Chrysler Valiant VJ Regal

By: Cliff Chambers, Photography by: Ben Galli

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Local cars didn't come any bigger than Valiant's family range

The profusion of ‘family’ cars available to 1970s Australia must have left buyers understandably bewildered. All three of our major car-making companies – four if you count Leyland and its troubled P76 – had introduced completely new designs and lifted their games considerably without charging a great deal more.

Model diversity was extreme, with Chrysler claiming 56 different variants in its new VH range. The Valiant, which arrived in June 1971 just ahead of Holden’s remodelled HQ, was also the biggest of the Big Three and clearly aimed at a conservative and very loyal segment of the market.


A big luxury sedan to tackle a big country

All that those people wanted and had since the days of the AP5 was a car that looked substantial, seated six and could cop a walloping from rough roads without coming apart.

Also helpful when selling Valiants was the biggest station wagon in the local market, with space behind the front seat for five kids, two big dogs and all the fishing/camping gear muddled in together. Rear seat belts did become available during the reign of the VH-VK, but not mandatory.

| Read next: 1972 VH Valiant 770 Regal hardtop


Vinyl roof gives the Regal a distinctive look

The VH wasn’t much bigger than the outgoing VG, but it looked larger. There was a three-inch (76mm) stretch to the wheelbase too which should have been devoted to enhanced interior comfort – or ‘sprawl space’ – but where it went wasn’t immediately apparent.

Changing something that works well isn’t wise and Chrysler dutifully stuck with its trio of outstanding Hemi Six engines, backed by the old but super-reliable 318 cubic inch (5.2 litre) V8.

| Read next: Chrysler Charger market


Regal badging and wheel trims. Exclusive

Valiants during the 1971-76 era were sold at various times in basic Valiant, Ranger, Ranger XL, Regal and Regal 770 trim. The sporty Pacer hung about for a while as well but barely troubled the scorers.

The VH interior offered lots that was familiar, like huge bench seats with coverings in soft, durable vinyl. Virtually all Valiants and a lot of Regals persevered with column-shift manual or automatic transmission, with the manual lever travelling a ridiculous 355mm when shifting from first to second.

| 2021 Market Review: Chrysler Valiant/Regal 1971-1981


Chrome bookends each end of the Regal

The dash was different, with a more logical instrument layout and switches that could be reached while wearing a seatbelt. Helpful as well was the seat-side parking brake but there was less glass area, which made the new Valiant a challenge to park.

Regal versions were different in character from the basic model but a lot of the differences were purely cosmetic. Regals had better seats but very few would have been trimmed in optional brocade cloth like our featured car.

| Read next: 1972 VH Valiant Pacer


Carpets, a push-button radio, courtesy lights (even one in the ‘ash receiver’), a soft-grip steering wheel and remote mirror adjustment were among the Regal’s standard features. So was the 4.0-litre (245) six-cylinder engine with manual transmission, which would almost always be replaced by an extra-cost automatic.

Motoring magazines seemed hopeful that the VH would help Chrysler to finally get itself onto equal terms with the Bigger Two, with one publication heading its pre-release article ‘Valiant’s Best Yet.’


That statement might have helped generate a few sales, but not the number Chrysler had wanted or expected, and the look of the VH was partly to blame.

From side-on it was okay, long and low with a fair dose of US Plymouth in the profile. Those cars, however, had impressive and distinctive bumpers to encircle their uninspiring grilles and the Valiant didn’t. From head-on, it lacked presence and wasn’t instantly identifiable like an HQ Holden. Changes to the VJ and later VK grilles did help, but only a bit.


Chrysler six; powerful and robust

Owner of our featured VJ Regal is Ugur Ahmet from Melbourne, but he doesn’t mind the looks though. He has been familiar with this kind of Valiant for most of his lifetime.

"Dad had a Limelight VJ as our family car and we went everywhere in it," Ugur recalled. "When I got older all I wanted was to find a car like dad’s VJ, but I never expected that the one I did find would be so special."

The VJ that caught Ugur’s eye back in 2015 was located in Queensland but had originally been sold in Victoria, passed for initial registration at the Fawkner Police Station.


"I managed to track the car’s history from when it was handed down by the original owner to a nephew who then moved to Queensland and left the car pretty much sitting for 25 years," he said. "For that and other reasons like the almost unmarked steering wheel, I think the 68,000 kilometres showing on the car when I first saw it was genuine."

At that time the Regal was an abandoned restoration and among the items that accompanied the sale was a small cardboard box. It contained a few chunks of misshapen metal that were the only sections of the body replaced due to rust.

Accompanied by his brother and a rudimentary toolkit, Ugur and the VJ set off for Melbourne, arriving 24 hours later having stopped only for fuel and driver changes and without any problems at all.


Big boot and bold grille

"Immediately we got home I took the car around to Dad’s, stopped outside and sounded that very distinctive Valiant horn. Dad came out and sat in the passenger seat, just taking it all in. When he finally spoke all he said was, ‘This smells just like my car’ and that broke everybody up."

Two years passed before the Regal ventured interstate again, this time to a gathering of Valiants and former Chrysler employees at the old Tonsley Park factory site.

"We didn’t know anybody, had never been at a Chrysler meet, but then an old guy walked up and was looking at the Regal’s seats which were the only part that really let the car down," Ugur recalled.


Luxurious interior set the Regal apart

"He said ‘You look like you need some of that brocade material to finish it off’ I said yes, but it’s not available I am going to use some similar stuff I got from the USA. He just smiled and said I’ve got a whole roll of it, let me know when you’re ready to do the seats."

Six months later Ugur was on another Melbourne-Adelaide flight, then standing in the old Chrysler man’s bedroom as he measured off exactly the amount of fabric (3.1 metres) needed to do the job and not a centimetre more.

"I asked him how much and he said he had paid $200 for the 50-metre roll in 1978 so for the length I needed it would be $12."


Twelve bucks of Brocade covered the seats

Once completed in 2017, the Regal took Ugur and two brothers to Albury for the Chryslers on the Murray gathering, returning with the first of several trophies it would win for Best VH-VK.

"It isn’t a show car though, not at all," Ugur emphasised. "I built it to be driven the way dad’s was all those years ago and so far it has travelled over 30,000km. Next trip is in a couple of months to the Chrysler Day in Brisbane, so back ‘home’ again for the old car."

As our featured Regal has ably demonstrated, these cars even after 45-50 years remain viable as regular transport. Take care of a Valiant mechanically and it will handle long distances without a qualm.


With over 90,000 cars built during a 28-month production run, VJs should be an easy Valiant to find, however your chances of finding a car that is immediately usable are slim. Regals are especially scarce and need to have all of their special features in place and operational to bring maximum money.

Hoping that our featured VJ Regal might one day become available is forlorn. According to owner Ugur, "This car already has its future guaranteed. It is going to be handed down through the family and I don’t think it will ever be sold."



Body & chassis

Rust has wiped out most of Australia’s Valiants and even cars that look fine externally remain suspect until you get them onto a hoist. First look at the sub-frame and steering box mounting points for rust and cracks. then the rear spring attachment points, floors and inner sills. Regals were often supplied with vinyl roof covering and any bubbling or staining around the seams means the turret is corroded and perhaps dangerously weakened. Second-hand panels are still common and some rust repair sections are available but good chrome is difficult and even second-hand parts are getting expensive.


Engine & transmission

The original electronic ignition fitted to VJ-VKs is likely long gone but none of these Valiants (except V8s when hot) should be hard to start. All of the engines when properly serviced manage to cover exceptional distances (300,000+ kilometres) between rebuilds and quite a few surviving engines have been rebuilt more than once. Rebuilt six or eight-cylinder engines cost $3500-6500, used but usable 4.0-litre motors are available for a lot less. Oil leaks are common and usually not a major issue. New radiators can cost over $600 but unless there is a leak or visible damage, overheating can be cured with a flush and new radiator cap. Shift linkages in three-speed manual cars can give trouble but actual transmissions (manual or auto) are tough.


Suspension & brakes

Virtually everything needed to return a Valiant’s suspension to new condition is available from after-market suppliers. However, reconditioning and replacing parts that mostly haven’t been touched in over 30 years isn’t a low-cost exercise. Kits of new bushes, ball joints and idler arms cost over $600 and a set of reconditioned rear springs were quoted at $800. Likewise, pairs of new torsion bars are available at $1000, plus labour to install by a suspension specialist. Disc brakes that squeal or shudder need new rotors (a pair of new Girlock discs costs around $250) plus pads. Rear drums are $350 per pair, including remanufactured shoes.


Interior & electrics

The cloth trim fitted to Regals will by now have reached or exceeded its effective lifespan and matching the original material (see text) is difficult. Sometimes entire interiors in decent condition become available at less than $1000 and we have seen VJ-VK instrument clusters for $250. Seat runners jam and the springs collapse so make sure they adjust easily and aren’t sagging. Air-conditioning isn’t common but a unit that stopped working some time ago may need conversion to CFC-free refrigerant. Listen for noises from the compressor when the a/c is activated and make sure the air delivered to the cabin is truly cold.


Ugur on the left and brother Tansu

1971 - 1976 Valiant VH-VK specs

NUMBER MADE: 67,800 (all VH), 90,865 (all VJ), 20,555 (all VK)
BODY STYLES: Steel body/chassis four-door sedan, station wagon, two-door utility
ENGINE: 3523cc, 4015cc, 4342cc six-cylinder or 5211cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 152kW @ 4800rpm, 355Nm @ 2000rpm (265)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 11.4 seconds, 0-400 metres 18.2 seconds (265 auto)
TRANSMISSION: Three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with torsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers (f) Live axle with leaf spring & telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: Drum or disc (f) drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: FR78S14 radial


From Unique Cars #469, Aug/Sep 2022


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