“MUSIC is my second passion,” Graeme Carter says. And thank goodness for that ranking if it means we all get to admire his first passion: this stonking Valiant Safari. “I bought it back in ’94. It was a roofer’s work hack and cost me all of $250. I always liked the look of ’68 Dodge Darts, so a VE Valiant was the affordable local version of that. Being a drummer, I figured it would make a great band wagon for gigging around Melbourne.”
The Val saw daily duties for the next year until the slant donk shat itself.
“I dropped in a Hemi 245 backed by a 727 auto,” Graeme says. “It wasn’t the quickest car around, but with a four-barrel carb, solid cam and head work it was still pretty stout.” Stout enough to warrant a set of mini-tubs and a nine-inch conversion, which Graeme and his brother Linton undertook at home. “The biggest prerequisite for those tubs was the rear seat had to fold forward and lock down as per factory. I spent hours making everything work just right.”
It’s that attention to detail that defines Graeme’s work ethic, so when tear-down number two began, shortcuts were never an option. “It was 2009 and the Hemi had copped a decade of hard work. I decided to lift the wagon’s game, so big-block power was the go,” he says.
A 440 engine was sourced and mocked into position to allow for new mounts and pipework. Aussie Mopars share the chassis and floorpan with the Dodge Dart and 60s-era Plymouth Barracuda. In the US they nudged the engine over towards the right-hand side to help clear the LHD steering box, but the Aussie engineers didn’t bother moving it back, which makes things mighty tight when it comes to weaving performance pipes around the RHD steering box. So Graeme got busy shifting the new donk and transmission 1.5 inches portside, which makes a huge difference when it comes to negating exhaust, ignition and temperature issues.
“I reworked the lower firewall, tunnel and floorpan,” Graeme says. “A larger-diameter transmission hump was hand-rolled and the tailshaft tunnel was widened and raised to allow for a half-inch driveline lift. Once the location was sorted, I fabricated spool mounts for the engine and a modified transmission mount.”
Front chassis sleeves and subframe connectors were added to stiffen the monocoque shell, while a custom set of 17/8-inch extractors are also the handiwork of the Brothers Carter.
With the fab work sorted, Graeme treated the body to a few minor repairs, and then sent the car to Sean at Restoration Motor Body in Heidelberg. The VE retains minimal chrome but was treated to a fibreglass bonnet sporting a very unsubtle Hemi Dart scoop, before being lavished in Quicksilver paint from the Holden colour charts.
The engine was stripped and sent to John Sidney Racing for machine work, with Graeme spinning his own spanners for reassembly. The Wedge block cleaned up at 446 cubes, and was filled with a balanced factory crank and rods topped with KB pistons, giving a 98-friendly ratio of 10.5:1. A Mopar Performance 528-lift solid cam and lifter kit activate Crane 3/8-inch pushrods, MP rockers, Isky springs and Edelbrock valves. The latter are housed in Edelbrock Performer aluminium heads mounting a Mopar M1 intake and an Edelbrock 1000cfm EFI throttlebody.
“Our family have long been avid water-skiers and ski-boat racers,” Graeme reveals. “EFI has been a mainstay amongst the boat crowd for many years so it was a no-brainer to use it on the wagon. The M1 intake was machined to fit the injectors and the system is controlled by an Autronic ECU. It’s a good package and a reliable system, and after using it on the water for many years we figured it was best to go with what we knew.”
The jack-of-all-trades Carters built the 727 transmission, too, which packs a TCI reverse-pattern full-manual valvebody, billet internals and TCE 4800 stall converter. The shortened nine-inch from the Hemi six days was retained and runs a full spool with 28-spline axles and 4.11 gears.
The rear springs were relocated under the chassis rails in the old-school Mopar tradition, and work nicely with the aforementioned cargo tubs to allow plenty of tyre. The torsion-bar front end was retained, albeit fully rebuilt and dampened via 90/10 shocks.
VJ Valiant calipers squeeze slotted front discs, which along with the Mustang rear drums are activated by a VJ thumb-snap master cylinder. VH Commodore manual rack-and-pinion steering modernises the pointy end and allows for extra pipe space. Convo Pros in 5.5-inch and 10-inch widths run M/T rubber, measuring 26×8.5 and 28×11.5 respectively.
If you’re thinking that interior looks remarkably original then you’re on the money. That’s right, it’s the same factory black seats and door trims slotted in by Chrysler nearly 50 bum-wearing years ago. A thorough scrub and detail was deemed sufficient to get them up to spec, while modifications for the tub work saw the rear seat vinyl carefully stripped, altered and reattached to suit the narrowed frames.
“The wagon is the perfect all-rounder,” Graeme says. “It fires first turn of the key and will keep its cool in any conditions. It won Best Wagon at this year’s Chryslers On The Murray – a total shock and game-changing moment for me and the car. I just love it!
“I really need to thank my partner Sarah for her support, and Linton for his help. Without them it would never have happened.”
With an estimated 550 horses on tap, Graeme has flexed the VE’s quarter muscle too, with more to come. “I ran an 11.7@116mph first time out at Heathcote, but I still have room to move with the heads and cam options, so stay tuned.”