By MURRAY HUBBARD
If ever there was a cat set among the
Australian motoring pigeons it came in the guise of the 1961 R Series
Valiant (RV1). The pigeons were the XK Falcon and Holden's EK sedan.
Both cars had problems. The Ford was starting to show signs it was
not ideally suited to Australian conditions. Over at Holden the EK, a
face-lift of the FB, was in a five year time warp and looked more
like a compact 1956-57 Chevy than a car of the smooth new order like
Falcon. Both were underpowered compared to the 225 cubic inch Valiant
engine that produced 145 bhp (108 kW) of power compared to the Holden
138 cubic inch `grey' motor with 75 bhp (55 kW) and the Falcon's 144
cubic inch six at 90 bhp (67 kW).
In reality the Valiant was also an
anachronism. We thought it was futuristic. But it still had fins,
both at the front and back, albeit horizontal not vertical. But it
had twin headlights, a gutsy engine and easily the best automatic
with the Chrysler TorqueFlite three speed. People were intrigued as
the auto was operated by push buttons, situated on the right side of
the steering wheel.
It was the Valiant's style that people
fell in love with. The cars were brought to Australia from the US in
CKD form and assembled in Adelaide. The R Series sold out in a flash,
a matter of days. By US standards it was an austere automobile. No
power windows, bench seats, no power steering, the heater was
optional and the colours offered were so exciting ... not ... white
was the stand-out. The R came out with the push-button auto or a much
talked-about three on the floor shifter. This gear shift came up out
of the floor near the centre and curled up and over the seat like a
cobra. Once again it was a talking point as we had seen nothing like
it. Because the R Series was only ever designed as a left hook car,
obviously the self shifter came as an after thought for RHD.
The R Series followed the American Q
Series which was introduced as a 1960 car in late 1959. By US
standards these were compact or small cars. In the US they were
powered by a 170 cubic in slant six. In addition to the sedan body
they also came as station wagons, convertibles and two-door hardtop
variants. We have a Plymouth two door hardtop pictured here from a
recent All Chrysler Day in Brisbane. Some years ago I can recall a Q
Series station wagon coming on the market in New South Wales where it
had been used as an ambulance. In the US Valiants were badged as
Dodge Lancer and Plymouth Valiant. By late 1961 the 225 cubic inch
slant six, which was used in Australian Valiants, were optional in
Some 1006 R Series Valiants were sold
in Australia after the car was launched by South Australia's then
premier, Sir Thomas Playford in early 1962. These days the R Series
is the more collectible of the R and S models. The reason for this is
simple. Ten times as many S Series were sold, just a tad over 10,000.
There is also the individuality of the R-Series with its egg shell
grille and false spare wheel on the boot and the unique manual
shifter, as the S Series reverted to a more traditional
three-on-the-tree shifter for its manual version.
The R Series received rave reviews from
motoring writers despite the car's lack of creature comforts and tiny
fuel tank of just 48 litres, and of course, the big slant six was a
fairly thirsty engine. Not that this mattered. Petrol was cheap. What
they liked was the styling and the powerful engine which with ample
torque made up for not having synchromesh on first gear. Compared to
the Holden in particular the Valiant was streets ahead on the inside.
The dash was curved with a large speaker housing next to the
instrument binnacle. The Valiant was also the first of what would
become known In Australia as the big three – Holden, Ford and
Chrysler – to use an alternator replacing the generator.
In the blink of an eye the R Series was
gone to be replaced by the S Series, a slick face-lift of the same
quirky shape. With so few R Series imported Chrysler had already
placed orders in the US for S Series. In reality the S Series was a
better car than the R Series and we're not just talking about the
cleaner lines. The false spare on the boot-lid was replaced with a
cleaner, simpler appearance, the elongated taillights were taken out
of the fins and replaced by round lights added to the body under the
fins. At the front the grille was simplified, but the bonnet opening
mechanism remained outside the cabin in the grille.
On the sides the amount of chrome work
was also reduced. It was a cleaner look overall, but there are many
Valiant buffs should still prefer the bling on the R Series. Beauty,
as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. We like both variants,
but given the choice would prefer the R Series simply on rarity,
although a few years back we did own an S Series automatic. The S
also received a larger fuel tank, now 53 litres. Ball joint ends and
tie rod ends were also sealed, reducing the need for servicing. Like
the R Series, there was a rush on the S Series and dealers had full
The slanting of the engine by 30
degrees to the right facilitated a low bonnet angle. But, it did have
its drawbacks with the spark plugs, fuel pump, distributor and a few
other engine `add ons' in the hard-to-get space between the inside of
the mudguard and the leaning over engine. Conversely, the left side
of the engine was easy to work on including the exhaust system,
carby and battery. Perhaps the real legacy of the R and S
Series Valiants is that they started the idea of a BIG THREE car
makers in Australia. Chrysler were already here selling Mopar brands
including the predecessor to the Valiant, the Royal, designated AP
4 (Australian Production) , which it later took up again with the
successor to the S Series Valiant, the AP5 Valiant.
PRICE WHEN NEW
R Series: $2478 manual $2638 auto
S Series $2510 manual $2670 automatic
Length: 4679 mm
Width 1788 mm
Height 1397 mm
Wheelbase: 2705 mm
Kerb Weight: 1227 kg (man) 1184 (auto)
225 cubic inches (3.7 litre) six
cylinder slanted 30 degrees to right.
Single Carter carburettor
Bore/Stroke: 86.36 mm x 104.77 mm
Power: 108 kW at 4400 rpm
Torque: 291 Nm at 2400 rpm
Firing Order: 1-5-3-6-2-4
Speed through gears: First: 68 km/h;
Second: 113 km/h; Third: 158 km/h.
0-400m: 19.4 seconds
SUSPENSION AND BRAKES
Front torsion bar, Rear leaf springs.
Turning Circle: 12.2 m
Brakes: front and rear drums
Wheels: 14 inch.