Shane O’Halloran’s 360-cube VH Valiant hardtop

Released as a luxo-barge, the VH hardtop makes a great muscle car. If you can find one

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Photographers: Guy Bowden

Most Aussies over the age of 30 know what a Valiant Charger is — the cool Chrysler coupe was the stuff of legends. Designed and built for a minimal budget, the sharply styled two-door captured the imagination of the buying public and sold like hot cakes for the first few years of production.

First published in the August 2007 issue of Street Machine

But before the Charger hit the showrooms, and the clever “Hey Charger” marketing campaign played on the airwaves, Chrysler Australia already had a two-door hardtop on the market. With long, swoopy panels and a boot the size of Queensland, the huge hardtop was too big for the Australian marketplace, which at the time was embracing the mid-sized car with a passion. As a result, these rare VH hardtops now raise eyebrows — and questions — whenever they appear.

“Everyone asks if it’s American,” says South Australian Shane O’Halloran. You might remember one of Shane’s other Vals, which we featured back in the August ’06 issue of Street Machine. With a blown Six-Pack Charger in the shed, you might wonder why Shane would even bother building one of the less popular hardtops.

“Well, in actual fact, I like the hardtop better than the Charger,” he admits. “It looks more like a muscle car, and it’s got a nice aerodynamic flow to it.”

Indeed, he likes the late-model hardtops (as opposed to the earlier VF and VG hardtops) so much that he’s got 14 of the suckers stashed around the place — two Chrysler by Chryslers, four VHs and eight VJs.

Shane found the VH through the grapevine, meeting a guy whose brother-in-law had two hardtops for sale, this VH and a rougher VJ. “I regret not buying both of them at the time,” Shane says. Unfortunately, we can’t buy everything we want.

Buying the VH was a no-brainer — it was a pretty rare combination, painted in factory Mercury Silver, packing a 318 small-block under the bonnet, and never fitted with a vinyl roof. Classic car owners will tell you that those things are moisture traps, and eventually they all cause rust.

Without the vinyl, the hardtop was relatively rust-free, with only minor patches near the rear wheelarches and in the rear quarters — all too easy for a man of Shane’s skills, whose business, Charger Spares, specialises in restoring classic Chryslers.

“The whole job took around 12 months, from start to finish,” Shane says.

With the hardtop in the workshop, Shane got to work stripping the old girl back to bare metal. Being a hands-on kind of guy, he did all his own bodywork, which is a great way of making sure the job’s done right. After cutting the rust out and giving the shell a coat of primer, he shipped it off to the guys at Walker Chassis for the tubs and spring relocation. Those massive rear quarters are just begging for big rubber, and with the tubs stretched all the way out to the chassis rails, there’s no trouble fitting 15.5in-wide Mickey Thompsons up the back. Sitting between the 10in-wide rear Center Lines, there’s a narrowed nine-inch with CL Valiant drums fitted to either end.

Back in Shane’s workshop, the big hardtop copped a spray in original Mercury Silver – easy to repair acrylic for the external panels, and hard-wearing glossy enamel for the engine bay, door jambs and hard-to-reach places.

The black bumblebee stripe was inspired by the ’68 Dodge Charger – Shane’s got one of those, too. “It breaks up the arse end of the car. It’s got such a long quarter panel that it can carry it off,” he says.
Up front he added some American-influenced styling cues, with non-functional bonnet scoops like some of the original muscle cars. But that doesn’t mean there’s non-functional muscle beneath the hood, because the little 318 is long gone, and a stout 360 pumps out all the power Shane needs.

So, why not a big-block?

“Well, I suppose it was really a matter of finances,” he says. “Plus there is a fair bit more modification involved, and I just wanted to get this thing on the road without worrying about it passing inspection.”
Fitting a big-block between the chassis rails takes some engineering, while the 360-cube small-block is a bolt-in deal and doesn’t need registry approval — it’s a no-brainer.

The Chrysler 360 has a reputation for toughness, and with some additional tweaks by Frank Bergamin, plus 200hp of nitrous oxide, it’s got the goods.

Backing up the tough donk is a toughened 727 Torqueflite, converted to full manual operation by retired Chrysler guru Jeff During, who used to get his kicks by screaming down the quarter in various Chrysler-powered dragsters. Shane also plans to run some numbers one day, with aims of eventually hitting low 11s or even 10s in the high-velocity Val, once the there’s a track to race on in South Oz. That’s not hanging about; not bad at all for a heavy beast running on pump gas.

Surprisingly, as neat as the old girl is, she doesn’t just sit in the shed looking pretty. “I use it as a daily driver at the moment. I don’t believe in cars sitting there doing nothing, and I don’t believe in trailer queens,” says Shane.

SHANE O’HALLORAN
1971 VALIANT VH HARDTOP

Colour:Mercury Silver
GRUNT
Engine:Chrysler 360
Carb:Holley 750 DP
Manifold:Edelbrock single-plane
Nitrous:NOS Cheater plate system, 200hp shot
Heads:Chrysler ‘J’ cast iron
Pistons:Probe, dished & forged
Crank:Stock cast iron
Rods:Stock, polished and shot-peened
Cam:Mopar Performance
Ignition:Crane Hi6
Exhaust:Pacemaker headers, 2.5in X-pipe, 3in system, stainless mufflers
SHIFT
Transmission:727 Torqueflite, full manual
Converter:Dominator 2800rpm
Diff:Nine-inch, shortened, 31-spline axles, 4.11 gears
BENEATH
Brakes:Stock 11in (f), 10in CL drums (r)
Springs:Stock (f), relocated five-leaf (r)
Shocks:Gabriel (f&r)
Bushes:Nolathane
ROLLING
Rims:Center Line Autodrag satin, 15×7 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber:Jetzon, 235/60 (f), Mickey Thompson 15×29 (r)

THANKS
Charger Spares; Frank and Robert Bergamin; Lance Walker at Walker Chassis; Central Diffs; Jeff During and Laz Ioannidis, Laz Reproduction Interiors.

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