1974 Plymouth Valiant 225 slant 6 from North America
She is fair and smooth, but she took all my money and drinks too much
U-joints had to be replaced. I got outrageous quotes from pretty shops. So I found a good shop instead. It cost me 108.98 for labor and cheapo Autozone parts.
Fuel gauge does not work. It simply rises to 1/8 when turned on. I don't have a garage to check the connections at the fuel tank. I write down the mileage on receipts and carry a small fuel canister. It safely goes 150 miles in-town. After 200 it is running on fumes.
Front drum brakes squeal when backing up. No easy way to check the shoes because the drum is integral with the spindle. I don't have a garage to disassemble them.
Exhaust manifold-to-pipe gasket. Replaced it myself using Permatex copper-spray sealant, because there is no way to file the flange flat with the pipe in the car. I always use that stuff on exhaust components, and haven't had a failure yet.
All rubber diaphragms under the hood: vacuum choke pull-off, distributor advance, and intake stove. I replaced the intake stove motor because I had a different one in a bucket of leftovers.
Flexpipe to the intake stove was rotten. Special-ordered from Schuck's for 12.99, Niehoff FE660. No, the cheap aluminum pipe that stores have in stock is not going to work.
Rough idle, like on my old 1974 Sportsman B200. Holley 1945 carburetor's throttle shaft is worn out. I replaced the base gasket twice because backfire easily blows it out (see paragraph on distributor). It is a thick chunk of cardboard held in place by 2 studs. Factory gaskets were probably better, but they are no longer available. Choke spring was rusty - fixed with penetrant spray. Manifold stove was rusted and and stuck, same fix.
Numerous minor oil drips on the engine. I have to add a quart every ~500 miles.
Brake reservoir mysteriously spills fluid from the rear-brake (small) chamber even though the lid fits perfectly. Probably the rubber gasket is just a little too hard from the age. I have a bottle of brake fluid in the trunk to use at the same time as oil.
Lots of freeplay in the manual steering. I tried adjusting the gear box, but it comes back in a week. Gear box drips oil. Steering shaft bearing squeaked. I removed the steering wheel and oiled it - much better.
Front shocks' upper bushings are hardened and knock from sharp speed bumps. Front suspension's bump stops fell off. It's a bad design where rubber is simply glued to the mounting bolt.
Rear differential has a lot of freeplay and seeps oil from the pinion seal (7.25" axle). Rear leaf springs are beginning to sag. I adjusted the LF torsion bar down to level the car laterally and a bit longitudinally. It's almost a low-rider :-)
Engine mounts are sagging badly. They look too small for this iron straight-6.
Wiper bushings were gone. Aftermarket bushings are a joke and don't fit. Factory ones cost 5$+ each and there are 4 of them. Installed from underneath the dashboard with pliers.
The side windows' channel rubber is hard as a rock, and they rattle when closing a door. Driver's door latch is worn and sometimes won't close all the way on the 1st try.
Seat upholstery is gone, carpet is not far behind. The seats have covers. There were a few broken springs on the front seat. I fixed them with cable clamps and stuffed in a chair pad to reduce the sag. Seat back is still awful - no lower back support.
Instrument back lighting does not work. The bulb sockets are extremely fragile due to age and there is no power anyway. The sockets are no longer available (1976 was the last year of this design). I drilled holes in the shifter light to dimly shine on the speedometer. Another method is to velcro a mini-flashlight to the side of the shift indicator.
The dome light switch does not work until the car warms up. Driver's door switch always works, the wire on passenger side is dead.
Marker light sockets seal poorly and are corroded. Wiring under the hood has hardened insulation and must be handled cautiously, though it's not nearly as bad as on 1980s Saabs. I installed a couple of replacement sections and changed the coil connectors.
The starter solenoid is dying. Sometimes the starter will remain spinning without engaging the gear. I open the hood and tap it with a small hammer. This is the easiest starter to replace of the 20+ vehicles that I've had, but I probably won't. Once it somehow shorted out while driving and stalled the engine just as I crossed a bridge. Luckily I had a field to set up shop. I unplugged the battery and everything was back to normal. 6 minutes to check stuff with a multimeter and drive on.
Plastic distributor gear cracked on 1 side. I removed the roll pin and fixed it with 2 rubber o-rings on either side of the roll pin. Still holding up. The advance springs and the vacuum diaphragm are bad.
The trunk leaks. To minimize, I straightened the flange and added foam weatherstripping. The stock weatherstrip is falling apart. I drilled small holes in the "channels" on either side of the spare cavity to let the water drain.
This car had several very sharp weld leftovers that I smoothed over with a small hammer. For example in the door jambs. Material finishing is surely not Chrysler's priority to this day. Always wear gloves when working on a Chrysler product, don't risk infection.
1 diode in the alternator failed, causing erratic voltage regulation and 2 fried batteries before its complement failed on a cold night.
I did not know about the failed diode, because the alternator charged as well as on any classic car (weak). Just the ampermeter bounced at certain RPMs. When the alternator failed completely I unplugged the voltage regulator and drove home and to the stores the next day. No electronics to drain the battery :-) A rebuild kit cost 16$ from Autozone (Victory Lap CRA-01, made in USA). I installed it in a big-box parking lot. Now it actually holds ~12.5v when idling in gear with the lights and turn signals on.
It needs new battery cables because the originals have been fixed so many times that they are barely long enough.
The distributor had weak advance springs, like on my old 1974 sportsman B200. I had to retard the timing to ~3° ATDC to minimize the ping. The engine dieseled and backfired when shutting down, so I always did it in gear. When I finally dug into it I shortened the thin spring by 1 coil and removed all freeplay from the thick spring. I set the base timing to 8-10° BTDC and it runs decent, no ping except a single one when the first cylinder fires during a hot start.
Overall this car would be a pretty good learning tool for a student mechanic. It only has 5 fuses and only the basic mechanical systems (iron age to me ;). By modern standards it's not a serious daily driver unless the driver is in love with classics. For me classics are more of an addiction that I want to kick to the curb. I'll continue cheaply maintaining this car while looking for a cheap decent econobox. Then I'll sell it for cheap.
This is a 1974 model, built in December 1973 in Windsor, Canada. This car is on its 2nd powertrain, replaced by its previous owner. Originally it had a 225. This engine was made on July 18 1974 and stamped for the 1975 model year, according to the serial #. I don't know the engine's exact model because that stamp is apparently behind the alternator bracket, doh!
It starts always. Not as consistently as fuel-injected, but this function is very reliable. The odometer rolled over once or more. The fuel tank capacity is ~15 gallons with 14 usable.
My first impression of this car on the freeway was how horribly unsafe it is, compared to my concurrent '92 Acclaim. It still is, I just got used to driving it. On the other hand I think it would be a good car to teach driving to a youngster, because it trains correct habits and attention. Also at 55-60 mph it feels plenty fast and exciting. I did not try it past 70 because the rear tires are too old for that.
There are many paint chips with surface rust. There is a 1" rust hole under the spare tire.
Interestingly, the best paint is on the hood and roof. Everywhere else it is faded and oxidized. I spent an afternoon cleaning and waxing, and my landlord said she likes me.
I readjusted the hood and driver's door. The trunk latch was slightly off, still with factory paint. Driver door's hinge bushings are almost gone. I special-ordered a replacement kit, Motormite 38382 for 7.41$, but don't have a garage to remove the door et al.
Door weatherstripping held up surprisingly well. It is mostly hidden from sunlight and water by the real rain troughs. I fortified the driver's door jamb with generic foam weatherstripping. Still, the wind noise is loud. Same as in my previous 1970 Fleetwood and 1960 El Camino. The opposite of 1978 Mercedes 280e or 1984 BMW 733 that were practically silent. Hood and trunk prop springs work great.
Body structure is somewhat flabby, though not as much as a 1979 Eldorado or 1974 Mercedes 450SL roadster. It is comparable to the Fleetwood and 1992 Acclaim. '60 El Camino was much tighter. IMO the real classics ended with the x-frames and between ~1962-1982 they had cheapo profitable designs. Instead of Valiant I recommend a 1976+ Mercedes 280e. It is a far better vintage design for the same dimensions, $, and mpg.
Ride quality is about the same as Fleetwood and 280e, though this Valiant has a real strong lullaby effect that I have not experienced before. It probably has to do with the leaf-sprung rear suspension. I have to try hard to stay awake in this car after dark. It makes me feel tired but not very lucky. Of course no newer car rides soft like this.
The handling is boat-like. It will float off-course if side-wind currents are encountered.
I dig the bench seat. When parking at a wireless hot spot, I can just slide over and grab the laptop without stepping out into the rain. Also it provides a safe exit when parallel-parking. On the flipside, parallel parking is a nightmare with this manual steering. The manual steering is actually very easy when rolling.
Nicer tires with rounded shoulder definitely helped. It would be even easier with 185/75 tires. Right now it has 195/75, 30 PSI in the front.
Headroom and legroom is plentiful. You just have to watch your head and elbows because the door openings are smaller and harder than in a modern car. The shoulder belt reels are particularly dangerous, with sharp metal protrusions to mangle your newbie elbow.
You can't stretch out like this in a FWD. No footrest on the left though. If you like those you can bolt a common door stop to the kick panel. At the decorative crease is just about the right spot. Lots of room for boots. No center console so you can stretch your right leg on long drives. The 2-speed wiper switch is a dial behind the shift lever - difficult to access. No intermittent wipers nor windshield washer.
The headliner fabric is very dry and fragile but staying up pretty well. I taped the 2 tears with matching light-brown tarp tape. This design of fabric with spring wires is better than modern glued headliners that fall off after 20 years.
This is a second-generation Valiant body/chassis that came out in 1967 and stayed mostly the same until the end in 1976. So you can figure how 1976-1989 Aspen/Volare/5th Avenue seems like a modern car by comparison. A lot of ergonomic shortcomings were fixed with the Aspen and it had more suspension isolators that made the body feel solid.
The manual brakes are inconsistent, yet get the job done. Sometimes 1 of the fronts grabs, especially on cold and misty days. Sometimes the pedal travel is shorter than usual. These are 4-wheel drums and I don't have a garage to tinker with them.
It had a ghetto bumper hitch and wiring. It took much effort to remove due to rusted factory carriage bolts. I replaced them with new zinc-coated bolts (1/9 the price of stainless) and polished the bumper, looks shiny.
16.3 MPG average so far. The highest it ever got is 18.6 and the lowest 14.6. There seems to be little reasoning for the fuel mileage - sometimes it is awful on 1 fill-up and merely bad on another, while smoothly driving the same routes. The carb's inside is sterile and everything is adjusted but still no cigar. I replaced all vacuum and emission hoses and the fuel filter.
A-904 upshifts quickly and consistently. No fluid leaks. The throttle rod has major influence on the shift quality. Its adjustment is underneath on the left side of transmission, you have to raise the car for access.
Torsion bar bolts are adjustable with the lug nut wrench, just remember to jack it up first. If you install air shox on the back you could easily lift the car for shooting road warrior sequences and then lower it for cruising to the cutting studio.
I have to say this car is very maintenance-intensive for such a simple design. It constantly needs minor adjustments and lubrication. Don't buy one thinking it is hands-off after a tune-up. Chances are good you'll need to get dirty with it unexpectedly. I carry neophrene gloves, tools, tarp, rags, a mechanic's blanket, jumper cables, a small battery, work suit, and stock of fluids in the trunk. So far it's had no failures that I could not fix on the side of the road. Also don't buy a classic thinking it's cheap to maintain just because it is simple. $75/hour shop rate is not cheap if you have to buy it once a month. A good Japanese car like my previous 1994 Protege LX is cheaper to own because it does not need any work. "they don't build 'em like this anymore" is a very good thing.
Instead, you should buy a classic car to be cool |)
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 9th November, 2008
But with any old car, there is an initial outlay of money in the necessary areas, and then it's pretty much free sailin'. I've owned five 60's cars. You start out with new battery, alternator, voltage regulator, then new carb, new exhaust, new master cylinders, and brake cylinders, and all new hoses. Maybe a new gas tank. Tune it up. Everything is available for anything, just look for it. If they say it's not, they're lying. Anything can be rebuilt as good as new.
Oh, and new tires save grief. Spend about one or two (or three) thousand, and your car will run and run for years, like new. When something is worn or needs attention, fix it. Junk yards. Advance Auto. The Internet. Some things are less important, some more.
If the car runs good, sounds good, stops good, and rides good, and you don't abuse it, then it will last decades. Watch the fluids, change the oils. My daily driver is almost 50 years old, and I would drive it to California from Maryland and back tomorrow. Old cars, new cars -- they ALL take maintenance like any machine. Take care of stuff, and fix it yourself if you can and save money. Some people don't do well with devices or machines. Patience, admiration for engineering -- these are what you need to get a machine to work for you without much trouble.
If you just want to drive, get a cheapy computerized tin box that will last till it needs an oil change, then put it in a landfill to muck up the groundwater, and do it again. Then tell me which is the better driving. But not to be cruel, just to let others know that car maintenance is for everybody, and wasting any machine because of spite or spoilage or vanity is wrong.