The sleeper Valiant belies its ballistic abilities
By Cam Benty; Photos by Shawn Brereton
Things are not always as they seem. That adage is truer today than ever. And with car construction, that is often a pleasant position.
Such is the case with Mike and Ris’e Sahr’s ’63 Plymouth Valiant. The Vandalia, Illinois, couple’s vision for the classic Mopar may not have been the same initially, but how the original Slant Six-powered Plymouth transformed from simple transportation to Silver Bullet is an amazing saga.
The car was originally purchased from Country Classics in Stanton, Illinois, with the plan to drive it and enjoy the back to basics feel of the Valiant and all its glory. The three-on-the-tree, three-speed manual transmission endeared the little car to Ris’e, who thought the classic shifting action was cool. Little did she know what was in store.
To back up a minute, the Sahrs are not rookie Mopar pilots. Their 1966 Plymouth Belvedere I featured a full race 426 hemi engine and a 727 automatic transmission. The car was amazingly fast and spent its entire time at the race track. Sadly, it left the family fold in 2000, making way for changes to the Valiant.
The Valiant was a super clean car when purchased, no rust anywhere in the chassis, probably the result of the car’s Georgia origin. In fact, the odometer readout was only 16,134, and the Sahrs believed that to be the original mileage. From the looks of the car, some little old lady, as the song goes, probably owned the car and only used it for runs to the store and to church. Lucky news for the Sahrs.
So with the garage now empty of the racing Belvedere I, it was time to determine just how to tackle the Valiant project. Right from the start, it was clear the original Slant Six had to go. Reluctantly, the three-on-the-tree shifting followed suit. Replacement power came in the form of late model Dodge Challenger R/T components, specifically a 5.7L hemi engine and six-speed manual transmission.
Modern upgrades don’t end with the engine and transmission, as front and rear RMS suspension systems were also installed, along with a manual rack & pinion steering box. The frame rails have been tied together and serve as the mount for a Ford 9-inch rear end fitted with 3.50:1 gearing.
While underhood and chassis-wise, the Valiant is very modern, the exterior bears a factory-fresh, stock appearance, right down to the factory dog dish hubcaps and black-wall tires. Even the front bench seat was retained, the lone modification limited to a notching of the front edge of the seat to make room for the six-speed shifter handle. Ronco Customs in Litchfield, Illinois, constructed the car, and the interior is the result of the efforts expended by Joe Mart, who did an excellent job.
The hidden agenda behind the Valiant build is that it was created on an extreme budget, both Mike and Ris’e work for a non-profit organization not far from their home. Faced with limited ready cash for such an elaborate build up, they subsidized their car building fund by doing odd jobs, including mowing lawns, detailing cars, landscaping, and anything else they could do to pay for the metamorphosis of their classic Valiant.
We can honestly say, in the day of high dollar custom cars built by wealthy folks with unlimited budgets, this effort is a breath of fresh air and shows what can be done when folks are driven to build their dream ride. We applaud the Sahrs’ determination to the hobby of car building. This Valiant is one of a kind!