In the late ’60s and early ’70s the Australian muscle car wars were as hard fought and as intense as anything in America. The big three manufacturers – Holden, Ford and Chrysler – were locked into competition on race tracks as well as at quarter-mile drag strips, where their increasingly modified hot rods raced against the stopwatches. Every split-second advantage helped showroom sales.
Ford is credited with producing the first Australian muscle car in 1967 with the launch of its XR Falcon, powered by a 287ci Windsor V8 engine. This evolved into the Falcon GTHO Phase III by 1971, featuring a modified 351 Cleveland V8. GM’s Holden introduced the Monaro, initially with a 307ci V8, and then four variations of high-performance Toranas.
But the fastest car of the lot when it came to the all-important quarter-mile drag was this 1972 Chrysler Valiant Charger R/T E49 265, which went through the traps in 14.4 seconds, just .05 seconds ahead of the Holden Special Vehicles GTS-R. That’s more surprising when you consider the Charger is powered by the rather prosaic Valiant slant-six engine.
The recent Octane mission to the Classic Adelaide rally afforded the opportunity to hop onto Richard Branson’s Virgin Blue to Sydney. There, located on the Pacific Highway, is one of the most impressive and largest classic car emporia in the Southern Hemisphere, the Classic Throttle Shop. Proprietor Rory Johnston was given little warning of our impending arrival but he managed to source this freshly restored Charger from Octane reader Edward Singleton.
Singleton is not what you would expect of a muscle car owner. He has raced various classics and he enjoys Porsches, Aston Martins and Jaguars. An Octane reader, he arrived in a beautifully cut Prince of Wales suit and sporting a stainless Rolex Daytona. And there’s the rub: muscle cars in Australia are now being collected by serious aficionados as important pieces of local automotive history. This Chrysler Charger R/T E49, one of only 149 constructed, is valued at AU0,000 (about £137,000), which puts it firmly at the top end of the Australian collector car tree.
This Valiant Charger was built specifically to compete in the great Australian races at Bathurst from 1971. Whilst it was a contender, it could never quite match the Holdens. Ironically it was in New Zealand where the Charger dominated. On the shorter and tighter New Zealand circuits, local hero Leo Leonard won many races against the bigger and more powerful Holdens and this was apparently down to the Charger’s superior handing, thanks to its lighter engine and decent suspension set-up.
Sitting under the railway arches in Sydney, this Charger looks immaculate if somewhat brutal in its bright orange hue. The Charger is based on the two-door Valiant and is a useful 130kg lighter than thefour-door sedan. And in R/T, E49, 265ci trim, this example is the ultimate expression of the Aussie muscle car. The 4.3-litre slant six features an effective hemi head and breathes through three twin-choke 45 Weber ‘six pack’ carburettors, which seem very exotic for such a machine. The engine was credited with being the most powerful straight six around at the time, pushing out 302bhp and powering the Charger to 60mph in 6.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 132mph. This made it the most accelerative Australian muscle car of the period.
In this ultimate spec the Charger features a four-speed manual ’box (previously a three-speed) with a long top gear, six inch rims shod with modest 205/70/14 tyres, front anti-roll bar, ventilated discs at the front with finned drums at the rear, different rear axle ratio options and a 35-gallon Bathurst tank shoved into the boot. Of course, there are all those important stripes and decals to make it look the part.