1978 Chrysler Valiant Drifter

The Chrysler Valiant panel van was launched in Australia in April 1977. Although no-one knew it at the time, this would be the last new Valiant model produced by Chrysler in Australia.

By the time the CL Valiant rolled around, the panel van market was booming. Between 1971 and 1976 sales of panel vans had doubled, due mainly to lower sales tax on these vehicles which were classified as commercials. When the Valiant panel van arrived on the scene, this market section accounted for 18.5 per cent of total sales.

Like the Valiant sedan, a number of engine and transmission combinations were available, but the 4.0-litre low-compression 245 Hemi engine was standard, coupled with a three-speed manual column-shift.

The development of the Valiant panel van was a little unusual. Chrysler engineers invited panel van enthusiasts from around the country to come to the company’s headquarters in Adelaide and offer their own ideas. What they came up with was a vehicle that included electronic ignition, dual headlights (like the sedans), power-assisted 280mm front disc brakes, dual rate rear springs and a front anti-roll bar. The front end of the Drifter was essentially the same as the panel van and the Chrysler Valiant sedan, but instead of adopting the straight slat-type grille, the Drifter used the same egg carton grille found on the Charger CL.

The Drifter had specially styled wheels, radial tyres and coloured bumper bars that matched the main colour of the van. Above the windscreen a special Drifter decal stood out. The Drifter was designed to compete strongly with the Holden Sandman and the Ford Surferoo panel vans and, being aimed primarily at the youth market, came as both a Drifter pack or a sports pack, offering the buyer a range of options over and above those found on the standard commercial van. For the Drifter pack the buyer got a triple set of wild stripes in very bright colours that ran from the front of the van through to the rear. This was coupled with black paint-outs. The van came in three colour treatments _ Alpine White, Orange and Lemon Twist.

Buyers who opted for the Drifter pack also got a three-spoke sports steering wheel and extra instrumentation but it suffered from the same lack of interior space as the standard panel van. The load tray was carried well forward which placed the driver’s seat very close to the steering wheel.

Like the base model Valiant panel van the Drifter featured a two-piece tail-gate. The upper gate was supported by gas filled struts and because the van was originally designed as a commercial vehicle, access to the rear was easy. The load space for the panel van was enormous, despite the obvious intrusion of the wheel arches. Although carpet was installed in the back of the van to reduce the echoing usually associated with an empty van, as it was not fixed to the floor it tended to move whenever loads were slid into the rear.

Chrysler made much of the panel van’s versatility and marketed it as a lifestyle vehicle. The fact that it was easy to convert into a camper and had sufficient room to sleep in without a tent on the rear was strongly promoted – the lack of windows on the sides of the van being claimed as an added privacy feature.

About Alistair Kennedy

Alistair Kennedy is Automotive News Service and Marque Publishing's business manager and the company's jack-of-all-trades. An accountant by profession, he designs the Marque range of motoring book titles, operates the company's motoring bookshop on the NSW Central Coast and the associated web site, as well as its huge digital and hard copy database. Whenever we can escape from the office he does so to cover new vehicle releases and contributes news stories. Alistair's other interests include cricket and family history on which he has written three books.
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