Chopped eight-second VJ Valiant hardtop

With its rev-happy 394-cube Mopar and fat stance, Rob Evans’s chopped VJ Valiant hardtop packs a spicy punch

Photographers: Troy Barker

Update: Rob got oh-so-close to cracking the seven-second zone in the hardtop at Sydney Dragway’s Grudge Kings event last weekend. With a new engine combo under the Val’s long bonnet, Rob ran a 8.1-second pass at 164mph straight off the trailer.

The second pass resulted in a big wheelstand, that resulted in some damage when the car hit the deck.

“We didn’t get the cahnced to test of the full potential of the new combo,” says Rob.

“But I’ll fix it up, modify the wheelie bars and put them on. Hopefully it will be completed in time for the first meeting at The Bend Dragway in October.”

First published in the November 2021 issue of Street Machine

Large cars like mid-70s Valiant hardtops were generally ordered new for their wafting luxury, and in the years since have been turned into cool cruisers. Their sheer size means owners have to work twice as hard to make them run as fast as a smaller car like a Charger or Centura, and this may be why many of us get a kick out of the sight of a big car hefting its nose in the air and running serious numbers.

Adelaide’s Rob Evans would surely agree, because his big VJ Val two-door runs 8.70@154mph, with plenty more left in the tank as he shakes the combo down.

“I bought this car 30 years ago, dead-stock with a 318 and vinyl roof, as a tow car for my nitrous 340ci street/race VJ hardtop,” Rob says. “This car eventually became the daily for my wife Sue, and I sold the other hardtop off. That lasted around five years before I put the W5-headed 340 from that car into this one and we started racing it.”

To this end, a nine-inch filled with good fruit like 35-spline axles and 5.3:1 gears was purchased. The car Rob sourced it from also sorted the VJ’s new rear suspension. “I bought the diff out of an XB Falcon that already had the ladder-bar rear end on it,” says Rob. “The coupe still has the original chassis rails and I opened up the tubs to those rails, which is why I am limited to the 15×10 out back.”

Keen-eyed observers will have noticed that the VJ has had a trim off the top, which came about after Sue suggested Rob do something different with this latest hardtop.

“The two-inch chopped roof ended up in six pieces, and I used a Valiant sedan roof to fill it in,” says Rob. “The roof actually ended up wider and longer, so it wasn’t the best idea for saving weight, but I like the outcome. I actually chopped the roof and then it sat in the shed for four years, and I finished it off when I put the race motor in it.”

Under that be-scooped and reverse cowl-equipped bonnet lives an engine so spicy it would make a Carolina Reaper seem like a capsicum. Many of us are used to seeing all manner of Barra, LS or big-block mills in fast cars today, but Rob is a small-block fan, so he has built a little-cuber that’s set to kill.

“My first red hardtop had a 340, and I like how they rev. Plus I always liked the E55 Charger, which had a 340 too,” Rob explains. “This car has had two motors in it since it became a racer; the first was the W5-headed 340ci, but the better heads on this engine means it revs better.”

The coupe’s noise-maker is based around a Chrysler R3 48-degree 340 block, sporting rad gear like keywayed bushes for the high-end Jesel lifters, while the Bryant crank runs 302 mains and Honda big-end journals. Diamond forged pistons and aluminium MGP rods swing 394 cubes, while a Bullet roller cam makes womp noises.

Under the twin 1050 Holley Dominators and towering HRE sheet-aluminium intake, the exotic Mopar W8 aluminium heads feature canted 2.2-inch intake and 1.5-inch exhaust valves, with PSI springs and Manton pushrods. Rob made the custom exhaust, including the extractors, and customised the aluminium oil pan to work with the external oil pump while still fitting in the engine bay. He also had to modify the Valiant K-frame and fit a steering rack out of a UC Torana, as the original steering arm had a territorial dispute with the custom sump.

The Mopar Performance W8 heads are an important part of the package: “They were used on Pro Stock trucks in America before they were replaced with Hemi stuff now,” Rob explains. “A Super Stock racer in the States had these heads on my car. He made 940hp through a single 850cfm carby, and it held a record a few years back for an 8.7 in a 3200lb car.”

How much power does the full-sauce SBM make? Rob doesn’t actually know! “I just go off the Racepak, what the O2 sensor is reading, and I also read the sparkplugs,” he explains. “I’m still finding out what the engine likes, and that’s the fun part.”

Behind the manic little-block is a three-speed Chrysler Proflite auto and 8200rpm, seven-inch converter from A1. However, as he was getting close to buttoning the new combo together, Rob struck an issue with the Valiant’s 2921mm wheelbase.

“The Proflite transmission is about 150mm shorter than a 727, so the hardest part of fitting the new engine was getting a tailshaft,” he says. “Mark Williams wouldn’t make me one as the car is too long, so I got hold of PST in the USA and they made me a carbonfibre single-piece driveshaft. They say it will be fine so long as it doesn’t shake the tyres, but that isn’t a problem in this car.”

While he’s run a PB of 8.70@154mph, Rob knows more fettling will improve his ET and trap speed, though he doesn’t have a firm goal in mind. “I’m still working out what the engine and chassis likes,” he says. “I was turning the motor to 8800rpm when I ran the 8.70, but I’m spinning 9500rpm now and it is still pulling. I’m working on getting it to hook up down the length of the track.”

With the prices of classic Aussie tinware going NASA-powered lately, is Rob tempted to tame this rare car down and enjoy it as a big-hipped cruiser? “I have another more serious car I’m building [see below], so once that is going, I’ll put this car back on the street.”

Whether on the strip or the street, we’ll be cheering to see the big two-door out and about!


ROB has a long history of running Chrysler products down the quarter, with his passion for racing kicking off in the late 1970s.

“The first time I raced was in an AP6 slant-six with triple Webers and four-speed, around 1978, at a street meet at Adelaide International Raceway,” Rob says. “I replaced that car with my red VJ hardtop [pictured right], which I raced and also showed.”

Running in Super Gas and Super Sedan, Rob pushed the big two-door down to an 11.0, but he also went to town tidying it up. The coupe scored a Chrysler By Chrysler front and Charger tails, was shaved of all badges, and Rob even painted it himself.

“I showed and raced it for about 12 years and took it all over Australia,” Rob says. “I went to Summernats 3 and the Nationals in Wagga, and it won Top Coupe at the Victorian Hot Rod Show back in the early days – actually, it won heaps.”

The car was neat and tough enough to score two features in Street Machine (Jan-Feb ’90 and Oct-Nov ’92).

The yellow VJ is no stranger to SM either, having first appeared in the August 2001 issue.

But Rob also has a super-spicy Mopar in his shed that will see him set a whole bunch of new PBs. “I have a 1993 Dodge Daytona full-chassis car, which is an ex-Pro Stock car from the USA,” he says. “The goal is to go Super Stock with a 358ci small-block, as Mopar Performance did all its development with the 358s in the Pro Stock Truck class 10 years ago, before the class was canned. They were doing 7.40-7.30 back then!”


WHEN it comes to Mopar V8s, Chrysler’s Hemi and big-block engines typically take the limelight, but the LA small-block series features some genuine muscle car royalty of its own.

Offered from 1964 to 1992, the ‘Light A’ engine series was offered in 273, 318, 340 and 360ci capacities, with the 1968 340 entering the muscle car wars as Chrysler’s dedicated high-performance small-cube engine.

The 340 was a special engine, packing up to 10.5:1 compression; dual-row timing chain; huge valves; larger exhaust manifolds; dual-plane intake manifold; 850cfm carburettor; forged steel crank; extra strength cast into the block; beefier conrods; better oil pump; aggressive cam; and redesigned heads. It arguably peaked in 1970, with a 290hp-rated Six-Pack engine rocking triple two-barrel carburettors!

The 340 lasted until 1974, when emissions and the OPEC oil crisis killed the vibe for high-horsepower hijinks. Chrysler replaced it with the 360, which itself has a dedicated fanbase who wring plenty of snot out of the 5.9L small-par.


Paint: Acrylic Yellow Blaze
Type: Chrysler R3 340 small-block, stroked to 394ci
Induction: HRE aluminium sheet-metal tunnel ram
Carbs: Two 1050 Holley Dominators
Heads: Mopar Performance W8 aluminium canted-valve
Camshaft: Bullet roller 60mm 
Conrods: MGP aluminium
Pistons: Diamond forged
Crank: Bryant custom
Oil system: Custom wet sump, external oil pump
Fuel pump: MagnaFuel ProStar 500 Series
Cooling: Three-core aluminium radiator, shroud, thermo fan, Meziere water pump
Exhaust: Custom-made system
Ignition: MSD Digital-7 box, coil and belt-drive distributor
Gearbox: Three-speed Proflite auto
Converter: A1 7in, 8200rpm stall
Diff: 9in, Sommer 35-spline axles, 5.3:1 final drive
Front: AFCO springs and shocks, UC Torana steering rack
Rear: AFCO single-adjustable shocks, Hypercoil springs, ladder-bar rear
Brakes: Wilwood discs (f), Ford drums (r)
Master cylinder: Wilwood
Rims: Weld; 15×5 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Firestone (f), Mickey Thompson (r)

Brenton Bassett at Specialised Engine Services; Darren Conroy at Mid Coast Diffs, Fred at Protrans; Ned at Smart Road Auto Wreckers; Luke and Carly; Mark Fleming; Greg Cowie; and especially my wife Sue, son Craig and daughter Renee for all their help