The North American debut of the Volkswagen Beetle took place in early 1949 when a Dutch businessman was able to ship a new one to New York.
By 1950, the floodgates were opened when the Beetle took North America by storm and became one of the most popular cars ever sold in the global market.
The shock waves went largely unnoticed by the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) until the latter part of the 1950s when the largest domestic car manufacturers chose to introduce compact car models in time for the Sensational Sixties.
New car sales have always been a battlefield with a take-no-prisoners approach for all of the combatants. Consequently, the Big Three were unwilling to cede any sales territory to the upstart VW Beetle when the Detroit boys rolled out their 1960 compact models.
The compacts were a brand new concept for the big car companies from Detroit, even though smaller builders like American Motors had already acknowledged the impact of the Beetle and built compact cars in some form or another for most of the decade. The similarity between AMC and VW compacts was simple: they were both automotive oddballs (bordering on automotive homeliness) in the style department.
However, the Big Three compacts wanted to add style and handsome looks into the mix, including the designers at Chrysler. 1960 marked the last year for the large scale manufacturing of finned Mopars and the Valiant was Mopar kingpin Virgil Exner’s entry into the brand new decade, along with its first compact car model-a contentious point for the soon-to-be fired Exner who wanted to see the design given to the bigger Chrysler models.
Beauty would be in the eye of the beholder when it came to the 1960 Valiant and many beholders/customers loved its looks when it debuted in Mopar dealerships.
The Valiant was initially a standalone make in the Chrysler lineup and became an instant hit with the buying public. In fact, the Valiant was marketed as “Nobody’s Kid Brother” when it debuted in 1960.
The Valiant offered a few variations on the new-for-1960 Slant Six engine. The Slant Six was Chrysler’s new 6-cylinder engine and differed from the previous Mopar six-bangers because it was an overhead valve motor that offered better performance than Mopar’s previous flathead sixes.
More power and room than a VW Beetle, along with better economy than a full-sized domestic sedan, were big ticket items for Valiant buyers who wanted a car that could offer both features in one car.
The 1960 Valiant had a serious impact upon Plymouth sales in a negative way and dropped them from a comfortable 3rd place position in domestic car sales. The Valiant’s introduction and its subsequent strong sales forced Chrysler’s US operations to strong-arm the upstart Valiant into the Plymouth car family by 1961 because Chrysler wanted to maintain Plymouth’s status as a very popular sales choice in the North American automotive market.
Eventually, as the 1960s headed in a new automotive direction with the 1965 US/Canada Auto Pact agreement, the Valiant would eventually become a full time member of the Plymouth family in both countries.
The move is still considered a mixed blessing for some hardcore early Valiant (but not Plymouth) fans.
BY: Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.