Another American Compact

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Last year three new American compact cars made their appearance in time to add interest to the Earls Court Show – the Ford Falcon, the Chevrolet Corvair and the Chrysler Valiant. A road-test report on the Falcon, with which we were very favourably impressed, has already appeared in MOTOR SPORT. The interesting rear-engined Corvair has evaded us, and when the Valiant was submitted for test some months ago it died far from home due to a flat battery.

Recently it was re-submitted and this time behaved splendidly and earned a good reputation, although at first it tried to sabotage us by blowing vast quantities of very cold air onto the driver’s feet whenever it was driven fast. This was due to the cold air vent refusing to close on that side of the car and this was soon cured with a short length of domestic string.

The Chrysler Valiant has lines which you either like or dislike. The stylists have certainly contrived a low build, have avoided aggressive tail-fins and eschewed the unnecessary application of chromiun plating, the result being an eye-catching saloon which will accommodate seven people if required. There is, however, extreme overhang of the wings, which causes even experienced drivers to park their Valiant a foot or so from kerbs until they become fully acquainted with its true width.

The car is wide by our standards, especially so in left-hand-drive form bu the steering is sufficiently light and precise to make the task of driving in traffic or narrow lanes by no means tedious. Not only is the steering so light that it was difficult to convince oneself that it was manually-operated on the test car, but it is free from kickback and possessed of very strong castor return action to help overcome its low gearing, four turns of the small well-placed wheel being needed from lock-to-lock, plus almost another turn of free play.

The Valiant is notable for an extremely smooth, fully automatic, three-speed transmission, for nicely arranged controls and for brakes which are almost over-too-powerful at low speeds, if apt to become erratic when hot.

The driver sits on a wide bench seat behind the small steering wheel, which is very deeply dished, so much so that the rather stiff horn-push is rendered difficult to operate. On each side of the metal-turned facia panel is a row of vertically placed pushbuttons, those on the left controlling the automatic transmission, those on the right the heating and demisting system. Below these buttons, all of which are labelled and each of which is separately illuminated when the facia lighting is on, are two levers, that on the right controlling the volume of hot air admitted to the car’s interior, that under the transmission buttons acting as a parking safeguard so that “Drive” cannot be selected until it is raised. Cold air is admitted from scuttle vents via two under-facia doors, one serving the driver (and defective as aforementioned), the other the front-seat passenger.

The pedals comprise a treadle accelerator and the usual wide brake pedal of two-pedal-control cars, both with prominent non-slip studs, while in lieu of a hand-brake there is a parking brake pedal on the extreme left with a subsidiary pedal above it which is depressed by hand or foot to release this brake. There is also a foot-operated windscreen washer.

The facia panel carries two dials, one comprising an oil pressure light and ammeter, fuel contents and water-temperature gauges, the other a 110-m.p.h. speedometer incorporating a total mileage indicator, with decimal readings, and giving commendably steady speed readings. Knobs are confined to two, somewhat inaccessibly set under the dished steering wheel—one controlling the lamps, the other the screen-wipers, which, being suction-operated. can be controlled for speed of operation. There are also two embarrassingly bright flashers warning lamps, while the ignition key operates the starter.

The Valiant has three different keys, one for ignition, one for boot lid and doors, one for the petrol filler cap, the last-named, curiously, being of English make yet labelled “Gas.” Here it may be remarked that the petrol gauge seemed very accurate (its needle is absolutely steady until the tank ran dry with one gallon indicated as remaining. We then discovered that even an easy-pour can will not cope with the small horizontal filling orifice. A minor criticism is that keys and door handles are uncomfortably sharp.

Other items of equipment include a good rear-view mirror with anti-dazzle setting, twin swivelling vizors, and arm-rests on the front doors. The steering wheel has good finger-holds at the ” 9 o’clock ” and ” 3 o’clock” positions. There is a rather small metal drop-drawer rather than cubby-hole before the front-seat passenger, which can be locked, and inboard of this is a pull-out ash tray neatly incorporating a cigar-lighter. The doors lack pockets but there are quarter-lights front and back, the latter non-openable, while the back doors have tiny levers actuating the locks. A safety item is the provision of internal door handles which pull back to open the doors. Rheostatic control of the facia lighting is provided and the roof lamp has courtesy action in conjunction with the front doors only. The switch is incorporated with the lamps-switch but didn’t work on the test car. The front-door handles need 2 3/4 turns to fully open, or close, the windows, those at the back 2 5/8 turns. The doors close rather tinnily but have very ample width and strong “keeps.”

A driver of average height can just see both front wings and the screen pillars do not impede visibility. The test car had wing mirrors on each side. The screen is very wide, so that there is some distortion, looking fully sideways. There is also slight reflection, not really troublesome; this is also true of the concave instrument dials. The self-cancelling direction flashers are controlled by a left-hand stalk with short positive movements. The test car had an excellent Valiant push-button radio.

The bonnet is opened from the front motif without the necessity of fumbling for under-facia release handles, and stays open automatically; its undersurface is sound-proofed. All fillers and the dipstick are accessible, as is the Mopar battery, which is guaranteed for 36 months: The tilted-over engine has a six-branch ram-pipe inlet manifold. The Jiffy-jet screen-washer uses a plastic bag. The boot lid requires a key to open it but it then opens automatically and rises at a touch of the hand by torsion-bar action, to expose a very spacious luggage boot with unimpeded floor, the spare wheel being below this. The paint job here had ” run” badly in several places.

The Valiant has paired headlamps on each side, the foot-dimmer extinguishing one lamp of a pair.

On the road the Chrysler Valiant lives up to the driver’s good impression of its sensible control arrangements. It has an exceedingly smooth and quiet 101-b.h.p. six-cylinder engine which provides the effortless performance of the full-size American automobile. Acceleration is more than ample, top speed in the region of 98 m.p.h and the car cruises at 70-80 m.p.h. with a notable absence of wind noise. The seating is spacious and comfortable, the car being large by our standards.

The automatic transmission functions with extreme smoothness, it being difficult to detect when the two upward changes occur. By kicking down the accelerator these upward changes are postponed until speedometer speeds of 32 and 57 m.p.h. are reached, while pressing in the ” 2 ” button with the left forefinger provides for middle-gear acceleration, which is particularly good, to be held to a genuine 75 m.p.h., which is extremely useful for passing slower vehieles. First gear can be held in with the button marked ” 1 ” if required.

The suspension, torsion-bar i.f.s., half-elliptic at the back, is soft and consequently provides a very comfortable ride over all but the roughest roads, but roll is surprisingly well controlled when cornering fast, nor do the Goodyear tyres protest under these conditions. Road undulations tend to deflect the steering to a small degree.

The brakes, vacuum-controlled, have to be used with care at low speeds, so fierce are they and thereafter they are adequate, but no more. All in all, enthusiastic drivers enjoy the Valiant’s way of motoring, which represents effortless travel for six or seven people in the American manner, in a car with sensible controls and good manners.

The engine started easily if not enriched but “idled rough,” and petrol consumption came out at 20.2 m.p.g. The actual range, full to bone dry, was 226 miles. The engine, which had run only some 6,000 miles, called for half-a-gallon of oil after 750 miles; the level was almost off the dipstick but the warning light had not come on.

We liked our spell of pretending to be up-to-the-minute Americans and regard the Valiant by Chrysler as a very good solution of the compact problem. They must think so themselves, for the the new Dodge Lancer is generally similar. Those who can see much commot sense in the American way of motoring but until recently have regarded such automobiles as uncomfortably bulky for use in England will be sorely tempted by the new compacts. They are advised to give the Chrysler Valiant careful examination. it is available here for £1,945 inclusive (but not including some of the extras on the test car), and is a purchase which the neighbours will never stop looking at; apart front which it is a good car.:—W. B.