Home » Two-For-One Deals: 1996 Ford Explorers vs 1973 Plymouth Valiants

Two-For-One Deals: 1996 Ford Explorers vs 1973 Plymouth Valiants

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Welcome back to another week of Shitbox Showdown! Today, we’re doubling down on the janky rides and looking at a pair of two-for-one deals. But before we do that, let’s see which designer label you chose:

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To no one’s surprise, the big Lincoln takes it. K-car hatred is strong around here, it seems, but that LeBaron was just so gloriously absurd I couldn’t not post it. I kinda love it just because it’s so awful. If I had Sir Guy Grand money, I would buy that thing just to enter it in every Mopar concours show I could find.

Moving on: Dealing with the problems of an old car can be a challenge, especially when replacement parts cost more than the car is worth. There are many ways of dealing with this problem, one of which is a time-honored tradition that marks you not only as a serious gearhead, but also puts you on your homeowners association’s watch list: the parts car. Got a pretty car that needs mechanical parts? Buy an ugly runner and start swapping stuff over. Found a nice but basic model and want to jazz it up? Look for a non-running or rusted-out fancy model to pull from. Today, we have a pair of nice-looking rides that have already found their parts-car mates, and are being sold as a set for one low price. Let’s take a look.

Two 1996 Ford Explorers – $1,700

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[Editor’s Note: What are those two hockey pucks on the hood? – JT]

Engine/drivetrain: 4.0 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: rural Clark County, WA

Odometer reading: 150,000 miles

Runs/drives? One does, the other has a bad transmission

Here we have a car I know well. My wife and I had a 1996 Ford Explorer for many years. It was a very comfortable, competent truck; unfortunately, Ford’s 4R55E/5R55E automatic transmission lasts about as long as those early UPN sitcoms. When a rebuilt transmission started slipping again after fewer than 30,000 miles, we gave up on it.

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The nicer of these two Explorers suffers from the same ailment, and in fact, it sounds like the transmission may have already been pulled. The seller says its 4.0 liter Cologne V6 runs well, and that I don’t doubt; it’s a good solid workhorse of an engine. The rest of the truck is in beautiful shape, with a nice blue leather interior, new tires, and a clean straight body.

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The other Explorer isn’t so nice. It has body damage, mismatched wheels, a broken windshield, and there are no photos of the interior, which is never a good sign. But it does run and drive, and it sounds like the plan was to use it as a transmission donor for the nicer truck, and then presumably part out or scrap the rest. It would be wise, however, to harvest the interior door handles and power window switches from it for future use as well. Take my word for it.

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Second-generation Ford Explorers aren’t exactly rare, but their numbers are dwindling, largely due to the Silly Putty transmissions, I would guess. Sacrificing a scruffy runner to revive a nice one might be worth it, if you have a place to do the work, and if the runner’s transmission is actually in good shape, which is quite an assumption. At least the price for the pair is cheap.

Two 1973 Plymouth Valiants – $5,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Vancouver, WA

Odometer reading: 165,000 miles

Runs/drives? One does, the other is partially disassembled

Chrysler’s A-body is a bit of a favorite around here, you may have noticed. Built forever, sold all around the world, and far tougher than I think anyone gave them credit for when they were new, the Dart/Valiant is a true classic that’s finally starting to get its due. And while you may wish for a manual, the typical combination of a Slant Six with a Torqueflite automatic works well, and might just run forever.

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These two four-door Valiants from near the end of the run are both so equipped. One runs and drives well, and is equipped with a single-barrel carburetor. It also has air conditioning, but it’s inoperative; chances are you’d have to replace most parts of the system with R134a-compatible components to get it going again. But at least it’s there. This runner (the beige car, if you couldn’t have guessed) is also in good cosmetic shape, and even the interior isn’t too bad, if you don’t look at the floor.

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Its counterpart is also a Slant Six, but sports an aftermarket four-barrel carb intake. It includes a Holley four-barrel, but it has been removed to be rebuilt (a rebuild kit is included). The transmission and radiator are also out, and their condition is unknown. This car’s paint is shot, and the interior is rougher than the other car, but it’s all there. The seller says this car ran when purchased, before the disassembly.

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Really, this car is a viable project as well, I think. What I’d be tempted to do is transfer the four-barrel intake to the tan car, rebuild the Holley (or install a standalone EFI conversion), overhaul the air conditioning, and make a nice driver out of it. The blue car could then be reassembled with the one-barrel, gotten back to running, and sold to recoup some costs. But then, it’s easy to daydrem about such projects; actually pulling them off is something else entirely.

Buying two cars to make one is rarely a good idea, but that hasn’t stopped many people, myself included, from attempting it. It’s always more work than it sounds like, and at the end, you have another car to dispose of that almost certainly doesn’t run. At least one of these pairs is cheap, and the other is an up-and-coming classic. Which one are you willing to take on?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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32 Responses

  1. I’d take the valiants and have my dirt poor brother pay me back someday after he’s put both of the back on the road at the hands of his little boys. Prolong the mopar nuttery in his weird branch of the family. I never understood his fetish personally as I prefered my Buicks and british economy cars, but to each his own and if I could help him make two more car weirdos out of his kidlets I would in a heartbeat.

  2. Even a 500 cfm 4 barrel is way too much carb for these engines, but I get the draw to the Clifford 6=8 mentality. I would probably use the 4V intake and a Holley sniper system to make it work optimally. But you would have to then spend a few grand on that system plus the distributor and fuel pumps required to make it work, and by then you would have a ton of money into a Beige 4 door Valiant. you would really have to like them to do that. I am not that guy.

  3. The Exploder(s) look a better deal. The transmission from the junker might at least keep the shiny one on the road until a) something better comes along or b) a manual swap can be worked out.

    Valiants can be okay DDs. The slantie lasts forever, and can take more abuse than just about anything. I know this: a friend had one, and had no idea where the dipstick — or even the hood latch, for that matter — was.

    All in all, the hot ticket would be to buy the Fords and pass the Plymouths along to David Tracy.

    1. I have a feeling the reason the trans in the 2wd was never swapped is because it physically cannot be. Ford was weird in the 90’s rarely did even the same trans swap from one year to another, but the tail shafts and most of the electronics on the 2wd would likely not swap without some tearing down and swapping parts,

  4. You could quite easily come out of Project Valiant with two classic cars, one with future show car potential and one which will attract the patina fetishists. I think they are more worth your time and efforts than the Explorers.

  5. For the price, getting two Exploders to make into a really unreliable winter beater might be a good idea if you think getting a meth addiction is also a bright revelation.

    $6K for two smelly Valiants? I like those cars just because they look like they were designed by a 10 year old who had finally grasped what a car looks like in a general sense.

  6. The Mopars are too far gone to be resurrected into anything appealing, so Ford it is.
    The problem with the Mopars is that you wouldn’t even get one nice car out of the two; with the Fords, at least one of them could be turned into something decent.

  7. “K-car hatred is strong around here it seems”

    Maybe just pick better k-cars that don’t make me think of Florida grandparents in 97. Give me a Daytona, a shadow or any of the fun ones with three pedals.

  8. Welp, so many do not have the advantage of looking thru boomer-tinted glasses.

    I experienced an early sense of awe when, walking by a brand-new ’62 Plymouth Valiant and holding my father’s hand, looking up at this gawjis fake spare-tire cover on what looked like an automotive angel from on high (it was white).

    And yes, through the years I’ve had scores of cathartic relationships with many Valiants, Darts, ‘cudas, Furies, Newports, and my beloved ’72 W100 Power Wagon.

    Working a residential construction job back in the eighties, we ran short of a few bags of portland cement to finish out a concrete slab (hand mix). So Johnny jumps into his ’71 Dart Swinger calling out “…be right back.”

    About a 1/2 hour later he comes back from the mason’s supply with three bags of Portland (94 lb. each) laid up on the trunk across the lid seam close to the rear glass.

    No, not some great feat, but would anybody really think to do this with any other type of vehicle??… …OK, maybe they would, but I thought it was pretty cool, and maybe a little definitive.

  9. The Fords are my choice. I would actually have an occasional use for them. The old Valiants are interesting, but not that interesting to me… particularly when the ‘good one’ has a slushbox and has A/C that isn’t hook up or a radio not hooked up.

    If they are in working order, why not hook them up? Well the answer most likely is because they’re both broken. Or there are some bigger issues going on.

  10. I love a vintage Mopar, but for the money I could find something WAY more interesting than a pair of pokey, ragged-out economy cars from the second-worst automotive decade in the last hundred years. Explorers win on price alone.

  11. The Valiants are easily worth $2750 each. Personally, I love the four-door classics and I’m glad that so many other people want the 2 door cars instead.

    The better Explorer would only be worth far more than $1700 if it were all sorted, but buying a project to restore something so recent and so boring has no appeal to me. Great deal if you can do the wrenching and need the transportation.

    I picked the Valiants.

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