REFINED Classic

MIXING TASTEFUL SURGERY WITH CURVES IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES AND A MODERN MOPAR HEART, THIS 43-YEAR-OLD VJ HARDTOP TURNS MORE HEADS THAN HOTTIES HALF ITS AGE

STORY SIMON MAJOR PHOTOS NATHAN JACOBS

I WANTED A CAR THAT WAS CLASSIC IN THE LOOKS DEPARTMENT BUT REFINED IN THE RUNNING GEAR, TRIM, SUSPENSION AND BRAKES

SOUTH Australia’s George Poulson owns the beautiful VJ Valiant two-door you see here, which is somewhat ironic, as he reckons he was never a fan of Val hardtops. “I found them big, ugly and disproportionate, but now I’m a changed man!” he laughs. “I’ve owned Chargers through the years, including a 440-powered VK that ran 10s in the late 90s, and was actually on the hunt for another. But they were all overpriced and rusty, so I decided to broaden my horizons and found this.”

That was back in 2007, and George could see the potential in Chrysler’s often-forgotten, overweight brother to the stumpy Charger. With very little rust and a low asking price, this particular example was a win-win for George, and it wasn’t long before he hatched a plan.

“I wanted a car that was both new- and old-school – classic in the looks department but refined in the running gear, trim, suspension and brakes. I’d become a fan of the Gen III Hemis and was impressed by their cylinder head design. Back in my drag racing days I’d learnt the importance of flow characteristics and port shape, so figured it’d be a great update over the traditional Chrysler choices. I wanted to keep loyalty to the brand as well.”

That’s a refreshing statement in our LS-obsessed world, but you have to remember that George started this build nearly a decade ago, so was at the pioneering end of this style of conversion.

He sourced the 6.1-litre SRT donk and five-speed Mercedesbased automatic transmission out of the States; they’d started life fitted to a 2006 Dodge Charger. George and long-time mate Bruce Morphett got busy slotting the engine nicely within the standard Valiant bay, centralising it for good measure. The K-frame required only minor modifications in order to run George’s preferred Chrysler 300 wrap-style engine mounts (as opposed to the standard sandwich design). A Milodon A-body-conversion sump from the US slotted straight in but had no provision for a dipstick, so was altered to suit.

George and Bruce then tackled the four-into-one pipes, ducking and weaving the 17/8-inch primaries around the steering gear and managing to squeeze all lengths above the VC Commodore steering rack and K-frame. They converge at 3.5-inch collectors that taper back to a twin 2.5-inch stainless system running Magnaflow mufflers.

The transmission tunnel was opened up to house the extra gears (and therefore the larger case) of the NAG1 auto, the bellhousing of which was altered to re-mount the starter on the left side for necessary clearance. “We got the engine fired up no

problem but the auto was a different story – it just wouldn’t shift gears,” George says. “Grant from Dynotronics was the saviour here, tricking the transmission into thinking it was using a wheelspeed sensor when in fact we mounted a sensor ring to the output shaft of the auto. It took a lot of head-scratching and an engineer to spec and fabricate the correct-size sensor ring, but it was worth the stress; the transmission works flawlessly.”

With 425hp on tap in stock form – the less restrictive pipes and exhaust are sure to have bumped up that figure – a 3000 stall and the 3.59:1 first gear, this SRT8 combo has plenty of punch to get the 1600kg hardtop off the line. Even so, George has plans to stroke an alloy-based 6.1 block to 440 cubes and tickle the heads for a little more go. “This engine was more of a test-bed to help fine-tune the conversion, but the drag racer in you always wants more,” he laughs. “The rest of the driveline was prepped with that in mind.”

A mega-sized 10.5-inch Dana 70 diff wasn’t part of the original plan, but George had already spent coin on shortening and custom axles before realising it wasn’t the Dana 60 he’d supposedly bought. A Truetrac centre and 4.1 gears round out this third member, which with the overdrive of the transmission sees the hefty Val pulling a casual 2350rpm at 100km/h.

Chassis connectors and wheel tubs were added for good measure, the latter providing ample room for the one-off rolling stock. George chose the South Aussie mainstay of Auto Drags – dubbed ‘Adelaide wheels’ by those outside Croweater borders – but with a twist; he had the 17x7 and 17x10 rims built in satin finish and machined to run early centre caps, a request that Center Line probably isn’t keen to repeat due to the added work involved. Pirelli 225/55s and M&H Racemaster 325/45 hoops add just enough sidewall to satisfy George’s ‘refined old-school’ build strategy.

Serviceability won out over brand allegiance when it came to the braking system, with George treating the Val to Ford Territory discs and calipers up front and ED Falcon discs at the rear.

George’s dad Steve was a panel beater and spray painter back in the day, so George grew up in and around panel shops, picking up plenty of skills along the way. The hardtop’s body was in pretty good nick when George bought it, but it did sport one bad rear quarter, which he smartly knocked into shape. He tackled all of the remaining panel repairs before laying down his take on the factory Chrysler True Blue paint, tickled to add a modern edge to this 70s hue. A VK Valiant front end treatment and tail-lamps

I WAS IMPRESSED BY THE HEAD DESIGN OF GEN III HEMIS AND FIGURED IT WOULD BE A GREAT UPDATE OVER THE TRADITIONAL CHRYSLER CHOICES

were added for an individual touch, with all remaining chrome restored to better than new.

VY Monaro buckets were re-bolstered to match the comfort found at the wheel of George’s Chrysler 300, but the blending of old and new continues with the front and rear seats sporting the 770 pattern of the R/T Chargers. The seats and door trims were stitched in white garment leather by Allan Smith Vehicle Trimming, with contrasting black chosen for the carpet, dash, console and timeless Chrysler three-spoke sports steering wheel. An SRT shifter blends perfectly into its new surroundings, while an electronic SRT accelerator pedal assembly is a must-have to activate the fly-by-wire throttlebody assembly.

A Top Five Australian berth and runner-up for Best VH/VJ Hardtop at Chryslers On The Murray 2016 were the icing on the cake for George after the six-year build, but he’s not ready to hang up the tools just yet.

“The 440 stroker is next on the cards, and I’d like to fit a set of 12-inch rims with 390 tyres to match,” he says. “I’ll be looking for low 11s in full street trim; then I’ll move onto something new, probably a Valiant ute or hot rod.

“In the meantime I’m just enjoying cruising it; it runs, drives and handles like a new car and the leather interior is just beautiful. Mixing classic looks with new-school technology is truly the best way to have your cake and eat it too.” s

WITH 425HP ON TAP IN STOCK FORM, THIS SRT8 COMBO HAS PLENTY OF PUNCH TO GET THE 1600KG HARDTOP OFF THE LINE

GEORGE POULSON 1973 VJ VALIANT HARDTOP

Colour: Chrysler True Blue

DONK

Make: Chrysler Gen III Hemi 6.1L

Block: Cast-iron Crank: Factory-stroke Camshaft: SRT Heads: SRT alloy Intake: Chrysler electronic throttlebody Cooling: AU Falcon thermo fans, CM Valiant V8 radiator Exhaust: Custom 1.75in primary headers, stainless twin 2.5in system

SHIFT

Transmission: Mercedes NAG1 five-speed auto Converter: 3000 stall Tailshaft: Shortened Chrysler SRT8 with centre bearing Diff: Dana 70, full-floating hubs, 35-spline axles, 4.1 gears, Truetrac centre

BENEATH

Front: Factory torsion bar Rear: Reset leaf springs Shocks: Competition Engineering adjustable (f), Monroe GT-Gas (r) Brakes: Ford Territory discs and calipers (f), ED Falcon discs and calipers (r); CM Valiant master cylinder and booster

ROLLING STOCK

Rims: Center Line Auto Drag; 17x7 (f), 17x10 (r) Tyres: Pirelli 225/55 (f), M&H Racemaster 325/45 (r)