The Time Slant Six Engines Dominated A NASCAR Race

Hyper-Pak 1960 Valiants Starred At Daytona In First Nationwide Broadcast Of Live Auto Racing

More than half a century has passed since the old Chrysler Corporation’s “Leaning Tower of Power” briefly became the most-talked-about racing engine in America, yet folks at the recent Slant Six Gathering near San Francisco were still overheard reliving the Daytona domination by a fleet of factory race cars disguised as ’60 Valiant sedans. The term “diehard” doesn’t do justice to these surviving devotees of the 13 million-plus underpowered, overweight, 170-, 198-, and 225-cubic-inch workhorses that last appeared in ’87 Dodge trucks. Replacement engines were assembled in Mexico through 1990, and marine motors were still available in 1991.

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Engineers cleverly tilted the cylinder block 30 degrees towards the passenger side to create an assembly both short and low enough to slide under the sloping hood of Chrysler’s first compact car, the Valiant (introduced as its own, stand-alone brand in late 1959; later absorbed into Plymouth’s line when sister-ship Lancer appeared as Dodge’s 1961 economy entry). The holy grail of Slant Sixdom is the rare, die-cast-aluminum 225ci version, which Chrysler optimistically envisioned as the only A-body powerplant when Slant-Six development started in 1957. A dimensionally identical, all-iron block intended as short-term insurance while workers and consumers learned to live with aluminum instead became standard equipment after machining, assembly, and corrosion issues ended the ambitious weight-saving program. Approximately 50,000 units went into 1961-through-’63-model passenger cars before the factory reluctantly pulled the plug on Detroit’s pioneering aluminum block, which weighed about 80 pounds less than the iron copies that have dutifully served millions of grandmas and teenagers and Mopar enthusiasts for nearly six decades.

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The annual Slant Six Gathering honors the memory of not only an engine, but also of a regional event and annual reunion that reportedly drew upwards of 200 vehicles before fading into history along with its host, the Slant Six Club of America. EDITORS NOTE: The Slant-Six club is NOT defunct, it soldiers on, based in New Jersey, run by Ben Deutschman with 40 Members in three states, several small events each year, and a quarterly newsletter, ‘The Slant-Sixer.’

Back to our story. A handful of former officers from the previous organization’s northern California chapter now revive the concept the last Sunday of each September in a Redwood City parking lot, albeit without formalities such as membership dues, judging, and arguing about fees and judges. The only trophies are the rare replacement parts and aftermarket goodies that find new caretakers. About 30 Slant Six-equipped vehicles remained the undisputed stars of this latest renewal, though eight-cylinder A-bodies are now welcomed, and all newer Mopars are tolerated (but expected to park a respectable distance from the vintage inliners).

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Many attendees looked old enough to remember basking in the glory of January 1960. Some were lucky enough to join the largest audience yet to watch a motorsports event. Approximately 35 percent of all American TV sets in use were tuned to CBS and commentator Walter Cronkite for the first nationwide broadcast of live auto racing. The big draw and main event would be the Daytona 500. However, to familiarize its crews with filming and announcing such fast-moving sports subjects, CBS first televised the last laps of a sports-car race and the complete 38 miles of a road race for imported and new domestic compacts, the warmup act for NASCAR’s Grand National headliners. Thus did more than 10 million people witness one of the most-lopsided contests in racing history. A diverse, internationally flavored field of 28 entries included five Corvairs, three Falcons, eight Volvos, and one-each Studebaker, Rambler, Morris, and even Simca, yet winner Marvin Panch and the next six finishers all drove 170-cubic-inch Valiants. A clean sweep extended to Panch’s subsequent victory in a 50-mile qualifying race around the oval track (averaging 123.282 mph!); a two-lap “powder-puff derby” topped by Barbara Bundy (79.432); and top speed for all compacts on the flying-mile beach straightaway, also by Panch (117.187 average, both directions). Not coincidentally, Chrysler had assigned the hot rodding to engineers from the in-house Ramchargers drag team. Their visible modifications included cast-iron, split headers and a Carter AFB hung off the end of a two-foot-long intake manifold; prototype components within the pricy Hyper-Pak option subsequently offered by Mopar dealers for $403.30 (nearly 25 percent of a stripper Valiant’s sticker).

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The San Francisco Bay area’s Slant Six Gathering is the next-best thing to time-traveling back to Daytona Beach for the winter of 1960. A few hundred old-fashioned, photocopied-and-postage-stamped flyers hit the postal service next summer. Get one by emailing your snail-mail address to eberspacher@gmail.com, or watch for event updates at SlantSix.org and ForAbodiesOnly.com.

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Slant-Six Valiants dominated pre-Daytona 500 support racing in both 1960 (shown) and 1961 to such an extent that NASCAR killed the class. Marvin Panch (No. 8) went undefeated on all three compact-car tracks during 1960’s Speed Weeks: road course, 2.5-mile banked oval, and beach straightaway.

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Chrysler’s in-house Ramchargers group got the assignment to develop a batch of 170ci iron engines specifically for NASCAR’s new series. These prototypal Hyper-Pak kits increased output by at least 50 percent over the 101 stock horsepower.

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Event organizer John Moran, 92, keeps the annual Slant Six Gathering alive each September. Between meets, the retired metallurgical engineer keeps various A-body Dodges and Plymouths alive by locating replacement parts for grateful enthusiasts like Donna Guadagni, whose ’65 Dart convertible rolled 150 miles down from the Sierra Nevada foothills.

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If Jon Bastian’s daily-driven Valiant seems vaguely familiar, it made multiple background appearances in Milk, the documentary shot in nearby San Francisco.

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John Moran (right) helps appraise ancient parts that Bob Severin (left) extracted from the trunk of his Plymouth Scamp.

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Roger Brewton offered to help the widow of a late friend and Mopar fanatic distribute rare parts and entire vehicles to grateful Slant Sixers. Roger’s wife contributed the table’s signage and artwork.

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