Holden stunned the Australian market with its Monaro and in 1969 had its eyes fixed on further dominance of the ‘youth’ market with a six-cylinder version of the Torana.
Ford seemed unperturbed, but Chrysler was vulnerable to any further growth in the market power of its main rival. Then in May 1969 with a price of just $2798 came the product of one of the greatest marketing ploys in Australian automotive history; the VF Valiant Pacer.
To all intents the Pacer was an American Dodge Dart without an optional V8 engine. Chrysler was smart enough to know it would be taking a huge social risk if it targeted an eight-cylinder model at younger buyers.
The engine that launched the Pacer was a high-compression version of the tried and very true 3.7-litre Slant Six. With a two-barrel carburettor and less exhaust restriction than standard Valiants, the Pacer motor produced 130kW or about 11kW more than the stock engine.
Like all good Chrysler Australia products, the standard transmission was three speed manual but in a very different configuration. The Pacer wasn’t ‘three on the tree’ it was ‘three by your knee’ with a hefty gearlever popping straight out of the floor and an odd shift pattern that placed reverse immediately above first where it was very easily snagged when snap-shifting to second.
Reflecting the very tight cost structure that dominated Pacer design, the brakes were finned drums all round with power-assisted front discs an option. Discs would become standard on the VG and subsequent Pacers.
With changes to Australian Design Rules set to include head restraints for the driver and front seat passenger, Chrysler made compliance with the new rule a feature of Pacer marketing.
While the company might have preferred its seats to be known as ‘aircraft style’, the tall reclining buckets were dubbed ‘tombstones’ by some commentators and the name stuck.
VF Valiants in common with HK Holdens had no room in their dashboard architecture for a tachometer. Rather than follow Holden’s path and mount the tacho behind the gear-lever where it was invisible and useless, Chrysler put a strange, strip-format device on top of the dash where it just gave the driver eyestrain.
From the outside it wasn’t difficult to differentiate the sporty new Valiant from boring ones driven by bank managers and policemen. There were bright new colours including Wild Yellow and Cosmic Blue contrasted with a black accent stripe.
A red grille strip was there to match the redline tyres and accompanying them were unique hubcaps that suggested the appearance of a cast wheel. Completing the sporty imagery were ‘Pacer’ 225’ decals mounted low on both sides and at the rear and a rectangular tip for the exhaust.
Finding a VF Pacer in any condition has become very difficult, with outstanding cars hardly ever seen on specialist sales sites. A handful of VF Wagons were built to Pacer specifications but never officially sold. At least five survive and scarcity suggests they would be worth at least a little bit more than the equivalent sedan.
Rust can affect structural areas of these cars and cause the front to literally break away in a heavy impact. From underneath check for rust or cracks around the sub-frame mounting points, steering box and inner mudguards. Some rust repair panels are being made by after-market suppliers and structural steel including floor pans and sills is available too. With the cost of quality chroming now extreme it came as no surprise to find reconditioned front and rear bumpers now costing close to $1000 each. Secondhand bars and other chrome can be found at swap meets and via Chrysler clubs.
The Slant Six is easy to find or rebuild and is one of the more durable power units available. Provided they haven’t been overheated to the point where rings crack and the cylinder head warps, 300,000 kilometres can be expected between rebuilds. Replacement cylinder heads are available at less than $1000, with standard pistons and rings around $500 a set. They do leak oil from around the head and timing cover but unless the car is concours and priced accordingly a squirt of degreaser and wipe down every few weeks solves the problem. The manual transmission and standard diff are very tough and easily reconditioned. A complete gear-shifter with linkages found its way onto a classifieds site for just $600.
NUMBER MADE: 52,944 (all VF)
BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis four-door sedan
ENGINE: 3686cc in-line 6 cylinder with overhead valves & single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 130kW em (est)
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 10.5 seconds, 0-400 metres 17.9 seconds
TRANSMISSION: three-speed manual
SUSPENSION: Independent with torsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: drum (f) drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: 7.35x14 cross-ply
The VF Pacer doesn’t have the same competition pedigree as the later VG but the process for making them handle was the same. Cracked or merely tired torsion bars can be replaced by new heavy-duty units and will combine with new bushings to minimise roll when negotiating bends. After that it just depends how much negative camber you want to apply and how long you want your tyres to last. Steering can feel disconnected but reconditioned steering boxes or a complete rack and pinion conversion are available. Look at rear leaf springs for cracks especially near the shackles and leaking shock absorbers. Brakes that take a long time to react or have a mushy pedal at start-up need money spent. Conversion to front discs is worth considering.
Providing a VF’s seats are structurally sound, your trimmer will have no trouble replacing the internal padding and external vinyl with something very similar to the original. Plastic instrument covers crack and distort due to heat, fuel and temperature gauges may not work at all due to sensor problems. New door trims and padded armrests, hood-lining and carpet sets are available. Finding a correct replacement for the Pacer steering wheel will be difficult however adaptors costing around $90 are available so a range of after-market wheels can substitute.
(Note: concours cars will demand more)