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This car was a 30th birthday present to myself – it was the right time to get something interesting in the shed. It was black when I bought it and was a good runner, but after a couple of years I wanted to personalise it and decided to give it the full strip and rebuild treatment.
It was a pretty comprehensive job. We stripped it back to bare metal, pulled the motor, gearbox and diff out and rebuilt all that.
The motor is a 318 Fireball. A previous owner had a 440 in it at some stage, but we decided to stick with the 318 and warm it up a little. We ported and polished the heads, threw in some forged pistons, added a stage three cam and a double pumper four-barrel Holley up top. Ignition is by MSD.
That set-up was matched to a set
IF YOU’RE looking for the inspiration for the local Valiant hardtop, cast your eyes across the Pacific to the good old US of A. Chrysler’s fourthgeneration Dodge Dart clearly shared the gene pool with the local product.
Over there the standard hardtop of 1967 started with a 170ci slant-6 engine though you could upgrade to a 340-cube V8. By the end of the year could go mad and order a GTS performance variant, with the mighty 383 V8 in the snout, claiming a heady 300 horses.
The ultimate performance expression of these cars were the 80 Hemi Darts built by Hurst. They boasted a 426 powerplant and quarter mile times in the 11 second range!
of extractors with twin twoand- a-quarter inch pipes and a set of Magnaflow mufflers.
I really wanted a strong cruiser, not a drag car, and had it set up for low-end grunt. It did pretty well: 685Nm at the rear tyres on the dyno, with a healthy 350 horses. It’s a reasonably light car, so that’s plenty for a bit of fun.
Behind that it has a rebuilt Torqueflite 727 transmission with a 2800 stall torque converter, which seems to suit it well. The 355 diff was rebuilt along the way and the package pretty much meets my expectations, though it can be a bit of a handful in the wet. You’ve got to be extra light on that accelerator.
Mechanically the car has been kept as simple as possible, so there’s no air-conditioning or power steering. Plus, I’ve fitted an electric radiator fan, so there’s minimal drag on the engine.
While the car was lowered when I got it, the stance has changed a little since I bought it. We wound down the front torsion bars a little up front and the rear is sitting on
lowering blocks. I was going to change over the latter but it seems to be riding okay.
Maybe the biggest surprise we got was how good the body was. We knew the car was looked after, but you still expect some dramas with a 40-year-old shell.
As it turned out, with the paint stripped away, there was very little rust – just two 50 cent-sized patches on the rear quarters!
Someone had also reshaped the rear quarters a little, just over the wheel arches, which was filled in with bog. We stripped all that away and the metal underneath was in pretty good shape.
The big debate was over the colour.
For me the whole theme of this car was mostly old-school with just a hint of modern about it, such as the paint. Once I saw a Poison Ivy green colour scheme on a modern Holden, I knew that’s what I wanted. My painter, Nick Cuzzupi, was dead against green – he’d been mixing up a purple, but there are a lot of purple two-door Valiants out there. “If it’s green, you can take it out of my workshop!” he said. But he gave the Poison Ivy a test under the boot lid and rang back to say “This is the colour – I take it back”.
I have to admit the stripe at the rear took a while to grow on me. It’s a sticker, rather than paint, so we could remove it if it didn’t look right. We initially tried all black, but that didn’t work. I like the red highlight as it complements the red in the grille.
Just about all the chrome was with the car when I bought it. Big pieces like the front and rear bumpers were sent off to be redone. With the smaller strips of brightwork, I’d spend an hour or two at the body shop whenever I could, gradually buffing each piece and then wrapping it in plastic until we were ready to fit it. It took a lot of hours, but was worth the effort.
Believe it or not one of the biggest challenges was finding the wheels. I already had a 14-inch set of jelly beans on the car, but wanted to change them over to a set of 17x7s, in keeping with the whole old-school-witha- touch-of-modern theme. It turns out they were out of production. I eventually turned up a set at a local tyre dealer, who warned me to be careful as it was the last one in captivity.
Brakes, meanwhile, are discs up front and drums on the rear, all of which we rebuilt.
When it came to the cabin, that was a fairly straightforward job. A previous owner had changed the front seats for a pair out of an XY Ford. We got them repadded and recovered, matched as closely as possible with the rears.
They’re not 100 per cent but very close. The Pacer dash was already in and in good shape and the rest of the interior was pretty simple.
An exception was two tiny trim pieces for the rear windows, which were almost impossible to find as no-one wanted to sell them. I found people like Val Spares invaluable, particularly when it came to detail items like rubbers and seals.
Probably the biggest hassle was refitting the windows. Looking at it, you’d think it would take a couple of hours at most. Nope. Think
more like two days by the time you get them working and set up perfectly!
The whole project took just 14 months from start to finish, but we were working to a tight deadline. My sister-in-law had asked for the car to be at her wedding and I’d just decided to restore it – she was pretty worried. As it turned out, the biggest hold up was the engine rebuild, which didn’t go the way we planned. It really shouldn’t have been that difficult, but there were some issues with the workshop .
Here are some tips for anyone tackling a project like this. One is, whatever you think the budget is, add at least 20 per cent because there will be surprises. The second part is give yourself plenty of time. Because we had an inflexible deadline, I sometimes paid more than I should have for parts because I simply couldn’t sit back and wait for something else to turn up.
If the car’s in the body shop, use the time to get other items done like trim or interior or engine. That way you’ll have the whole lot ready to put back together once the paint is finished.
Oh, and it really helps to have some good mates who can come along and assist in putting it together. With some jobs you need more than one set of hands.
In any case, I’m happy with the way it turned out, and it made it to the wedding on time!
P RE S E N T E D B Y ENGINE 318ci V8 MAX POWER 180kW MAX TORQUE 685Nm TRANSMISSION 3-speed auto LENGTH 507.5cm WIDTH 177cm HEIGHT 141cm WHEELBASE 282cm KERB WEIGHT 1322kg