American buyers have always appreciated a reliable “appliance” car. More often than not, Plymouth provided safe and sane reliable transportation as their bread and butter. Perhaps the most refined expression of the wholesome “Peanut Butter and Wheat Germ Sandwich” expression of Plymouth values was the 3rd Generation Plymouth Valiant sold from 1967 through 1976.
For such a humble car, few automobiles have been admired for their all around staid status the way Plymouth Valiants (and to a lesser degree their sister car the Dodge Dart) are. The official ride of High School Chemistry Teachers and Lesbian Librarians of the 1960’s can still be seen in locales that don’t encourage rust to rise on their quarter panels nearly 50 years later.
Although the Valiant tried to be a style icon with the first generation between 1960 and 1962, by 1967 Highland Park realized the true mission of their most entry level in-house offering. Tastefully, yet not offensively tailored, basic, albeit quality appointments and features a slight step above the main competition made the Valiant a perennial favorite for thrifty buyers.
By the late 60’s all of the main competitors more or less chased trends or were withering on the vine. The original sales champ of the Big Three compacts, The Ford Falcon, soldiered on a red headed stepchild in the shadow of the Mustang. It would soon donate its space and bones to the overly cramped and cheapened out Maverick halfway through 1969. The Corvair lingered as an adamant refusal to call it quits. Meanwhile, the Chevy II Nova moved into faux-intermediate personal coupe land with a Semi-Fastback roofline, and an envy inducing options list.
Meanwhile the Valiant simplified and flourished. Gone were Hardtop Coupes, Convertibles and Station Wagons. Finally cutting super explicit visual ties with the Barracuda, Plymouth’s pony car took on the duty of sports/personal/luxury. Station Wagons meant migration towards the Belvedere/Satellite line by ’67. What was left was a 2 door and 4 Door Sedan in base and Signet trim.
The focus on those core models resulted in consistent sales over 100K units per model year for the remainder of the the decade. Each year saw incremental improvements, some federally regulated, some of them institutional. The Valiant had the one of the strongest base engines among Compact Cars in the most improved version of the smaller 170 cube Slant Six. Of course, this could be paired with the legendary Torqueflite automatic transmission, a combination with minimal attention could outlive owners.
If you wanted a little bit more muscle with your milquetoast, you had more choices than you had previously in 1968. Taking over for high compression versions of the 273 V8 was the upsized 318 V8 providing a healthy 230 horsepower for the Valiant’s still very lightweight frame.
With the combination of superior chassis dynamics to most competitors and this decently lively V8, The Valiant, well optioned, was one of the cheapest ways to create a bonafide cross country Interstate burner in American Showrooms.
The majority of Valiants most likely went to buyers equipped with the wholly adequate 225 Slant Six and a Torqueflite, however. The 145 horsepower was enough to move the Valiant’s body well under 3,000 lbs and return 20 mpg in mixed driving.
The virtues were multiple, the vices minimal. From polarizing beginnings, The Valiant became the finest purveyor of basic American Automotive desires. In a time of disposable automotive ownership, the relatively low-frills experience of The Plymouth Valiant allowed numbers of owners to ditch concepts of planned obsolescence and settle into an automotive marriage designed for the potential long haul.
There’s a hole in the American marketplace only covered by two Japanese Stalwarts (The Toyota Camry and its smaller sibling the Corolla) that fulfill this set-it/forget-it love affair with the appliance of the automobile in our modern world. Sometimes, one longs for a bit more choice, especially when one catches the glance of the elegant simplicity of the final generation of the Plymouth Valiant.