1973-1975 Chrysler Valiant VJ Charger 340 - Buyer's Guide

By: Guy Allen, Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs

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Chrysler Australia made a huge impact with its Charger despite working with a nickels-and-dimes budget

If someone were to tackle a model like this now, it could be a make-or-break car for the manufacturer, with some serious budget behind it (think hundreds of millions as a starter). However the story of the Charger was quite different.

It was put together on a shoestring budget by the local arm of Chrysler, with Brian Smyth penning the now legendary lines. The 1971 release relaunched the Chrysler brand into the local youth market, following on from models like the Pacer series, but taking a very different styling direction to its local two-door predecessor. While the VF-VG series coupes drew their lines from USA counterparts, the Charger looked to have little in common with its namesake on the other side of the Pacific.

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Given the relatively tiny amount of money and short development timeline, the Charger was a huge success. It took out the Wheels Car of the Year gong and initially dominated the Chrysler Australian production numbers as the plant tried to keep up with orders.

While its performance competition at Ford and Holden had switched over to V8 power, Chrysler stuck with big sixes for a remarkable period of time. They were certainly quick, however the relatively late arrival of a four-speed transmission hampered it both in the market and at times on the racetrack. Though much-admired as a drive, and unquestionably a sales success, a victory at the all-important endurance race at Bathurst eluded the car.

For owner Paula Scarso (who is best known as the force behind Melbourne’s Northern Gal classic car events) this is ‘take two’ on the road to finding a good coupe. She takes up the story: Originally I purchased a 1974 Celica and had it fully restored – stripped and put it back together. Then I decided I wanted a car with a little more grunt – we looked at a couple, there was this one here, which was in white. It’s got a pretty big engine in it – a 360.

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The car started life as a six, but this engine was bought from a guy who is an old drag racer who had it in his Pacer and then transferred it to this car. And he’d put all the good stuff in it. He started it up and we heard it and, you know what, I wanted it. We got it for a steal.

We did a bit of a resto on it, including the colour change. There was a little bit of rust in the usual areas, wheels arches, vents and corners of the boot. The guys who did it are friends and did it properly, cutting out the old areas and welding in new ones in the right gauge metal.

The colour is not a Chrysler colour. The swatches I looked at were too milky. At first we couldn’t find a match for what I wanted. Then I spotted a little flip-top bin in his spray booth and I said that’s the colour, match that! So he sprayed a bumper from an old VT. We had a look at it in fluro and natural light and then gave the go-ahead.

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I wanted a pink or magenta that really popped, something close to the R/T colour, with a bit more ‘bite’.

This car originally had dealer stripes on it, but these are slightly different. I think they break up the colour, and it’s not an R/T and I didn’t want to mock it up as one. We’ve badged it as an XL, even though it’s now got a better engine in there.

I think it sits well. It’s had an exhaust and a few extra bits and pieces changed over since I’ve owned it. We’re letting it sit like this for a while, but there might be more projects underway. I’m not sure whether to supercharge it next. It’s currently running as a low-compression engine, so a supercharger would go straight on. I might have to start a fund for that one!

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Another option is to matt black the bonnet and tunnel ram the engine. We’ll see.

It’s running the standard three-speed auto but has a B&M shifter, so you can have a bit of a play with it. We’ve also changed the gearing, but it still needs a bit more urge on take-off.

It’s a really comfortable car to drive. I’m quite surprised because you really have to work to drive a lot of the older cars, in comparison to a new one. It’s a fun car. There’s no power steering, but it’s fine once it’s rolling.

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As for starting up the Northern Gal events, I’ve grown up with cars. We have a family of panel beaters and spray painters and we used to have a panel shop. I went to a lot of car shows and you would see all these guys there... Where were their partners? Were they even invited? I started specifically to get more women involved in the car scene. It’s been going five years now and the response it great.

(You can find Paula’s events via Northern Gal on Facebook.)

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VH-VK CHARGER MARKET

Although there seems to have been no census of surviving Chargers, it seems safe to say that 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

VALUE RANGE VALIANT CHARGER XL

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

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

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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 340 cubic-inch Chrysler V8 is highly regarded as an engine capable of delivering prodigious performance for its size. These motors were used in many US Mopar models and complete ‘crate’ replacements are easy to obtain. So are parts needed to rebuild an existing engine and maintain authenticity. An authentic engine will carry a number commencing with ‘A331’.Depending on model, E55s will use different types of Carter four-barrel carburettor. The three-speed automatic transmission should handle the power of a standard 340 with ease and 300,000 km between rebuilds is expected.

SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Charger V8s need to cope with more front-end weight bias than six-cylinder cars, so expect to be replacing components more regularly. The steering in these cars was never particularly direct and they do tend to veer in the direction of the road camber unless drivers maintain a firm grip. Be wary of ‘slop’ in the steering and excessive effort at low speeds. 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. 

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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.

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1973-1975 Valiant VJ Charger 340 specs

NUMBER MADE: N/A
BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe
ENGINE: 5563cc OHV V8 with quad carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 205kW @ 5000rpm, 461Nm @ 3200rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 7.2 seconds, 0-400 metres 15.6 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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