Revealed: MORE secret Valiants you NEVER saw
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Revealed: MORE secret Valiants you NEVER saw

By DavidBurrell - 02 April 2024

For many years it was believed that most of Chrysler Australia’s design studio sketches, photos and clay models had been destroyed in the 1980s.

Not so.

A few forward-thinking staff quietly rescued selected artifacts that were destined for the shredder. Other material was sent to the National Motoring Museum in South Australia.

One of the rescuers is Paul Blatch. Paul was a designer at the company from the mid-1980s until the factory closure in 2008. He was determined to preserve and showcase as much of Chrysler/Mitsubishi Australia’s heritage as possible.

In the December 2022 and January 2023 editions of Retroautos® I revealed, thanks to Paul, never-before-seen photos of Valiant and Charger styling proposals. There are links at the end of this story.

And now I am pleased to be able to share more previously secret proposals of the VH, VK and CL Valiant sedan.

During that era, Chrysler Australia’s design department was led by the late Brian Smyth. Working with him was Dennis Nicolle. Brian resigned in 1977 and the late Neil Francis took over, with continued assistance from Dennis. Neil left in 1983 and Dennis became the chief designer until he retired in 2002.

Dennis is also one of the seven automotive designers featured in Shannons Design to Driveway series. His influence on the Drifter panel van and ute are featured in the September 2023 edition of Retroautos®. There is a link at the end of the story.

As you would expect, the photos you see here vary in quality. They were never meant to be published. Their purpose was to be visual reminders for the design team. I have enhanced one of the images with AI to improve its clarity.

1971 VH Valiant: A GT sedan?

When these photos were taken in 1969, the overall styling of the VH had been locked in. The product planners and design team were now focused on what models to include in the range and interior and exterior details.

Little is known of the GT sedan. Speculation suggests it was to be a higher specification variant of the budget priced Pacer, perhaps with a Regal 770 interior and a higher output 265 cubic inch hemi six.

The GT station wagon, seen above, might have been an interesting offering. The reality is that the design team were using the wagon clay model to demonstrate an alternative version of the GT grille.

Meanwhile, the photo below shows that “shaker” and recessed bonnet scoops were on the agenda for the GT. It is likely the GT was shelved in favour of the R/T Chargers.

Very evident in these photos is the bulk of the VH’s body shape. The appearance was not helped by the small rectangular headlights, borrowed from the Hillman Hunter. Even at this stage there are obvious efforts by the design team to make the headlights appear bigger.

VK: Great ideas cut by costs

The VH Valian’s shape fully embraced the “fuselage” design theme, which was a favourite of the company’s global design boss, Elwood Engel. He applied it across the Chrysler range beginning in 1969.

The fuselage theme was not popular in the USA and was abandoned in 1974. It was not popular with Australian car buyers either. The VH’s curved sheet metal, with a dominant crease along the side of the car and a rising belt line, gave the vehicle a bulky and wide hipped appearance. This was further accentuated by the droopy rear end. Sales were lower than the previous model by 20%, resulting in a decline in the company’s market share and revenue.

Determined to fix the problems, the Australian and US styling teams worked on new shapes for the VH’s successors, the VJ and VK. In the December 2022 edition of Retroautos® I revealed a major redesign proposal, seen above, that eliminated the negatives. But, the poor sales of the VH, combined with Chrysler’s financial problems around the world, meant there was no money to fund major sheet metal changes for the local car and this proposal was shelved.

Knowing the VJ would be released with few changes, the design teams focused on two proposals for the VK. Although no change to the side shape was possible, the new front and rear ends were big and bold. These ideas made it as far as two full-sized mock ups and were ready for evaluation in late 1972.

The images above and below show one of the 1972 proposals in the design studio and in the outdoor viewing area at Chrysler Australia’s Tonsley Park site. It features a larger rear window, prominent open grille, large headlights surrounded by sheet metal (similar to the P6 Ford LTD) and raised rear fenders with vertical tail lights.

This clay model is two sided. The right side has a slightly different tail light shape.

In comparison with the VH and XA Falcon, seen below, the proposed front and rear styling slightly reduces the visual width of the Valiant and eliminates the droopy rear. The front is much less fussy than the VH.

The second proposal, seen below, is based on input from the USA. It features the bold front end and larger rear window of the other clay model, combining it with slightly lower and more rounded rear fenders and horizontal taillights.

From my perspective, the design teams created two good-looking proposals that have more appealing styling than the HJ/HX/HZ Holden. However, whatever the design teams tried, until they could eliminate the large side crease—and there was no money to do it anyway—it was difficult to really change the Valiant’s overall appearance, as the comparison photo, below, of the two proposals shows.

With the continuing financial constraints restricting major sheet metal changes, the styling team amalgamated the two proposals into one. You can see many of the design ideas and grille alternatives in the December 2022 Retroautos®. The two images below reveal badge, vinyl roof and stripe ideas for the Regal (left side) and Ranger models.

A rare photo captures Dennis changing a grille during the VK prototype photographic session.

As Valiant sales continued to decline and Chrysler’s global financial problems escalated, money for the VK styling changes was reduced to almost zero. In the end, when the VK did appear in October 1975, it was an imperceptible revision of the VJ. However, the VK design proposals would eventually appear on the CL/CM models beginning in 1976.

South African CL

The images above and below show the trim, badge, window frame paint and striping ideas for the South African CL model, that was released in 1978. Offered only as the luxury SE, it was powered by the aging 225 cubic inch/3.7 litre slant six and boasted a single spoke steering wheel. The photos indicate how small changes can make a noticeable visual difference to the car’s appearance.

Importance of preservation

The photos of the secret Valiants and Chargers, and the stories behind their development, published in this and previous editions of Retroautos® provide a unique glimpse of “what might have been.” A special thanks to Paul Blatch for preserving them and to Dennis Nicolle for explaining their importance.

National Motoring Museum’s Chrysler and Mitsubishi Collection

The National Motoring Museum (NMM) at Birdwood in South Australia also has an extensive collection of Chrysler and Mitsubishi Australia history, including scale clay models, blueprints, sketches and photos. Although it is not on display, it is being preserved and collated. Thanks to Matthew Lombard, curator at the NMM, for championing our access to the collection. Watch out for stories on the development of the Magna/Verada in future editions of Retroautos®.

Retroautos® is written and published with passion and with pride by David Burrell. Retroautos® stories and images are copyrighted. Reproducing them in any format is prohibited. Retroautos® is a registered trademark. Reproducing it in any format is prohibited.

Valiants you never saw: Part 1

Chargers you never saw

Dennis Nicolle: Design to Driveway series

Chrysler Valiant Drifter