Let’s be honest here. A 1965 four door Plymouth Valiant sedan is not very high on the list of ‘Cars Most Likely To Be Hot Rodded’. But Chris Davis has a great reason why he has built his Valiant.
“It was my Grandmother’s,” Chris told me. “We were really close. I realized it would probably be the only thing I’d have of hers.”
Today, 57 years after Chris’ grandmother bought the car brand new, the Valiant is still cruising around North Georgia with a healthy small block, new interior and paint, and very frequently, Chris’ sons behind the wheel.
But before we get to the mods Chris has made to the Plymouth, let’s not skip over the story of his Grandmother’s purchase.
Living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the time, Grandma was driving a nice, albeit somewhat large, vehicle. Being a small woman (“She was 5 feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds,” Chris said) she went looking for a smaller car and the second generation Valiant seemed to fit the bill nicely.
So in 1965 [Warning: the following information could trigger anxiety in some hot rodders] she traded in her low mileage 1957 Chevy Bel Air two door coupe for her new Valiant. To say it was a baseline model would be an understatement. Chris told me it had manual steering, manual brakes, no heater, no carpet, and no radio.
But Grandma loved it. She drove it everywhere she went for about twenty years, including when she moved up to Georgia in 1968. Chris bought it from her in 1984 when she had to stop driving. He’s been hot rodding it ever since.
The hot rodding did get off to a slow start, however, and it had nothing to do with the Valiant. Chris and his partner started Swim Atlanta in 1977. If you’ve ever been in the Atlanta metro area – and especially if your child was on a swim team like mine was – you know about Swim Atlanta. Their seven indoor swimming facilities in the metro area are top notch.
Chris told me that when he was trying to build up the business, “There were some really lean years back then. I couldn’t do anything to the car.” But once things got going for Swim Atlanta, things got going for Chris’ hot rodding as well.
The Valiant originally came with a 273 cubic inch small block V8, but that wasn’t going to be enough for Chris. You see, the Valiant isn’t Chris’ only car. He’s also got [Warning: the following information could trigger jealousy in some hot rodders] a 1969 Firebird convertible, a 1967 Dodge Coronet RT, a 1959 Corvette, and a 1978 Dodge Lil Red Express pick up in his garage. So the Valiant needed a little more under the hood than that factory 273.
The first upgrade was to a Chrysler 360 that went in several years ago. It was a great combination. As Chris described, “It had a little pop to it.” He drove it so much he flat wore out the engine.
So it was replaced with another 360 stroker crate motor. It initially had a four barrel on it, but after a small engine fire (fortunately there was no significant damage) the carb was replaced with a custom fuel injection unit built by Brad Brand at Atlanta Chassis Dyno.
As you might expect, the current 360 has even more pop to it. Chris says, “It’ll scream pretty good. It’s kind of fun when somebody comes up on me and I juice it a little bit. Their eyes get pretty wide.”
The motor is backed by a Chrysler three-speed automatic and the stock solid axle rear end. That automatic is still the Valiant’s original transmission, which hadn’t given Chris any problems. Still, he had it rebuilt about a year ago as a preventative measure at Whitley’s Transmissions in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Chris has added power steering and front disc brakes, but there’s not enough room under the hood for a power brake booster. With the manual brakes Chris says, “you have to leave yourself a little bit of room. I’m always pretty cautious.”
Despite living its first few years in Florida, the Valiant has never had any rust. But Chris has had it repainted. It was yellow from the factory – “actually kind of an ugly yellow,” Chris said – but now sports a gorgeous white pearl paint. The white has been on for several years and still looks great.
The 14” aluminum slot mag wheels and Coker redline tires are the only thing that give away the Valiant’s sleeper appearance. (I was surprised that the Valiant originally came with 13” wheels from Plymouth.) Chris has added air shocks to the rear suspension to bring up the back end which had started to sag. Other than the air shocks, both the front and rear suspension are factory stock.
Chris’s grandmother might not recognize her interior. It’s come a long way from the no frills passenger compartment she purchased. Chris has recovered the seats in tan tweed, and installed seat belts, carpet, a radio, and a heater. The glass is all original, and now operates via the power windows he’s installed.
The only air conditioning is the famous “470” AC unit. That’s 4 windows down and 70 miles per hour. Chris told me his Valiant has the ventilation boxes that many of the early A-body cars had. I had never heard of them before. They are just doors near the floor of the driver and passenger that open up to let fresh air in. Chris says they work really well. “It blows air all over you when you’re driving.”
It’s great that Chris wanted to keep the Valiant in his family as a tie back to his grandmother. It’s even greater that Chris’ two sons are also Valiant fans. “My kids learned to drive on it,” Chris told me. “They drove it all the way through high school. It was cool because it was so different. They love that car, and one of them is going to end up with it eventually.”
Eventually, but not right now. Chris loves driving the Plymouth. “I took many a trip in that thing,” he told me. “Driving 85 mph with the old engine, me and a buddy. That thing used to hum.” And Chris still drives the Valiant several times a week. “It’s super fun,” he said. “I don’t want a trailer queen.”
Cars obviously play an important role in the Davis family, and that includes Chris’ wife Susan. She was driving an MG when she and Chris met in 1977. When their boys were born, the MG had to give way for a more family-oriented vehicle. So 10 years ago, Chris found an MG and had it rebuilt for Susan to drive.
It may be surprising that with a fleet that includes a Firebird, Coronet RT, Corvette, Lil Red Express, and an MG, the Davis family’s favorite vehicle might be their 1965 four door Plymouth Valiant sedan.
But maybe it’s not so surprising when you remember that [Warning: the following information could trigger agreement in most hot rodders] hot rodding is almost always as much about family as it is about horsepower.
Photos courtesy of Chris Davis
Click here to see the photos of Chris’ Valiant