1963 Plymouth Valiant Wagon

1963 Valiant WagonMany vintage car collectors tend to migrate to the cars that were special to us in the past… the cars we grew up with or that have special meaning like your honeymoon car or the one you learned to drive on. Our ’63 Valiant 200 station wagon falls into that category to a small extent, but not entirely.

I’ve always had a love affair with the A body Valiants from 1960 through 1966. My Dad had a 1960 Valiant that was a very interesting car with many new features. It was Chryslers first “compact” introduced in 1960, along with the Ford Falcon from Ford and the Corvair from Chevrolet. But the Valiant was different. It had very distinctive styling, a slant 6 engine and an alternator replacing the generator. I enjoyed driving that car very much. It was relatively quick and with it’s torsion bar suspension handled like a dream.

Fast forward to 1968 and the need for a second car to support a growing family. As a Mopar family the choice was a ’65 Valiant wagon secured from a used car dealer on North Ave. in Burlington. I loved everything about that car. It was the right size, reliable, easy to care for and fun to drive with stick shift and it’s peppy Slant Six. I never forgot that little wagon and over the years kept an eye out for another from the ’63 to ’66 body style era. Mostly what I found were either butchered into Rat Rods or rust buckets or both. Many of these wagons were produced but most were family haulers that paid their dues over the years. I was casually surfing the internet in 2010 and lo and behold up pops an original, low mileage, rust free, stick shift, top of the line 1963 Valiant wagon… and close to home, no less located in Nyack, N.Y. Three days later and we were headed south to check out the car. She was everything I’d dreamed of. Mint bright red original interior with a rust free body in white and a smooth running 170 ci engine only 41,000 original miles. The car was being sold through a broker. We took her out for a test drive around the local neighborhood and everything checked out. A few days later and the deal was struck. Our test drive had only been on local streets around Nyack but now it was time to drive her 300 plus miles on 20 year old tires. The shortest route was up the NYS Thruway, then the Northway to Lake George and onto mostly two lane roads to Vermont. My safety net was that my two brothers, both from Long Island, were planning a visit to Vermont and agreed to follow me home just in case. Valiant reliability and comfort came through and the trip back to home was a dream. Despite the intervening 47 years it’s amazing how easy it is to flashback to the 60’s ! The trip home was uneventful except for a blown 20 year old tire valve on I-89 just before the South Barre exit. Luckily the spare had air.

Very little work has been done to “Val” as she is named [ not very original but it fits ! ]. There was a tune up and new shocks. I expected trouble freeing the old shock bolts but after a little PB Blaster they spun right off. Then there was this oddity. The original radiator had a small “V” cut out of the radiator neck, enough so that the cap would not lock down. Here is one of the things I love about these cars. It took 15 minutes to remove the radiator for repair. Remove two hoses and 4 bolts and out she came. I’ve tried to trace Val’s history without much luck. Papers stuffed in the glove compartment indicate she was sold new by a Wisconsin Chrysler / Plymouth dealer and later spent time in Minnesota. This adds even more mystery to the car as there is absolutely no rust anywhere on the original body despite her snow belt beginnings. If only she could talk!

Station wagons of the 50’s and 60’s era were in their glory days. They were family work horses but not very sexy compared to the other options of the day like tri colored hardtops and convertibles of the 50’s and Mustangs, Corvettes and Barracudas of the 60’s. But I’ve learned first hand that they’ve endeared themselves to those who grew up with them. Two cases in point. At the WPC National Meet in St. Johnsbury a couple of years ago I had Val parked next to our ’65 Barracuda Formula S. The “Cuda” is a really nice car, but the Wagon got most of the attention. At the Stowe Show last August I had Val parked next to our ’64 Valiant convertible, also a very nice mostly original in red but it was the wagon most folks migrated to with tales of the Valiant wagons they grew up with.

I love Val… she embodies everything I like about the ’60’s A body Valiants. She’s reliable, easy to work on, kind of funky in her own way and always brings happy memories to those who meet her. Other cars will come and go but Val is a keeper.

1963 Valiant WagonEditor’s note… To the left is a Plymouth sales ad from 1963. The ad discussed the many factory tests performed before release to the public. It read:

“Hour after hour, hour after hour, the car was driven in the white-hot heat of the Arizona desert. They were driven 50,000 miles at top speed over all kinds of road surfaces– some 10 times the strain any ordinary car would ever have to withstand.

Horns were blown 58,432 times, turn signals checked 241,032 times and trunk lids opened and slammed 3,652 times. In all, our prototypes went through, beg pardon, hell and high water, but it was worth it to us and, more importantly, to you.

We uncovered 358 design flaws. Not just fixed or corrected, mind you, but improved– back to the drawing board– redesigned, rebuilt, retested, until the result was right. This we did in spades. Get on and start a great adventure story all your own.”

Cruisin’ Shanghai

After 11 months of living in Shanghai, I’ve yet to find any sign of a collector car hobby, in this sprawling city, or anyplace in China for that matter. So, a motor head like myself is relegated to seeking out automobilia at the local antique flea markets or simply “car watching” to hopefully spot something interesting. In terms of American cars, my first 11 months have turned up some surprising finds. Not antique by US standards, but somewhat unique considering I’m in Shanghai.

I’m not talking about American branded cars produced in China, but those common “made in USA” vehicles that somehow found their way from North America to the Orient. How they got here will likely remain a mystery, since China does not permit the importation of used vehicles except under very special circumstances. My sightings have included examples of Americas “big three”, but it appears that only Chrysler Corp may have established a dealer network in Shanghai during the late 1980’s through the mid to late 1990’s.

I say this because Chrysler had quite a dealer network in nearby Taiwan at the time, and there are a relatively large number of Mopars of that era still roaming the streets of Shanghai today. For example, the ever popular Dodge minivan, from the late 80’s through mid 90’s and rebadged as a Chrysler with Chinese badging as well, is still a common sight on Shanghai streets. Less often spotted, but still fairly common are Dodge Shadows, an occasional Dodge Dynasty, and Dodge Spirit 4 door. Also seen are early version Chrysler Concords and LHS luxury models. On rare occasions, I’ve witnessed a later 80’s K car platform New Yorker.

The rarest of the rare, even on US roads, was spotted last February, when I was traveling to the airport to meet a Vermont neighbor who had come to visit. It was relatively early on a quiet Sunday morning as I traveled on the airport bus. As we waited at a red light, my eyes fell upon one of the very rare Chrysler K car stretch limos made between 1984 and 1986. I could hardly believe my eyes! There were only about 3,000 of these unusual mini limos produced and here was one of them roaming the streets of Shanghai! There has just got to be an interesting story behind how it found it’s way to China! There have been some GM finds as well, though not many. One morning last January while walking to my office, I came upon a bright red mid 90’s Corvette Roadster parked on the sidewalk. (Parking on the sidewalk is perfectly legal in certain sections of Shanghai.)

The owner was nowhere to be found, and I have never seen the ‘Vette again. Just a few days ago while walking through an upscale commercial district my eyes fell upon a black very new looking Corvette slowly cruising by, and needless to say getting second looks. A bright red late 80’s Firebird zoomed by me one evening, the only Pontiac I’ve spotted in Shanghai. By far the most popular GM marque in Shanghai is Cadillac.

Mostly seen are the big cruiser 80’s sedans, and the newer trimmed down 90’s models, but I’ve noticed nothing past the late 1990’s. These are used mostly for weddings, chauffeuring groups, or driven by VIP types or VIP wannabe types. While the Ford Motor Company is currently building a new facility in nearby Nanjing, very few American model Fords have been spotted in Shanghai. The few examples I’ve seen have been 1980’s beaters. One, an Escort had seen better days, and was contributing mightily to Shanghai’s already bad air quality.

Over the past 2 months, I’ve spotted two seperate Ford Tempos, both well worn, but neither in the dire straights the Escort found itself in. I’ve yet to spot an American Motors product, and not a hint of a 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s vehicle anywhere. While trucks now account for roughly 50% of motor vehicle sales in the US, they virtually do not exist in Shanghai.

Yes, there are SUVs and some minivans, but the pickup truck, and its many variations so popular in the US are very rare in Shanghai, or any other area of China I’ve visited so far. The few I’ve seen have been Nissan or Chinese make mini 4 door pickups. There is some interesting Automobilia in Shanghai however, and next time we’ll talk about it!

Cruisin’ Around Shanghai

Living in Shanghai is simply a hoot! This city can best be described as a combination of Adventureland, Saturday Night Live, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It’s the fastest growing city in the world, and playing “catch up” in all the products, services, and lifestyle creature comforts that we as Americans have taken for granted for many years. With all the neat things about Shanghai, what it lacks for a car collector is collector cars, and all the spinoffs that go with our hobby.

Yet, there is still some interesting “car stuff” going on here and we’ll explore some of it in this periodic column. The only way to explain China’s current automobile industry is the word “explosive”. Chinese auto production was up 81% in 2003 from the previous year, and is expected to grow by “only” 52% this year. As Chinese incomes increase, rather dramatically in some cases, the demand for cars has mushroomed. Shanghai is now a city of contrasts, with bicycles as the major mode of transportation now sharing the road with motor scooters, motorcycles, and numerous Chinese and foreign built vehicles. There are many auto assembly plants in China, building both domestic branded as well as foreign brand cars and other vehicles.

In the Shanghai region, both Volkswagen and GM operate facilities. A quick glance at the car scene here, and one immediately notices that probably half the vehicles on the road are VW Santanas, a model I don’t recall seeing in the US. It’s a “tight” 5-passenger vehicle, and compact by American standards. Why so many on the road? Well, first of all when VW was considering a China plant the city of Shanghai went all out to land the plant. “All out” in this case meant the City fathers promising top VW officials that if they chose Shanghai, every taxi in the city would be required to be a Santana! There are 42,500 taxicabs in Shanghai; there are 42,500 Santana taxi’s in Shanghai… well almost. [More on that later.] Added to that is the fact that the Santana is a reasonably well-built vehicle, right sized for a big city like Shanghai, competitively priced and they have become a popular choice for many car buyers as well.

Two models are seen… a 4 door sedan, by far the most popular choice, and a nifty 4 door wagon. Now, why almost all the cabs being Santanas instead of all of them? Well, for years it was a Santana cab, or no cab. But last fall, the Shanghai City Fathers responded to a growing number of Westerners visiting the city, people who, like this writer are rather cramped in the rear cabin of a Santana. As a test, the city is permitting a limited number of small model Mercedes and a few Buick [made by Shanghai GM] taxis to hit the road. To date, I’ve seen two of the cute Mercedes, and one of the Buick cabs. In one of the city’s many efforts to ease the air pollution problem in Shanghai, every single cab in this city is fueled by lp gas… as well as many busses. That’s it for this installment… until next time, keep Crusin’ Shanghai!