Inevitably somebody had to come out with a "big" compact car, and Chrysler did it with the Valiant—the longest, heaviest, most powerful and also the classiest of the Detroit newcomers. Engineers and stylists who created the Valiant see the car as "having more than economy, more acceleration and stability than European cars and yet having a distinctly European flavor." The Valiant measures up very well to these claims and, if good looks are the test, this is the best of the compacts. Chrysler put a little more of everything in its Valiant.
To start with, the Valiant's over-all length (184 inches) is the greatest of the three Detroit compacts. Its weights (2,635 pounds for the 100 sedan, 2,655 for the 200) are the heaviest. Its 101 horsepower exceeds Corvair and Falcon. And the Valiant is the first compact to offer a station wagon; its entry appears in late November. On top of this, the Valiant is undeniably the most striking of the three. Nonetheless, its factory cost ($1,874 for the 100 four-door and $1,946 for the 200 four-door) is roughly the same as its rivals.
The Valiant has interesting engineering features. One is the alternator which replaces the conventional direct current generator and produces more electrical energy at low speeds—even charges when the engine is idling, thus saving the battery. The Valiant's engine mountings are designed to vibrate out of phase with the body; thus, when the structure tries to vibrate upward, the engine tends to push it downward and nullifies many road-induced bumps. And if this isn't enough, the Valiant offers the lightest automatic transmission manufactured, one which is 100 pounds lighter than those used on V-8 engines; the Valiant automatic transmission, inclined 30° to the left, is even lighter than the standard transmission it replaces.
Though the Valiant's 170-cubic-inch engine is cast iron, there is considerable use of aluminum. The engine delivers 101 hp at 4,400 rpm, is the most powerful of Detroit's compacts and makes the Valiant the fastest compact offered by the big three.
Its speed is demonstrated on the test track. I was told by engineers that the Valiant, with manual transmission, would do at least 97 miles an hour. The car I drove easily reached 93 on banked turns, though it had a young (low-mileage) engine. It also gave promise of a little more speed that there was no chance to test. With the three-speed automatic transmission, the Valiant will do 95. With manual, the Valiant accelerated to 60 mph in 18.2 seconds; with automatic, in 16.9 seconds.
"The Valiant will leave the others' [Falcon and Corvair] behind in a drag race," says Robert Sinclair, project engineer. "This engine, on a per-cubic-inch basis, equals the output of its brothers in the Dodge and Chrysler cars."
It is true the Valiant, with its horsepower advantage, can outdistance the other compacts by at least 10 mph, if racing is a consideration. If fuel economy is discussed, the Valiant about equals its competition. Valiant people claim 29 miles per gallon for high-speed highway driving. In stop-and-go city driving, about 20 miles to the gallon is the going rate. Economy-conscious engineers were determined not to sacrifice performance features.
Engineer Sinclair is so enthusiastic about the torsion bar suspension that he glowingly describes the Valiant as "the best-riding small car in the world." The Valiant does ride and handle well. At 80 mph in straightaway it held the road fine. At 50 and 60 on corrugated road there was bounce, to be sure, but the Valiant took it manfully. On hill curves, at lesser speeds, the car hugged satisfactorily. And with the brakes slammed to the floor in panic fashion on a straight stretch at 65 mph, there was the usual lurch but a good, nonskid stop.
1959 PLYMOUTH IS 208 INCHES LONG
VALIANT MEASURES 184 INCHES
FIAT 1100 IS 160 INCHES LONG