Unbelievable excitement ensues as two Seattleites prepare for a baby!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Valiant Folly

Back to nature - the Valiant in the previous owner's backyard.

If one were to compile a list of what our family needs the least, a debilitating flesh-eating disease would probably rank at the top. An unreliable, barely running, deeply flawed 1973 Plymouth Valiant would probably appear only a few lines down the list.

So, of course, that's exactly what I went out and got. And yes, in addition to our 2003 Honda Accord and scabrous old 1986 Volvo 240DL, we have a 1973 Valiant. This is three cars for a family in which only one car gets driven.

Those of you who have known me for some time are familiar with my fascination with both weird turbocharged European sports coupes of the 1980s (think Saab) and mediocre American sedans of the 1970s. There are few 1970s American sedans more relentlessly mediocre than a '73 Valiant.

Admittedly, my tastes run more to something like an AMC Matador X or a massive '76 Chevrolet Impala, but neither were as readily accessibly as the '73 Valiant, which was offered to me free by a co-worker, who had been storing the Valiant in his back yard along with several vintage Subaru BRATs.

Five blocks into my drive home with the free new car, I started thinking that perhaps I had overpaid. Aside from the exhaust fumes pouring into the cabin, and the loud but powerless chug-chug-chugging of the clearly out-of-tune 225-cubic inch Chrysler Slant Six, the Valiant began displaying a rather diverting habit of stalling in the middle of intersections. With a combination of profuse cold sweat, full throttle, and power dumps with the three-speed automatic, we somehow managed to limp home at a maximum of 40 mph. Since that time several weeks ago, thanks to its untrustworthiness, I've driven the car roughly five miles.

In this way, the Valiant is rather different than the subject of my last old-car fling - my dearly beloved and much-lamented 1983 Chevrolet Malibu Wagon, which owned my heart for years before it was pried away from my protesting grip by Leigh. She insisted that two drivers didn't need three cars. Perhaps not, but now we're up to three cars again - and now instead of the reliable, trustworthy 'Bu, we have a car that makes the 300,000-mile Volvo look like a high-powered, futuristic European sports car. Plus, now that I take the bus to work, we're down to one driver for those three cars.

When I've told people about our new Valiant, they invariably give me the same pitying, slightly incredulous look normally reserved for an eight-year-old who set fire to his parents' house.

To answer their invariable first question, no, I have no idea what I'm going to do with it. The drivability problems likely stem from a dirty and worn carburetor, and the exhaust leak is probably a result of a cracked exhaust manifold. The only problem is that, with a one-car garage, we have neither a place to keep the Valiant nor a place to work on it.

At least, we didn't until our friends Kim and Chavi went mildly insane and offered up their two-car garage to the Valiant so that both Leigh and I could tinker with it there. You see, Leigh has wanted for some time to become an automotive mechanic, and for all of my automotive love and knowledge, I don't have the foggiest idea of how to change the oil. Given that the Valiant was hopelessly out of date when it was made in the early 1970s, this blunt object is the ideal subject on which we can learn.

So, as soon as I screw up my courage to limp the Valiant down to their house, we'll begin a regime of changing the fluids, belts, hoses, and filters. Then the plan is to swap out the carburetor, intake manifold, and exhaust manifold with a similar but slightly more advanced two-barrel carburetor unit, ironically named the "Super Six," from a late 1970s Aspen/Volare. The Aspen/Volare, of course, were truly awful cars in their own right.

The current carb is a single-barrel unit - just for a bit of perspective, most performance cars of the era used four to six barrels. The Slant Six is a fairly gutless but willing engine, but saddling it with a single-barrel carburetor is like forcing a child to drink a thick milkshake through a coffee stirring straw.

I found a road test of a 1974 Valiant Brougham (given that the Valiant was the equivalent of a Dodge Neon, the name was a bit of a contradiction in terms) , in which Car & Driver flogged the 105-horsepower Valiant from 0-60 in 13.8 seconds. With a lot of work and expense, the two-barrel conversion might solve all of the car's problems and pump the engine up to roughly 120 horsepower - in a still-disheveled, worthless car. If that works, I may just splurge and buy a ridiculously undeserved "Screaming Chicken" Pontiac Trans-Am hood decal for the Valiant.

Either that, or I'll come to my senses and just pawn off the Valiant on some other sucker. The jury's still out.

The Screaming Chicken would look awfully nice on the Valiant's hood.


Anonymous The TRUTH will set you free said...

OK- you did not have the 'bu for "years". You had it about 6 months and your parents gave us a third car, at which point I begged you to sell. Then, not long after that we moved back to Seattle. I think you had it for ONE year- maybe slightly more.

7:14 PM

Blogger Chris Hafner said...

Yes, but it seemed like years. You know how your entire life can pass before your eyes? It was like that with the 'Bu - in a joyful way.

8:52 PM

Blogger Ron Coscorrosa said...

You should have had a friend follow you so that when you got stuck in the intersection, he could go, "Hmm, that's interesting" and continue driving on, all while stealing your laptop.

But unfortunately life just isn't that exciting.

Also: The truth will not set you free, it will get you in trouble (unless you're married, in which case you're screwed either way).

Continue your complete disregard for the truth, and your stories, while being completely full of crap, will be more interesting, just like that time I showed up to work before 10 AM.

10:52 PM

Blogger Chris Hafner said...

I have to say, Ron, leaving the safety of your Subaru for the forbidding confines of a very scary old car was one of the more difficult moves I've had to make.

9:59 PM

Blogger mrclm said...

First, everybody knows that the Chevy Impala reached it's pinnicle of perfection in 1975. Duh. And Burnt Orange WAS/IS/FOREVERWILLBE the best color from that year.

Second, take the hood off. Really. You won't regret it until you have to put it back on :-) Honestly, use some fingernail polish or something semi-permanent to mark where it lines up before you take it off (since I'm assuming the paint on the car is like #346 on priorities). Taking the hood off the car makes working on them 100% easier. You can reach places better, you're not smashing your head on it, you get better light on the area you are working on, and when you do get it running, test drives seem cooler because many hot rods also do not have hoods. Certainly you'll be missing the massive blower up front, but with the hood off somebody might mistake it and for a moment think it is cool (though It'll be tough to overcome that poop brown color).

Cap, plugs, wires and rotor when you change your fluids. Make sure to gap your new plugs, and look at the old plugs closely, as they'll tell you a lot about the engine at just a glance. Also closely inspect all vacuum lines. Those tend to crack and can add to the rough running. That's enough to get you started.

Big Chris
Because I said so blog
Sonics Central blog

10:27 PM

Anonymous Karen Evans said...


What you really need is someone to slap you silly for even THINKING about buying these crap-ass cars.

Until Sophia is old enough to drive (gasp!), then she should inherit and embarrassingly uncool American-made car, such as the 1980 Buick LeSabre station wagon I was privileged enough to drive 1987-1990. I should note it featured peeling wood-grain "siding," a "Miami is in Ohio, Dammit" bumper sticker and hubcaps that would fall off if you looked at them strange. Ah, the good ol' days.

11:46 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Chris.. Being that I, too, am married to a man who takes in stray cars (free or not), having 3 cars in a one driver family is not that odd. As far as the 'Bu, what is it with you guys (my husband included)making the sale of a car into a life altering experience? I agree with Leigh--the truth will set you free. Leigh-definately take the hood off, have Chris be your parts gopher, and make sure Sophia learns mechanics from you.:)

2:41 PM

Blogger Chris Hafner said...

Hmmm ... who is this anonymous? Something tells me I would (or do!) get along with her husband very well.

Of course, I agree with pretty much everything here.

5:44 PM


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