Article and photography by Richard Butschi
Right off, you’re figuring that this author has “missed a gear” as Valiants were a product of the Plymouth division of Chrysler Corporation. And what’s a “VJ Ute”? Fear not. Read on. By 1950, the “Big 3” American auto companies had expanded into other countries. One of the bigger foreign markets was Australia where the three companies were known as Chrysler Australia, Ford Australia and General Motors – Holden. All three produced vehicles similar to those produced in the U.S., but with variations in styling fixtures and model names.
Chrysler Australia was established in June of 1951 producing sedans, wagons, hardtops, coupes and a utility vehicle which the Aussies shortened to “utes”. Many variations of utes were produced from 1962-81 with this specific VJ model offered in ‘73-’75. The Valiant ute proved to be very popular and useful in the rural areas, giving validity to the tale that stylish pickups were created in the early 1930s after a farmer’s wife ask Ford Australia to produce a vehicle that could be “used for church on Sunday and haul pigs to market on Monday.” Plans were approved and later led to iconic vehicles like the Ford Ranchero and Chevy El Camino. In ‘65, the ute “Wayfarer” debuted and was voted the Australian Car of the Year in ‘67 by Wheels Magazine.
The Valiant utes were optioned with “Slant 6’s” in 170, 198 and 225 cid. versions along with 318 and 340 V8s. A 360 was added in ‘74. Transmissions were 3 or 4-speed manuals or TorqueFlite 3-speed automatics. 1970 saw the slant 6 replaced with 6-cylinder “hemis” with canted valves, offered in three sizes – 215, 245 and 265 cid. In ‘72, a 265 “Hemi 6” with triple Weber carbs was clocked at 14.8 seconds in the ¼ mile, 0-60 in 6.3 sec and 0-100 in 15.8 seconds, making 280hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. It was the fastest accelerating production engine in Australia for decades. The ute also had driving lights mounted on the bumper for night driving in the Outback and a “dual cap” split rear bumper. They were outfitted with rear leaf springs, front disc brakes and most were virtually rust-free due to the low humidity of inland areas of Australia. This particular Valiant found its way to the U.S. through the efforts of a Bosch Electronics specialist who regularly traveled to Australia to work with race teams. The trips doubled as an auto shopping spree. Needing to pare down his collection, this ute ended up on E-bay. Mike Hubbell, owner of Hubbell Auto Repair, Marion, was surfing E-bay while watching an NFL game when he spotted the ute, wondering what it was, then noticing it was being sold on-line with only 1:39 left to make a bid. Impressed with the vehicle, figuring it would sell in the $10-$15k range, he threw in a quick bid under the $10k mark. Later, his wife, Judy, returned from shopping and asked what he had been up to. He quietly mentioned his “impulse purchase” – a right-hand-drive Australian utility vehicle with a South Carolina license – something different for his collection of Corvettes and Camaros.
The Valiant received new paint and a new set of gaskets for the 245 Hemi 6, but leaving some of the “Australian dirt” in the engine bay for sentimental reasons. The orginal Victoria Province license plates were on the ute and Hubbell found a newspaper and a hotel card key from Tasmania, an island south of the mainland. Mike doesn’t worry about Judy wanting to drive the ute, as it has no power steering or a/c. She even feels a bit odd riding in it, probably looking like a distracted driver at times, sitting on the left. Mike gets many odd stares as he pulls up to a stoplight with some asking “what is it?” and even getting a quick photo of it. He admits it’s tough getting used to right-hand drive when it’s not your daily driver, especially when making left-hand turns or since the speedometer registers only in kilometers, he has to match speeds with the traffic. But it’s way cool knowing that it’s the only one in the state, and one of probably only a few in the entire country. Crikey!