Chrysler’s Valiant Hemi Pacers and R/T Chargers are today revered as the finest high performance road and track cars to wear the famous pentastar badge in Australia, but the most successful Valiant to compete in the Australian Touring Car Championship was in fact the first one – the R series.
That historic achievement occurred at South Australia’s Mallala Raceway on April 15, 1963 when Australia’s premier tin-top title was still being decided by a single race each year.
On this occasion, humble Melbourne car dealer Ern Abbott in his R series Valiant had the audacity to come within one tenth of a second of stealing pole position from Bob Jane’s all-conquering 4.1 litre Jaguar Mk II – the reigning ATCC title holder and at the time the fastest touring car in Australia.
And keeping Abbott company on the three-car front row was another R series driven by Adelaide Chrysler dealer Clem Smith. The sight of these two drum-braked, slant six, three-speed Valiants sharing the front row with a disc-braked, DOHC, four-speed Jaguar was truly a sight to behold.
Jane sprinted away into the lead of the 25-lap/50 km race. With Norm Beechey’s 409 Chevy Impala sidelined before the meeting, Jane’s only possible challenger was Abbott. The leading Jaguar and Valiant powered away from the rest of the pack at such a rate that they held a 10-second lead over third-placed Smith by the half-way point.
Unfortunately, the four wheel drums on Abbott’s R series could not sustain their bite under such extreme use on a track notoriously hard on brakes. The Valiant challenge literally began to fade in the closing laps, allowing Jane to open up a seven-second margin by the time he took the chequered flag.