RESTRICTED TO OPEN-MINDED READERS ONLY.
Strong thought-provoking content, myths debunked, facts only, no nudity. Written by Gavin Farmer.
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