The ’68 Valiant is in relatively great shape with a few minor dents and minimal rust. We think we can do a weekend makeover on it with a paintless dent remover guy, some effective car care products, touch-up paint, and some 15-inch steelies with poverty caps. For now, the slant-six can’t be beat for economy and durability. Down the road? A bucks-down, big-cube, short-deck, big-block.
As the proud new owner of a mint-looking slant-six ’68 Plymouth Valiant, I kinda feel like I bagged a big game animal on safari. After crawling through Craigslist for months sifting through thousands of cars and looking seriously at maybe a dozen, I got pretty good at sorting through overpriced junk. Let’s be honest—all the easy pickings disappeared decades ago. If you want a solid project now, expect to do some serious legwork.
My car search started ironically after the house got robbed last August. That’s when the gears in my head started turning and I decided to use part of the insurance money to fund a new project. It wasn’t much though; $2K doesn’t go far when it comes to buying a serviceable project car. Nevertheless, I was determined to turn this setback into a positive.
A cursory search online dashed any hopes of a ’69 Camaro or a ’64 GTO. The dragnet would need to be wide, but most importantly, I’d need to have an open mind. The search parameters would be a two-door coupe (hardtop preferred, but a post car would do), built prior to 1976 (to ditch the smog test), in running condition, and with as little rust as possible (a priority our Nova project beat into my skull). I could maybe throw in a few more C-notes to open up the options, but $2,500 would be tops.
A funny thing happens when you leave your options open. You get a ton of choices, and not all of them what you expect. Right off the bat, a ’68 Valiant hit the radar at $2,800. I always loved those cars, and some have been turned into sweet projects. They’re all rugged post cars, and the ’68 has a nose that’s a lot like a Barracuda, another fave of mine. It was the first car I looked at, so I passed, not having any point of reference.
The next was a ’68 Ford Galaxie 500 up for $2K. Mostly rust free with a mint interior, a 390, working cruise control, and A/C, the seller had packed a bunch of junk in the trunk, then threw away the trunk key. There was also suspicious rot in the rear window channels from an old vinyl top that was torn off. I passed on this one.
Then jackpot! A ’63 Ford Falcon Futura Sport coupe hit the screen, asking $3K. These are way cool because they were Mustangs before Mustangs were Mustangs. And they’re super affordable by Mustang standards. The Futura even had a swoopy fastback roofline, like a mini Galaxie of the same year, and everything ever made for a Mustang fits on it. If you ever get a chance to look at a nice Futura Sport coupe, do it. You won’t be disappointed. Unfortunately, this guy sold it before I could make the trek.
The search then uncovered a ’73 Road Runner. With sexy rear flanks like the earlier ’71-72, but with slab-sided fenders and an egg-crate grille, I was lukewarm on it, but the value on this particular B-Body is still good, and they can be made into pretty cool cars. This one had flat black paint and looked good in pix, but in person it had very bad cancer all over. The asking price was also high at $4K. I walked.
Then I got hooked on a local ’68 Dodge Dart GT. It wasn’t running, but it was all there. Dart GTs had all the trim upgrades like bucket seats, console, and fancy exterior brightwork. The pillarless hardtop roof line and laid-back C-pillar also give it a classic muscle car look. As a Mopar A-Body, they’re lightweight and can take just about any V-8 Chrysler ever built. I actually looked at it twice—once alone, then again, thankfully, with an experienced A-Body guy. My friend Rick Guisto discovered all kinds of hidden A-Body rust I missed—so I threw out a lowball $1,500 offer that was rejected.
Fed up with Mopar monkey business, I visited a ’64 Ford Fairlane 500 Sports coupe. These sexy cars have a hardtop roofline with a swept-back C-pillar, lots of gorgeous trim, a luxo interior with buckets and a console, plus the Fairlane has a rich heritage in NHRA class racing. The price was right, but it was again flat black, like the Road Runner, and like another rusted-out ’72 Torino I’d just looked at. I was coming to the opinion that flat black primer was a sign of covered-up sins, and this one had the same telltale signs of botched bodywork, plus a shredded interior. This one felt wrong, so I left with cash in pocket.
Remembering the first ’68 Valiant, I circled back and found it was still for sale. Armed with new A-Body knowledge from Rick, I checked the known rust areas. Almost everything came up clean—for a change, it was nicer than I thought. I offered $2,500, and it was mine. Interestingly, the ’67-69 Valiant is mostly overlooked by hot rodders, yet everything that fits a Dart, Barracuda, or Duster fits it too. They’ve always been unassuming granny cars, and largely escaped the inhumane abuse heaped upon its A-Body siblings. Kids never bought ’em new and never picked ’em up as hot rod fodder. All that’s about to change, as this overgrown kid is getting ready to build the ultimate granny sleeper!