Monthly Archives: January 2010

Slant Six Valiant

Slant Six Valiant
My first car was a VW Karmann Ghia, which was basically a VW engine and running gear with a surprisingly exotic, one-piece body from the Ghia bodyworks (famous for work on exotic European sports cars) atop it.

Slant Six Valiant

It was a fun car — but it was no fun to try to keep running. VWs, of course, are justly famous for decades of electrical problems but this car had the other VW bugaboo: it leaked like the proverbial sieve. (And this drives me crazy, because I’ve been to Germany a couple of times and it certainly rained on me a fair amount. I can understand that it took the Japanese a long time to figure out that the toy locks they historically put on their cars were no match for US social realities — but how on earth VW has produced so many cars you couldn’t leave out in the rain and stayed in business is a question that will likely haunt me to my grave.)

Given a few days in a row of rain and the floor in back of the front seats would fill up with an inch or two of water. I’d bail it out but the next rainstorm, there it was again, a little pond. (I had a GF with an old VW whose previous owner had actually just drilled drain holes in the floorboards. I wish I’d thought of it, frankly… although I would have definitely added drain plugs.)

My next car was a low miles SAAB Model 96, one of those teardrop shaped cars with separate front fenders that looked a bit like a cross between a streamlined ’40 Ford sedan and a Citroen D. Everything was exotic on that car — even the Ford truck engine that SAAB had built the drive train around — the block was a V6 — but it had two of the cylinders plugged and non-functional as an economy feature. I got a sweet deal on it from a friend’s family’s used car lot — but it cost me about triple what I paid for it to try to keep it running for a couple of years (and then the tranny failed with only about 70 thousand miles on it). I sold it for a couple hundred bucks, even though it was less than four years old. (You can bet I didn’t weep recently when it was announced that SAAB automotive, foolishly bought by clueless giant — now our clueless giant — GM only a few years back, would be neutralized for wont of a sucker — I mean buyer.)

Tired of four-wheeled headaches, I bought a used Honda 400F, a great little four banger motorcycle that, with a four-into-one header and a relatively light rider (like me, then) was surprisingly quick. I’ve written here a few times about the careless driver that ended my motorcycling days (for the most part), so I’ll spare y’all that ordealacious story. But just before that life-changing wreck, a family member gave me an old ’73 Ford LTD, an aircraft carrier of a car with a 429 cubic inch engine and four barrel carburetor. That was during the initial gas crises of the late 70s and, back then, when the minimum wage was generous at $3, it cost $5 just to get from my flat to the nearby gas station. Or so it seemed.

So… after I got out of the hospital, a couple bucks finally in my pocket again, I went looking for something to replace the LTD. I’d already decided what I wanted, based on dozens of conversations with friends, shade tree mechanics, and even strangers in parking lots: a Dodge Dart or Plymouth Valiant with the legendary Chrysler Slant Six engine, a ~178 cubic inch 6-in-a-line block turned at a jaunty angle, not for looks, but to get the tractor/truck-worthy engine under the low profile of a mid-70s econo box sedan.

I looked at a number of cars and finally found a low mileage Valiant — a total grandpa car — through the Pennysaver ad throwaway: brown, slightly metal-flaked paint, a lighter brown vinyl roof covered roof, four doors (important to me, since I was still using crutches and had only recently returned my rented wheel chair after my motorcycle accident) and bench seats. (Finally, I could have my GF on the front seat cuddling next to me like the guys in the fifties movies.)

It was being sold by a nice suburban family in the nearby suburbs of Los Alamitos, and it had, indeed, been Grandpa’s car before he became too aged to drive. They wanted top dollar and didn’t seem at all willing to haggle; I noticed the Christian fish decal in the family’s late model wagon and thought to myself, Well, that could go either way… but they seemed like genuinely nice folks so I went for it.

It was a decision I never regretted.

The Valiant proved to be a real trooper, a great auto. The only weak spot was an electronic ignition that had to be replaced a couple times — but that was over the course of maybe 150,000 miles — and it was relatively cheap.

When I traded it in on a new Toyota Corolla in the late 80s, they only gave me the Blue Book on it, 300 bucks, but I definitely had got my money’s worth long before. I left it, a little forlorn, at the curb in front of the dealer. I parked my new Corolla in back of it on the way out, got out, patted the fender one last time. But I didn’t doubt for an instant that it would soon be back in the hands of someone who needed solid, reliable transportation.

A great car.

Slant Six Valiant

It was brown and it was dusty
had a funky vinyl roof
It was humble it was trusty
and I think that  it was true
even old and rusty it proved
they dont make ’em  like they used to do

Slant Six Valiant
hard top bench seat radio and four  doors
Slant Six Valiant
best little car from Detroit in  ’74
Slant Six Valiant
quarter million miles and ready for some more
Slant Six Valiant
best little car from Detroit in  ’74
(C)2009, TK Major

[The image above is not my old Valiant, but, rather, a very similar 1975 model.]