“All gone, just like Desotos.” A line from a movie many years ago about another home-built gasser that also rings true for Valiants. I’ll say right now that I’ve never owned one, but for Hastings car groomer Con Bentley, Valiants are definitely his thing; they’re well and truly in his blood. Having owned over fifty, you could almost say he is addicted to them. Pick a year or a model, and chances are he has probably owned, driven or rebuilt one over the years. Having such a strong affinity with Valiants, Con was a logical choice for a mate to ask to help check over a project car. He was looking at an old VE sedan as a summer project — which apparently was a good driver — so he dragged Con along to check it out, with the plan that if all went well he could drive it home. As fate would have it, the seller also had a spare VE rolling shell he was looking to get rid of, and for the princely sum of $60 … so Con now had another project too!
After getting it home Con’s first thought was to throw it together as a demo derby car. Just chuck in one of the spare slant sixes he had lying around, and go out and have some fun. Fortunately, something nagged at him about wrecking what was essentially a straight old car without much rust, a rare thing to find these days. The VE was destined to sit while Con searched for inspiration, plus he already had another major project underway, a VF hardtop that still needed completing. The hardtop was finally finished for the Beach Hop, which was where the gasser bug bit Con hard after seeing the “Gold Rush” ’55 Chev cruising the streets of Whangamata. Con reckoned the ’55 looked really cool and his thoughts returned to the old VE at home. Never mind the demo derby, it was going to be reborn as a gasser!
Body-wise, Con had never tackled anything like this before and previously always paid the professionals for their panel beating skills. With this project though, the thought of paying professionals for something that may never come to fruition seemed like a bad investment, so he thought he’d have a go himself. Having the basic tools and some very basic welding skills, Con figured it was only a $60 shell, so if he stuffed it up he could just dump it, find another one and start again. Being the master scrounger and working on a low budget, Con soon found a beam axle and springs out of a ’55 Dodge truck, so the front end was sorted. A set of rear wheels was also found, then it was up on axle stands — sky high in the front — to see how it looked, and, well, things just kind of snowballed from there!
Actually getting “the look” took a while, but once the stance was right it was out with the grinder to remove everything that looked like it didn’t belong — inner guards and all. Fitting the front axle was surprisingly easy as it was the right width, and the spring mounts virtually fell into place thanks to panel man Lyndon. With the front end in nice and straight, Lyndon fitted connecting bars to tie the front subframe to the firewall and the rest of the car, while Con set about tidying up the firewall, filling holes and smoothing it all. With the inner guards removed everything is visible, and knowing a thing or two about detailing, Con wanted this old Valiant to look right.
Obviously a key part of getting the gasser look, aside from the stance, is having the engine peeking out of the bonnet. A slant six was never going to cut it and the hunt was on for a more suitable powerplant. As luck would have it, a good mate, Sean, had a 318 from another old Valiant. There was no history on it, but it was a good runner and a perfect starting point. Real gassers also need a manual, so the auto was ditched and a good Falcon single-rail four-speed was bolted on the back. Then came the fun of making a motor plate and mounts to fit it all in; Con and partner Louise, both learning a few new skills and a few new swear words along the way, as it went in and out of the hole a dozen times before Con was happy with the fit. A tunnel ram with twin-fours and a lumpy cam were the only changes made; all essential items as it had to look and sound the part too.
The major stumbling block to getting the look was the doors — there were two too many of them. So one night, after a few beers, Con and Sean came up with what they figured was the best solution. They raided Con’s spare parts pile, cut six inches off a pair of spare front doors and welded them onto the existing fronts, making them about the same length as the doors on the hardtop. Then it was just the simple matter of moving the B-pillars back to fit the new front door; a task that was a lot easier to talk about over a few beers than it was to actually implement.
From there, it was onto the relatively simple job of cutting up the rear doors and welding in the required bits from them to fill the remaining hole behind the B-pillars, and then the job was done! While he was in there, Con replaced both of the sills and the bottoms of the rear guards as there was no point in doing all of this fabrication and modification and leaving odd bits of cancer in there that could come back to haunt him later.
Another mod that would probably go unnoticed by most is the rear screen. Con had an old VG VIP rusting away in the yard, so he cut the smaller rear screen out of that and grafted it into the VE. As if being a tudorized Valiant gasser wasn’t enough to make it unique!
The only work outsourced up to this point was getting Auto Panels in Hastings to fabricate the tubs and the new flat floor for the boot, something Con thought was beyond his fabrication skills. With Con keen to make the car as strong as possible, he put plenty of heat into the welds, which unfortunately took its toll on the panels. Good thing his mate Lyndon also knows a thing or two about fixing wobbly panels! It took a few weeks of heat shrinking and skimming by Lyndon, followed by many more hours of final prep on those long panels by Con before ‘VALGAS’ was finally ready for paint.
With Beach Hop 2013 rapidly approaching, Con towed the primered shell into Hastings Panel and Paint where Aaron Rose kindly painted it after hours. The transformation was incredible, with the new Lechler white looking simply stunning. Con and another mate, Tony, then masked out the stripes, which Aaron painted in bright red. The stripes, along with the decals, really bring the car to life. A Mustang donated its front seats, which were re-covered, and also its rear seat, which was modified to fit around the tubs. As with most of the jobs, Con and Louise tackled the wiring themselves and it was apparently the worst job on the whole car — although the day Con threw the driveshaft loop under the car hitting Louise on the head was probably not a high point either! With the days rapidly disappearing, they fitted the engine for the final time, and ‘VALGAS’ moved under its own power for the first time in many years.
This was a build that really went to the wire, with the certification plate being fitted, along with the new ‘GAS318’ plates, the day before Beach Hop, and an exhausted Con and Louise then making the long tow from Hastings to Whangamata. As with any new build there were the expected teething troubles, but ‘VALGAS’ made it to the Hop, and when I caught up with Con in Tairua he was surprised at the reception it was receiving. There were crowds milling around the car all day, all impressed with what he has created. True to his day job, the amount of detailing Con has put into the car is superb. Con has built a car that really has the look and sound of a gasser; it’s a car that grabs your attention, and in a sea of classics and hot rods stands out as something unique. He set out to build a Valiant gasser and I reckon he’s achieved that, and more. Rather than just a gasser lookalike, he has built in his Hawke’s Bay shed a car that looks like it belonged on a US drag strip in the late 1960s. Starting with a $60 shell and doing it virtually all himself, he has built an exceptional car for less than some people spend on getting their car painted — a truly remarkable achievement!
- Vehicle: 1968 Chrysler Valiant
- Engine: 318ci V8, mild cam, tunnel ram, twin 465cfm Holley carbs, electric fuel pump, Procomp coil, Procomp distributor, modified block-hugger headers, three-inch into 2¼-inch exhaust
- Driveline: Ford four-speed manual, Ford Falcon clutch, Valiant pressure plate, Valiant BorgWarner 292 diff
- Suspension: 1955 Dodge straight axle, 1955 Dodge leaf springs, Monroe gas shocks, Nolathane bushes
- Brakes: VH44 remote booster, Falcon rotors, HQ front calipers, standard Valiant drums
- Wheels/Tyres: 15×4.5-inch Ridler front rims, 15×10-inch Cragar rear rims, 165/80R15 and 275/60R15 tyres
- Exterior: Two-door conversion, VIP small rear windscreen conversion, fibreglass bonnet with modified scoop, Lechler paint
- Chassis: Standard chassis with connectors
- Interior: ’64 Mustang seats, Auto Gauge gauges, custom retrim, Sony audio
- Performance: Still to be tested!
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This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 99. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: