CHRYSLER VALIANT CHARGER
“Hey Charger!” was the catchphrase of one of Australia's most successful automotive advertising campaigns. In 1971 when Chrysler's sporty new Valiant variant was launched the print and electronic media lit up with a campaign showing people holding up two fingers in a V, calling out “Hey Charger” as the new model cruised past.
It worked a treat, with kids everywhere in Australia calling out the words to every Charger (and any other similar cars) in the streets.
The Charger was widely acclaimed in the media and even won Australia's Wheels magazine's Car of the Year award in 1971.
It was one of a few Australian cars marketed in the UK, sold there from 1972 to 1975. Valiant sedan and wagon versions were also offered, but the Charger was the most interesting and biggest seller there.
Chrysler in Australia offered a big range of models, spanning a cooking 6-cylinder unit with very basic trim to fire breathing R/T models.
Initially the Bathurst-aimed model was the R/T E38, with 3-speed transmission, but triple Weber carbies pushing out almost 300bhp. In fact, Chrysler Australia had air-freighted a car to Weber in Italy to sort out the fitment.
In 1972 the previous range-topping R/T E38 was superseded by the more powerful E49 model. It also benefited from a 4-speed gearbox – at last. Wheels magazine gushed: "The raw quivering power is instantaneously on tap and with a ratio for every conceivable situation the Charger just storms through. It would take a Ferrari Daytona with racing driver Jackie Ickx at the wheel to stay with one". Big statement!
The E49 engine benefited from special pistons, rings, conrods, camshaft, a baffled sump, tuned-length headers and a twin-plate clutch. With triple Weber carburettors helping give the car 302bhp, the E49 became the fastest accelerating Australian car, outpacing the V8 cars from its rivals. Only 149 were made, making this the most desirable of Australian Valiants.
1974 saw a facelift where the Chargers gained large round headlights and a beefier grille as well as a swag of mechanical and minor trim upgrades. Amongst the significant technical changes was the inclusion of electronic ignition.
Chargers continued to be sold in Australia until 1978, though by then the very high performance models had long gone, the range topping V8s being significantly down on power.
AT THE WHEEL
By today's standards the driving experience of a Charger is not so special. These were hefty cars and unless you drive one with power steering the strength required to manoeuvre a car out of a carpark certainly takes you back in time.
There is nothing very sophisticated about a Charger, but it's no more of a dinosaur than a Ford Mustang - and plenty of people love the driving experience a Mustang gives.
Once you've come to terms with the hefty controls, a good Charger can be some fun on the road. Well preserved or restored examples show tidy on-road manners for what's a relatively big car.
The less powerful versions offer adequate performance only, but the V8s and the hotter variants of the Hemi sixes provide plenty of acceleration in a proper muscle car kind of way. An E49 is a fast car even by today's standards – it's just that the handling and brakes are very 1970s.
The 4-speed floor gearshift in the E49 featured here was surprisingly precise and pleasurable to use.
The cockpit is very black on black with black highlights, providing a slightly claustrophobic feel. Interestingly the rear side windows don't wind down. There's “full instrumentation” as the advertising men liked to boast and the 'bucket' seats are pretty flat and unsupportive. The tombstone seatbacks make a back seat passenger's view out pretty restricted.
The Chargers had a good reputation as racing cars and are successful in historic events today.
1. Rust. It's inevitable in a car built to a quite average standard, primarily for a dry climate market. The base of the rear window is a typical rust spot, and difficult to deal with. Some cars were fitted with vinyl roof covers which attracted moisture very well. Sills are also prone to rust. As Valiants and Chargers were popular cars in Australia, decent used panel availability is still reasonable.
2. Mechanically all Chargers are pretty strong and generally reliable. They are simple cars in most respects. Carburettors wear and can make the Charger even thirstier as well as a little cantankerous. The E38 and E49 models were fitted with triple Webers which today can be readily rebuilt and parts availability is good.
3. Interior trim was not of the highest grade. Dashboard tops crack with heat. The vinyl seat covers are prone to splitting, but are quite easily repairable at reasonable cost. Reproduction trim kits are available. Interior hardware parts, second hand are readily available in Australia, mostly at quite low cost.
WHY YOU WANT ONE
There's an ever increasing interest around the world in classic muscle cars. Mustangs are as popular today as they were in their record-breaking days of old. Good American Mopar cars have gone sky-high in demand and prices. So Australian muscle cars, of which the Charger is acknowledged as one of the greatest, are on the up too.
Cars like the Charger offer good value for money, rarity and interest value which most American muscle cars can't match. And they were built right hand drive, which suits those who can't get their mind around driving a left-hooker.
It's not hard to find several good condition Chargers for sale at any time around Australia. Plenty have been modified or butchered though. Really the main thing is to find one that hasn't been messed with, and that either retains originality or has been accurately restored.
While 31,857 Chargers were built you will have to hunt to find a good one. And a reasonably priced one.
As a muscle car with a difference – ie: it's not the default setting Mustang – a Charger makes a pretty good case for itself. Factory right hand drive, high performance, simple mechanicals and good, cheap parts availability makes an attractive formula.
Of course the pick is the E49, and if you can't find one of those, then an E38, but the big V8s also offer solid performance. The earlier cars offer the purest Charger styling and are considered the most desirable. Chrysler offered some wonderful, very 1970s colours too.
There's good reason why Chargers have such a strong following – maybe you could join the fray – if you can find the right one.
Have a look at the classic Hey Charger TV advertisements at - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZdp9Eavi5g
The Mercury Silver 1972 R/T E49 featured here was owned by Biante Model Cars and used as the sample car for their 1:18 scale model.
Chrysler Valiant Charger E49
Engine 265 cu in 6-cylinder
Power 302bhp @5600rpm
Torque 320lb ft@4100rpm
Top Speed 130MPH
Gearbox 4-speed manual
Above Photos Copyright CarOpinion.com.au