Home » The Ultimate Sleeper: How Chrysler Australia Turned An Abandoned American Engine Into A Racing Beast, Then Quietly Put It Into A Few Ultra-Rare Sedans

The Ultimate Sleeper: How Chrysler Australia Turned An Abandoned American Engine Into A Racing Beast, Then Quietly Put It Into A Few Ultra-Rare Sedans

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As I have written about here previously, Chrysler Australia Ltd (CAL) was quite an oddball manufacturer. Not only did they offer for almost 20 years a myriad of Chrysler Valiant body styles all carefully built off one converted U.S. platform – with every engineering dollar squeezed to the limit — but Chrysler Australia also built an engine capable of surprising performance that actually set records in Australia that would stand for decades.

I am of course referring to the “Hemi” Six, an inline six-cylinder only available in Aussie-built (and some NZ-assembled) Valiants, one of which powers The Autopian’s Project Cactus, a build that continues to go from strength to strength. I will provide an update on this feral beast at the next milestone.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

Back to the Hemi Six. There were a few race-ready examples of this engine that ended up installed in what you could definitely refer to as “sleepers,” with not much externally giving away the power within. This is quite an awesome story, so put the kettle on, get some bikkies ready, and settle in for another story of the many twists and turns of Chrysler Australia.

Gotta Hemi In There, Mate?

According to Gavin Farmer in Great Ideas In Motion II: A History of Chrysler In Australia, Chrysler USA began development of a potential replacement of the famous Slant Six (sold in all sorts of Dodges and Chryslers and Plymouths in the U.S.) for truck applications in 1966 and had progressed to the stage of a working prototype being built and tested in Detroit.

The upright D-Series design had a much larger bore and shorter stroke than the slant (or G-Series), with the intention of offering the engine in a range of displacements from 245 cubic inches (4.0L) up to 300 cubic inches (4.9L). 

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Cross-sectioned “Hemi” inline-six at Questacon, Canberra, pics via author.

The way Australia tried to protect the local car industry at the time was through a series of Plans that set the specific percentage of local content a vehicle would need to have in order to reduce both the tariffs and other fees on components that were imported, and the tariffs applied as a percentage of value to vehicles that were imported as a complete item.

With new Plans in the works within the Australian Federal Government aiming to increase the amount of local content within Australian-built vehicles to 85 or even 95 percent, CAL made the decision to produce an engine in its entirety, locally.

At the time, the venerable Slant was currently powering the Aussie Valiant range in 225ci (3.7L) displacement and was also joined by the 273ci (4.5L) “LA” series V8 from 1965. Significantly, both engines were using imported components which could impact costs and profit margins in the wake of the impending Australian Federal Government Plans.

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Tunnelram.net

As the story goes, Detroit started to cool off on the idea of replacing the Slant in Dodge trucks by the middle of 1966 in favor of retaining the design and further developing the LA V8 in an era of cheap gasoline in the US. CAL had knowledge of the engine’s development and showed an interest in this new engine design, so the decision was made that the D-series inline-six would be fully developed over the remainder of 1966 for Australian use. This involved a CAL Representative traveling to Detroit and working closely with Chrysler’s powertrain group as well as US vendors that had an Australian subsidiary to prepare for production Down Under.

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The engine project then relocated to South Australia for 1967, with a completely new factory building completed in early 1968 to manufacture the engine. Pre-production engines were ready for testing in “VF” Valiants (known as the VFX models) in 1969, in preparation for the release of the “VG” Valiant range in 1970 that would launch the engine series to the public.

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The VF-Series Regal Sedan, via Tunnelram.net

Ahead of the ‘VG’ series launch, the engine gained the moniker of ‘Hemi’ from the marketing department somewhere along the line. Whilst it has a slightly-domed combustion chamber and the valves are canted at around 14 degrees, there aren’t really any similarities with the famed first or second generation Chrysler ‘Hemi’ V8 engines.

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Valves are splayed with the valve tips for each cylinder away from each other. Pic via author

 

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A 215/245 cylinder head, showing the somewhat hemispherical combustion chamber. Pic via author

The engine differs significantly from the Slant Six. It is completely upright as opposed to the former’s 30 degrees of cant. Other differences include a crank with seven main bearings compared to the Slant’s four for better crank support, an oversquare design where the stroke is shorter than the size of the cylinder bore, which was only the case on the smallest 170ci (2.8L) Slant (all Hemi sixes have the same 3.68in crankshaft stroke, only the bore size differs whereas the Slant is the inverse).

The valvetrain uses individual stud-mounted valve rockers instead of the Leaning Tower’s single shaft-mounted system and also features a much more easy-breathing cylinder head with greater airflow potential than the Slant.

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via Tunnelram.net

Somehow the goliath advertising firm Young & Rubicam managed to convince Stirling Moss to be the spokesperson for the new range, with particular attention paid to this new ‘Hemi’ six-cylinder engine.

So proud of their new engine, all Hemi Sixes for the VG series had a sticker on the top of the valve cover proclaiming ‘Made Solely in Australia – By Chrysler’.

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Made Solely In Australia By Chrysler

Pic via author

Initially available in two capacities: 215 cubic inches (3.5L) that was mainly for base-model vehicles such as the Dodge Utility with 140 hp (103kw) from a Carter RBS single-barrel carburetor, and the 245 cubic inch engine (4.0L) which was available with the same single-barrel Carter RBS as the 215 and produced 165hp or a dual-barrel Carter BBD and 185hp rating.

These outputs compared favourably with Holden and Ford, with the 215 surpassing the 202ci (3.3L) Holden ‘Red’ inline-six for both power and torque and the dual-barrel 245 surpassing the 250ci ‘2V’ Ford inline-six in power although with 10 fewer foot-lbs of torque, albeit with a torque peak that is 200 rpm sooner in the Hemi.

The Pacer

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Image: Chrysler via via Tunnelram.net

The Pacer was CAL’s first foray into the youth-oriented performance market, first in 1969 with a hotted up 225ci Slant, three-speed manual floor shift, fake ‘mag wheel’ hubcaps, a choice of lurid colours with black striping and a tachometer placed on the top of the dashboard. Pricing started at a very competitive $2,798 or just under $40,000 Aussie in 2023 dollarydoos (around $26,000 Yankee Buckaroos). A reported 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) time of 10.5 seconds was decently quick for the day when most six-cylinder family sedans struggled to get there in under 17 seconds.

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By comparison, an entry-level (and much slower at 14 seconds 0-60!) Holden Monaro GTS with a 186ci (3.0L) was over $3,000 in 1969 or more than 10% more expensive and whilst it had four-on-the-floor, the imported Opel gearbox was not known for strength. 

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Chrysler ad via Tunnelram.net

If you wanted somewhat affordable performance from Holden to beat the Pacer’s mighty Leaning Tower of Power, the Torana XU-1 was the ticket and also an extra couple hundred bucks over the 186-powered Monaro, or nearly $400 more than the Pacer for a rather small coupe which made for a much less practical car overall.

The cost should you want a vehicle that could win the Bathurst 500 outright such as an ‘XW’ Ford Falcon GT-HO you were spending around $4,500 or around 80% over the Pacer’s entry price.

With no factory support, the lone ‘VF’ Valiant Pacer entry (car #22) finished the 1969 Bathurst 500 with the result of seventeenth overall and fourth in class C behind two Fiat 125s and the class-winning Mini Cooper S.

The Hemi Six Goes Racing

For 1970, the 245ci Hemi-six was placed into the Pacer, coming standard with the 2-barrel/185hp version with a bright yellow rocker cover, breather and air cleaner and optional black-outs on the bonnet to enhance the ‘boy-racer’ image. With a 0-60mph time of 8.1 seconds and a quarter mile of 17.8 seconds as tested by Wheels magazine, for the price point of under $3,000 this was a potent bit of gear and a great increase in performance over the outgoing Slant-equipped Pacer.

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Chrysler ad via Tunnelram.net

To help showcase their new inline-six, CAL developed the Pacer sedan further for racing.

For competition use, the Track Pack Two-Barrel and Four-Barrel Pacers were born. Known by Valiant fans as the ‘E31’ and ‘E34’ respectively referring to the engine code of each, these option packages increased the bore size by .040” (1.016mm) of the 245 to reach 250 cubic inches.

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Chrysler ad via Tunnelram.net

The floor-shifted three speed was available as a close-ratio unit in the mandatory A84 Competition Pack amongst suspension and cooling upgrades, with taller first and second gear ratios compared to the standard ‘box in a bid to compete better on-track versus their four-speed rivals.

CAL had no four-speed gearboxes at this point as a result of them wanting to maintain an extremely high percentage of local content whereas Holden and Ford were importing V8s as well as four-speed manuals via their US parents in a bid to dominate the performance market and the all-important Bathurst endurance race.

The Two-Barrel Track Pack (‘E31’) gained a hotter camshaft which added an advertised 10hp over the regular Pacer 245 and a windage tray in the oil pan to prevent oil starvation during hard cornering.

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The Four-Barrel Track Pack (‘E34’) added shot-peened connecting rods and crankshaft, a hotter camshaft, a dual-plate clutch and a torque-limiting strut attached to an engine mount to prevent the engine leaning over at full noise. There was also a ‘Street’ version of this engine (‘E35’) that had the same internals minus the hot camshaft. 

There are no factory-advertised power figures for the four-barrel equipped engines, and it is generally agreed that the E34 is somewhere over the 210hp mark. Of course, race-prepared engines are expected to have greatly exceeded these figures. There were fuel starvation issues discovered with the four-barrel carburetor in high-g cornering which caused flat spots and stumbling which CAL did not manage to fully resolve in time for the big race.

Completing the package for the Bathurst 500-mile (800km) race was the J42-code 35-gallon (159-litre) fuel tank, known colloquially in Aussie Chrysler circles as the ‘Big Tank’. The hypothesis by CAL was that this should result in the need for only one fuel stop during the race based on their fuel usage calculations.

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Track Pack Pacer with J42 ‘Big Tank’. Note the fuel filler is on top of the rear quarter with a quick-release cap. Pic via Author

A broken wheel at Oran Park Raceway (seen below at around 9:35) was a bad omen ahead of the 500-mile endurance test:

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By the big day on 4th October 1970, the Two-Barrel Pacers were competing in Class C (purchase price of $2,401 to $3,150) versus their main rival, the ‘LC’ Holden Torana XU-1, which was running a 186ci (3-litre) with triple Zenith-Stromberg carburetors and around 160hp but with a curb weight more than 250 kg (550lbs) lighter than the Pacer.

The Four-Barrel Pacers were in the next-highest Class D ($3,151 to $4,100) against the Fiat 125 and Triumph 2.5 PI which weren’t expected to be too much hassle for the Pacer to make a class win, especially with the lone V6 Ford Capri having failed to start the race.

The ‘XW’ Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase II likewise had the Class E ($4,100+) victory all but assured as they crowded out the category with only a BMW 2800 and a single ‘HT’ Holden Monaro GTS 350 the only other vehicles in the class and the Monaro having qualified position 20 with seven Falcons and three Toranas in the top 10 on the grid.

The Falcons of Allan Moffat and Bruce McPhee took the top two spots on the podium and Class E, a lap ahead of Don Holland’s Torana which was in a close battle with #35 Doug Chivas/Graham Ryan’s Two-Barrel Pacer for third outright and the Class C victory when the Pacer suffered a rear tyre blow-out at the end of Conrod Straight on the final lap.

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After a scary stop on the exit road for the straight, Doug Chivas managed to retain fourth place outright and second for Class C ahead of #34 Two-Barrel Pacer of Leo Geoghan and Nick Ledingham.

The #51 Four-Barrel Pacer of Des West and Peter Brown would take Class D and be the next-highest placed Pacer at 7th outright and three laps down from the winning Falcons.

The performance of the Pacer at Bathurst emboldened CAL to develop the Hemi six further for racing, with the weight and handling advantage over the ‘LA’ V8 considered along with the increased cost to vehicle sale price and impact on profit margins and local-content percentages of importing a high-performance version of the eight-cylinder from Detroit.

With a 265ci (4.3L) version of the Hemi Six incoming along with the physically larger ‘VH’ series in 1971, the decision was made to try to extract the maximum potential from the engine to take a larger slice of the performance market.

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1970 Chrysler Vg Valiant Pacer 245 Hemi Sedan
Flexin’ The Six-Pack

With the Carter four-barrel ruled out as the fuel system to power the 265 into a higher level of performance due to the issues with fuel starvation during lateral acceleration, per Great Ideas In Motion, CAL experimented with three dual-barrel Carters but this was quickly rejected.

With the Weber DCOE side-draught carburetor already having established a name in performance circles in the early 1960s, three of these carburetors were purchased individually from separate speed shops to maintain secrecy.

Dcoefull

via Webcon.co.uk

Testing the 265 on an engine dyno with the three 45mm Webers on a fabricated intake manifold proved that high power levels were achievable, however with no expertise in the team for this induction system they were having difficulty reaching a steady idle and the engine behaviour in low-speed driving was also poor.

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After phone calls to Weber in Italy, it was decided that the best way to solve their issues was to send a vehicle with the 265 to the Weber facility near Bologna for expert diagnosis and tuning.

CAL’s Racing Manager, John Ellis, was flown with a VG Pacer to London. He then drove across the Continent to Bologna and the testing and development took place for nearly four months.

With the inline-six proving to have great smoothness as inherent to the design, the choice was made to hard-mount the Webers to the inlet manifold as opposed to using rubber o-ringed ‘soft mounts’ as used on four-cylinder engines as these were unnecessary and causing tuning problems.

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One of the ‘mule’ utes in 2011 at Chryslers on the Murray. Note shortened wheelbase to emulate the upcoming Charger and maintain secrecy around the new coupe. Pic via author

With the work completed and the top-secret Charger program also reaching completion thanks to a pair of shortened-wheelbase utes to simulate the new Charger on racetracks in secret, the pairing of triple-Weber-equipped 265 Hemi Six and CAL’s exciting new bodystyle were ready to commence.

Rapid Transit

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Chrysler ad via OldCarBrochures.com

The Valiant Charger was released to great fanfare in August 1971 with the simple yet catchy ‘Hey Charger’ advertising campaign entering the Australian consciousness very quickly and is still often yelled out on the street when one drives by.

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Such was the demand for an affordable and practical sporty coupe that the Charger accounted for almost 50 percent of overall sales for CAL in ‘71 and Wheels awarded the Charger range with Car of The Year for 1971.

With the basic six-cylinder Charger weighing under 3,000lbs (1360 kg) and riding on a short 105in (2667mm) wheelbase, even the base models felt like sports cars compared to the ever-larger family sedans of the early ‘70s.

Those chasing performance were spoiled for choice, with the new 265ci Hemi Six available in several flavours. The standard two-barrel version was good for an advertised 203 hp/262 lb-ft and available in the mid-range Charger XL as an option to replace the standard 165 hp single-barrel 245. 

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The next step up was the HP (High Performance) 265; with the same carburetor and a better exhaust it gained 15 hp and 9 lb-ft over the regular version. This was standard in the more luxurious Charger 770 and in the Charger R/T.

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Chrysler ad via Tunnelram.net

Showing CAL’s hand in their intention to mount an even more serious attempt at the Bathurst 500 was a pair of Hemi Six-Packs available in Chargers for ‘71. 

First up was the ‘Street 6 Pack’ or ‘E37’ as it is known in Valiant circles. Bearing the fruits of their Italian job with three 45mm Weber DCOE carburetors hard-mounted to a cast alloy inlet manifold and paired with tuned-length exhaust headers. The 265 was built with shot-peened conrods and crankshaft, full-floating piston pins and a larger harmonic balancer to accompany the dual-plate clutch along with a baffled oil pan.

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Chrysler ad via Tunnelram.net

Still sporting the floor-shifted three-speed manual of the earlier Pacer, the E37 was available in the sporty R/T or the luxury 770 Charger. This version raised the bar to an advertised 248 hp and 306 ft-lb, with a camshaft that was designed to keep the street manners similar to the two-barrel options.

E37 770 (2)

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E37 770 (3)

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An E37 – optioned Charger 770. Note the unique sill/rocker trim. Pic via author

The ‘Track 6 Pack’ or ‘E38’ was the race-entry version. Possessing all the E37 had above, in addition to a hotter camshaft that lifted power to 280 hp and torque to 318 ft-lb and the close-ratio 3-speed of the Track-Pack Pacers.

Taking a photo of the Six-Pack engine after a full-load test on an engine dyno, the resulting image with the exhaust glowing a bright orange are some of the most famous Aussie print advertisements of the period:

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Chrysler ad via Tunnelram.net

Adding to the all-out racecar credentials was the A84 Track Pack which included the big 35-gallon (159-litre) fuel tank, 16:1 steering box over the standard 20:1 ratio, 14×7 alloy wheels and heavy duty discs and hubs to better withstand the 500-mile endurance.

E38 Big Tank (1)

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An E38 with the ‘Big Tank’. As can be seen, it takes up most of the boot! Note that there are two filler necks, one on each rear quarter. Pic via author

Upon debut in September at the Toby Lee – Grace Bros 100 at Oran Park Raceway near Sydney, the E38 took first on the podium thanks to a great drive by Doug Chivas on a much tighter track than Bathurst that favoured the smaller Chargers and Toranas over the much heavier Falcons that had the advantage on long straights due to sheer horsepower.

As was the case with the Pacer, the ten Charger R/T E38 that made the grid were placed in Class D ($3,151 to $4,350) opposing eleven Holden Torana XU-1 as well as a lone Alfa Romeo Guila 1600 and one ‘XY’ Ford Falcon 500 running a plain 351ci (5.7L) V8. 

Again the Ford Falcon GT-HO, now in Phase III trim as part of the ‘XY series had Class E sewn up with only a single Fiat 124S the other entry in this category for vehicles over $4,350.

Repeating 1970, the Falcons took eight of the top ten qualifying spots, with Chargers in eighth (#43 – Leo Geoghan) and tenth (#45 – Bob Beasley) with the highest-placed Charger qualifying nearly six seconds behind Canadian Allan Moffat’s pole-position time of 2:38.9.

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The race itself was a masterclass from Moffat and displayed the dominance of the GT-HO, the Falcons taking five of the top six positions at the chequered flag with only Colin Bond’s #31 Holden Dealer Team Torana breaking up a Ford double hat-trick with a fourth position finish and also taking honours for Class D.

The highest-placed Charger at the end of the race was Leo Geoghan’s in seventh place overall which also meant second-place in Class D.

Four on the Floor

The big news for 1972 was, for the first time, Valiant buyers could select a floor-shifted 4-speed manual transmission to be placed behind their Hemi Six thanks to the combined efforts of CAL and BorgWarner Australia in producing what is now referred to as the ‘Single-Rail’. It was available across the six-cylinder range (excluding base models) for an extra $155.

Whilst Ford and Holden had a 4-speed transmission option available for several years prior, in the case of the Falcon it was a US-sourced FoMoCo ‘Toploader’ ‘box, known for great strength and capable of handling the stout 351ci ‘Cleveland’ V8s installed in GT Falcons.

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Holden had tried using imported transmissions from European GM siblings Opel for six-cylinder usage since 1967 (with frequent breakages) and followed this up with a scaled-down version US ‘Muncie’ gearboxes which are known as the ‘Aussie’ four-speed. The V8 models used imported ‘Saginaw’ gearboxes behind their Chevrolet-sourced engines until the ‘Aussie’ became available to slot behind the Holden 253 and 308 (5.0L).

With an Australian-made four-speed that could handle Six-Pack Hemi Six, a new ‘Track Pack’ Charger R/T package had been developed to take advantage of the extra gear ratio.

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An E49 ‘Big Tank’ Charger R/T. Generally the E49’s front guard/fender has a vertical stripe with a cut-out ‘4’ denoting the 4-speed addition. This E49 is known as ‘The Unicorn’, as it is the only Charger R/T of 1,293 optioned with a white interior. Pic via author

Known by the engine code ‘E49’, this was the ultimate factory-built Hemi Six. Rated for 302 hp (225kw) and 325 ft-lbs (441 Nm), both Wheels and Sports Car World magazine managed a 0-60mph of 6.1 seconds, 0-100mph (160.93km) of 14.1 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.4 seconds.  This made the Charger R/T E49 officially the quickest Australian-made production vehicle over the quarter-mile.

Well, that is until the new millennium, when the ‘AU’ Ford Tickford TE50 and ‘VT’ HSV Clubsport R8 could both lay claim to knocking on the door of a 13-second time, and in 2002 the Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo with the also now-legendary ‘Barra’ was also capable of besting the times laid down in 1972 in a vehicle capable of scaring V8s much like the old Hemi Six Packs did.

With the increasing performance of the Big Three’s entries to the Bathurst 500 each year, things came to a head in June 1972 with the  ‘Supercar Scare’, which I have briefly covered previously

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Dinosaurs

As vehicles like the Charger R/T Sixpacks, Ford Falcon GT-HOs and the Holden Torana XU-1s in the sights of safety campaigners and designated as ‘bullets on wheels’, the upcoming ‘XA’ Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase IV and V8-powered Holden Torana XU-2 were quickly shelved due to government pressure applied where it hurt: Fleet sales. 

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CAL had plans to make at least 200 Charger R/T E49s as required to homologate for the Bathurst 500, but the government pressure over the issue cut production short at 149 examples.

When the first of October came around, Ford ran the GT-HO Phase III as it did in ‘71. Holden had advanced the XU-1 Torana to the ‘LJ’ series with a larger 202ci (3.3L) Holden Red Six and factory-claimed 190hp plus a taller final drive for greater top speed and there were six Charger R/T E49s and one E38 fielded.

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Classes had changed to Capacity Price Units, using engine capacity in litres to three decimal places was then multiplied by the purchase price to come up with a number. 

The result of this classification change meant that the E49 was in Class D along with the GT-HO, whereas the Torana was placed into Class C along with the sole E38 and a lone Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV.

The Falcons took the top four placings in qualifying, and 27-year-old future Bathurst legend Peter Brock started in fifth spot with his #28 HDT Torana and Leo Geoghan’s E49 #2 Charger was sixth with fellow E49 driver Doug Chivas in ninth position at the race start with the #15 car.

On a rather wet weekend, the Falcons with their greater bulk and torquey V8s were struggling to maintain traction and their power was unable to be put to full use, especially across the challenging top sections of the mountain in the early stages of the race. 

With the treacherous conditions and some mechanical failures, only 35 of the 60 cars on the starting grid managed to finish the race.

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The Ford and Holden factory-backed teams (GM still had a policy of ‘no racing’, but it was an open secret that Holden heavily backed HDT) had much more professionally outfitted pit crews including rattle-guns instead of the ‘speedy’ wheel braces using steering wheels used by most other teams. That didn’t prevent ‘ol Murphy’s Law from rearing its head, see the inventive use of axes in the 19 and 21 – minute sections of the video above!

It was this race that gave rise to Peter Brock’s nickname of ‘Peter Perfect’, with a consistent drive and managing to avoid the spills around him he took the trophy and Class C victory. Allan Moffat, the pole position qualifier for Ford and the favourite to win, had multiple problems and finished in ninth.

Second on the podium was Peter French in his GT-HO, and winner of Class D. Doug Chivas finished two laps down from Brock to round out the podium in third and this was the only time that the Big Three would all share a podium at Mount Panorama.

Leo Geoghan had multiple issues during the race, with multiple unscheduled stops for issues including a dud battery saw his podium chances slip away and he ended the race in fourth.

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After the Supercar Scare, CAL pulled out of racing support. They still had stocks of Sixpack Hemi Sixes to clear out, which brings us, finally, to our Holy Grails. 

Cue the music:

Six And The Sedan: The Ultimate Sleeper

There are a select few people who have copies of the build sheets from Chrysler Australia, mainly for 1971 to 1981. I asked one of these keepers-of-the-lists, Andrew, if there were any Hemi Six Packs sold in Valiants that were not the Charger coupe.

I had heard over the years various rumours of a one-off ute and even of an oddball wagon being made with the rare engine combination, but Andrew stated that he has searched the lists and also all other recorded material as well as files he has kept on oddball factory vehicles he or others have encountered and there are none of these vehicles to be found.

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What he could tell me is that there were just a baker’s dozen of the estimated 695 Hemi Sixpack engines installed in sedans instead of Chargers according to the factory build sheets.

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Chrysler ad via Tunnelram.net

The Pacer sedan, which we last spoke about roughly 1,700 words ago (!) progressed to the larger VH range and was now sort-of halfway in size between its American A-Body roots and the larger B-Body of the US Dodge Charger or Aussie-assembled early 60s Dodge Phoenix.

They still had the option of some loud stripes, and as we have established previously, Australia has never been that much of a market for coupes with the Charger selling just under 32,000 units over eight years from 1971 to 1978. The Monaro coupe over the same period sold just under 17,000 and the Falcon Coupe under 20,000. 

Compare this to the more than 120,000 non-coupe Falcons sold in the ‘XA’ range between March ‘72 and September ‘73 (versus 8,689 XA Coupes) which were number two compared to Holden’s ‘HQ’ range who sold nearly half a million units in three years or so and you can see just how much of a niche this market was at the time which was the peak for the bodystyle here.

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The author’s 1974 VJ Charger and a 1972 XA Ford Falcon GT Coupe. Pic via author

The Pacer died out after the VH series moved over for the VJ in 1973. Of the 1,768 VH Pacer sedans built (according to Great Ideas In Motion II), there were just three that left Tonsley Park according to Andrew with triple 45mm Webers atop a 265 Hemi Six: one with the E37 package, one with the E38 package, and one with the king-of-the-castle E49 setup.

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Andrew has a connection with the lone E38: it was his lead wedding car in 1991!

The remaining eight sedans were all in the VJ series, which restyled from the VH and was a better-selling range which lasted from 1973 to 1975.

Of these eight, there were seven that were the base-model Ranger sedan and one in the higher-spec Regal range. 

All of these had the more ‘Street’ oriented and milder E48 package, the only package (other than a few E49 VJ Chargers) that was still available in the VJ series in Chargers but without any R/T badging, although most of the Chargers had the A54 package which included a cool stripe that was a bit more minimalist compared to the shouty R/Ts and Pacers that went before.

Vj Ranger E48 A

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Vj Ranger E48 B
One of the seven VJ Ranger E48 sedans, which was listed on Facebook Marketplace in 2022. Pics via Facebook

Indeed, if there was no striping optioned or the striping was deleted by customer request, there would be little to tell from the outside that this family sedan had a 248hp inline-six that could give a Falcon wearing a ‘GT’ badge a run for its money other than a small circular, yellow badge below the trim-level badging on the front guard (fender) with ‘6 Pack’ written on it.

Ranger Sixpack A
Pic via Facebook Marketplace

Remove the badge, and with the way that Weber DCOEs can smooth out a big cam at idle due to having one-carburetor-per-cylinder, and you may have one of the ultimate Aussie sleepers. 

My VJ Charger has a 265 with a larger cam than the E49 and several other engine modifications for greater performance and it still idles quite like a factory 2-barrel engine. With a four-barrel it would likely barely be able to idle below 1000 rpm. 

If you keep the revs down and the throttle light, passengers would be hard-pressed to tell that you have an engine capable of great performance for the period, especially from an inline-six!

A few of these sedans are known to still exist, at least two or three of the VJ Rangers have been seen online or in-person in the past few years, including one for sale on Gumtree in 2020 and one that is missing a whole rear quarter panel

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One of these Rangers was up for sale at a consignment dealer, but I haven’t managed to find out if it sold and for what price.

The two or three VJ sedans (hard to tell, as they are all painted red) that have surfaced are all in various states of repair but in top condition the current value in a slightly depressed Australian classic car market at the moment would be under $100,000 Aussie or just over $65,000 American. The Six Pack Pacers would likely command premiums of at least 30% greater than the VJs, owing to the greater desirability of Pacers generally and each of them being literally a ‘one-of-one’.

They are generally priced a bit lower than the equivalent Six Pack Charger, I suppose because many people want the sense of occasion a sporty coupe provides, or they don’t want to have  heated discussions at every car show or petrol station that their car IS original and not a simulation of something that never existed.

There are quite a few other Australian Holy Grails out there, which hopefully we can cover in future installments. In the meantime, let us know of any of your favourite factory oddballs!

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TheDrunkenWrench
TheDrunkenWrench
28 days ago

I love me an inline 6. For whatever reason, V8s just don’t do it for me. I blame 20 years in the heavy truck & coach industry, and their love of 6 cylinder diesels.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
28 days ago

Another great article Laurence! This is gold. I’m always fascinated by the Australian cars and their history. I’m a huge Mopar fan too so love the Valiant and all that go with it

Martin English
Martin English
29 days ago

Hey Laurence,
Doug Chivas apparently got bored with racing cars and ended racing up motorcycles (solo, sidecar pilot and passenger), as well as building / revuilding them.

He was racing bikes virtually till his death from cancer in 2020 Around a month before the 2019 Australian Historic Championships at Collie, one of his lungs was removed, but the age of 71, he still contested the event where he finished second in the Period 4 class.

https://www.everand.com/article/484986443/A-Life-In-The-Fast-Lane

Greg R
Greg R
29 days ago

As I have mentioned previously I owned an E38 Charger 6Pack in the early seventies. My understanding was that the fuel capacity was 37 gallons, not 35. Mine had the track pack with a fuel filler on each B pillar and no power assistance for the brakes, a bit unnerving at first but if you really needed them they worked very well. I was told by a Chrysler parts rep that the 6 Packs had a specific engine number prefix, from memory 363B or maybe D. Mine was blueprinted and balanced and was putting out 340hp at the wheels, making it a real weapon in a car that light. With their standard dual exhausts not exactly being quite, the cops took too much notice of me at times. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of it, but plenty of memories. Mine was red of course, with the stripes, including the the 6Pack one across the back, also had a factory fake bonnet scoop.

Greg R
Greg R
28 days ago

Thanks Laurence, it was a 1971, I almost got it right. I bought the car unregistered in Brisbane, from memory the new reg was OJP067, don’t know the original though, been about fifty other vehicles since then.

FlavouredMilk
FlavouredMilk
29 days ago

It’s always a blast reading your pieces on the old Aussie machines. Great article.

AnscoflexII
AnscoflexII
29 days ago

I’ve long been fascinated by Australian cars- I used to work with a couple of Australians and we’d often talk cars,and they’d regale me with stories of all kinds of hot Australian market cars. Excellent article, I knew a bit about the hemi six but this was really eye opening!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
29 days ago

I love these dives into Aussie car culture. Before reading these articles, I never thought about what the industry was like over there. The small (relatively) volumes meant that manufacturers really had to be careful.

The picture of the glowing tubes below the carbs is great, but I’m curious why they didn’t go to a flow-through head. The intake & exhaust being on the same side is (so I hear: I haven’t actually owned one) one reason why our slant 6 was/is limited in its ability to make power. The air takes a convoluted path getting in& out of the cylinder, and that makes it tough to really move large volumes to make big power.

Ok, now I’m going to watch some of that racing. Thanks, Laurence!

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
29 days ago

I’m only partway through it, but great article. To start with, I had no idea the Hemi six was an entirely new engine – I thought it was a new top end on the slant six.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
29 days ago

I know I’m in the minority here, but I like the tape stripes/decals on this kinda stuff, always have. Cars like this aren’t supposed to be subtle, so why not embrace their ethos all the way? To me, it’s telling that the ads always feature it…

I can’t quite make it out, but what do the rear quarter panel decals say? I see the gradated “Hemi,” but what’s in the circle next to it?

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
29 days ago

Ooh, it’s all one decal. Wicked!

DietersMagnificentStache
DietersMagnificentStache
29 days ago

I greatly enjoyed this article. It’s fascinating as an American to read about other countries’ unique performance environments. Especially when it’s (from a US perspective) a kind of alternate universe version of the”Big-3″ battling it out.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
29 days ago

Great article, wish they would have offered the final versions of this engine here stateside as a replacement for the slant six. But, I can understand why they didn’t at the time.

Loudsx .
Loudsx .
29 days ago

Great article.

but still want a centura!

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
29 days ago

Those pictures of the carbs intertwined with the glowing hot exhaust manifolds trigger me. Such a stupid design.

Beautifully written article Laurence!

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
29 days ago

Good stuff. I’ve wanted an Aussie six pack Charger for many years now.

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