with the 318-cu-in V-8; 61,826 four-doors were built for the model year.
But the Duster was the best-selling model by a wide margin, with 249,243 built in ’73. Scamp production totaled 53,792. Oh, and approximately 15,000 Duster 340s were sold on top of the regular Duster production figure.
One interesting thing about the 1973 sedan is it was the last one to use the original 1967 Valiant body shell. Starting in 1974, the four-doors would use the same body as their corporate sibling, the Dodge Dart—I’m not sure why, but possibly because the Valiant sedan body was pretty rectilinear and the Dart sedan body was “swoopier,” at least compared to the Valiant body.
Darts, Dusters, and Valiants would continue on with only minor changes through the 1976 model year, when production of both the Dart and the Valiant ended for good.
They were replaced with the F-body Plymouth Volaré and Dodge Aspen. And while they were very tidy and attractive, early versions had some teething issues, in particular rusting front fenders. But there was a cool wagon version, and by the late ’70s they were pretty robust, and they would morph into the Dodge Diplomat and Plymouth Gran Fury in the 1980s, becoming well-loved by police departments and taxi drivers across the land.
I spied this like-new Valiant back on May 31 at the weekly cruise-in on the Davenport riverfront. I had just taken the bridge from Illinois to Iowa, was sitting at a red light, and I immediately spotted a light blue Valiant-shaped object in the distance. I couldn’t wait for the red light to change. It was driving me insane.
So the light finally turned green, I rapidly parked, and I leapt from the car and basically ran over to this car. It was so cool! I still see Dusters and Dart Sports on a semi-regular basis (usually modified and not stock, but still …), but the four-door sedans, both Valiant and Dart, are pretty uncommon.
And this car was neat as a pin. The owner came up as I was frantically taking pictures and told me a little bit about it. He is the third owner, and the car was sold new at Learner’s Chrysler-Plymouth, which lasted in my hometown of Rock Island, Illinois, until 1998–99, when it was purchased by Dave and Dan Kehoe, moved to Moline, and became Courtesy Chrysler-Plymouth.
The owner and I chatted awhile, and he was very nice. He originally bought the car because his wife loved it, but he told me she has yet to ride in it and he was thinking about selling it, as he has nine other vintage cars. It was finished in appropriately-named Blue Sky paint and was loaded (by Valiant standards) with the 318 V-8, air conditioning, cruise control, the Rallye Road Wheels (which were available but rarely seen on Valiant sedans), and the split-back front bench seat with fold-down armrest.
I loved it and hope that if the current owner does eventually let it go, that it goes to a good home. And yes, I was reminded of the Valiant famously piloted in the TV movie Duel, even though this one was not orange and a few years newer.