If you’re an average Mopar enthusiast you may be wondering what the front of a Plymouth Valiant is doing on a 1963 Dodge Dart. Unlike urban legends about cars with front ends from one brand and rear ends from another of that automaker’s brands that was being built on the same assembly line, and unlike custom car mashups, this was factory built and sold by authorized dealers.
If you were born after the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show you can be excused for not knowing this, but Dodge Darts and Plymouth Valiants weren’t always badge engineered twins. In 1963 they were more like bigger and smaller brothers, with an odd Canadian cousin in the family.
The Dart brand had previously been used by Dodge for both full size and intermediate cars but by the early 1960s compact cars were a growing segment of the market. AMC was selling record numbers of Ramblers, VW was on it’s way to importing a half million Beetles a year, and GM and Ford were both introducing compact cars like the Pontiac Tempest, the Chevy II and the Falcon. When Plymouth dealers got the compact Valiant, Dodge dealers got a more luxurious version and it was decided to use the Lancer nameplate. For whatever reason, the 1961-62 Lancer didn’t thrive, perhaps because it was just a badge engineered Valiant. Today it’s hard to realize it, what with Hyundai Genesis trying to compete with Mercedes Benz, but in the late ’50s and early ’60s there were fairly rigid class distinctions between car brands. Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth were not embarrassed to reference themselves as the “low priced three” and if you could afford to drive something more aspirational (though they didn’t use that term back then) you didn’t want your ride confused with an economy car. Alfred Sloan’s business model reigned supreme, and not just at General Motors. For the 1963 model year, Dodge’s compact was renamed the Dart and to distinguish it from the Valiant it was given a 5″ longer wheelbase, 111 inches, a different roofline and unique rear passenger windows. So an average Mopar fan would notice that this is a long wheelbase 1963 car with a Dart’s sheet metal from the cowl back but it’s wearing the front clip of a Valiant. Is it a Dodge or is it a Plymouth?
An average Mopar fan might notice the difference and scratch his head, but a serious Mopar fan, or one located in the Great White North, would know that actually it’s not either a Dodge or a Plymouth, it’s a “Valiant”, made exclusively for the Canadian market and sold at both Chrysler-Plymouth and Dodge dealers in Canada. Chrysler had previously marketed the Valiant as it’s own brand in Canada, so it could sell it through both Chrysler-Plymouth-Fargo and DeSoto-Dodge sales channels. It’s not unusual for the American car companies to use slightly different branding in Canada. Beaumonts may look like Pontiacs and even carry the arrowhead logo, but you won’t find the word Pontiac anywhere on those cars. There are Canadian Ford Monarchs that don’t say Mercury anywhere on the cars. So this is a Valiant.
With the Valiant brand established in Canada, it made sense to continue with that nameplate. They were already selling the identical car in both Canadian sales channels, so it didn’t make sense to sell two different wheelbase variants. Since it was sold in Chrysler-Plymouth dealers the Valiant name was identified somewhat by Canadian consumers with Chrysler, an upscale brand. In the 1960s larger equated to more luxurious so using the longer wheelbase car made sense. Using the longer wheelbase Dart necessarily meant using its rear end sheet metal. Swapping out front clips is a simple process, everything bolts on. Changing the rear end of a car’s sheet meta, though,l means welding on different quarter panels and other panels plus labor to finish the seams. That’s assuming the stock Valiant rear panels would mate up to the Dart midsection without modifications. They might have had to stamp completely different rear “Valiant” panels for everything to go together properly. The Dart wasn’t being sold in Canada so why spend the money if nobody would notice the difference? The Canadian Valiant also had a Valiant instrument cluster, which was different from the Dart’s, Valiant hubcaps, Valiant trim on the interior door panels, and seats embossed with the Valiant crest. On the rear deck lid, instead of a plastic insert inscribed with”Dodge GT”, on the stainless steel panel between the backup lights there’s a black plastic insert with “Signet” flanked by two Valiant crests.
Of course, making a unique model for Canadians, a relatively small market, costs more money than selling them a car identical to the American model, so the unique Canadian Valiant was fairly short lived. Also, in 1965, the United States and Canada signed the U.S.-Canada Automotive Trade Pact, a precursor to NAFTA, which was the death knell for unique Canadian variants of American cars. When the compact Mopars were restyled with the “fuselage” look for 1967, the wheelbases of Darts and Valiants were rationalized and Canadians got Valiants that were identical, save for no Plymouth logos, to what Americans were buying.
This 1963 Valiant Signet 200 was photographed at the 2012 Orphan Car Show, in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It’s owned by Terry and Marge Metcalf of Ontario. The Signet trim line was equivalent to a Dart GT in the States so this is as fancy as a Canadian Valiant got. If I understand the story correctly, Terry’s family had one when he was a kid and he resolved to find one to own. After searching high and low across Canada and the US for one, his wife spotted this car parked in a driveway not far from their own home and they bought it and restored it. The restoration was easier than with some Canada only cars. With the exception of that trim on the back of the car, you can find parts – what isn’t identical to a ’63 Dart you can retrieve from a ’63 American market Valiant.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading– RJS