If there's one vehicle platform in all of Chrysler's history that combines the best examples of engineering, styling, quality, performance, and bang-for-the buck, it's the A-Body. That's why you still see a lot of A-Body Dodges and Plymouths over three decades after the last one rolled off the St. Louis assembly plant.
Plymouth's sales success with the Duster body meant a Dodge version wasn't long in coming.
Here, we're going to take a quick look at the history of one of the best vehicle platforms ever done by Mother Mopar.
Chrysler started development of its all-new compact in May 1957-code-named Project A-901-amid security so tight that a lot of Chrysler folks back then thought it was another top secret project for the military. During their initial research, Mopar engineers actually studied the rear-engine layout used by VW and the small-car-building techniques that France's SIMCA used. (Chrysler would later buy SIMCA.) Also during that time, word leaked of GM's rollover problems with the prototype Corvair, which led Chrysler to get far away from a rear-engine/rear-drive configuration and focus again on a front-engine/rear-drive one that would be anything but conventional.
Before A-901 got the green light for production, nearly two dozen prototypes and 57 experimental engines were built. Between them, 750 million test miles were logged. Chrysler engineers also used another tool-the highest-tech one around-the computer. Mathematically, the new small-car's structural components were designed and tested with an eye to reducing noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) from levels found not only in small cars of the time, but also found in standard-size and luxury cars.
The first Valiant was sold as its own brand at Dodge De Soto and Chrysler dealers in 1960.
Virgil Exner's stylists were busy designing a four-door sedan and four-door wagon. He rejected the idea of making it a shrunken Plymouth, the way Ford was doing with its coming-for-'60 compact. His goal was a car that was small on the outside, with plenty of room inside for passengers and luggage, and with a look all its own. The result was a long-hooded, sloping-short-decked sedan that reflected the themes seen in Exner's Ghia-built "idea cars" of the '50s.
Styling had a hand in the new car's engine design; the all-new, overhead-valve, inline six was leaned 30 degrees to the car's right to lower the hood line. Thus, the "Slant Six" was born. It would also carry Chrysler's first-ever alternator, which allowed the electrical system to charge the battery any time the engine ran, especially at idle. And a new gear-reduction starter was developed; its characteristic high-pitched sound-nicknamed the Highland Park Hummingbird--would become a Mopar trademark when it was made standard in all Chrysler cars in 1962. Another innovation that debuted on the Valiant before it went company wide: multi-step dip-and-spray primer/rust preventive coatings that went on before paint.
The A-Body got its first major restyling in 1963. Exner's peaked fenders were replaced wit
Originally, Chrysler planned to use the name Falcon, taken from an Exner-styled/Ghia-built two-seater that appeared in 1955. Unfortunately, Ford had registered that name after Mopar's Idea Car finished its show run, so Ma Mopar came up with another name-Valiant-that was decided on after a survey of over 2,000 car owners in 15 American cities was conducted.
The result was a small car that was very well received, not only by the motoring press, who praised its room, quietness, handling, and performance, but also by the buying public.
In 1963, the A-Body got its first major re-style that gave the A-Body a slab-sided look, thanks to Chrysler styling boss, Elwood Engel. This was his first major design project since he succeeded Virgil Exner in 1961. The Dodge version was renamed the Dart, and the Lancer name was retired until the '80s. A convertible body style was added that year, and the aluminum Slant Six block option was offered for the last time. The LA series V-8, in 273-inch form, joined the option list on January 1, 1964. The A-833 four-speed also joined the list, with a Hurst shifter. The Barracuda sport-fastback version of Valiant joined the Plymouth lineup on April 1, nearly three weeks before Ford's Mustang went on sale.