1971-76 Chrysler Valiant VH-VK Charger 265 - Buyer's Guide

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There's no escaping that for some the V8 will always be the hero powerplant. But we reckon you're missing something if you ignore the sixes

 

Valiant VH-VK Charger 265

When Ford GT-HOs and Holden XU-1s roamed the earth, Chrysler Australia had somehow landed itself in the middle with its hero car, the Charger. It looked like a full-size unit of roughly Ford proportions, but was running a six, like the Torana.

At the time, there were three hemi sixes on offer in the Valiant range: the 215, 245 and 265 cubic inchers (3.5, 4.0 and 4.3lt), all running pushrods for the two-valve heads and a common stroke of 94mm. Compression ratios varied – scaling up from 8.0:1 for the basic unit through to 9.5:1 for the ‘standard’ 265. The 245 and 265 also ended up with electronic ignition.

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In ultimate form, a 265 in E49 trim claimed a very healthy 302 horses (225kW) at 5600rpm, and that was with the full ‘6 Pack’ set of triple Weber carburettors on board. That was substantially more than the V8s in the range.

| Related: Chrysler VH E55 Charger review

In normal street trim, the 265 engine ran a single two-barrel carb and claimed more like 203hp (151kW) compared to 230hp (172kW) for the 318 V8 and 275hp (205kW) for the 340 V8 in E55 trim.

Now the 200-ish horses in the stock 265 for the day qualified this as a reasonably powerful car. It weighed under 1400 kilos and in this trim would unquestionably be a lively drive. Perhaps the biggest question mark over these cars was the prevalence of three-speed manuals over four-speeds. It seemed like an odd decision even to this day, and the owners seem a little split over the issue. Some retro-fitted four-speeds, while others have got to like the threes, pointing out the engine is more than flexible enough to cope.

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Luke Orton, the owner of the 1975 VJ XL you see here, admits a Charger wasn’t necessarily his first choice when he was out shopping, 15 years ago.

"I was looking for a Torana and was searching through the classifieds. A guy I was working with spotted the Charger in Go Green and said you’ve got to go and have a look at it. At that stage I didn’t really know them that well, but I went and had a look and bought it on the spot.

| Related: John Bowe drives the Chrysler E49 Charger R/T

"He wanted $6500 and got $6200. Then I was told I was completely mad and had spent too much money – you’ll never get your money back!

"It was always this colour but I’ve had it resprayed twice. The first time it bubbled and was a horrible job, so I saved my money and did it again."

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The engine started life as a 245 but is now a 265 with 245 heads, extractors, Cain manifold and 625 AFB carby. It’s got the original three-speed manual, and the original diff.

Luke also got the interior redone.

There was no mistaking the note of the big six as we heard it running through the gears, up the hill to meet us for the photo shoot. A lovely sound.

Little did we know it had another purpose. "When I was living at home many moons ago, I used to go to work at six o’clock every morning," explains Luke. "One day I was sick. My neighbour came down and complained ‘you didn’t go to work today?’ I explained and he responded, ‘I was late for work, because I use you as an alarm clock.’ He was four doors up from me and I didn’t drive past his house!"

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What’s it like driving with the three-speed? "It’s different and you take a lot of time to get used to it. You spend a lot of time in second gear. It’s fine. The only complaint is if you’re sitting on the freeway for a long time, it sort of sings at about 3500 and can echo a bit with the pipes I have on it. But it’s fun. It would be nice to have the extra gear, but I kinda like keeping it the way it should be."

For their era, the Chargers had a reputation for being a responsive steering package with brakes that could be made halfway reasonable – drums rear and disc front with power assist in this example.

"They slide around a bit," says Luke. "When I bought it I opened up the boot and the bloke had an engine block in it. I asked ‘What’s this for?’ and the bloke said ‘to hold it down’. I ended up putting some very expensive tread on it and wasn’t as hectic with the driving and now it sits nicely.

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"It was very common for people to put bags of sand or whatever in the back of a Charger."

Of course one of the attractions (or downsides – it depends on your nature) of owning a Charger is the attention it gets. "You get a huge response to it," says Luke. "I had a big old American Chrysler and you’d park the two at a show – no-one would look at the big car, they were more interested in the old Aussie one. And they wanted to tell you their story about them. Everyone seems to have had one – it brings out a lot of good memories for people, which is really nice."

One day he was even pulled up by the first owner – at the time Luke was still running the car’s original plates. They got to talking and Luke asked why he sold the car. "I wanted a Monaro, the V8," was the response, "But I shouldn’t have sold the Charger."

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VH-VK 265 Charger Market

Although there seems to have been no census of surviving Chargers, it seems safe to say that 265-engined XL versions with authentic manual transmission could by now be harder to find than the more costly R/T.

Low values throughout the 1980s and 90s, dwindling supplies of parts and the desire of enthusiasts who couldn’t find or afford an R/T to build their own all contributed to the accelerated disappearance of big-engined XL versions.

A VJ or VK with the optional four-speed manual will be among the most difficult versions to find and cost considerably more than cars with a three-speed in manual or automatic. The later VK had better seats and – to some eyes anyway – a cleaner grille design.

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Looking to the future, authenticity will be crucial to value and perhaps even a car’s survival. Some jurisdictions overseas have suggested that older vehicles that haven’t been maintained in ‘original’ condition might be first into the crusher.

Setting up alerts on specialist car-sales sites will help in the search for a car however you might have more luck joining a Charger club and visiting every Mopar display you can. Some owners whose cars might have been unseen for decades will often contact clubs for assistance when the time comes to sell or just park them outside a show venue with a sign on the window.

It is hard to judge just how much a buyer would be prepared to spend on an outstanding and authentic 265 three-speed. but informed estimates range from $45-55,000. Paying around $20,000 for a rough, rusty example could be expensive in the longer term unless you can do most of the work yourself.

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BUYER'S CHECKLIST

Body & Chassis

Chargers demand close examination by a panel-repair specialist before you commit to buy. These cars for many years were worth very little and repairs were often sub-standard just to avoid the car being deemed a ‘write off’. Now in a different market, those bogged-up panels and dodgy welds are going to cause grief. Rust repair sections are available but good complete panels, even second hand, are very difficult to source. Re-doing an older restoration will likely involve the costly process of having panels hand-made so don’t pay too much for an imperfect car. Doors that need to be lifted when closing will likely need repair around the hinge mounts.

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Engine & Transmission

The Hemi engine used by these Chargers ranks high on the list of Australia’s best-ever six-cylinder power units. Provided they haven’t been overheated to the point where rings crack and the cylinder head warps, 300,000 kilometres is likely between rebuilds. Replacement heads are still available at less than $1000, with standard pistons and rings around $500 a set. The Borg-Warner ‘single rail’ manual transmission was used in various cars during the 1970s and replacements are available. So too the standard diff centre.

Suspension & Brakes

Charger suspension is basic but as CM versions demonstrated they did respond well to educated tweaking. Steering with almost 5 turns lock to lock wasn’t particularly direct and wear or looseness in the system will encourage the car to veer in whatever direction the road camber takes it. Check tyre pressures too as they can have an influence on stability. Be cautious when test-driving a Charger as they are known for locking wheels without a lot of pedal pressure being applied. If the pedal feels very hard or very spongy start looking at the master cylinder and/or power booster. Neither are particularly expensive to replace.

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Interior & Electrics

Charger seat frames were a weak point and there won’t be many in existence that haven’t needed welding at some point in their lives. Make sure the seats can be easily moved on their runners and aren’t twisted with the backs sitting at odd angles. The trim is pretty basic vinyl and won’t be difficult for an automotive upholsterer to duplicate. Replacement dashboards and instruments appear on internet trading sites and aren’t expensive. Replacing the distinctive Charger steering wheel costs around $500.

VALUE RANGE VALIANT CHARGER XL

FAIR: $18,000
GOOD: $38,000
EXCELLENT: $55,000

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

1971-76 Valiant VH-VK Charger 265 specs

NUMBER MADE: N/A
BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe
ENGINE: 4340cc in-line six-cylinder with overhead valves & single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 162kW @ 4800rpm, 354Nm @ 3000rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h
9.6 seconds, 0-400 metres
17.5 seconds
TRANSMISSION: three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with torsion bars control arms and anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: disc (f) drum
(r) power assisted
TYRES: ER70 H14 radial

 

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