The cars we loved.
It’s easy to forget (or not be aware) that the 60’s muscle car revolution in America had counterparts in other parts of the world. Australia’s muscle car era most resembled Americas, down to the cartoon icons that graced some of its Chryslers. In Australia for instance, the battles between Ford, GM and Chrysler were playing out but with slightly different names like Holden (GM), Valiant (Chrysler) and Ford. Looking back, the similarities to the American horsepower battles were as startling as the differences. Like an alternate universe but one where different market forces shaped familiar, yet alien players.
Today it’s mostly Holden vs. Ford, but Chrysler was once a force to be reckoned with under the name Valiant. The Valiant brand had a reputation for performance and shared many of the technical distinctions Chrysler employed in its famous US MOPAR cars. There were innovations used only in used in Australia that would have made the American cars more competitive during the 70’s if used universally.
The Valiant performance portfolio was dominated by the likes of the Charger. Unlike the US car, the Aussie Charger was a vast family of cars with long and short wheelbase coupes and sedans that were categorized in time by series that go something like this: VH, VJ, VK and CL. The top performance models (R/T and 770) usually featured a three speed automatic or four speed manual gearbox and were sprung much like a traditional 70’s era rear live axle muscle car.
VH through VK cars are noted most for performance, with a history that nearly paralleled the US Charger. The short wheelbase Charger coupes were the performance leaders with Hemi inline 6 cylinder engines instead of the V8 of American cars. The first VH series Charger was the most popular. It was a sales and critical success with one member of the Australian press declaring the VH Charger “one of the most beautiful cars ever produced in Australia and the most attractive Chrysler ever”. That last point might cause some ruckus with MOPAR fans and collectors. The American cars have certainly been more sought after worldwide, but the Aussie cars are far more interesting technically.
Any comparison between the Dodge and Valiant Charger starts with outward appearance. The American cars were always larger. Their flowing ‘C’ pillars lines looked almost elegant and the long hoods accommodated V8’s that got as big as 7.2 litres. By contrast the Valiant Charger was smaller, more taut looking as if it was ready to pounce in a fit of tension. The lines were not as graceful and at some angles and looked like a characterization of a MOPAR car with compressed dimensions. Similarities aside, the Valiant Charger made due with less in the displacement department. Often the results were just as impressive as the MOPARS with much larger engines.
The vast majority of the Australian Charger’s legacy was made with the high-strung triple Weber carburetor inline 6. Called the Six Pack (just like in America), these Hemi started with 215 hp in 1971 and climbed due to various engine tweaks. In this regard, the Valiant Chargers had an American like image and advertising campaign but were more like Japanese or European cars in that they were constantly pushing the technical envelope of smaller displacement. There would be V8 Chargers for a brief period of time, starting with VJ variants in 1972. They were two and four barrel designs about the size of the smallest US V8 Hemi (3.6 litres) but making up to 275 hp! With top speeds of 122 mph and 0 to 60 times in the low 7 second range, the Charger was well ahead of any Falcon or Commodores of the period.
It would not have been a stretch to say that the Australian cars outperformed their emissions strangled American cousins in many respects. This would certainly be true by 1975 as the American (Dodge) Charger had become a 4,000+lbs. whale of a car with only 150 hp coming from a 6.6 litre V8. By contrast, the top Chrysler Hemi Charger of that year made 230 hp from just 3.6 liters from an inline six cylinder. Emission controls had hit the Australians too. The performance oriented Charger would still out muscle most US Chryslers with the 245 and 265 Hemis. There were still V8’s to be had, but they were low compression and not tuned for performance (the street racer kind).
The market was clearly changing and Chrysler’s partner Mitsubishi would influence the Charger line as it would in America a few years later with more efficiency. The cars grew softer and more luxury oriented, but retained the overall look, even as the line ended with the CL series in 1978. Chrysler dropped the Valiant brand in Australia and started marketing all of its products under its own name. The name change was fitting for the transition that Chrysler had made from performance oriented Valiant cars to smaller more efficient import influenced products for the 80’s. Today the Hemi lives in Australia as the Chrysler 300C or the occasional Jeep or Dodge branded SUV, but the hey days of Hemi performance coupes in Australia may be long over.