New Zealand Classic Car - - Motor Sport Flashback -

Ap­ply Rain-x® Orig­i­nal Glass Treat­ment to your wind­shield and watch wa­ter bead up and slide off as if by magic, giv­ing you a clearer view of the road ahead. Pho­tos at left show the re­mark­able dif­fer­ence in vis­i­bil­ity one treat­ment can make.

Forty-seven years ago, the Valiant Pacer grew from a de­sire by Chrysler to give its brand more ap­peal to the youth mar­ket and to pro­vide an in­cen­tive for own­ers to dab­ble in mo­tor sports. Here was a mar­que with a se­date, pres­tige im­age, so the idea of a sporty Valiant seemed al­most far-fetched. Yet, the Pacer pro­vided Todd Mo­tors, the New Zealand Chrysler dis­trib­u­tor, with an op­por­tu­nity to mar­ket a car with a def­i­nite in­cli­na­tion to go mo­tor rac­ing — and thus pro­vide spin-off for other Valiant mod­els.

This well-priced sports ver­sion of a large fam­ily sa­loon was never go­ing to be a big seller, yet it cre­ated a favourable im­pres­sion for its flair and hon­esty. With a smaller six-cylin­der en­gine, the Pacer had a moun­tain to climb against the might of the V8-pow­ered Ford Fal­cons and Holden Monaros, but the plucky Chrysler hardly dis­graced it­self.

Low pro­duc­tion num­bers of both the VF and VG se­ries Pac­ers may not be enough to war­rant re­stored or im­mac­u­late orig­i­nal ex­am­ples fetch­ing up­wards of $60K in Aus­tralia. That they can be worth as much as this and even more is indica­tive of the fact that these highly prized cars are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly rare and thus wor­thy of col­lec­tion.

Due to im­port re­stric­tions when they were new, few were im­ported into New Zealand, yet the model made a sig­nif­i­cant im­pres­sion and raised the Valiant pro­file.

A decade be­fore the VF Pacer’s June 1969 ar­rival, Chrysler brought the Valiant to the US small-car mar­ket. Then, early in 1962, the cor­po­ra­tion’s Aus­tralian arm launched an all-out at­tack on the lu­cra­tive medium-size six-cylin­der mar­ket with a lo­cally as­sem­bled ver­sion of the Amer­i­can model, tak­ing on the best-sell­ing Holden and Fal­con. The first Valiant was longer and wider than the op­po­si­tion, had dra­matic styling, and out­pow­ered and out­per­formed Gen­eral Mo­tors and Ford ri­vals.

Chryslers were first as­sem­bled in New Zealand in 1935, but it was the Valiant, built here be­tween 1963 and 1979, that made the big­gest im­pres­sion. Valiants reg­u­larly out­sold Fal­cons un­til the early ’ 70s. Early Valiants were pow­ered by Chrysler’s then-new slant-six en­gine, in­clined at 30 de­grees from the ver­ti­cal, which the com­pany made in the US for two decades. Valiant’s stamped-steel body, shell welded as a sin­gle struc­tural unit, pro­vided rat­tle-free cars and of­fered less ex­pen­sive, more rapid mass pro­duc­tion.

Priced to sell, geared to win

Fast for­ward to the VF se­ries and the first of the Pacer 225s, which I tested for a week in late 1969, de­scrib­ing the bright red test car as a prac­ti­cal five-seater sports sa­loon in a class of its own. Chrysler’s youth car may have been a low-cost ba­sic Valiant, but it came with ap­peal­ing ex­tras, ex­cel­lent per­for­mance, and a com­fort­able in­te­rior. Of course, it was built to a price, cost­ing only $200 more than a stan­dard Valiant in Aus­tralia. Even bet­ter, in New Zealand, the

ini­tial $3640 sticker price was a mere $12 dearer than the bread-and-but­ter ver­sion.

Later ex­am­ples were also great value for money — as one critic said, this was a car priced to sell, geared to win. The VG Pacer 245 was listed here at $3856 in late 1970, a price re­main­ing un­changed un­til the last ex­am­ples ar­rived in Au­gust the fol­low­ing year, and the facelifted VH ver­sion re­tailed for $4423. Avail­abil­ity was the down­side, with the fully im­ported Pacer be­ing avail­able only with an over­seas funds de­posit, un­like the lo­cally as­sem­bled stan­dard Valiants.

You could scarcely miss this sports ver­sion, with its red and black grille, body strip­ing, three VF Pacer 225 de­cals, sim­u­lated mag­ne­sium-al­loy wheel trims, and wild colours. There were com­fort­able high-back bucket seats, with the head­rest in­te­gral to the rest of the seat; blackon-white in­stru­ments; an awk­wardly mounted dash-top VDO tachome­ter; and rub­ber floor mats. Fol­low­ing cus­tomer com­plaints, the tomb­stone seats were low­ered for the VG. The win­dow sur­rounds were de­void of the usual bright trim, a sporty black rub­ber mould­ing hav­ing been opted for in­stead. Even a heater was op­tional.

Ap­point­ment moved up a grade with the VG se­ries Pacer, which was now fit­ted with car­pets and bet­ter in­stru­men­ta­tion. The cir­cu­lar 130mph (209kph) speedo and 7000rpm tacho were well laid out and eas­ier to read. Small de­tails — like hose clip­pings, plumb­ing, and paint­work — were well fin­ished, adding to the stand-out ap­pear­ance of the car. In keep­ing with the youth theme came bright new colours with snappy names: Kanga Blue, Thar She Blue, Hot Mus­tard, Lit­tle Hood Rid­ing Red, Bondi Bleach White, Hemi Orange, and Tan Fas­tic.

The 3.7-litre (225ci) en­gine in the VF pro­duced 130kw (175bhp), mak­ing it the most pow­er­ful six-cylin­der en­gine in Aus­trala­sia at the time. Stan­dard Valiants ran a com­pres­sion ra­tio of 8.4 to 1, but the two-bar­rel car­bu­ret­tor Pacer en­gine was up­rated to 9.2 to 1, and boasted a live­lier camshaft and spe­cial ex­haust sys­tem. As stan­dard, the car had 229mm finned drum brakes, while front discs and a

lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial were op­tional, but the tor­sion-bar sus­pen­sion was low­ered 125mm and anti-roll bars were stan­dard front and rear. There was noth­ing un­usual about the live rear axle sus­pended by semiel­lip­tic leaf springs, and the pon­der­ous han­dling with heavy un­der­steer was tamed by more neg­a­tive front-wheel cam­ber and fur­ther low­er­ing of the ride height.

In com­pe­ti­tion, the 279-mil­lime­tre solid discs were prone to heat fade, and the shock ab­sorbers also over­heated dur­ing rac­ing. As a re­sult, Chrysler de­vel­oped a heat-re­sis­tant ny­lon ring for the in­ter­nal pis­ton to stop oil leak­ing past the pis­ton for bet­ter sus­pen­sion con­trol. This was an ex­am­ple that lessons can be learned from rac­ing, as the ring be­came stan­dard on all Valiants. A stum­bling block for both VF and VG Pac­ers was the three­speed man­ual gear­box, a ne­ces­sity since Chrysler did not make a four-speed box in Aus­tralia. A four-speeder be­came avail­able on the VH Pacer later in 1971.

The styling was lit­tle changed for the ar­rival of the VG in Au­gust 1970, although the round head­lights were re­placed by rec­tan­gu­lar lights in a new grille, and the tail lights were smaller. Across the Tas­man, Stir­ling Moss was used to pro­mote the model. Disc brakes be­came stan­dard on all Pac­ers im­ported into New Zealand. It was the in­tro­duc­tion of the Hemi 245 en­gine that dis­tin­guished this sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion model. De­signed, de­vel­oped, tested, and man­u­fac­tured en­tirely across the Tas­man, the Hemi had hy­draulic tap­pets and a seven-bear­ing crank­shaft and was claimed, at the time, to be one of the most ad­vanced sixes in the world.

Chrysler was re­luc­tant to dis­cuss power out­put, but this 3993cc over­head-valve six-cylin­der pro­duced 138kw (185bhp) and 315Nm of torque. Cus­tomers could also spec­ify Op­tion E31, with 145kw (195bhp) and a warmer camshaft, or the Op­tion E34 en­gine, de­vel­op­ing 175kw (235bhp) — this ver­sion in­cluded a four­bar­rel car­bu­ret­tor, an up­graded clutch, larger ra­di­a­tor, dif­fer­ent en­gine bear­ings, a spe­cial crank­shaft and rods, and a high-ca­pac­ity oil pump. It was all get­ting se­ri­ous.

In stan­dard trim, the VG Pacer came with a 68-litre fuel tank, but it could be spec­i­fied with a 159-litre long-range tank with a re­lo­cated quick-fill fuel cap, while the A84 Track Pack com­prised a re­vised-ra­tio trans­mis­sion, al­beit still three speed, plus fur­ther brak­ing and sus­pen­sion up­grades.

The over­square large-bore en­gine had a shorter block than the 225 and was no longer in­clined in the en­gine bay. In the US, Chrysler had orig­i­nally worked on the Hemi for use as a heavy-duty-truck power unit, but, when the project was scrapped, the Aus­tralian arm took over de­vel­op­ment and spent AU$33M and five years bring­ing the en­gine to pro­duc­tion down un­der. The ef­fi­cient hemi­spher­i­cal com­bus­tion

cham­ber was the op­ti­mum cylin­der­head shape, slightly domed so that petrol burned evenly and com­pletely. Apart from two rel­a­tively small en­gine parts, the VG Valiant Hemi was the first Chrysler to be made al­most en­tirely in Aus­tralia.

Healthy roar

Rewind to the ear­lier VF, and I had to con­tend with clutch slip and a slightly sticky throt­tle on my de­but drive. Still, the 10.1-sec­ond time to 100kph and 178kph top speed un­der­pinned the car’s cre­den­tials and were suf­fi­cient to match any six-cylin­der Monaro GTS. The tacho was green-lined to 4750 and red-lined to 6000rpm, with most power be­tween 1500 and 4500 revs. At any­thing over 3000rpm, the mo­tor gave a loud, healthy roar, and it ran to 6000rpm with per­for­mance not far short of a V8’s. While stiff to change, the floor gearshift was ex­cel­lent; although, with re­verse di­rectly above first, in­ad­ver­tent en­gage­ment of a gear was easy with­out the se­cu­rity of a lock­out gate. For road use, the three-speed Borg­warner gear­box, with its rather low sec­ond ra­tio, seemed quite ad­e­quate be­cause of the wide torque range of the en­gine and top-gear re­sponse.

Sit­ting on a wheelbase of 2743mm and mea­sur­ing 4877mm, the Valiant could hardly be rated a medium-size car for our mar­ket, with its gen­er­ous seat­ing and a huge boot. De­spite a firmer ride, the sus­pen­sion changes meant the Pacer was much more nim­ble and had less body roll than the stan­dard Valiant. My test notes said the car felt more pre­dictable, although the driver still had to work hard with the unas­sisted re­cir­cu­lat­ing-ball steer­ing that was geared to four turns of the steer­ing wheel from lock to lock. On loose gravel roads, the Pacer was a bar­rel of fun and eas­ily con­trol­lable, while bumpy sealed cor­ners oc­ca­sion­ally threw the car about when press­ing on.

Less than a year af­ter sam­pling the VF Pacer, we were at Levin, pound­ing around the race track in a brand new VG Pacer. The new Hemi six was a win­ning so­lu­tion, with more power, and a claimed 20-per­cent im­prove­ment in fuel econ­omy. We then took a near-new VG Pacer from Wellington to Auck­land and had lit­tle dif­fi­culty bet­ter­ing 20 miles to the gal­lon (14.12 litres/100km).

Weigh­ing around 1340kg, the Pacer’s top speed was still around 16kph less than those of the V8-pow­ered Monaro 350 and Fal­con GT 351, but, sur­pris­ingly, the Chrysler was only marginally slower to 160kph (100mph). On hand at Levin for the me­dia launch was a VG Pacer fit­ted with the Track Pack op­tion for Rodger An­der­son to run in pro­duc­tion sa­loon races. In ad­di­tion to the close-ra­tio gear­box with higher first and sec­ond gears, this op­tion com­prised fat­ter six-inch-wide road wheels, up from 5.5-inch width, with

14-inch-di­am­e­ter. The Track Pack was even lower than the stan­dard Pacer, with more neg­a­tive cam­ber up front.

The magic 100mph bar­rier was eas­ily bro­ken on Levin’s main straight, and An­der­son was soon lap­ping the Pacer in 63.7 sec­onds. This com­pared with a good pro­duc­tion sa­loon lap time of 67 sec­onds for a Vaux­hall Vic­tor 3300. The en­gine ran freely to 4500rpm and the Valiant com­fort­ably put all its power on the road out of tight cor­ners.

The big dif­fer­ence be­tween the VF and VG was the South Aus­tralian–built Hemi mo­tor, which gave the newer car a sub­stan­tial per­for­mance ad­van­tage over its pre­de­ces­sor. Top speed rose 12kph to 190kph, and the VG ac­cel­er­ated to 100kph in 8.2 sec­onds, an im­prove­ment of al­most two sec­onds. In­ter­me­di­ate gear­speed max­i­mums were 80kph in first and 140kph in sec­ond, and, even edg­ing into the 5000rpm red sec­tor in top gear, the car felt re­as­sur­ingly sta­ble.

By ex­tend­ing the gear ra­tios, the en­gi­neers es­sen­tially changed the trans­mis­sion on the VG into a four­speeder with­out a first gear, so the driver had to work harder off the line yet found the car bet­ter on the move. The gear link­ages were also im­proved, but the change was never bril­liant for town and ur­ban run­ning, although at least the driver could pot­ter around with­out mak­ing too many gear changes. By con­trast, the steer­ing, clutch, and brakes were light, and the in­tro­duc­tion of Kelsey Hayes Gir­ling disc brakes for the VG was a pos­i­tive. Good all-round vis­i­bil­ity from a low seat­ing po­si­tion and a will­ing mo­tor made the Pacer a re­lax­ing cruiser, although pedal place­ment left no room to slip the left foot un­der the clutch, and heel-and­toe pedal op­er­a­tion was dif­fi­cult. Own­ers could also ex­pect in­tru­sive wind noise around the open­ing quar­ter-lights, and ven­ti­la­tion was poor.

Mus­cle car

On the track, the Pacer failed to cover it­self in glory, although the car was a class win­ner at the 1969 Sandown 250 three-hour race. Three Pac­ers were en­tered in the Golden 100 race at Pukekohe, held in con­junc­tion with the Ben­son and Hedges 500 at Pukekohe in 1970, and all three suf­fered brak­ing prob­lems. Grady Thom­son’s Pacer was run­ning sixth when the clutch blew on the eighth lap, leav­ing Rodger An­der­son’s sim­i­lar VG Hemi to fin­ish sixth, ahead of the third Pacer driven by Morton Brown. There was no ques­tion that the straight-six Valiants were out­classed by the V8 power of Holden and Ford, with their su­pe­rior pow­erto-weight ra­tios.

Maybe this car never achieved leg­endary sta­tus, but it was a mus­cle car, a flag­car­rier — and cer­tainly spe­cial. Of the 52,944 VF Valiants built, around 5800 were Pac­ers. This en­cour­aged Chrysler to con­tinue with the sports model with the VG. In to­tal, 46,374 VG Valiants were made, but no one seems to be able to put a fin­ger on the num­ber of VG Pac­ers to hit our roads. How­ever, 1162 two-door VG Pacer hard­tops were pro­duced in 1970 and 1971. There were more VG Pac­ers than VFS im­ported into New Zealand as a re­sult of ex­tra li­cens­ing, and most came with the gar­ish Mod Pack, comprising a matt black bon­net, side stripes, and a black stripe across the boot lid. The Pacer, of course, in ei­ther two- or four-door con­fig­u­ra­tion, was a pre­cur­sor to the highly suc­cess­ful two-door Charger — but that’s a story for an­other time.

Three Chrysler Valiant VG Pac­ers mix it at War­wick Farm in Syd­ney in July 1970. In this pro­duc­tion race, they ran em­bar­rass­ingly close to the more pow­er­ful Monaros and Fal­cons

Donn An­der­son be­hind the wheel of an early VF Pacer dur­ing a 1969 road test in Auck­land. Jour­nal­ists wore ties in those days!

Above: Rodger An­der­son gets out of shape in a VG Pacer dur­ing test­ing at the Levin track in 1970 Right: The VF Pacer hides be­hind trees dur­ing a Motorman test in 1969 Be­low: A 1969 Todd Mo­tors VF Pacer ad­ver­tise­ment for the lo­cal mar­ket

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.