A Pair of Pale Blue Plymouths: 1963 Valiant vs 1984 Turismo Duster

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Good morning! It’s time once again to look at some crappy old cars. On our second day of dead nameplates, it’s Mopar or no car as we look at a couple of Plymouths for Two-Door Tuesday. But before we get into that, let’s see how our Oldsmobiles did:

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The big, impractical, inefficient old tank beat out the modern, sensible minivan. Works for me. We’ll leave the Silhouette to gangsters-turned-movie-producers and head down the road in the old Toronado. My world makes sense again.

Okay. Now it’s time to turn our attention to Chrysler, or whatever their married name is now. (That company has gotten hitched more times than Liz Taylor’s Airstream, I swear.) In 1928, Chrysler Corporation launched a low-priced brand meant to compete with Ford and Chevrolet for frugal car buyers. For nearly three-quarters of a century, that brand, Plymouth, stood for sensible, no-nonsense, sturdy cars that were a good value. And occasional bouts of utter madness like the Barracuda and the Prowler.

Today, we’re going to look at two similar but very different cars from two profitable eras of Plymouth’s long existence. Both are two doors, both are entry-level compacts, and both, completely coincidentally, are light blue. And one is exactly twice the price of the other. Is it worth twice as much? Let’s see.

1963 Plymouth Valiant – $2,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 170 cubic inch (probably) inline 6, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Seligman, AZ

Odometer reading: 82,000 miles

Runs/drives? Ad says “runs good” and “new tires,” so probably

The Plymouth Valiant is a car well-known to fans of our own Editor-In-Chief, David Tracy. He drove one as a winter beater last year and waxed enthusiastic about its charms. Like David’s, this car is powered by Chrysler’s legendary “Slant Six,” but where his had four doors, three pedals, and a gearshift lever sticking out of the steering column, this one has two doors, two pedals, and no gearshift lever at all.

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Instead, it features a Torqueflite automatic transmission with push-button controls. I’ve always known these existed, but I never knew much about them. I always assumed the buttons were electric or vacuum-controlled, but in researching this piece (yes, I research these) I found out that it’s completely mechanical. The buttons move a cable back and forth just like the lever on a normal automatic does. How cool is that?

The ad for this car doesn’t show the shift buttons (on the left side of the instrument panel), so I grabbed this close-up image from Hemmings:

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Image credit: Hemmings.com


The lever on the left is for Park; it works via a separate cable. To start off, you start the engine, lift the park lever, punch “D,” and away you go. To park, punch “N” and flip the park lever down. Neat, huh?

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Overall, this Valiant looks decent. The seller says it has some rust, due to a life on the California coast, but nothing like folks in the Midwest are used to. The Slant Six runs well, and the car has new tires, so we have to assume it’s more or less driveable. Somehow it looks at home in the Arizona desert, but there’s nothing saying it has to stay there.

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This would be a good car to try out that legendary $50 Rust-Oleum paint job on. Keep it baby blue so the sills match, and have a nice cheap cruiser. And that push-button transmission is sure to be a conversation starter at Cars & Coffee.

1984 Plymouth Turismo Duster – $1,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter inline 4, 3 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Fairgrove, MI

Odometer reading: 92,000 miles

Runs/drives? “Ran when parked,” will start on starter fluid

Once upon a time, there was a young boy whose parents were buying a car. They were at a Dodge dealership, buying a gray 600 sedan, and while they were in the little room doing the paperwork, the boy sat in a Shelby Charger and a Rampage pickup truck in the showroom. He became mildly infatuated with the L-body after that, and always wanted one. His brother had a Turismo like this one for his first car; it caught fire in traffic and burned. He bought an Omni 024 in college for next to nothing; it had giant rust holes in the floor, the passenger door flew open every time he turned left, and it stalled out randomly.

That boy sees this 1984 Turismo Duster sitting dead on a trailer, and he knows it’s pretty much a crap car. But he still kinda likes it.

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Long-time Mopar faithful were furious when Chrysler changed the names of the two-door Dodge Omni 024 and Plymouth Horizon TC3 to the Charger and Duster. These front-wheel-drive compacts were about as far from their muscle-car namesakes as they could get. Even a blessing from the legendary Carroll Shelby couldn’t make things entirely right. But whatever they were called, the cars sold well. But they’ve almost entirely vanished, as so many inexpensive “disposable” cars have.

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This Duster looks pretty well-preserved, give or take a little Midwestern rust. It features the ubiquitous 2.2 liter four and three-speed automatic that powered a bazillion K-cars; it’s not exciting, but it’s sturdy. This one isn’t running at the moment due to sitting, but it shouldn’t be too hard to revive, especially since the seller has gotten it to cough to life on starter fluid.

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There are so few of these left that seeing one for sale, even out of commission, is kind of neat, even if you’re not much of a fan. It’s a reminder of another time, another world, a time when small, pokey cars were the norm and the music was way better. I wouldn’t actually want this car, I don’t think, but it’s fun to think about.

And that’s what we’ve got for you to choose from today: a couple of blue automatic Plymouths. Both are kinda cool time capsules, and either one would turn heads. Which one would you rather have?



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52 Responses

  1. I’d go the Duster basically because it’s weird looking, I’ve never heard of it before and because I already have a pushbutton auto Valiant of that body shape, except mine’s a ute. Plus I have a pushbutton auto 1962 Valiant sedan, so I probably don’t need another! (I even have a hard-to-find V8 pushbutton auto transmission stashed away in case I want to V8 swap one of them!)

      1. Yes, the second cable engages the Park pawl in the gearbox, but is interlinked with the pushbuttons so pulling the lever into the Park position causes the other cable to move to Neutral, and once in Park you can’t press any of the buttons to select a gear without moving the Park lever first.
        A further bit of trivia is that in Australia, there was a short transition period where the twin-cable boxes were still being used (leftover stock?), but the new model Valiant had gone from pushbutton to column shift. In these, until the eventual change to a single cable transmission, it required a complicated little gearbox at the base of the steering column to translate the rotation of the column shift shaft into the operation of the 2 separate cables.

  2. After the divorce my dad bought a Goldwing and on his weekends he would pile me and my sister and our weekend’s worth of clothes on the back of that bike and off we’d go. That didn’t last long, because of reasons, and he traded that Goldwing in on a Plymouth Horizon TC3. Holy hell was that car a pile of poo. We often wondered what the TC3 stood for. It sure as hell didn’t stand for “Torque Control” because that car had no torque to control. 13yo me was pretty sure it stood for Total Crap x3.

    Anyways, I voted Valiant in this round 😉

  3. I dig the Duster because it’s just odd, you never see them.. but it’s an auto, and it doesn’t run. If it was a running (even poorly) stick shift I’d be more swayed soooo Valiant it is!

  4. Hoarder I used to know has a Red 1980 DeTomaso 024 that has fully settled into the dirt in his backyard.

    I always liked the two big headlights versus the smaller set of 4

  5. The Valiant is one year too old to let me go wild in the streets but it’s still my choice. Less rusty and is something I’d genuinely want to own. The Turismo is neat but it’s the kind of car that I like to see still existing but I also don’t really want to own one.

  6. I sense the ghost of David Tracy hovering over this article….

    Way back in my Kolledge Daze, my roommate had a Valiant wagon. It was unkillable; you could have parked it on Bikini Atoll and, after the mushroom cloud dissipated, driven it away. It got no maintenance, but refused to fail, even though it had rust (California cars do rust, you know, especially old Chrysler products).

    Not that I’d ever want to relive those days — I take that back; I miss my ’53 Kaiser Manhattan! — but at least the Valiant would probably limp along forever. The Duster, not so much.

  7. The fact that the 21 year older Valiant looks to be in better overall shape seals the deal for me. Since it is in no way, shape, or form a performance car, the push button auto is fine.

    If the Duster was a 5-speed, it would have been a little closer. I could see trying to turn it into a modest auto-crosser, but not with a 3-sp auto.

  8. The Turismo’s an easy fix; dead fuel pump. Very common problem. Or could be the carb, but if it runs on fluid but not with manual manipulation, it’s unlikely.
    But that’s just the start. This is an ’84, before the 2.2 was even remotely dialed in, or the A413’s many foibles were even understood. It’s also carbureted with a truly obnoxious electric choke setup that makes LameBurn almost appealing. And the performance parts to turn it into a genuine firebreather are beyond hard to come by, so you’re basically talking a 2.2 Turbo II/A520 swap to make it enjoyable. At minimum a Turbo I just to make it livable.

    The Valiant is a Slant 6. The engine that will run with sand for motor oil and diesel fuel. It will run like absolute shit, but it will run. I’m sure the rear main’s leaking, and the A904’s bands are way out of adjustment. But it’s a pre-muscle car Valiant, with surprisingly low miles, and good to excellent sheet. It’s a superb restoration candidate, though you will absolutely have to find a body man that can hammer. (VERY rare these days.) And this one having the A904, isn’t unlikely to have the limited slip out back too. (These were very successful in SCCA rallying, amusingly, and took two championships.)

    Valiant takes it.

      1. Nah, then you’d want the pure unobtanium of the H-body 1987 Shelby Lancer. The Turbo II is preinstalled, the handling is good out of the box instead of requiring you to track down unobtanium Mopar Performance shocks and struts, and it’s a 3 box.
        Plus, your back’ll thank you for it. Seriously. The Shelby Lancer’s a genuinely nice place to sit. It wasn’t shy about being a cruiser not a bruiser.

  9. I’m going with the Valiant just because the town it’s in and the doors aren’t rusted off at the bottom. If you’re ever in AZ, Seligman is a great little town full of quirky people on Route 66. Then go onto Peach Springs and do a Rafting trip down the Colorado river and helicopter out

        1. Can vouch for that, they were in my mom’s ’86 Horizon. Apart from the door panels which were significantly cheaper than the “upscale” Turismo ones the interior’s identical.

  10. Duster, cause it’s just slightly older than my HS diploma. Also many fond memories of it’s charger 2.2 sibling and the tc3 predecessor! 😉
    Memories of the valiant, grandparents had one slowly sinking into the ground out by the orange grove. 🙁

    1. My mom had a 74 Valiant too. First car I drove regularly. It would stall on a cold day unless you really feathered the throttle, even when fully warmed up. I don’t recall if turning left had any effect.

  11. My first brand new car was a 1984 Plymouth Horizon (albeit with a 5 speed stick) the 4-door version of the Duster. 2 years later, I stepped up to an Omni GLH Turbo. L Bodies forever. Miss them both. (Later on I had both the 2wd version of the Mazda 323 GT and the more common 323 GTX,) I lived Radwood, you young whippersnappers.

  12. No contest. Valiant all day. Learned to drive in a 69 Valiant 100. Pushbutton is cool if you keep it original. Slant six runs as is, can be given performance heads if you want to break stuff, or (if you are me) you can stuff it with an injected LA, A/C, modern wiring and sound (plus sound deadening), modern brakes and suspension upgrades, upholstery, and have a sweet looking weekend cruiser.

  13. I would also add there are probably more early 60s Valiants still rolling around than early 80s Turismos (or whatever). 60s stuff tended to be over engineered and simple, though certainly not perfect. Early 80s carb cars were kind of a square peg in a round hole solution to emissions regs.

  14. My mind had an 84 Plymouth Turismo. It wasn’t…terrible for it’s time,but it certainly wasn’t good. I have no nostalgic yearning to experience it again. The car she had before that was a 74 Valiant, light blue with a slant six. Didn’t exactly love that car either, but I would take the sixties version of it over the not quite yet out of the malaise fog yet Turismo.

  15. My grandfather’s last car was a Valiant of a similar vintage with a bad bright red paint job. I tried to convince my father that it would be a neat first car for me when my grandfather passed, but it was not to be. I was only thirteen when “Pap-paw” loosed this mortal coil at a ripe old age of 78. He was driving that car when he dropped dead slowly approaching a stop sign. His passenger, my step-grandmother, was not injured.

  16. My parents had that Valiant. Was my first car. Thought it was embarrassingly ugly at the time but these days I’ve seen restored versions and damn, they really do clean up nice. Was dependable as hell until I totalled it. (Hey, teenager.) Valiant all the way!

  17. Both ugly as sin, but perhaps the Valiant more so. But rebuilding and 84 carb and chasing the vacuum leaks is not fun and likely would far exceed the price of the car if it was farmed out. The Valiant is at least interesting see still running though. I think that old girl would be my preference, but neither would hit my radar if not for autopian.

  18. The valiant is a pretty handsome little car, whereas that generation duster, despite the correctness of hatchback > sedan, has struck me as ugly for as far back as I can remember cars. The fascia in particular is just so unpleasant. That said, I unironically dig the duster’s seats. Can’t speak to whether or not they’re comfortable, but they look pretty rad.

    I did have a buddy in high school who found a valiant almost exactly like that (maybe a 64?) long abandoned at the back of an elderly neighbor’s garage. Said neighbor gave it to my buddy for a token dollar or so, just to make it gone. It was fun to poke around in the engine bay, although he had absolutely zero clue how to go about even starting to diagnose the car’s issues and I also wasn’t bringing anything of value to the table. I think his parents eventually had it towed for scrap after having their patience exhausted

    1. I had the opposite reaction to the Duster at first. The picture at the top made it look a lot like an ’85 Mustang, which isn’t at all a Mustang I like, but not the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. But then I saw the profile, and what horrors exist aft of the doors. Bleah, what a misbegotten eyesore. I would have picked the Valiant anyway (even though its own face is ugly enough to stop a clock), but seeing the ass-end of that Duster sealed the deal.

  19. Oh good grief, the Valiant all the way – no contest. My first “real” car was an ’85 Duster Turismo. It was dubbed “El Turdismo” (or just “Turd” for those not into the whole brevity thing) by some friends that had to help me push it a few blocks home on occasion. My boss at the body shop I was working at had one in the bone yard that he thought would make a good high school car for myself, plus it had hit a dear so I could get some could practice fixing it up. I thought the car looked great, and liked the interior, but after getting it fixed up, repainted, and on the road I couldn’t believe what a piece of junk it was. It had 64,000 miles and it seemed like things broke on a weekly basis. One week it was the radio, the next it the windshield wiper motor, then the driver’s door handle, etc. It also broke down about once a month – a coil here, a voltage regulator there. I figured some of it could’ve been due to the deer hit, but it had only had needed a front clip. It was also slow as mud. My parents had an ’87 Dodge Aries K-car, so I thought it would be at least as fast as that thing, however the K-car had fuel injection. Mine didn’t – just a carbed 2.2 with a slush-box like this one. The Chevette we had was more fun to drive since it at least had a stick shift. I sold the Turismo about six months after fixing it up and picked up a ’79 Duster Volare that was also a turd, but a lot more fun with it’s slant-6 and rear-wheel drive. No nostalgia bug here – leave El Turdismo on the trailer.

  20. My first car was a 1963 Valiant Signet convertible in red over red interior. I bought it at 16 in 1971 for $300, and sold it five years later for $350. It was a tank. It wins for nostalgia and fond memories.

  21. I had the Charger version of the Duster with a manual 5 speed in Maroon. It actually cleaned up really nice. It was an 86 and I got it in late 93 or 94 I think. Ran great in the summer, but was dog in Chicago winters unless you let it warm up for at least 10 minutes. The doors would break randomly, and for a little while I actually got into the car by opening the hatch and pulling on a string that was tied to the inside driver’s door handle. To pass IL emissions I had to take it to my mechanic to tune and adjust the carb that needed rebuilding/replacing.

    With all that said I still miss it. When running right it was fun car to drive, at the time. I can still remember weaving in and out of traffic on the Kennedy with it like it was some kind of race car. The Duster gets my nostalgia vote even though I’m sure the Valiant will take this one running away. Though I can’t believe someone is asking $1200 for what I was lucky to get $800 for when trading into a dealership in 97.

  22. I love the interior and interior condition on that Duster, but the overall package with the Valiant is superior. Leaning tower of power, decent exterior condition, runs and drives, what’s not to love? I think despite having one legal drinking age up on the Duster, the Valiant will probably be running longer. Shoot, it technically already won that bet as of right now.

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