Scott Kelly has built the hardtop muscle car that Valiant never did - but should have
This article on Scott's Valiant was originally published in the January 2018 issue of Street Machine
ONE of the things I find most amusing about the whole muscle car scene is how some owners always find a way to make their car ‘one of one’. You know how it goes – this colour paint with that colour trim; those wheels; painted on a Wednesday by a left-handed genius with an upside-down spray gun. Well, Scott Kelly has gone one better and built himself a ‘one of zero’ Aussie muscle car classic. Huh?
A VH Regal 770 donated the front sheet metal and grille with its sports driving lights. It took a lot of masking tape to convert it into a red-and-black R/T look
Yep, for some reason, Chrysler Australia Limited (CAL) never built a hot version of the two-door hardtop Valiants in the VH-VJ model series. Most likely it’s because they didn’t want to take the focus – and perhaps sales – away from the locally developed R/T Chargers. Instead, they put the 265 Hemi and go-fast stripes on the four-door Pacers. But what if CAL took a leaf out of the US designers’ handbook and built a properly hot two-door version of a Pacer? They almost got there with the E55 Charger, but that got watered down into more of a luxo-cruiser than an all-out race machine.
Well, wonder no more. Scott has been a Mopar tragic since 1979, when his dad rocked up with a ’72 Charger for his mum to drive, and by the time he was old enough to get behind the wheel, there was a VJ Regal in the driveway.
Just looking at the car, you have to wonder why they didn’t build them like this. Okay, maybe they wouldn’t have had 15x7 and 15x8 rims with 235/60 and 275/60 rubber, but that would have been a popular ‘day two’ addition
“I hated that thing,” Scott remembers. “It was Sherwood Green – the worst colour in my opinion. But there was a guy getting around the northern beach suburbs of Perth who had this beautiful metallic blue hardtop with an all-white interior and five-spoke Dragways. About three or four years ago I met the guy that built it, James Long. He does a bit of restoration work on dash fascia panels, and the one in my car came from him. I was describing the car that got me into hardtop Valiants and he said: ‘Yeah, that was mine!’” Yep, being in Perth, it’s more like two degrees of separation and everyone knows everyone!
It’s common knowledge that the Ford and GM-H muscle cars were always more highly valued than the Chrysler offerings, but the latter were still just out of reach for a young bloke on a sales rep’s wages, so while Scott has always lusted after one of the Sports package cars, there was never one in the garage. “When I had two grand, an R/T might have been four; when I had four or five grand they were eight or 10,” he explains.
“My first car was a VG hardtop: one owner, 245 two-barrel Hemi, BorgWarner 35 column-shift auto, pale green, black vinyl roof and brown interior. Before too long I had removed all the badges and the vinyl roof and given it a respray. Chrome five-slotters and dome centres from Kmart with 235/60 Bridgestones. I picked up an old VE VIP wreck and rebuilt the 273 with a four-barrel and a 904 Torqueflite. I swapped out the 245 and BW and drove the wheels off that old hardtop for about eight or nine years until I sold it to finance a marriage and a mortgage – the usual story.”
For a long time Scott admits he was a bit of a ‘gunna’; it got so bad that his wife actually told him to do something about it. “I was just a spectator for a long time, didn’t have a car I could race at the drags or anything, so I spent all my time watching flash cars going around,” he says. “I had these bodies lying around my place but never did anything with them. Then my wife said: ‘You’re never going to get around to doing anything with them, just go out and buy one!’ So I did.
“I got the car out of Mudgee in NSW because there was bugger-all floating around here at the time. There was a VH hardtop in SA I went and had a look at and made an offer on, but he wouldn’t be in it, so I hopped on a plane to Sydney, took a hire car out to Mudgee and went and had a look at this one. It was just an asthmatic old 318, but had a really good-nick body and a factory black interior, so I bought it. I drove it around for a couple of years, then pulled it apart and it sat around for about six months in pieces, so then my wife said: ‘Great! So now we’ve got three junkers just sitting around?’”
Scott went with the ‘Big Tank’ option, which places one of these fillers on each side of the car. The stock location is behind the flip-down number plate
Yep, those two junkers that Scott was ‘gunna’ fix up one day were still taking up space in the backyard. “They had rust so bad you could kick a footy through them,” he says.
But after putting the new hardtop on the rotisserie and blasting it, Scott was very happy with the condition of the body. The floor needed a few patches and there were some old repairs that needed sorting, but crucial areas like the A-pillars and plenum were mint.
The ’69 340 block is filled with Mahle forged pistons, Scat H-beams and a 4in stroker crank. With a 4.070in bore, that takes the cubes all the way out to 416. On the engine dyno it made 481hp@6000rpm
Scott kicked that ‘gunna’ attitude to the kerb and got busy with making his vision a reality, a vision that didn’t deviate from the moment he bought the car. “How the car looks now is how I knew it was going to look when I went and bought it back in 2011.”
The task at hand wasn’t quite as simple as painting it a bright colour and throwing some R/T stickers at it, because the car is actually a VJ, and while the VH front sheet metal bolts straight on, the tail-lights are a pretty major modification.
“I’d picked up a Regal 770 VH that I pinched the front clip off,” Scott says. “It came with the driving lights, centre console shifter and trumpet horns as standard gear – it was a good donor car. The hardest part was those rear tail-light housings. They’re not the same as the sedan and they only made about 900 or so VH hardtops, so the pickings are pretty slim. There’s probably 10-20,000 sedans that have been wrecked, but only a few hundred hardtops. That’s the beauty of Facebook and like-minded people; I found a bloke down in the southern suburbs of Perth who had a couple of [tail-light] sets.
The car came with the black interior, but it’s been updated with a Pacer six-gauge instrument cluster, repro three-spoke tiller and centre console shifter from a Regal 770
“What got me flowing on the US big brother idea was that they seem to have a bit more status than what they had here in Australia,” Scott continues. “I’ve rolled in all the things that have pushed my buttons over the years: the colour, the R/T set-up, the 340 six-pack, the big tank with the twin fillers, W35 rims and black interior.”
Without doubt, the crowning jewel of that list is the engine, those “magic numbers” as Scott puts it: “It just has a real ring to it.”
It sure does, but it also has a fair bit of zing to it. Scott didn’t muck around with the motor and put together a forged stroker combo that punches the cubes out to 416ci. With that Edelbrock intake and triple two-barrel Holleys – a 350cfm in the middle and two vacuum-operated 500cfm units outboard – the big old girl has run a best of email@example.com.
It’s not quite an ‘11-second street animal’, but with a bit more tuning and some shorter gears, Scott hopes it might be able to sneak it into the 11s.
EARN YOUR STRIPES
If you're doing a hot muscle car, it’s gotta have stripes, but there’s nothing off the shelf for a hardtop Valiant, so what do you do?
In Scott’s case, you get a Charger stripe kit, then throw it in the bin: “I started taping it into place to see what it looked like, but with the Charger being two feet shorter, where it turns and goes up over the boot it was going across where the boot join was just behind the back window,” he explains. “ Where the stripe goes across the ducktail on the Charger it’s really quite skinny and when we laid it out across the boot of my car where it sits now, it looked stupid.
“So what we ended up doing, we took the width of the stripe that goes down the front guard and applied that to the bit that goes across the boot lid. I took the car and stripe kit down to Ascot Signs and explained everything to them and when I went to pick it up they told me they ended up throwing all of it in the bin and starting again from scratch!”
VALIANT ‘VH PACER R/T’ HARDTOP
Paint: Vitamin C
Type: 340 Chrysler bored to 416ci
Inlet: Edelbrock six-pack
Carbs: Holley two-barrel
Heads: Edelbrock RPM
Valves: 2.02in (in), 1.60in (ex)
Cam: Howards hydraulic-roller
Pistons: Mahle 4.070in
Crank: Scat forged 4.00in stroker
Conrods: Scat forged H-beam
Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors, twin 3in system
’Box: 904 Torqueflite
Converter: 2800rpm stall
Diff: Shortened BorgWarner, Truetrac, 3.5 gears
Front end: Torsion-bar US-spec 1.00in
Brakes: Cross-drilled and slotted discs and VJ calipers (f), EL Falcon (r)
Rims: American Racing Ansen Sprint; 15x7 (f), 15x8 (r)
Rubber: BFG T/A; 235/60/15 (f), 275/60/15 (r)