Here’s an interesting item in Motor City car lore: The Valiant, Chrysler Corporation’s all-new compact offering for 1960, was not originally badged as a Plymouth.
When the Valiant was introduced for the 1960 model year, the Detroit automakers were still struggling with the question of how to market their new compacts. Should these smaller models be promoted as completely new car brands, from a clean sheet of paper if you will, or should they be cradled in the marketplace as junior versions of the existing brands, trading on their familiarity and reputation? While the company would soon reverse its decision, Chrysler originally chose to market its new compact as a stand-alone brand with the tagline, “Nobody’s kid brother.”
There was was careful reasoning behind the Valiant’s unusual styling (peculiar, some would call it). The short nose and low hood profile, enabled by the Chrysler Corporation’s cleverly packaged Slant 6 engine, were designed to improve driver visibility and command of the road. (Read all about the Slant 6 here.) The elevated rear deck line increased the trunk’s useful luggage capacity, while the thin, bowed-out doors and football-shaped passenger cab maximized interior volume without enlarging the car’s footprint.
To develop the new compact, Chrysler set up a “Valiant Task Force” of 200 engineers and designers in a rented factory a few miles from the company’s Highland Park, Michigan headquarters. Shrouded in secrecy, the project was most likely a government defense program, many Chrysler employees assumed. Along with the Slant 6, engineering firsts for the Valiant included the automaker’s first alternator and a downsized version of the famed Torqueflite transmission called the A-904.
Unlike some Detroit compacts, which were intended as second cars for their customer families, the Valiant was engineered from the start as a “prime vehicle,” the only car a family would need with full seating for six. While the Valiant styling team was directed by Robert Bingman, one obvious flourish from Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner was the faux spare tire stamping on the deck lid, a gimmick the critics named the “washing machine lid” or “toilet seat.”
All Valiants for 1960 rode on the same 106.5-inch wheelbase unibody platform, and for the inaugural model year, the body styles included a four-door sedan, a six-passenger wagon, and a nine-passenger wagon. A two-door would not be added until the following year, and a convertible was never offered in the first-generation Valiant.
There were two trim levels: the base V-100 and the V-200, which added a little more chrome and some upgraded interior materials. Neither was flashy as the Valiant’s original focus was on function and practicality. The Motor City automakers, Chrysler included, had not yet fully sorted out that many buyers chose compacts simply because they were fun to drive. The bucket seats and convertible models would arrive shortly.
Introduced on September 21, 1959, the Valiant was originally sold and serviced by Chrysler- Plymouth and DeSoto-Plymouth dealers. Some of them, that is—around half the dealers elected to take on the Valiant franchise. Volume was respectable the first year at more than 195,000 units, but clearly, potential sales had been left on the table. For 1961, both the product lineup and corporate management at Chrysler (there was a major scandal in the executive suites in ’60) were given a good shaking as the DeSoto brand was eliminated, the Valiant was rebranded as an official Plymouth model, and the Dodge division got its own badge-engineered version of the Valiant called the Lancer.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor Garage.