The supercars that got away

IN THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH OF THE 1972 SUPERCAR SCANDAL THAT SAW FORD AND HOLDEN TERMINATE PLANS FOR THE RESPECTIVE PHASE IV GT-HO AND V8 TORANA XU-2, CHRYSLER PROVIDED SOME DEGREE OF PERFORMANCE SALVATION.

Quietly, without much more than a press release and certainly no media drive program, Chrysler unveiled the 770SE 340 E55 Charger – to give its official designation – on to its 1972 Sydney Motor Show stand. A V8 companion to the recently revealed E49 Charger (claimed by Chrysler to be the ‘world’s fastest six-cylinder’ car), this now twopronged attack on the local high-performance class left Ford and Holden looking timid.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Chrysler’s senior executives planned to run a high-performance version of the 340 cubic inch (5.6-litre) V8 at Bathurst in place of the E49. Instead, after the supercar dramas, Chrysler too backed away from official participation in the Great Race, though two privately entered Chargers finished third and fourth behind Peter Brock’s winning Torana XU-1.

Still, Wheels succeeded in directly comparing the two Chargers, despite knowing the E55 was auto-only and the E49 a four-speed manual. The road-test staff added 4252kms to their odos as confirmation of our addiction to wheel time in both. Lower geared, with an additional gear ratio over the predecessor E38, and breathing through three twin-choke Weber carbies, while changing up at 5500rpm, the 225kW E49 became the fastest accelerating Australian production car with a best standing quarter mile (400 metres) run of 14.4sec. In 1972, believe me, these were true supercar times. The 206kW E55, running a conservative 8.5:1 compression ratio (and not the 10.3:1 of the US high-performance 340 versions) took 15.5 seconds for the quarter, faster than a manual XA Falcon GT.

“The E49 is strictly a racing car that can be driven on the road; the 340 an extension of the 770 Charger and directed towards luxury and smoothness with the added acceleration as a bonus,” we wrote. Chassis refinements – especially rear axle location – in the year since Charger arrived (and took out Wheels’ COTY honours) helped for more neutrally biased handling and but the brakes (now power assisted on the E49, as well as the new E55) remained a weak link, fading badly after a couple of hard stops from 130km/h.

Still, we loved them both; especially the E55, which remained a Wheels favourite through the 1970s.

Only a couple of years later did we learn that Chrysler built just 125 E55s and only 149 E49s (versus 316 E38s), so in reality they were instantly collectible. Despite their rarity, however, these magnificent stand-alone Chargers were underrated by Australian enthusiasts for a couple of decades. Today, they are properly appreciated and acknowledged as a high point of a momentarily adventurous Chrysler Australia.

“THESE MAGNIFICENT STAND-ALONE CHARGERS WERE UNDERRATED BY AUSTRALIAN ENTHUSIASTS FOR A COUPLE OF DECADES”

Hey, confusion!

Hard to believe now that Chrysler’s ambitions for the 1971 VH Chrysler range extended to three wheelbases (Charger at 2670mm, Valiant at 2819mm and Regal hardtop and Chrysler by Chrysler at 2920mm) with two sedans, three coupes, a wagon, a ute, and later, a panel van. Then there were the engines: 3.5-litre, 4.0-litre and 4.3-litre variants of the Hemi 6, plus the high-performance versions, along with 5.2-litre and 5.6-litre V8s; and later, a 5.9-litre unit. Plus there was a staggering six trim levels for the Valiant sedan. This level of complexity, unmatched by any Ford or Holden ranges, was quickly reduced: only 480 Chrysler Hardtops were built and the body style was axed for the facelift.

ALSO IN WHEELS, April 1975

Ford shoehorns six-cylinder Falcon engines into the new Cortina 6; the hot new metal to look forward to in 1973; the B in Datsun 180B stands for Better; reports of the death of the sports car have been greatly f exaggerated; Mike McCarthy e explains how to choose the right car; Holden SS road test; all the camp ad test; all the campervans compared; Volvos hot and cold Vd;; VW discovers the wrap-around windscreen; the evolution of the Jaguar XJ.

THE WAY IT WAS

Dark day in Munich

Terrorism strikes the Munich Olympics when eight Arab gunmen take 11 Israeli athletes hostage. In the eventual shootout at a NATO airbase, all 11 are killed, and only three of the terrorists survive.

You’re bugging us

The infamous wiretapping scandal goes down at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. From this point on, every scandal will have ‘gate’ as its suffix.

Tastes like chicken

A Uruguayan charter plane with 45 on-board crashes in the remote Andes mountains. Faced with starvation, necrocanabalism of the dead ensues, until 72 days later, when the mlast 16 survivors are rescued.