440-cube big-block 1972 Chrysler Valiant VJ hardtop – flashback

Vitamin C might be good for the body but this citric Mopar is good for the soul

Photographers: www.rabbitte.com.au

I’M PRETTY good at visualising things,” says Queensland’s Geoff Holmes. So when he visualised building this VJ Hardtop in orange from head to toe, he reckoned it’d look pretty sweet.

His mate Jamie Carroll from Sewfine Upholstery wasn’t so sure. Geoff says that Jamie thought it was going to be a bit too much orange “but when he started trimming the seats he said: ‘Mate, I think you’re on a winner’”.

This article was first published in the October 2007 issue of Street Machine

The judges at the Brisbane Hot Rod show agreed with that verdict, awarding the big Chrysler fourth place coupe.

Geoff’s been into Vals on and off for years. “My dad had Valiants,” he says.

But he’s not a one-eyed Mopar freak by any stretch of the imagination. In the shed there are a few South African GTs, numerous vintage motocross bikes, a Meyers Manx beach buggy as well as several Valiants, including one with a 351 Cleveland.

“I had an old XC wagon that used to run 12s, then bought a Valiant ute for $400. I though it would be easy to drop the motor in but it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.”

That gets plenty of comments from the Mopar faithful, though not all of them are nice.

As for the swoopy Hardtop, well Geoff’s had a hankering for Chrysler Australia’s ‘other two door’ for some time now.

“I fell in love with the shape back in 1988 but that one was just too big a job,” he reckons.

Then in 2002 he came across this 318 V8-powered VJ Hardtop. “It had last moved in 1987. I paid $1100 for it and sold the motor and box for $1000. For $100 I couldn’t go wrong.”

Back then it was chocolate brown with a beige vinyl roof. Youngsters may laugh but that wasn’t an uncommon colour combo for Valiants of that era.

The usual plan to keep things simple rapidly fell apart, as it usually does: “It was just going to be restored with a stock 440 as a cruiser but that changed. I wanted something with a bit of poke, something that sounded good too,” Geoff says.

A conversion kit was bought from a guy in Sydney but Geoff didn’t like how the engine sat in the bay so he ended up doing the conversion himself and it wasn’t long before the Hardtop was suspended on a rotisserie in Superfinish Smash Repairs. Did we mention that Geoff owns the business? Yeah, having your own smash repair shop is pretty handy and Geoff put his knowledge to good use.

“I never built it to be a show car,” he says, though it certainly holds its own in that arena. “I still don’t think it’s a show car; I just think it’s a nice street car.”

VH Vals usually have clear indicators but Stewart (who Geoff bought the Hardtop from) had a set of optional orange indicators stuck away in a box. “He told me that he was never going to sell them but when he saw what I’d done with the car he just gave them to me

It’s the little details that make the difference and everywhere you look Geoff has made improvements to the VJ. You might have noticed we keep calling it a VJ Hardtop when it clearly looks like the earlier VH. Geoff decided he liked the VH look better, so he converted it. The shell spent 12 months on the rotisserie while Geoff gave it a heavy metal makeover. De-rusted, de-badged, de-moulded and de-seamed, the big Val couldn’t look any smoother if it tried.

Inside, the smooth theme continues. Geoff filled in the glovebox and the huge in-dash ashtray. Orange Sizzle marine vinyl covers every surface, including the three-spoke Charger steering wheel which took four hours to hand stitch. Out came the original Valiant Regal dash and steering column and in went an E55 Charger dash and late-model column, which sports the lights and indicators on the one switch. And check out the armrests — Geoff didn’t like the bulky factory rests with the chrome dressing.

“I was in the engine bay for about four days,” Geoff reckons, smoothing out all the rough edges. BA Falcon twin thermo-fans cool the 440

“Jamie said: ‘Let’s do something radical,’” so he ground down the original rests to the shape he wanted, then wrapped them in vinyl. The overall result is spectacular and what’s more, Geoff paid for it with a handy bit of bartering. “He had a Chev ute; I painted that and he did my trim — we’re both happy.”

Geoff’s team sprayed the Hardtop in a mix similar to Chrysler’s classic Hemi Orange — it’s just lacking the black tinter, apparently. “I ended up using 16 litres of paint just because everything was orange.”

Up front, Geoff’s got 440 cubes of Mopar madness built by Craig Stokes, a well-known name in the Queensland street car community. With Edelbrock aluminium heads, a Comp Cams bumpstick and an 850 Race Demon carb, the big Mopar donk has the grunt to shuffle things along nicely. The trans is a 727 Torqueflite — naturally — and a Ford nine-inch sits up the back, completing a bulletproof driveline.

The beast now weighs a tad more than when it left the factory in 1972 so Geoff has upgraded the brakes with discs all ’round. The front brake conversion was surprisingly easy, Geoff reckons. He tried a standard VZ SS twin-spot caliper on the front and found it was a near-perfect fit; just one bolthole had to be relocated by welding up the original, TIG welding some extra meat to the outside of the mount and drilling a new hole. That’s one way to get rid of those rattly old Valiant calipers. The steering has also been upgraded, with a Hemi Performance rack and pinion kit that leaves room for bigger headers. Twin three-inch exhausts run underneath, with four mufflers in the system to keep it quiet. Geoff modified the rear valance panel so the pipes sit closer to the body.

The rush to debut the Hardtop only finished on the morning of the Brisbane Hot Rod Show. It was a six-month thrash up to that point and Geoff says his wife, Nicole, reckons she knows what it’s like to be a single mother and is glad it’s finished.

Awesome, isn’t it? The carpet was custom dyed orange and the retrimmed Charger wheel looks a treat. Sacrificing the glovebox and ashtray in the interest of style is a touch of genius

Not only did he make the debut but he also got to display the car in front of its two previous owners.

“The guy I bought it off has been following along with the progress but the first owner said he couldn’t believe that it was the same car, the colour was so out there. He loved it.”


Colour: De Beer Hemi Orange

Engine: Chrysler 440
Carb: Demon Race 850
Manifold: Edelbrock Performer
Heads: Edelbrock Performer
Pistons: Keith Black
Crank: Steel
Cam: Comp Cams
Ignition: Pro Comp
Exhaust: Two-inch primaries, twin three-inch exhausts, four mufflers

Transmission: Torqueflite 727, stage II kit
Converter: 3800rpm stall
Diff: Nine-inch, 31-spline axles, 3.7 gears, Detroit Locker

Brakes: DBA slotted and drilled discs, VZ SS calipers (f), XF calipers (r)
Steering: Commodore rack, CL column
Springs: Lowered (f&r)
Shocks: Koni adjustable (f&r)
Bushes: Rubber

Wheel: R/T Charger
Seats: Retrimmed in orange marine vinyl
Gauges: E55 Charger and Auto Meter
Stereo: Pioneer
Shifter: B&M Pro Ratchet

Rims: Simmons FR17, 17×8 (f), 17×10 (r)
Rubber: Kumho 245/45 (f), 285/40 (r)

Superfinish Smash Repairs; Craig Stokes, engine and machine work; Fireball Fabrication, diff; Toy’s Mufflers & Mechanical; Redcliffe Car Electrics; Sewfine Upholstery; Stewart Gray for the hard-to-find part