Strong thought-pro­vok­ing con­tent, myths de­bunked, facts only, no nu­dity. Writ­ten by Gavin Farmer.

Australian Muscle Car - - R-Rated -

Chrysler had a his­tory of drop­ping the ball on regular oc­ca­sions when it came to mar­ket­ing. Why it hap­pened with such mo­not­o­nous reg­u­lar­ity is a mys­tery. The world for Chrysler Australia Limited (CAL) changed dramatically in Jan­uary 1962 with the re­lease of the sen­sa­tional R Se­ries Valiant. This car sin­gle-hand­edly changed the mo­tor­ing land­scape in Australia for­ever: fan­tas­tic Exner styling, rugged slant-six en­gine pro­vid­ing 145bhp and al­most 100mph off the show­room floor, push-but­ton Torqueflite au­to­matic or curved floor man­ual shifter, roomy in­te­rior and quad head­lights. Sure it cost a lit­tle more than the hum­drum Holden and Ford, but it was well worth the ex­tra. Buy­ers thought so too, be­cause they mobbed the Chrysler deal­er­ships try­ing to buy one. The re­lease of the S Se­ries just 10 weeks later saw the buy­ing frenzy con­tinue.

From there for most of the rest of the decade it was all down­hill, es­pe­cially from a styling per­spec­tive. It seemed Chrysler zigged when Ford and Holden zagged. That was not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing be­cause it meant that the Valiant stood out (again) from the Holden/ Fal­con crowd.

By 1968 the CAL man­age­ment team were well aware that Chrysler was way be­hind the eight­ball in the per­for­mance car stakes. The com­pany went from leader to fol­lower in just six years! But what to do? Re­sources – fi­nan­cial as well as per­son­nel – were al­ways at a pre­mium down at Ton­s­ley Park so it had to be achieved with a min­i­mum of in­vest­ment.

Chrysler had in­tro­duced the su­perb small­block 273ci V8 in its AP6 range but only as an au­to­matic in the top of the range Re­gal se­ries. Ford and Holden, too, had V8 en­gines avail­able ex-USA and im­ported them to be of­fered in all mod­els, not just the higher-spec ver­sions. And Ford dropped a high-per­for­mance ver­sion into its new XR Fal­con to cre­ate a mo­tor­ing leg­end – the Fal­con GT that won first time out at Bathurst.

Holden did like­wise with the HK range, and with a sim­i­lar re­sult.

Viewed with hind­sight from over four decades later, en­thu­si­asts must ask the ques­tion: Why did Chrysler not put an im­ported New Process four-speed gear­box be­hind the 273, and go af­ter Ford and Holden to woo sport­ing driv­ers to their fold? Lo­cal con­tent re­quire­ments might have been a prob­lem, but their com­peti­tors man­aged that okay.

Man­age­ment di­rected a small num­ber of en­gi­neers to work up a pro­posal for a ‘sport­ing sedan’ us­ing only the 225ci slant-six mated to a Borg Warner three-speed man­ual gear­box with a floor shifter.

From go-to-whoa the whole Pacer pro­gram took only six months! This meant some short­cuts were taken, par­tic­u­larly in the in­te­rior.

Me­chan­i­cally, the slant-six was mod­i­fied slightly by way of in­creased com­pres­sion (up to 9.2:1), a two-bar­rel down­draft Carter carby on a gas­flowed in­take man­i­fold and a dual down­pipe ex­haust man­i­fold feed­ing a low-re­stric­tion muf­fler that gave a suit­ably bass ex­haust note.

Stop­ping the Pacer were 9-inch di­am­e­ter ca­st­iron drum brakes that were finned for cool­ing, although 11-ins solid ro­tor front discs (un­boosted) were avail­able for an ex­tra $55. A dual mas­ter cylin­der fed sep­a­rate front and rear cir­cuits while the wheel rims were widened to 5.5 inches and fit­ted with 6.95 x 14 four-ply redline tyres. The car’s ride height was low­ered by half an inch.

Very few changes were made in­side, again as a re­sult of bud­getary con­straints. The dash­board was un­changed ex­cept the di­als had their graph­ics reversed – now black on a white back­ground – and a tiny hor­i­zon­tal VDO ta­chome­ter was placed on the dash­top. Seat­ing was by front tomb­stone buck­ets and there were rub­ber floor mats and no heater/demis­ter.

Chrysler re­leased the Pacer in June 1969 and put it on the show­room floors at $2798. It was un­doubt­edly a bar­gain at a time when Ford and Holden were push­ing to­wards $4000 for their GT sedan and GTS327 Monaro.

And yes, Chrysler did un­wit­tingly open up a new mar­ket seg­ment with the Pacer that no­body re­alised was there. But there is still the nag­ging thought that if they had gone the V8 route with the 318ci en­gine and 4-speed gear­box and re­tailed it at, say, $3698 it would still have un­der­cut the Fal­con GT and Monaro GTS and more than matched them for power, ac­cel­er­a­tion and top speed.

On the road the Pacer was quite quick with a top speed of 106mph and a 0-60mph time of 10.4 sec­onds, but with the 318 V8 it would have eas­ily been two sec­onds quicker to 60mph and would have had a top end speed in Fal­con GT ter­ri­tory! In the US the Ply­mouth Road Run­ner was a sim­i­larly stripped down high-per­for­mance model with a 383 V8 – it blasted its Ford and GM ri­vals into the weeds!

Con­sid­er­ing how lit­tle time was de­voted to

Chrysler re­fused to push bound­aries

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