VH-VJ CHARGER E55

WHAT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO BE A BATHURST WEAPON ULTIMATELY MORPHED INTO A FINE AND DESIRABLE GRAND TOURER

The 340 cubic-inch Charger E55 that joined the VH range in October 1972 was not the car that Chrysler Australia intended it to be.

It looked about as bland as any car in the Charger line-up, with hardly a stripe and no bonnet black-out panels to be seen. There were none of the air-scoops that had characterised ‘E Prefix’ cars nor an under-bumper air-dam as might have been expected of a car that, political interference aside, would have been hooting down Conrod Straight at 270km/h.

The 5.6-litre engine as fitted to road-going cars provided very adequate performance for a model which, in less politically-correct times, would have been described as a ‘businessman’s express’. But if we believe recent admissions that contradict decades of ambivalent denial, there absolutely were plans for Chrysler to field a 340-engined V8 Charger for the endurance races that would bring the 1972 Series Production schedule to a close.

As every student of local motor-sport history knows, interference from nervous politicians at State and Federal levels saw pressure brought to bear on manufacturers and cars that would have become icons of the performance car world turned to dust.

E55s scheduled to race would have used four-speed manual transmissions but all of the cars that reached public hands were three-speed automatics. The wheels were different too; ROH alloys with chunky radials intended to keep the ‘770SE’ Charger securely in touch with the road at its projected 205km/h top speed. Inside the ‘SE’ version was all the normal 770 gear plus distinctive dash inserts made from machine-turned metal and two-tone upholstery.

Disc front brakes and ER70 radial tyres were mandatory but if you wanted a radio that would cost extra. The E55 was priced at $4850, against the $4175 being charged at the time for a 5.2-litre 770.

The shape of the Charger’s seats didn’t change, nor did the poor relationship between seat, wheel and pedals for shorter drivers. Rear vision using the interior mirror only was appalling and a left-hand door mirror essential for safe lane changing. The rear seat offered discomfort on anything but the briefest journeys and anyone back there on hot days would suffocate unless the windows are fully down.

The standard brakes need to viewed in a similar light to the Charger’s suspension. Performance and longevity are dependent primarily on the conditions under which they are being used and the demands of the driver. Under most circumstances, the disc front/drum rear setup works just fine with minimal pedal pressure. Get the brakes hot and wheels – usually at the front – will start to lock. However, when the front discs are cold or it’s raining, rear wheel lockup can be a problem.

Limited availability of engines put an end to the E55 well before the VJ range was ready for replacement. Numbers published in several places confirm that just 336 E55 Chargers were built with the last of them sold during late 1973.

1971 - 1974 CHRYSLER CHARGER E55

BODY & CHASSIS

Poor-quality accident repairs, rust and neglect can present problems even in cars that look superficially fine. Leaky windscreen seals are common, so lift the carpets to check for moisture or rusty floors. Replacement floor-pans are available, as are boot floors. Rust also lurks in the sills, sub-frame mounting points, firewall, door bottoms, window surrounds and turret. Inspect the front chassis rails for cracks – especially around the steering box mounting points. The heavy doors can droop due to worn hinges but repair kits are available. A range of reproduction body parts and rust repair panels are available and with E55 values climbing there is no longer an excuse to avoid repairs.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

Engines in these Chargers were renowned as being among the best small-capacity V8s on the US market. Oil leaks and timing chain noise are annoyances, usually not indicative of serious problems. Engine overhaul parts, including new forged crankshafts are available from several US suppliers. Complete engines are available but rebuilding the original V8 is preferable. Kits to rebuild the Carter Thermoquad carburettor used in VJ cost less than $50 and complete replacement carburettors are cheap too. Vibration when accelerating may be due to disintegrating engine mounts. The Torqueflite 727 automatic is among the world’s more bombproof trannys and will start vibrating and thumping on down-shifts only when well past their rebuild date.

Vitst Stats

PRODUCTION: 124 (VH E55) 212 (VJ E55)

BODY: Steel integrated body/ chassis, two-door coupe

ENGINE: 5571cc V8, overhead valve with single downdraft carburettor

POWER & TORQUE: 206kW @ 5000rpm, 459Nm @ 3200rpm

PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 7.6 seconds, 0-400 metres 15.0 seconds

TRANSMISSION: three-speed automatic

SUSPENSION: independent with torsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f), semi-elliptic springs with telescopic shock absorbers (r)

BRAKES: disc front/drum rear power assisted

WHEELS & TYRES: ER70HR14 radial

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Chargers fitted with V8 engines will suffer from frontend ‘droop’ because the torsion bars are stressed by the bigger engines’ extra weight and literally lose their temper. Bars that aren’t totally flogged can be adjusted and heavyduty replacements are available from suppliers here and in the USA. Tyres that are chopped on the inner edges indicate general suspension wear but a full frontend rebuild will cost no more than $2000. New brake rotors, pads, shoes and drums are available and repairs are straightforward.

INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

Trim used in E55s is pretty tough but will need the skills of a professional trimmer if worn or torn. Some cars back when they were worth very little had their seats recovered using incorrect materials and that is going to impact on desirability now. Turned metal used on the dash and console isn’t unique to the E55 and won’t be hard to replace if missing or damaged. Check that the seats lock into position and the frames aren’t twisted. If the ignition key is difficult to turn, the barrel may be due for replacement and new parts aren’t available.

VALUE RANGE

CHRYSLER CHARGER (E55)

FAIR $30,000

GOOD $65,000

EXCELLENT $110,000

(Note: concours cars will demand more)