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Hey, Charger! -- the definitive history of the Valiant Charger and Pacer

Sometimes, history repeats itself - in different locations. In the US, Plymouth created the Barracuda, a coupe version of the Valiant that had remarkable handling but did not achieve much sales success; after the Barracuda moved off to its own platform, an underground effort created the Plymouth Duster, a Valiant with two doors and a rounded rear, with an optional 340 engine. The early Valiant easily won compact races using a high-powered slant six; but that was to be the last time the Valiant, rather than the Barracuda and Duster, would be marketed for power.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the world, the Plymouth Valiant was being sold as the Chrysler Valiant in Australia. A sporty offshoot, the Pacer, was hastily put into production with a more powerful six; and, later, another sporty offshoot, mainly changed in rear styling, would ride to fame using a high-performance six, with some having that same optional 340 V8.

Noting the American terms "six-pack" and "Hemi," Australian leaders gave those names to their new six-cylinder engine, whose engine kindasorta had semi-hemispherical heads and came close to a flow-through design; it did have three two-barrel carburetors (hence "six-pack"). So there was indeed a Hemi Six-Pack - but it had six cylinders, not eight.

While in America the road and track were ruled by 426 Hemi and 440 Six-Pack V8s, in Australia, the Valiant Charger Hemi Six-Pack set records that were not matched for decades - using that straight-six engine, never available in North America.

The Charger (named after the American muscle car) was a last minute idea which grabbed the enthusiasm of stylists and engineers and helped them to do the impossible. Like the Plymouth Duster, which was also an underground effort, the Charger was mainly VH Valiant from the doors forward. Hey Charger! describes its gestation in detail, even noting the reason behind the rear louvers (to hide a difficult joint). There are a number of interesting stories on the challenges the engineers faced, and how they overcame them with a great deal of cleverness.

Hey Charger! describes the evolution of the Chrysler Valiant Charger, starting with the first Valiant sedan imports and the Pacer (an early coupe version of the Valiant) before concentrating on the Charger itself. Most attention is paid to the Charger, in particular the racing and high-performance versions, with extensive writing on the racing record. In its quickest form, this six-cylinder car, able to hold four in comfort, managed 0-60 in just over six seconds, with a 14.4 second quarter-mile time; on modern tires, it apparently can go to the low 13s.

Accompanying the development story of the Charger are a large number of styling studies, the original concept sketches by Bob Hubbach, showing a variety of alternatives. Photos show clay models and prototypes under construction.

The story of Chrysler Australia is full of amazing feats and bad decisions, from the 1950s through to the sudden end. Gavin Farmer and Gary Bridger describe it in fascinating detail, with the stories behind the decisions to create the Pacer and Charger, and behind the various engineering and styling decisions in their design.

Hey Charger!'s 164 oversized pages are brimming with well-produced photographs and lucid, intelligent text that expose every facet of the famous (in Australia and New Zealand) Valiant and Charger series. It's unusual in the range of its sources: they seem to have found and quoted the entire staff of Chrysler Australia, including the lead engineer and other executives. Their work is simply astounding, and that's before you get to the four appendices, which provide page after page of hard-to-find details on the Valiant and Charger ranges. This would be an impressive feat even if most of Chrysler's old records hadn't been destroyed by Mitsubishi shortly after acquiring the local company.

The photography is simply excellent, and includes not only photos of remaining Valiants, Pacers, and Chargers, but also pictures of the engineers and plant, details on design, and Chargers being raced through Australia and New Zealand. Color reproductions of pre-production sketches are also provided with high resolution.

Farmer and Bridger have their eyes open to Charger weaknesses; they strive for, and largely achieve, balance. In this spirit, we'll point out that Hey Charger! has a few shortcomings as well. There are some factual errors in the discussions of American cars, which will reportedly be corrected in the second printing; and the book tends to cover the same spans of time from different angles, rather than being strictly chronological, which can be disorienting in spots. On the other hand, we can't really think of a better way to organize it.

Those who actually want to buy a Charger will be happy to know that the book covers this, with chapters on maintenance, repairs, and buying advice - including the parts that tend to go wrong and how to look for them. They have brief notes on buying for the US - Valiant Chargers and Pacers are indeed imported. They also have a large number of technical specifications which can be useful for owners. Americans will probably be most happy with the huge number of photographs and drawings, which are helpful for those who have never seen an Aussie Valiant, Pacer, or Charger in person.

This is one of those books that you won't regret buying. It has a huge number of facts, many of which are lesser known, and is obviously written by people who did more research than looking at photos and spec sheets and visiting auto shows. It has many photos, but is not a mere picture-book. The price is very reasonable (around US$35) given the volume of material is incredible, and the depth and quality of the research and discussion is very good. We highly recommend Hey Charger! and understand why it was New Zealand's best-selling car book for three months (it remains on the top five list).

Order it directly from the publisher. (That link seems to have died. Try Amazon: Hey Charger! the book)

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