Big old Valiant: This 1976 Charger is the last of its kind
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Brent Sutton believes his Chrysler Valiant Charger is a milestone car.
"Todd Motors built only 98 cars. It was focused on Mitsubishi then, we had the fuel crisis and New Zealand's love of big six cylinders was ending as the Japanese took hold."
Mitsubishi correspondence confirmed his car was in the final batch of 10 built.
"They never had a build date, only a finalise date, and Mitsubishi confirmed they were never issued in sequence." Paperwork also confirms: "This was the last Charger finalised, on August 24, 1976."
He's had a few heated debates about that detail, but it's a bit academic, as it seems this is the only VIN from the last 10 that's still on the road.
So, last Charger it is. Sutton bought it 11 years ago. "My dad was a J-Force vet, and when he returned after the end of occupation he became one of the early bonded licensed motor vehicle dealers."
His father had the yard at the corner of the Bullock Track and Great North Rd in Auckland.
"We grew up with American cars. Dad acquired the PMs' cars - we had Norman Kirk's, Rob Muldoon's. He'd then on-sell. We grew up in Chev Impalas, Ford Limiteds, Pontiac Parisienne, the mainstay of the ministerial fleet.
Occasionally, rarely, a Chrysler-produced coupe came through and the build, the quality, was better than GM or Ford."
So, as an adult, Sutton focused on Chrysler but he has also been the owner of a 1953 Willys Jeep station wagon and a 1947 Windsor.
"My wife was pregnant, and I wanted a classic that would be good for family; something a bit safer than a car with suicide doors. I predicted the market for 1940s and 50s cars was sinking fast, and a 1970s car might appreciate in value. I don't do it for the money," he says, "But it should be a car that will appreciate, and be the best example I can find as the cost of restoration is so high."
He liked the shape of the Charger. "It's iconic, and I recall seeing them as I grew up.
"I was looking for one of these and found a genuine one-owner, 70,000km one in the South Island, but I hadn't sold the other car." And values were starting to climb.
He found this one online. "She was pretty rough." He had to restore the doors, bonnet and boot, and give it a full paint and panel. The paint was the only job he didn't do himself.
"Sadly it had been played with and made into an RT clone, so I had to redo the carpet, dash, headlining and do rust repairs."
He also had to rebuild the engine. "But that's just life. I rebuilt it to standard, but with the high-performance factory extras, and changed the radio to a modern one that looks period."
The wheels were factory steel, and the car now has Dodge alloys off a genuine American Dodge Charger. "Five-slot jelly-bean wheels from the period," says Sutton.
He upgraded the manifold and carb for better performance, "It's called a Cain Hemi manifold, so it went from cast iron to aluminium, you see them in Toranas, it makes the engine breath better." He fitted new seatbelts, too.
"The fronts, what we call stranglebelts, they came down from the headlining. I had some built with a drop link so the belt doesn't cut into your neck."
There are some nice details in the car, like the flip-up vanity in the glovebox, and the hard-to-get curved mudflaps and rear window louvres.
The seats are the originals, complete with patina, so is the metal dash face and the doors and door cards. And there's a large steering wheel but no power steer. "It doesn't need it, it only weighs 1.4 tons," he says.
The car is propelled by a 4.3-litre 186kW engine that he says isn't thirsty, "Well, I run a dual-barrel Holley carb with two spring systems, so for the second barrel to kick in you have to push the accelerator hard."
Is it thirsty? "When I go away I average about 14l/100km." The car cruises easily at 100km/h, at 2000rpm, "that's its sweet spot."
He says it's a very free-revving engine - it certainly sounds relaxed around town, it's idling at 1000rpm in fourth at 50km/h, so he's usually in third below 55km/h - but change down in the four-speed manual, press the accelerator pedal hard, and you can feel a cough as the second carb kicks in and it's suddenly a different, and far more aggressive beast.
The family have been as far afield as Palmerston North, "Reliability has never been an issue." Neither is finding parts. "There's so much after market being made."
Would he sell it? "Only at the right price! But I've got no plans to, unless someone makes me an offer I can't refuse ... "