"One day while at the local Mopar dealership I walked past the service aisle," says Todd Johnson. "On the lift, I saw a unique-looking car receiving minor repairs. I really didn't know what it was. I only knew it was a maroon convertible. After looking at it from every angle, there was still nothing I recognized. On the front fender it said Signet V200. The Plymouth emblem on the hood was the only sign that it was a Mopar."
Todd, a sucker for convertibles, knew he had to have the car. He left his phone number with the guy at the counter, asking him to pass it along to the car's owner. The lady who owned the car called him the next day with news that she was not quite ready to sell the car, but she would keep his number. Three months later, Todd, of Memphis, Tennessee, received the phone call, and he and his dad went to look at the car.
The '64 Valiant V200 Signet Convertible he acquired was all original and came with an interesting set of options as well. The car had been built with a 273 V8--the first year the 273 was an available option--and a push-button automatic transmission. The Valiant boasted such luxury features as power steering, a Sure-Grip rearend, an electric convertible top, and dealer-installed air conditioning. When Todd bought the car, it was in great shape and everything worked, even the windshield washer. For almost 10 years, the Valiant was driven on sunny days and was, according to Todd, "very enjoyable." But as age began to take its toll on the paint, the car was driven less and less.
When it was time to give the Valiant a new covering of shiny stuff, Todd only planned to get the car repainted. Yet as the project went on, Todd's plans changed. He decided to update the little Valiant with a late-model drivetrain. After just beginning what he thought would be a long search for a wrecked late-model truck with a V8 engine, within a couple of days the donor was located. The location of the donor truck? The very same dealership where he first saw the Valiant years earlier. Apparently, while an employee of the dealership was making a part delivery one day, there was a mishap that buckled the front-end sheetmetal. The truck was a '94 Ram with the 5.2 Magnum and a 518 overdrive transmission. It had over 249,000 miles on it, and according to Todd, it still ran like a top.
With the help of friend Todd Locke, he test-fitted the Magnum motor and transmission in the car with the transmission tunnel removed. They took a lot of measurements, a lot of pictures, and then moved on to the next phase. In order to get it all to fit, Todd fabricated a new torsion bar crossmember, transmission tunnel, and installed frame connectors. After that was done, they put the car on the rotisserie so the underside could be stripped. The underside was sandblasted, primed, and painted to match the color to be applied to the top of the car at Personal Touch Bodyworks in Millington, Tennessee, under the watchful eye of Jerry Palmer.
Since the engine had over 249,000 miles on it, it was rebuilt by Steve Larkin at ProFlow Engineering in Memphis. It was given a .020-inch overbore, and Keith Black pistons filled the holes. Under the pistons are the stock crank and rods that were given a balancing. The heads were massaged, and a Magnum R/T hydraulic roller camshaft was installed. Todd decided to run a Mopar Performance M1 intake with the stock MPI fuel injection. He modified a set of 340 hp manifolds and connected them to a 3-inch single exhaust. Before the final coat of paint was applied, the engine and transmission were installed. With the engine in place and the outside of the body receiving numerous block-sanding sessions, Ray Escue of Personal Touch Bodyworks applied the final coat of Magnetic Red Metallic paint.
The car finally made it back home in December 2000. But since Todd and his wife were the proud parents of a new baby, the car spent some time sitting idle in the garage. Finally, a couple of years later, Todd decided it was time to finish the car. He and his dad worked hard to get the car completed for the Hot Rod Power Tour in 2003. The wiring was the most challenging part of the swap. He used the fuse box, the power distribution box, powertrain control module, and the engine wiring from the truck. The only wiring used from the Valiant was for the ignition switch, the headlight switch, the convertible top switch, and the steering column wiring.
Todd tells us that using the dash from the truck was quite challenging too, because the opening in the original Valiant dash had to be welded up, and he had to have some aluminum trim panels custom-made by friend Dennis Russell. Once the dash was finished, the interior was the next project. He used the original seat frames covered with new foam from Legendary Auto Interiors. Furthermore, he and his dad designed and covered the door panels, while Ernie Drake of Pleasant View Auto Upholstery, also in Memphis, modified the foam and stitched up the seats in rich Corinthian leather. OK, it may not be Corinthian, but it is definitely leather. Before the seats were placed in the car, new black carpeting from ACC was installed. The convertible top was made and installed by Mike Benfield at Don's Auto Upholstery in Memphis. Rodney Teeters at Memphis Plating Works refurbished all the brightwork, including the pot metal.
Since the factory 13-inch wheels and hubcaps wouldn't look right on the Valiant, a set of 17-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust II wheels were wrapped with Toyo Proxis tires measuring 215/45/17 in front and 245/45/17 in the back.
The Power Tour was slated to kick off in Nashville on Friday, May 30. Todd and his dad finished working on the car around noon on Thursday, May 29. With only 180 miles on the car--wracked up while going to the upholstery shop for the top installation--the father and son duo headed out to Nashville to cruise the Power Tour. The weather was great, and there were no problems with the car except a little rear-end noise. According to Todd, they got over 23 mpg on the trip.
Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?