Home » What It Was Like Daily-Driving A 57 Year-Old Junker Through An Entire Michigan Winter

What It Was Like Daily-Driving A 57 Year-Old Junker Through An Entire Michigan Winter

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Last fall I bought a 1965 Plymouth Valiant. Equipped with the Chrysler Slant Six “Leaning Tower of Power” mated to a three-speed column-shift manual — and devoid of luxuries like power steering, power brakes, power windows, or power locks — the old car had all the right ingredients to be a stout, unkillable machine. And, aside from some small issues here and there, it really was. Somehow my 1965 Plymouth Valiant — which I just sold — ended up being the best “winter beater” I have ever owned; here’s why.

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I’ll admit that I bought the Valiant on impulse. I’d just driven from LA to New York, and didn’t feel like flying back to Michigan. So I searched for a car, with my criteria revolving around simplicity. When I spotted a 1965 Plymouth Valiant with a stick (on the column) and one of the toughest engines in automotive history, I knew it was the one.

What I didn’t know was that the $2,000 four-door sedan would actually live up to — hell, exceed — its bulletproof reputation. After I poured in some clean fluids and slapped on some used winter tires, the machine got me 650 miles back to Michigan without any major issues.

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And that’s really how things stayed. The 170 cubic-inch (2.8-liter) slant-six motor fired up even on the coldest of Michigan winter mornings. I had to keep my foot on the gas for about five seconds to fill the bowl or it would cut out, but other than that, the thing ran reliably, and took me to my errands day in and day out. I literally drove it everyday between late November and early April.

Hell, I even ripped some epic donuts in the snow:

 

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A post shared by David Tracy (@davidntracy)

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There was tons of space in the trunk for car parts (I carried multiple tires and a set of leaf springs back there), the ride was downright comfortable, 65 mph on the highway was no problem, and fuel economy was — well, roughly the same as my Jeeps: 18 MPG highway.

Okay so fuel economy and acceleration weren’t ideal, but that’s not what winter beaters are for: Winter beaters are all about reliability and heater performance; the last thing you want to do is have to work on your car in minus 20 degree weather, and of course you want your heater to work.

And that Valiant’s heater cranked. In fact, a strong argument can be made that the Slant Six engine is really more of a heater that just happens to be able to propel a car than it is a prime mover that produces heat as a byproduct. It’s not efficient, and that meant a toasty cabin within just a few minutes of startup.

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In the snow, those thin, studded snow tires were absolute beasts, slicing through the fluff with ease, with those rear tires — weighed down by the car parts I had in the trunk — pushing the car confidently down the road.

I expected this car to be a pain in the ass given its age and low cost, but it was totally fine. The huge steering wheel and short gearing in the steering box meant taking turns without power assist — even at low speeds — wasn’t really that hard. The manual brakes, too, weren’t that bad at slowing the 2,600 pound car down. The ride was soft, the bench seat was cushy, and the radio cranked Alan Jackson whenever I needed it to.

I took this old sedan to my dry cleaner, I took it to my junkyard to haul parts, I took it to restaurants, I took it to official meetings, I took it to parties, I even took it 70 mph on road trips — the Valiant got me everywhere I needed to go without issue and in comfort. Was there a part of me that realized that a good percentage of cars on the road could turn my tiny Valiant into a sheet of tin foil with just a light tap of my rear bumper? Absolutely, but I tried to ignore that thought:

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I’ll admit that the Valiant wasn’t perfect. On one occasion, it did leave me stranded when the clutch Z-bar (basically a metal bar that translates your clutch pedal input into motion that releases the clutch) failed at one of its welds.

Here’s the look at the failure:

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A friend of mine welded that up, and I was back in business. I did also have a ballast resistor failure that prevented the car from starting. But, as I’d read about this part’s propensity to fail, I had a spare in the glovebox:

My starter motor also gave up the ghost, but the local car parts store had one in stock; that was just two bolts and a couple of wire connections — truly the easiest starter motor change of my life:

Really, that broken clutch rod was the biggest failure I had; the starter and ballast resistor took a combined 30 minutes and $75 to change, maybe.

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I guess I should also mention that my shift linkage tended to leave the transmission stuck in first gear unless I slid under the car (to do this, I’d have to drive up onto a curb) and yanked the linkage by hand. This was a massive pain in the ass, as driving down the road, downshifting, and then realizing that you can’t get out of first can leave you in some precarious situations.

 

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Yeah, I guess that shifter linkage issue was the biggest drawback to owning the Valiant, really. All of that time and use had worn those parts down to where they’d just jam up, and I’d have to slide under the car and get greasy at times that I really didn’t want to. 

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You may recall that I got the vehicle undercoated prior to the winter. I can’t tell you that this was a huge help, but I will say that the vehicle looked no worse at the end of the winter than it did at the beginning, though who knows what would have happened this summer when the sweet catalyst of heat got ahold of that old iron.

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A few weeks ago, I sold the old machine to a young man named Chris for $3,200. It was his first time driving a column-shift car, but he figured it out quickly, and enjoyed driving the 1965 cruising-machine. I have no doubt that it will continue to live up to its name for years to come.

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Though I will miss it, I’m headed to Australia in September to drive another Valiant, except this one will be a ute. If it’s half the car in the heat that ol’ Blue was in the cold, I’ll be the happiest man in the Outback.

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STUART FELLOWS
STUART FELLOWS
2 years ago

A vehicle + rag for gas cap = Molotov Cartail.

JohnTaurus
JohnTaurus
2 years ago
Reply to  STUART FELLOWS

Like when they destroyed that beautiful Mercury Zephyr in No Country For Old Men. Why couldn’t they have used a Vega or Citation?

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
2 years ago
Reply to  JohnTaurus

That was because there aren’t many of those left in the wild.

Is Travis
Is Travis
2 years ago

And even handed it off at a good price to an enthusiast, David is the pied piper of rust heaps worth keeping alive. Or something.
I wouldn’t choose your path for thrice the money, but damn does it make for great reading.

Russ Toelke
Russ Toelke
2 years ago

I’ve been on my back many times jiggling the shifter linkage. Luckily, I had a ’67 Chevy van allowing ample room to crawl under. Bought that thing having no idea how to shift the 3-on-the-tree. Naturally, it needed a clutch not too long after being bought.
But love that old thing, I did. Put a used motor in it, fixed up the linkage, had the king pins replaced and souped it up a bit.
Job loss necessitated a sale. I saw it years later on the street out front of the apartment complex where I live, still in great shape being used as a work van.
I wanted to ask the guy if he ever got stuck in 1st gear.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
2 years ago

This is why we love David.

Most people would say, I have a car that I cannot kill and runs well. Maybe I should get rid of a non-runner or 2

David says “Hmm, sell the runner and buy non-runners to replace it.”

Don’t ever change.

Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
2 years ago

I love when David writes about his cars because the second they run too well or prove to be dependable in any way, they have to go!

Dennis Ames
Dennis Ames
2 years ago

$3200 for that car? Wow the used car market is insane. My sister had a Dart with the 225 slant 6, and you’re right about the starter, easiest I have ever done in my life.

Japolkin
Japolkin
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Ames

It’s not a used car, it’s a classic car

Mike S
Mike S
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Ames

I think $3200 is a decent price for a good running classic-ish car.

Plus it’s got all that David Tracy provenance, so….. there’s that (?)

🙂

That Guy with the Sunbird
That Guy with the Sunbird
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike S

Agreed. $3,200 is not bad for that. It can easily be taken to cruise-ins and car shows with quite a story to tell!

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 years ago

That valiant Ute is not half the car tour valiant sedan was. It’s barely a third of it. Like, literally barely a third of a car.

Paul B
Paul B
2 years ago

Wonder how much of the warm cabin is due to a less effective cooling system compared to modern cars.

And, David, told you that Krown spray is top shelf stuff when you wrote about it back in the fall

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
2 years ago

Ha! I was behind a Valiant (66 I believe judging by the tail lights) on my way to work this morning.

Now I open up the Autopian for something to read on my first break and here this is.

Get out of my brain.

Laurian
Laurian
2 years ago

Back in the late 90’s I owned two Valiants, a 200 w/ the 225 slant 6 & power steering and auto tranny in the same livery as David’s, and a 100 w/ the 170 w/ manual steering and three on the tree. I bought both for $500.00 and after a three or so years sold each for the same amount. I had the same starter issue in the 200 and the same linkage and worn out throw bearing in the 100. Fortunately for this piss poor wrencher Valiants are almost too easy to repair. And David is spot on about the heaters.

John Gallup
John Gallup
2 years ago

For the price of that car you could’ve bought a first class ticket back to Detroit, had several drinks on board, and taken cab home. Just sayin…

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
2 years ago
Reply to  John Gallup

But driven it for a whole winter throwing $500 bucks at and break even?

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 years ago

All things considered, that worked out way better than I would have expected, given the condition and apparent abuse the car has had over the years. Chrysler just does a fantastic job with straight sixes in general, the old flathead the slant six replaced was also pretty tough

Jaded Helmsman
Jaded Helmsman
2 years ago

That’s not a gas cap, that’s a fuse.

Two thumbs up for the editing: “It idles just fine. OK. It died.”

JohnTaurus
JohnTaurus
2 years ago

(Long post)

I love daily driving my ’74 C10 with an Inline 6, 3spd column shift, manual steering and brakes (although I do have front disk, I’m guessing the Valiant had drums?), and although I don’t have snow to deal with (at least, not often), I can say it drives great through torrential thunderstorms with heavy rain, but only after I upgraded to Goodyear Wranglers and replaced the shocks (the bouncing and floating were not good combinations for slick roads). It drives like a tank, now, and it’s actually decent on fuel.

I have gotten the column shifter hung up a few times, but by the grace of God, my boyfriend happened to be there each time, and helped me, a feat accomplished without getting under the truck (just under the hood). It would’ve been nearly impossible for me to get it unstuck by myself.

We have rebuilt the entire brake system, added some 15×7 rallys, and I upgraded the headlights and repainted the front bumper as well.

The worst part about the truck has been the carburetor, after an emissions equipment disaster nearly destroyed the engine.

See, to help it warm up quickly (a warm engine produces less emissions), a butterfly valve was installed in the exhaust manifold and operated like a thermostatic choke. What could POSSIBLY go wrong with that design, you might ask? Well, prepare for a shock: it rusted shut.

Unbeknownst to the previous owner, he kept driving as the overheated exhaust manifold cracked. Rather than investigate by, ya know, pulling off the manifold (where he would have discovered the real problem), he did a fuck-all job of welding it while it was still bolted up. Or he had a 7 year old blind girl do it, I can’t be sure.

Anyway, eventually I bought the truck and it would barely do 60 MPH. I saw the amazing welding job done on the exhaust manifold before buying the truck, had already ordered one, and when it arrived, my cousin and I set about replacing it.

Well, we discovered the shut valve. And, worse, it had cracked the intake manifold from the extreme heat (it and the exhaust manifold are “mated” but are not a single unit for 1974).

He did what he could and the truck ran and sounded great for about a year, when the carburetor started failing (almost a year after purchase, isn’t it wonderful) and the intake manifold reared its ugly head again.

So, I ordered a Clifford intake and Weber carburetor, Hedman hedders (required when going to the aftermarket intake, my only other choice was to buy a used 1974 intake and take a chance, then I’d still be stuck with a 1bbl).

We got everything installed and it’s been one thing after another with the carburetor. It’s been to the shop twice now, Monday will be the 3rd week this time.

Love my truck. Hate carburetors.

Timemachine
Timemachine
2 years ago
Reply to  JohnTaurus

Maybe an EFI would cure your woes. I haven’t priced the aftermarket lately. Maybe too expensive?

JohnTaurus
JohnTaurus
2 years ago
Reply to  Timemachine

That has occurred to me more than once. I can trash the carburetor (expensive as it was) and adapter plate, and an EFI system will work on the intake I’ve already bought.

But you’re right in that it can get expensive. Not just the system itself, but probably another fuel tank mounted in a different location (out from under the cab, in the back like a Suburban).

It’s definitely a “one day” idea, I’m just hoping they can get this thing dialed in and I can enjoy my truck for a while in the meantime!

I liked the idea of keeping the truck all mechanical, and EFI ruins that, but if it means actually being able to drive it, well, it’s just something to consider.

VortecMalibu
VortecMalibu
2 years ago
Reply to  JohnTaurus

Your 74 sounds a lot like my 75! I was driving it today to get some mulch and my three on tree jammed up. I have a vintage Hurst floor shifter conversion for the 3-speed sitting in my basement but can’t bring myself to do it….yet. Here is my ’75
https://i.imgur.com/gFz6r0m.jpg

EFI is worth some thought if you are sick of carbs. My C10 still has a monojet but I have a Sniper on my Chevelle’s 350 and my brother has one on his ’67 K10 with a 292 and Clifford intake. He has the two barrel version. Really slick systems.
https://www.holley.com/products/fuel_systems/fuel_injection/sniper_efi/sniper_2300_2bbl/sniper_2300/parts/550-851

Beasy Mist
Beasy Mist
2 years ago

OMG Barry Bagels, yum. A staple of my childhood in Toledo.

Timemachine
Timemachine
2 years ago

I owned one of these jewels. Chalky Tan. Same year and running gear. Paid $200 for it. It came with a new clutch and throw out bearing, as the seller said that’s what it needed as the clutch was inoperable. I lived in Florida and after getting it home, shifting sans clutch, replacing the clutch while being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I discovered the same clutch Z-bar weld failure.
I really enjoyed driving it and didn’t mind not having air conditioning. Never tried the heater. It did smoke a lot. Sold it to a friend in need.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
2 years ago

This has been my favorite of your cruisers – I’ve always liked driving a 3-on-the-tree and have a no-frills ’66 Biscayne with that type of transmission in my current fleet. In high school I drove a ’79 Duster for awhile that had the slant-6. Fun fact, that was the only car I was ever airborne in. Also, can confirm – the engine was pretty-much indestructible. The rest of the car was a bit of a heap, but it never let me down and was a great base for learning how to wrench in general. Glad you found a good home for your Valiant – not too many left and it’s best if they’re kept on the road!

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 years ago

I’m gonna be >that< guy here. They are, in fact, NOT indestructible. These tilted 6s were designed in the ‘50s, and definitely intended for 40-50mph cruising. There is no pressurized oil going to the valvetrain: just splash. And, the way the oil pan is configured to clear the K-brace, you get a lot of oil-froth at the 5th&6th rod bearings when you launch hard.
See yt (24HoursofLemons for anecdotes, and UncleTony’sGarage for footage of carnage-and lots of LTOP goodness. Seriously: if you like old Mopars, or even just old-school, budget hotrodding, check Tony out)

KIP AMORE
KIP AMORE
2 years ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Blasphemy!

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
2 years ago

Inquiring minds would like to know what that sweet station wagon is that’s parked between the Valiant & the dark blue pickup truck. Looks Peugeotish, especially with those 4-lug wheels.

Larry B
Larry B
2 years ago
Reply to  David Tracy

My second car was a 66 Valiant that I drove back and forth between Detroit and Schenectady. Of course went thru Ontario and I suspect you did too. I would guess that Peugeot was somewhere along the 401.

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
2 years ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Might be the same one that was at Cleveland radwood.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
2 years ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Mighty cool! Astonishing to see one in Michigan.

Mike S
Mike S
2 years ago

Aw man, I’m so sad we’re not gonna see the blue Valiant anymore. Cool car.
And I can attest to the Slant’s ability to heat up the cabin- even with the blower fan completely off, I have a constant hot breeze on my legs once driving 🙂

FUCK YOU
FUCK YOU
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike S

Might want to look into resealing the blend door?

SYKO Simmons
SYKO Simmons
2 years ago

Good story, hey on your Australia trip did that Facebook screenshot of the guy in Australia that had a bunch of those utes help? I emailed you on this site.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
2 years ago

“I guess I should also mention that my clutch linkage tended to leave the transmission stuck in first gear unless I slid under the car (to do this, I’d have to drive up onto a curb) and yanked the linkage by hand.”

Surely you mean “my transmission linkage”? Since you already fixed the clutch linkage in the paragraph above?

Turn the Page
Turn the Page
2 years ago

David, thanks for another trip down memory lane! I can attest to the car being a great winter beater, with an excellent heater and defroster . My first car was a 1964 Valiant 2-door, 170 Slant Six, three-on-the-tree that I acquired in 1972, as my daily driver.

By 1973, I had swapped in the complete drivetrain and suspension from a totaled 1971 340 4-speed Duster, adding Six Pack induction, headers, etc. With a 3.92 Sure-Grip differential and studded snow tires, it would go almost anywhere. I really miss that first car.

MP81
MP81
2 years ago

I will miss seeing that car parked out near the road when driving by on my way to my mom’s in Royal Oak!

Mr.Asa
Mr.Asa
2 years ago

“I took this old sedan to my dry cleaner”
:record scratch noise:
Wait. David Tracy, the guy that dyed his clothes in motor oil, goes to the dry cleaner?
Do they dread seeing you show up?

Thanks for the closure on the Valiant. I’ve been wondering what other trials it may have put you through this winter. Glad to hear they weren’t major.

Mr.Asa
Mr.Asa
2 years ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Same, man. Same.
Found that the worst of it was always afterwards when you get back in the vehicle. Keeping shirts and pants clean is usually fairly easy during, unless all hell has broken loose you’re usually just doing some minor wrenching. When you get done and go to drive off is when you’re gonna touch something and get the wrong thing dirty. I started to keep a couple rags and a bottle of windex in the cab of the truck. Spray your hands off after, wipe ’em with the rag, let dry and you should have most of it off and you should be safe.

Its getting better since I rebuilt my truck’s engine. Used RTV strategically to ensure that the leaks don’t reach the outside. The wife not letting me play outside in the wrong clothes helps as well.

30+ year old vehicles, what can you do?

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr.Asa

You buy a pair of Carhartt coveralls one size too large, and leave them in the vehicle. Then, whenever the mood strikes you, you throw that big boy onesie on over your regular clothes, and crawl around under the car. Or in the engine bay. Or in the bed, if it’s a pick up.

FUCK YOU
FUCK YOU
2 years ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

Sir, this is a car site. If you want to wear a onesie and crawl around in bed with your pick-ups, that’s fine but maybe take it to FetLife.

Mr.Asa
Mr.Asa
2 years ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

Speaking as a Floridian, that sounds like an especially bad version of hell for at least 3/4 of the year

JohnTaurus
JohnTaurus
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr.Asa

I’m like 50 miles from the Gulf coast. I more than “feel ya” on that one.

It was bad enough wearing long sleeves when working in power plants and paper mills in the south, including one in Pensacola. And when the boiler was running? Most couldn’t imagine. It’s already tipping 100° and then you have a multi-story fireplace running full blast? With steam pipes running all around you? Shit.

Some can do it (wear coveralls in the heat), but not I.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
2 years ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

I went through a phase like that, where I always had a pair of coveralls in the car. It wasn’t so much being ready if the mood hit, but being ready for the inevitable breakdown because I drove a lot of POS cars when I was young.

My typical checklist before departing from the house on a trip of any length greater than a mile:
-At least a 1/4 tank of gas (or $5 bucks worth if the gauge didn’t work)
-A couple of cans Fix-A-Flat and at least one spare tire
-A fan belt (you can’t really skimp on this, though I saved old ones for emergencies)
-Duct Tape. As they say, it has a light side, a dark side and it holds the universe together
-A gallon of water, a gas can, a couple of quarts of oil, and any other fluids that are leaking
-A basic tool kit and a roll of wire
-A flashlight, because the odds are it’s going to be dark when you break down.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
2 years ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Same here. I can’t tell you how many office shirts I’ve messed up because I noticed something new needing attention on my ride and I slide right under it as soon as I get home from work. Glad I’m not the only one, heh.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
2 years ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Any Oakland County dry cleaner recos, David?

I was always partial to Janet Davis on Woodward.

10001010
10001010
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr.Asa

That line caught me out at first too

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
2 years ago
Reply to  Mr.Asa

He needs to dry clean to not contaminate the water supply with used motor oil.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
2 years ago

I love how you refer to it as “your” junkyard.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

I mean, David’s junkyard is really public domain now, so it’s “our” junkyard in actuality.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

I’m not sure if David means a local junkyard that might as well be his because he goes there so often, or if he accidentally admitted that his yard is a de facto junkyard.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
2 years ago

Oh, I’m sure he meant the public junkyard. I’m just imagining it’s like Norm from Cheers: he walks in and everyone shouts, “DAVE!!!”

Turkina
Turkina
2 years ago

Everyone on this particular thread is a genius. This is the solution to David’s car hoarding issues. He needs to buy a junkyard. Well, maybe not a solution to his hoarding, but his non-functional car storing problem. He could fence off an area for his projects (build a pole barn) and have it guarded by some fierce Pomeranians decked out in Mad Max doggie-wear. If he needs parts, he just needs to dive into his public heaps. The town wouldn’t cite him for excessive auto-hoarding because by definition, a junkyard is a hoard of automobiles. I’m not sure David would be able to send stripped, rusting hulks to the crusher, though. I doubt it’s in his nature if one usable part remains.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 years ago
Reply to  Turkina

Don’t encourage him!

It will end with a headline reading “Local Man(iac) Crushed When Pile Of 4 Liter Heads Collapsed On Him. Cloud Of Rust Visible For Miles”.

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