Big-block 1969 Chrysler VF Valiant hardtop

Real estate agent Luke Croft gives a sad old stock VF Hardtop an extreme makeover, transforming it into a street-stomping brute

Photographers: Mitch Hemming

BLACK plus red plus big-block. It’s a winning combination for any hot car build, but Luke Croft’s razor-sharp VF Valiant hardtop really perfects the recipe.

First published in the May 2021 issue of Street Machine

The finished product might make it look easy, but it took five years of yakka for this 47-year-old Brisbane-based real estate agent to turn a worn-out daily driver into a tough street/strip runner.

“I felt sorry for it,” says Luke of his initial feelings towards the car. “I kept walking past it at an inner-Brisbane unit block and it was always parked under trees, covered in shit. By chance, I was later the listing agent for the owner’s apartment, and I said to them if they were ever keen to sell the car to please let me know.”

That fateful call came a year later, in 2012, and for $2500 Luke was now the proud owner of a dead-stock, Olive Green-over-brown, slant six-powered VF Valiant.

“It was completely flogged; I’m amazed I survived the one-kilometre drive home,” he says. “I’d always liked these hardtops but had never owned one. But I’ve long been a fan of the US Hemi Darts, so the inspiration was locked in.”

Now, in a combination that must be rarer than a GTHO demolition derby car, it turns out Luke the real estate agent is also a fully-fledged panel beater and spray painter, having spent 15 years in the trade before swapping the tools and thinners for suits and ties. This is far from being Luke’s first rodeo – he’s got a string of awesome rides to his name, ranging from restored 1950s classics to tough Monaros and hot rods.

Work began in earnest on the Val in 2014, with Luke stripping it to a bare shell and tackling the bodywork first. “The driver’s floorpan had been ‘repaired’ using a Corflute real estate sign, which is oddly ironic, but that was just the tip of the iceberg,” Luke recalls. “I ended up buying a complete repro Dart floorpan from the States, as well as one new door skin, and I repaired all the remaining panels as necessary. Working six days a week doesn’t leave much time for fun, so I’d dedicate every Sunday to working on the car to keep it moving forward. Even then, it still felt like it took forever.”

With the welder still hot after the rust repairs and shaving of any superfluous chrome, Luke got busy adding chassis connectors and torque box gussets to strengthen the pillarless floorpan, before relocating the rear springs and adding mini-tubs to house decent rubber.

With all panels – including those loooong rear quarters – straightened to perfection, Luke donned the spray suit and laid down the glorious Spies Hecker clear-over-base 2K black. In true Mopar factory muscle style, a fibreglass bonnet was sourced, to which Luke moulded in a child-swallowing Hemi six-pack scoop before flowing on the contrasting satin-black topcoat.

With the body looking the goods, Luke had to fill the flanks with a suitable driveline, and he didn’t need to look far for a solution. His mate, well-known nostalgia drag racer Paul Davies, just happened to have the 440 Chrysler donk out of his old Model A roadster taking up space in his shed, so a deal was struck.

“This motor ran 9.40s in Paul’s Model A, so it was no shrinking violet,” Luke says. “I knew it had been built with the best-quality internals by Ian ‘Woody’ Woodward and the team at Fataz Competition Engines, so it was a sure thing. If anything, it was a little too tough for my plans, so I sent it back to Woody to drop the compression down from 13:1 to a more street-friendly pump 98 level and swap out the cam.”

The block itself is a factory cast 1968 item that runs a stock-stroke Eagle 4130 crank spinning Scat H-beam rods and Ross forged pistons. The camshaft is now a Comp Cams custom roller item actioning Morel roller lifters.

Edelbrock aluminium heads have been extensively ported by Fataz and are topped with a same-brand Victor Jr 4150 intake and Quick Fuel 950cfm double-pumper carb. A brace of MSD componentry sparks the intake charge, and the good oil swirls via a high-volume pump that draws from a seven-quart Milodon sump.

Men@Work Exhausts was responsible for the custom headers and twin three-inch exhaust system on the hot side, while an alloy radiator and Spal thermo fans take care of business on the cool side.

This ample combination is backed by the ever-proven Bob Grant Torqueflite 727 transmission, which has been shift-kitted and fitted with a reverse-pattern valvebody before being fronted with a Convertor Shop 3000rpm stall. A custom Mark Williams-built three-inch heavy-wall tailshaft sends power rearwards to a nine-inch diff with a Truetrac centre and 35-spline Dutchman axles running 3.9 gears.

The diff is suspended on a split mono-leaf rear spring arrangement and CalTracs bars sorted by Suspension Dynamics. Up the other end, the original torsion front end has benefited from heavy-duty bars and a conversion to VL Commodore rack-and-pinion steering. Calvert shocks dampen each corner, while a combination of Wilwood braking componentry and late-model Falcon discs offer a world of improvement over the old four-wheel drums.

Rolling stock is on-point thanks to Center Line Convo Pros measuring in at four inches up front and 10 inches out back, wrapped in a mix of Mickey Thompson 28×7.50 front-runners and 295/55 ET Streets.

With the business side of the build all coming to fruition, Luke turned his attention to the interior. All surfaces were liberally covered in the juiciest of red vinyl by Annvid Auto Upholsterers. The front seats are brand new Procar buckets that Luke imported from the US but chose to run sans headrests for a cleaner look. The rear seat is the factory item rejigged to match.

Bouncing needle gauges in stock Valiants are great if you want to live life on the edge, but Luke’s build necessitated far more accuracy in the form of Auto Meter Phantom dials housed in a one-off fascia. A Hurst Quarter Stick is far more direct for gear selection than the sloppy old column shift could ever be.

The VF hit the streets in 2019, and Luke is as pleased as punch. “It drives beautifully, with plenty of power, but has great street manners. I can drive it on the hottest of Brisbane days and the temperature won’t ever go past 180 degrees; it’s exactly what I want.”

The only thing left now is to get some decent strip passes under its belt.

“I raced it at Mopar Sunday pre-COVID, but went from having zero traction initially to horrid axle tramp as the track heated up,” Luke says. “Hopefully now those old leaf springs are replaced with the new split-leaf arrangement and CalTracs, I can get it to hook up.”

Luke now splits his Sundays between enjoying the hardtop or one of his other weekenders – namely his lounge-spec ’73 Lincoln Continental Mark IV Cartier running a 460 and C6, and a 1990 Porsche Carrera, just to ensure he covers the full range of the driving spectrum – as well as chipping away on his latest build: a ’34 three-window coupe.

“Visually it’ll be a nostalgic 60s-style highboy, fenderless, and with a five-inch chop, but under the bonnet – if it had one – will be an 8/71 Littlefield-blown alloy Keith Black Hemi 426 running four-port Hilborn mechanical injection converted to EFI. So, yes, it’ll be pretty tough.”

As I absorb that last massive understatement, I can’t shake the vision of Luke using this hardtop to ferry around prospective real estate clients. “I haven’t tried that yet,” he laughs. “My daily drive is an AMG-equipped ’96 Mercedes-Benz R129, so it’s old enough to be getting cool but still classy enough to leave a good impression.”

That may be the case, but I still reckon a wild ride in the Valiant might be just the ticket to scare his clients into signing on the dotted line!


Paint: Spies Hecker Black

Make: Chrysler 440ci
Block: Factory cast
Crank: Eagle 4130
Rods: Scat H-beam
Camshaft: Comp Cams custom roller
Lifters: Morel roller
Heads: Edelbrock aluminium, ported
Intake: Victor Jr 4150
Carb: Quick Fuel 950cfm double-pumper
Exhaust: Men@Work custom headers, twin 3in system
Ignition: MSD Pro-Billet distributor
Cooling: Custom alloy radiator, Spal thermo fans

Transmission: Torqueflite 727, reverse-pattern valvebody
Converter: The Convertor Shop 3000rpm stall
Diff: 9in, 3.9:1 gears, Eaton Truetrac centre, 35-spline Dutchman axles

Front: Factory rebuilt
Rear: Suspension Dynamics split mono-leaf, CalTracs bars
Shocks: Calvert (f & r)
Brakes: Wilwood four-piston discs (f), Falcon discs (r); Wilwood master cylinder

Rims: Center Line Convo Pro; 15×4 (f), 15×10 (r)
Tyres: Mickey Thompson; 28×7.50 (f), ET Street 295/55 (r)

Woody and Robbo at Fataz Competition Engines for not only building me a great engine but tidying up a few loose ends to help get the car finished