1971-73 Chrysler VH Valiant: Right Ingredients, Wrong Cuisine
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1971-73 Chrysler VH Valiant: Right Ingredients, Wrong Cuisine

By JoeKenwright - 19 August 2014
The US Chrysler design team’s intention was to woo buyers with more sheet metal but didn’t factor in the local rejection of bloated US cars and swing towards Europe. Except for its wider white-wall tyres, this time-warp VH Ranger provides an exact snapshot of what local buyers were offered in 1971. If it arrived in 1969 for 1973 replacement, it might have succeeded but instead locked the local arm into a shape not easily changed. (Photo from Wikipedia.org)

The VH Valiant marked the first in an unprecedented synchronized generational change for all three of Australia’s mainstream family cars. For a short time, Chrysler’s VH Valiant was the freshest entry in a segment filled with ageing rivals. After a string of coincidences and delays, Chrysler, Holden and Ford in that order, launched brand new models starting with the VH range in June 1971 followed by Holden’s HQ in July 1971 and Ford’s XA in March 1972. For the first time, all three were unique to Australia and based on the same 111inch/2819mm wheelbase.

Buyer interest in local family cars was unprecedented as all three promised to be a major leap forward over the cars they replaced (a fact also not lost on Leyland Australia who were in the development phase of the P76). In addition, because all three manufacturers were now represented on the race track, buyers could sniff a three way battle of epic proportions in the showroom and on the track.

At the time, the launch of any new model by the “Big Three” was major news. Because the new Chrysler and Ford ranges would no longer be tied to existing US models, Australians had been waiting for each new model with even more anticipation, under the expectation that all three would be equally free of any compromises. A new Austin Tasman/Kimberley range had just arrived adding a fourth locally-developed six cylinder contender.

Nash and Nash Ramblers in the 1950s flirted with the idea of a narrow centre grille flanked by oversized parking lights over a narrow front track. Although the VH front wasn’t as extreme, this Nash shows how Chrysler designers lost the plot by even going there. (Photo from auctionsamerica.com)

The VH Valiant had the huge advantage of being the first full-sized model to meet the huge wave of excitement and anticipation that had been building up. If the VH Valiant had translated this into a sales rush, life could have been difficult for the newcomers from Holden and Ford.

History shows that the VH Valiant failed in this crucial mission. Between June 1971 and March 1973, just 29,555 VH sedans were sold, for a sales rate not that much higher than the Leyland P76. Total VH production was 67,800, of which almost 18,000 were Chargers. The 9,102 wagons and 6,786 utes were dismal for a new model as important as this.

The XA Falcon was also completed by a US design team in consultation with Australians. Final tooling drawings were completed for both in adjacent rooms by a US contractor. They looked a little too close hence several last minute VH changes before release. The XA also looked plain and out of date on its 1972 arrival but its smoother lines, wider track and full width grille made it more palatable before it was replaced ahead of time. It was also an advance everywhere else. On release, the dip at the centre pillar was noted as odd. It was caused by a rear door window line that was too high like the Valiant’s but unlike Chrysler, Ford had the money to change it for the XC.

In 16 months, Ford sold almost 130,000 XA Falcons for a total of around 152,000 for all derivatives. At those figures, which were more than double the VH over a period five months shorter, the XA also had not lived up to expectations. It sparked the early XB facelift which was far more comprehensive than usual at that point.

To place this in perspective, the Holden HQ range, despite its many flaws, continued almost a year longer than the VH (and the more recent XA) without requiring a facelift. Even after facing the popular XB Falcon, the HQ still posted a massive 485,650 units.

The 1971 Dodge Coronet should have been more than good enough as inspiration for the VH Valiant. Except the Americans made sure their car had a front deep enough and wide enough to match the rear, a body side crease line at the right height from front to back, the door handles were in the right place and a rear section that looked like it belonged to that car.  There was no excuse for the VH Valiant to arrive looking like it did as this car shows the capability was there. (Photo from hamtramck-historical.com)


The Two VH Valiant Ranges

The original VH Valiant range arrived in June 1971, the second range based on the VH Valiant Charger arrived in August 1971. This is a critical distinction.

The original VH range was designed in the US by Americans with input from the Australians. However, if the Americans didn’t like that input, the VH range proceeded exactly as the Americans wanted. This reached such a critical point that after the VH range was presented for Australian production, the Australians knew the local arm was in big trouble.

There was no hero car, nothing that would improve the company’s chances at Bathurst and nothing for the exploding baby boomer market. Holden had a Torana and a Monaro, Ford had a Cortina and a Falcon range with youth appeal and a swoopy Falcon Hardtop on the way.

The Charger was an inspired short wheelbase range that could straddle the Monaro and Cortina/Torana 6 segments. It was undertaken in Australia away from the influence of the corporate heavies in the US. Lighter and faster, it could also be a Bathurst contender and with the VH front, could add cachet to the whole range.

Cloaked in secrecy, it wasn’t until the Charger concept was finalised and proven viable that it was revealed to Detroit at which point Bob Hubbach, one of the original VH design team, joined the Australians in completing the design. It was a huge success because most of the VH styling compromises were eliminated and the VH front was a much better match for the smaller car.

The Charger story has been documented in minute detail from release, a process initiated by Chrysler Australia itself after it was such a success. The rest of the VH Valiant range has been ignored like a guest who passed wind at a perfume launch. It had to be invited to the show but it might have been better if it hadn’t turned-up.

If local management had not initiated the last minute development of the VH Charger, the June 1971 VH Valiant range as originally intended could easily have sent Chrysler Australia into the arms of Mitsubishi ten years earlier. In the context of the bullish sales predictions made for the VH Valiant (an immediate boost in share from 12 to 15 per cent Chrysler said) which instead generated an instant fall in market share, the VH signed the death warrant for Chrysler Australia. Subsequent facelifts could not address fundamental VH failings.

For the 1970 Dodge Coronet, Chrysler attached the old square turret onto the corporation’s new fuselage lower body. The pronounced side crease line and widening of the lower body at the rear started near the rear door glass like it was supposed to on the VH Valiant. Because the VH was all new in this rear area, there was not even a need for any of this suggesting the VH’s extra body height and shallow side glass were all patched in at the last minute. This is consistent with the lack of a crease line in the front VH’s front guards which accentuated the excessive real estate above the front wheels. (Photo from Wikimedia.org)


What Was Right About the VH Valiant


The VH Valiant was the first local Valiant since 1965 that could match the wheelbase of its Falcon rival and the first since 1968 that could match a current Holden. The Valiant’s wheelbase increase was a long time coming and the clear disadvantage in rear leg room and hip room had started to impact on sales from the VF series.

Because the VH Valiant was 5in/127mm longer than the HQ and 7in/178mm longer than the XA Falcon, its rear seat could be located further rearwards without impinging on boot space. The tape measure told the story. The VH Valiant offered an extra 2in/51mm in rear legroom and an extra 1.5in/38mm of front seat travel.

As a result of its taller body sides and slightly wedge shape, the VH Valiant could also offer a much deeper boot and a significantly bigger fuel tank (19.5 gallons/85.5litres) for a 3 gallon/13.5 litre advantage over the HQ and a two gallon/9 litre gain over the XA. For the Valiant’s big rural buyer base, this was a useful advance especially after the new Hemi six engines used the same or less fuel than rivals.

The VH Valiant was built in South Africa using the slant six. Aussie staff went over there and helped adapt it to local requirements. As a Valiant, it was presented low and mean with reference to a “fast-body”. The side crease line was played down in the Dodge SE ads which at least had extra front detail to match the bulk of the VH body, exactly as all Aussie VH Valiants needed.

Chrysler also opted to place the spare wheel over the rear axle, essential to maintain rear clearance with the VH’s bigger fuel tank and longer rear overhang. Even if this was a little untidy compared to the XA’s hidden spare, this added even more depth to the centre of the boot floor and only part of the luggage had to be emptied onto the road to access it.

Because the VH dash design was completed entirely in Australia, it located all the controls within easy reach of the driver. The lower dash sloped away quite dramatically below the crash pad for extra knee and leg room for all three front occupants.

Like the HQ but not the XA, the handbrake was moved out of the way to the RHS of the driver between the front seat and door. The transmission tunnel was relatively low and flat and combined with the removal of the handbrake and controls from the centre dash area, the centre front seat position was unusually spacious and comfortable for anyone who drew that short straw.

Although the bench seats in the VH entry levels could have been better, they had quality trim and were no worse than the park benches in basic HQ models.

It was no coincidence that the VH Valiant and its subsequent facelifts became the long term car of choice for so many of Australia’s new arrivals with large families. There was room to spare in the cabin and boot for extended family journeys. For an emergency services, taxi or fleet car, these were also valuable advantages.

For the VH Valiant not to dominate sales with packaging advantages this far ahead of its rivals is significant and that’s before its next knockout blow is factored in.

As to why the VH wagon wasn’t built on the CH Chrysler’s longer 115 inch  wheelbase to match its rivals, here’s the answer. Chrysler US was big on rear overhang and bulky rear sections and the CH platform had the stiffness of a mattress in its early days. Notice the Dodge Coronet’s clean sides and consistent lines denied to the local VH. (photo from nzmoparregistry.co.nz)



Chrysler cleverly used the VG to establish the new Hemi six. For the VH, a new 265ci/4.3-litre option was added to contend with Holden’s small 253ci/4.2-litre V8 while topping Ford’s two-barrel version of the 250ci/4.1-litre six.

The new 265 Hemi was a big investment for the VH as it was not a stroker version of the mid-range 245ci/4.0-litre Hemi. It required a new block casting to accommodate a bore increase from 3.76 to 3.91in and used the same pistons as the 318ci/5.2-litre V8. It was a masterful move as there were still many Australians who believed the two extra cylinders of a V8 would always use more fuel than a six, even if the capacity was the same. The 265 proved to be a top engine wherever it was installed.

Chrysler’s VH sixes were described as simply the best in Australia at the time. The 215ci/3.5-litre fleet pack Hemi dispatched the HQ’s feeble 173ci/2.8-litre and Ford’s 200ci/3.3-litre entry sixes with ease.

Against a HQ with the top 202ci/3.3-litre six, the VH’s carryover 245/4.0-litre offered clear advantages for the same money. Where the HQ’s 202ci/3.3-litre would struggle to cover the standing quarter mile in 19 seconds, the 0-60mph/96km/h dash in 13.4 with a top speed of 91mph/145km/h, the VH 245 would cover these in 17.3 and 10 seconds respectively with a top speed well clear of the ton (165km/h). Ford’s 200ci/3.3-engine was even further behind. (Figures from Wheels, June 1972)

The VH Valiant wagon fared much better under the US design team than the sedan and in some ways looked better than the US Dodge version. Even if the overhang was judged excessive on its shorter sedan wheelbase, the wedge shape and side crease line continued upwards right through to the rear and thus avoided the VH sedan’s droop. With the four headlight front of the South African Dodge SE or CH Chrysler, it could so easily have been the most prestigious-looking local wagon for its time as it had the engines to match its size and capacity. (Photo from nzmoparregistry.co.nz)

The VH 245’s best fuel figure of around 26mpg/10.8L/100km was also a couple of percentage points better than the HQ 202. What these figures don’t show was how much more relaxed the Valiant engine was at speed during an era of unlimited highway speeds and how much easier it towed with a fatter torque peak at just 1800rpm.

It should have been game over at this point except there was even more to VH’s suite of advantages. All VH Valiants except the 215 fleet pack had front disc brakes standard, a first for a large local six. Not all were power assisted but a brake booster was optional.

At the Ranger family car level, it was the only big family six in 1972 with engine and brakes to match its seating and boot capacity.

The other big advantage was a tighter turning circle. The Valiant’s unassisted 4.4 turns lock to lock and 36ft/10.9m turning circle was as good as it got in this class. That last three feet the VH lopped-off the HQ and XA turning circles could make a big difference to a taxi or police car.

Note the original narrow R Series engine bay and brake master cylinder located towards the centre, after extra sheet metal was patched in outwards and upwards from the engine bay to create the illusion of a big new car. As a result, the scope to address carryover offcentre engine, suspension, steering and front track shortfalls was limited. (Photo from gumtree.com.au)

What Was Wrong With the VH Valiant?

Against all the pluses above, it took much more than one or two items to generate the VH’s poor sales. For such a flawed Holden HQ range to post such extraordinary sales, there was a lot of choking going on in the Ford and Chrysler camps. Neither did particularly well when faced with the challenge of defining their first unique to Australia family cars without the “safety net” of proven or established US models. As a result, an Australian buyer could no longer bring home a Valiant that looked and felt a cut above the rest, the fundamental reason that prompted Aussie buyers to switch to previous Valiants.



Although Chrysler was on a winner with the wheelbase increase, a move insisted on by American management, it was a stretch of a much smaller car, the original R Series platform. As a result the front track could only be increased over the smaller VG Valiant by 0.4in/10mm. At least the new body allowed the VG’s narrow rear track to be widened to match the front by simply widening the live rear axle. The VH rear track ended up slightly wider than the front because it was a variation of the same rear axle supplied to wider track rivals.

After both the HQ and XA arrived with matching front and rear tracks of over 60in/1524mm, they were around two inches (51mm) wider than the Valiant’s. If that was not already a big enough difference, the VH Valiant’s body width was the same as the HQ and XA.

Although the VH’s front A-pillar to pillar width was similar to the HQ and XA, the C-pillar to pillar width was four inches/101.6mm narrower than the HQ. Although this didn’t directly affect rear seat width, it did cut shoulder room and severely cut into rear vision at a time when the HQ set new standards in this area front and rear. Along with its shallow side glass, the VH’s larger and pinched-in C-pillars also generated a feeling of claustrophobia for passengers and driver that could veto a Valiant purchase immediately.

This before and after shot of a VH Pacer restoration confirms that Australian designers knew exactly what was wrong with the VH shape. Making the Pacer’s grille bolder, breaking up the expanse of paint, hiding the side crease line with a stripe and cutting short the rear droop by blacking it out made a huge difference. The VH Pacer had all the ingredients to be the best and fastest local family six of its time but it was no Falcon GT nor was it as agile or fun to drive as a Torana GTR. After strong initial sales, the VH Pacer nosedived after the Charger arrived.  Just 1201 Pacers reached local roads as 417 went to NZ.  (Photo from chargerclubofwa.asn.au)

The measurements reveal all. The VH’s rear door glass was a full four inches/101.6mm shallower than the HQ which not only had styling implications but in combination with the VH’s low rear seat height, it could make the rear passenger area intolerable. If smaller children couldn’t see out, car sickness was a given in an era when rear seat belts were a compulsory new development in Australian family motoring. Children had to stay seated in the cave that was the VH rear.

It is significant that Holden anticipated this aspect of Australia’s pioneering rear seat belt legislation while the isolated US designers of the VH Valiant and XA Falcon lost the plot. From the HT, Holden designers ensured that the rear side glass of Holden family cars was deep enough for children to see out of.

The front seat height relative to the non-adjustable steering wheel and imposing dash top was also way too low. During an era when both parents had to drive the one and only family car, both were fatal mistakes and easily picked-up in a showroom sampling. Although previous Valiants were generally women-friendly, the VH could not have been more hostile to the needs of women drivers in terms of vision and ease of driving.

The steering wheel was also heavily criticized for being too far away from the dash. As soon as smaller drivers moved back for a relaxed driving position, their feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. Another veto point for which there was no solution.

Added to all three of these cabin packaging issues, was a long and droopy tail that could not be seen from the driver’s seat. In a car approaching the size of a Fairlane in length, it was a bigger issue than it was in the HQ or XA. To describe the VH Valiant as a major step backwards for women (including the heavy unassisted disc brakes and dealing with car sick rear passengers) compared to its rivals would not be overstating the case.

Last but not least, any family six with cut-above aspirations that did not offer face level flow-through ventilation could never be taken seriously by 1971. In a hot country where air-conditioning was still not common, this was another omission all too obvious in the showroom. The presence of old school front quarter vents (deleted from the HQ) continued the message on the road. Again, this was a reflection of an offshore US team isolated from a local market where there this feature was taken for granted in the cheapest Japanese cars and was even offered in the VW Beetle that year!

The shared VH/CH Hardtops highlighted the folly of letting an isolated Chrysler US design team loose on an Aussie car. This variation was in response to the sales of the VF/VG Hardtops which had the longer Dodge Dart wheelbase. After adding the CH’s extra 4 inches of wheelbase, slashing the rear accommodation and increasing the rear droop to silly lengths, US thinking was that they were giving the Aussies a modern replacement. As a cab-plus ute it might have sold better but you can see why it sent local management into a cold sweat even if it is a curiosity today. (Photo from commons.wikimedia.org)



This writer at age 17 was living in a small country town in early 1971 when word went around that a secret new model had been locked-up under a cover behind the local garage. At dusk, this made jumping the fence and lifting the covers of this unbadged new car inevitable for several local lads.

Viewed in sections as the cover was lifted furtively, it didn’t look new. The sheer expanse of curved sheet metal was the overwhelming first impression. Its skinny wheels were tucked so far inside the wheel arches, it was like an HD Holden. The first impression was that it had to be a US model on trial here with a basic grille and skinny wheels to avoid recognition. After we looked closer, there were enough clues for us to identify it as the coming new Valiant.

Because we weren’t disturbed, we took the cover off and stood back. At that point, it looked as though a smaller car had been fitted with pontoons running down both sides, an impression reinforced by the narrow track and skinny wheels.

Like rings in a tree trunk, the unresolved layers in the rear section of a VH sedan and hardtop provide mute testimony to the unresolved conflict allowed into production. Imagine a side window line just above this rear crease line flowing into a gently rising boot profile and the VH would have been sleek and a stunner. The rear section of the Charger provides a clue to how it was meant to be done. Dealers wisely added side protection strips to distract the eye from this conflict, as on this example, a tactic that Chrysler Australia soon had to adopt after there was no money to fix it.  No wonder Chrysler was in serious trouble globally. (Photo from gumtree.com.au)

The odd swage line running along the sides from the front doors to the rear really stood out in the low light and added to the cut and shut impression. It was not just a styling line like the R and S Series but it added extra body width below the window line, all outside the cabin. This bulge was also so low there didn’t seem any point to it. Then we noticed the exterior door handles sitting in the middle of the doors, not below the side glass.

Although we couldn’t quite get a full perspective from the rear, it didn’t make sense that the boot lid didn’t match the length of the rear quarters, another HD Holden failing that had to be addressed with the HR. Looking in at the dash and seats, the cabin seemed quite enclosed. We thought it must have been a running prototype and items like rear roofline, door handle location, wheels and grille had yet to be finalized.

We were shocked to find only weeks later that we had been looking at the real deal mid-range VH Valiant ready for release.

So how did it happen? Because this sneak look had such a big impact on a group of impressionable 17 year olds and there was no apparent reason why anyone would deliver such an important new Valiant looking like this, it became one of this writer’s lifetime aims to experience the processes that could allow these aberrations to occur.

Despite strong and unified criticism of the VH styling at the time, no one actually analysed the compromises and why it emerged like it did. While research for this article has uncovered some of the processes that led to these compromises, it has to be concluded that the disconnect between the US designers and the Australian market was a major factor. After the Australians were left to prepare the end result for production, the lack of budget meant that many of the carryover internal parts had to be used.

It has been widely reported that the VH Valiant was styled alongside the 1970 and 1971 Dodge Coronets, in much the same way as the XA Falcon was heavily influenced by the Torino of the day.

The CH Chrysler was potentially the best looking of all VH derivatives as it had the grille intended for this shape. However, the extra body height above the grille compared to the 1971 Dodge Coronet above highlights why no VH derivative could look quite right as the CH’s extra 4 inches in wheelbase, more imposing front and fatter C-pillar highlighted the droopy rear even more. Extend an imaginary line from just above the grille then the same distance above the door handles and rear crease line and you soon get a sense of how much fake height was added to this design. The sloping panel between the grille and the bonnet is another clue. According to expert commentary at the time, the low CH rear lights made the rear look like it had drooped further and the mis-matched bumper looked as though it was all that was now holding it up. (Photo from wallpaperup.com)

The Americans who were heading-up both designs in the US were basing Australia’s next generation models on the slightly larger mid-range Fairlane equivalents they were offering their own buyers. Except the VH Valiant was not scheduled to be replaced before 1975, not 1973 as for the Dodge, and it was smaller. What the Americans didn’t allow for (and Holden did when it was on the spot) was the Australian switch towards Europe which hit Australia several years before the US.

Because the HD and HR Holden reached Australian roads before most compact family cars (including in the US) could share their curved side glass and “fuselage” body sides (as Chrysler later called it), the VH Valiant and XA Falcon looked like they should have been competing against the HT and HG Holdens. It was commonly noted at the time that the VG Valiant looked newer than the VH and the XA Falcon seemed bland and dated compared to the XY Falcon. It was because the VG Valiant and XY Falcon facelifts reflected the more substantial look coming out of Europe.

This doesn’t explain why the VH Valiant failed to look as professional as either of the 1970-71 Dodge Coronets it was based on. Earlier Coronets had a distinctive side crease line at the rear which was stylized on the 1970 model to run only from the rear door area, just below the side glass. It was a neat variation of the GM’s 1965 “Coke-bottle” line but the key to it working was that it defined the top of the rear quarters. By 1971, it was gone and the Dodge Coronet which was closer to the VH Valiant was left with tight and tidy rear quarters that eliminated the previous pinched-in C-pillars and made them flush with the bodysides.

Early VH sketches show this rear bodyside crease line much higher, just below the side glass in a style that was a neat combination of the 1970 and 1971 Dodge Coronet. Then it all went wrong. Chrysler’s US design bosses wanted upswept side glass to create a wedge effect. The Australian team wanted full depth side glass and widely-spaced C-pillars that didn’t impinge on the rear view.

As a purely indulgent personal coupe, the CH Chrysler version made more sense than the plain Valiant version with its imposing loop bumper front, extra body details and the clever use of the vinyl roof to establish some continuity between the oversized C-pillars and undersized rear quarters. In reality, it made no difference to sales and without the Charger, the VH could easily have buried Chrysler Australia by 1973. (Photo from photos-d.ak.fbcdn.net)

The Aussie design team was overruled and the nightmares started. The huge expanse of extra sheet metal above the door handles and rear quarters was large enough to generate body drumming issues. The crease or swage line basically had to stay where it was to stiffen the panels and provide a flat surface for the door handles. The base of the side glass swept up so high at the rear under the US directive, the C-pillar bases were moved so high up the curve of the body sides that their starting points were forced much closer together than the A-pillars.

The top half of the body was therefore left tapering inwards at the rear while the lower body was spreading outwards. It looked far worse under the high Aussie sun which would always catch the extra spread of the lower rear section and remind everyone it was now so far down the body sides that it looked like it came from another car (which it had).

At this point, someone should have been screaming: Enough! But it didn’t end there. The extra sheet metal between this body side swage line and the side glass had to be continued or lost before the rear of the car. The upper edges of the front guards also had to be pumped upwards to match the higher side glass line hence the drop down to the bonnet and grille.

Instead of continuing the wedge into the rear quarters and boot, the US designers chose to “lose” the extra height between the C-pillars and the end of the boot. It created the illusion that the VH Valiant’s longer rear section was so heavy that it was bending the rear of the car from the C-pillars. This “droop” was noticed by everyone and it took a committed VH Valiant buyer to brave the readily stated opinion, ‘The back of your car’s falling off, Mister.’

A rear bumper which didn’t match the rear panel work highlighted that impression, as if the rear was sinking into it. The horizontal tail lights of the CH Chrysler and later VJ/VK facelifts made it look worse. The VH Valiant Charger, wagon and utes escaped this look as the wedge continued through to the rear of these body styles without drooping.

Highlighting the VH sedan’s serious styling issues and narrow track were the highest ride height (a full inch/25.4mm higher than HQ and XA was needed to provide clearance for the extra overhangs) and the skinniest tyre spec at base level (6.50x14 versus 6.95x14). It was a classic example of one issue creating another with no one having the influence to say stop.

The VH was supposed to be replaced before 1976. Instead, Chrysler Australia had to hide its failings on a tiny budget for a decade. The VF bumper was recycled front and rear for the CL/CM upgrades but at least it matched the boot profile and tail lights at the rear which now looked part of the wedge. The extra side strip distracted the eye from the errant rear crease line and the line below the C-pillars softened the transition to the rear disguising the droop.  (Photo from performanceforums.com)

It was all for nothing. The droop was so pronounced on the VH/CH Sedans and Hardtops there was nothing left of the wedge anyway. For the CL facelift, local stylists added larger and higher tail lights, matched the rear section to the bumper and added strong horizontal lines down the side including a chrome strip at the base of the C-pillar to soften the droop. By 1976, it was too late.

This heavy rear created a quandary at the front. Both 1970 and 1971 Dodge Coronets featured variations of Chrysler’s distinctive corporate loop front bumpers. For a base Valiant, this was overkill. Chrysler justifiably reserved this more elaborate front for top shelf CH Chrysler models, which apart from the rear droop, looked quite classy for a model replacing the US-sourced Plymouth Fury/Dodge Phoenix.

Creating a front imposing enough for the acreage of VH sheetmetal was not easy. Early concepts showed a front that looked exactly like a more upright version of the HQ with a separate rectangular grille and big round headlights in square pods. Why this front was never seen might have been because of the top secret meetings held between management during this era before a new model was released to avoid an absolute double-up. With extra time and tooling, a full-width variation of this front surfaced on the VJ facelift but the final VH front revisions were limited by the existing tooling.

It can also be stated with some certainty that the final drawings before tooling was completed by the same US contractor who was doing an identical job for the XA Falcon at the same time.

This factory shot of the entry level Dodge ute version highlights the narrow track, old school narrow tyres that also appeared on the sedans and a wedge side profile that might have looked just as good on the sedan as it wasn’t droopy. This front which looked too much like the XA Falcon highlights why it wasn’t seen on other VH models.

Although Ford and Chrysler in the US had no problems with this, there were several similarities that couldn’t be allowed through. This was confirmed after a local Chrysler employee saw some of the Falcon tooling in Melbourne and the resemblance to the XA Falcon was judged to be too close.

The production front for the VH Valiant range was therefore a very late change. Separating the grille from the side parker/indicator units with a surround that replicated the loop bumper of the CH Chrysler was intended as a clear point of difference. Switching the headlights to the small rectangular units from the Hillman Hunter ensured there would be no further resemblance.

Because there wasn’t the time nor the money to tool up for headlight surrounds to make the small Hillman headlights look bigger, the slender centre section of the VH Valiant front looked like a Hillman Hunter had been slotted between the Valiant’s front guards. It was an impression reinforced by side indicators that looked bigger than the headlights on most models. The South African quad headlight version of this front used on their Dodge SE version of the VH Valiant Regal 770 would have solved the problem on all local Valiant levels and contributed to its cut-above positioning.

No VH feature would be complete without a reference to the Charger but it was the volume selling everyday models such as this Charger 770 that lifted VH Valiant sales. Given its nightmare starting point, its limited budget and emergency time frame, the Charger would have to rank as one of the greatest achievements of the Australian industry. (Photo from australianmusclecarsales.com.au)

Because the VH Charger was much trimmer, the centre section of the VH front which looked like it belonged on a smaller car proved to be an advantage.



These styling shortfalls were not enough in isolation to kill the VH Valiant’s chances. The final nail in the coffin was the way the entry level cars drove.

Wheels in September 1971 echoed what was being said about the VH Valiant: “…undoubtedly the VH’s worst feature is the recirculating ball steering which has an atrocious sloppiness that permits more than a quarter of a turn of slack. This effectively reduces controllability and manoeuvrability when the car is taken on twisty roads. This combines with a wallowing body roll to give a feeling approaching instability at anything over 50 mph(80km/h).”

Accompanied by photos of an oversized body leaning over its narrow track with scary front wheel angles, it was not a good look in 1971 even if the roadholding was safe and secure.

Although Wheels linked this behaviour to the recirculating ball steering, the steering mechanism itself was no worse than in the HQ or XA. What Wheels didn’t know, was that Chrysler had still not moved the engine from its right of centre position since the R Series and was therefore still bolting the VH steering onto the wrong body parts.

The torsion bar front end had also not changed since the R Series and still transmitted the same amount of harshness into the cabin. This had prompted Chrysler earlier to advise owners not to fit radial tyres to any Valiant. By 1971, this was not acceptable. Because this suspension design could not be easily isolated from bump thump, the only option was to soften the front torsion bars. This left the VH Valiant with a wallowy ride and caused the front end to lose contact with the road on corrugations.

The extra grip of radial tyres in 1971 not only placed more strain on the flawed steering box mounting, the higher and wider body plus the significant weight penalty (1404kg vs the HQ’s 1327kg) added forces never intended for the R Series Valiant underpinnings. The standard cross-ply tyres which were almost as skinny as those on an FB Holden in 1960 made it less obvious. The VH Pacer and other upmarket models were fitted with a front anti-roll bar and firmer torsion bar settings which cut the weight transfer and improved handling but extra ride harshness was the trade-off.

The lack of a local four speed manual also became more of an issue with the heavier Pacer. Although the brilliant new 265 engine made the VH Pacer the fastest and arguably most desirable sporty six cylinder sedan made in Australia, it would have been so much better with a four speed manual. By the time a four speed manual was offered, the focus had moved to the Charger and only a tiny number (37 according to some estimates) of Pacers were sold with this gearbox.

This is what Australians should have been looking at in 1971. By the late 1970s-early 1980s, it all looked a little tragic against the VB Commodore and XD Falcon although better late than never. Note the upper bodyside pinstripe and C-pillar accent which was closer to the side glass line and rising rear profile that the Australians wanted. No less than the CL-CM’s four headlight front and separate grille were needed in 1971 to lift the Valiant back into its cut-above positioning after the tired VF-VG. Instead, Chrysler US appointed a US cost-cutter as local chief in 1973 who then berated and slashed local staff who had been trying to market a design that needed to lose its US excesses immediately.  



The VH Valiant was a courageous effort and had the right ingredients to underwrite a future for Chrysler Australia independent of the parent company’s financial strife. It would be too easy to blame the lack of funds for the VH’s shortcomings. The real culprit was the offshore priorities of a development team totally out of touch with changing Australian tastes and requirements. As Australian roads improved dramatically, a car’s ability to handle high speed bends and sudden changes in road surface without stressing the driver had become more important.

Instead of the white elephant VH/CH hardtop, which sold only 1420 examples across both model ranges, adding face level flow-through ventilation, centring the engine and attaching the steering to the K-frame as Chrysler US did in 1962, were far more important objectives that remained unaddressed.

Yet none of this would have worked either if the styling issues were not addressed. Both Brian Smyth from Australia and Bob Hubbach from the US knew exactly what was needed for the Australian market as proven by their combined efforts with the Charger yet both were ignored when it came to the rest of the range.

Chrysler destroyed almost everything it touched during this period and to hope Australia might avoid its poor judgement and sometimes witless management which brought the parent company to its knees proved ultimately futile. By the end of 1973, most of those who could turn this around had left.