Through the courtesy of the Columbia Broadcasting System, the Chrysler Corporation a week ago Sunday enjoyed a revenge sweeter, almost, than profits. For its nationally telecast sports spectacular, CBS trained its cameras on Bill France's Daytona International Speedway. There seven Chrysler Valiants simply ran away and hid from all the other compacts in the race.
To those who keep themselves posted on such matters, Valiant's strong showing came as no surprise. It has long been apparent that once the Valiant was properly prepared for stock-car racing it had to beat the tar out of Corvair and Falcon. After all, its engine is roughly 20% larger than those of the other two cars. Two months ago at Sebring, Valiant was just a handsome little car. At Daytona it became king of the compacts.
The story behind the transformation can be summed up in a single phrase—"power pack." At a rough guess, 99.5% of the motoring public has no notion of what a power pack is, nor does it need one. Well, it is a factory kit, which, in the case of the Valiant, costs $403.30 at the factory list price and adds perhaps 25 mph to the top speed of the car. The kit contains such things as a racing camshaft, a four-barrel carburetor, a special exhaust system and other accessories that would bring nothing but grief to the city or suburban driver.
The power pack is provided by all manufacturers in the low-and medium-priced field that indulge in stock-car racing. With it, their cars can make a decent showing on the race track and still qualify as "stock." Since Corvair and Falcon were in production months ahead of Valiant, their power packs were ready for Denver and Sebring, but the Valiants couldn't get theirs until Daytona.
Although the Big Three of Detroit still adhere to the letter of their 1957 agreement to de-emphasize speed, all of them to date have shown a distinct interest in compact racing. Representatives from Chrysler were on hand at Daytona. They helped persuade one of the South's best mechanics, Red Vogt, to work on a Valiant owned by Daytona Chrysler-Plymouth dealer W. Brewster Shaw and driven by Marvin Panch, a top NASCAR driver. The Panch-driven car led all the other Valiants.
The way Red Vogt puts it, "Speed in racing is simply a matter of cubic inches. If you have more cubic inches and do to them the same thing you do to less cubic inches, you're gonna have more horsepower." The Valiant has 170 cu. in., the Falcon has 144 cu. in. and the Corvair has 140 cu. in. in piston displacement. It stands to reason that Panch's compact was faster than either of the other compact brands—over both the 10 laps of the 3.8-mile road-racing course (the one shown on TV) and the 50-mile event staged later on Daytona's high-speed oval, where Panch turned one 2.5-mile lap at an impressive 128.54 mph.
That the Panch-driven Valiant was able to dominate the other Valiants was due partly to superb driving and partly to luck. In the race over the road course Panch won solely on merit, taking the lead at the start and holding it all the way. Before the second race, Vogt was still putting gas in Panch's car when the race started, leaving Panch a half lap behind. He caught the other Valiants only because of a four-car pile-up of the leaders on one of the steeply banked turns at the end of the oval. While the yellow light was on, Panch closed enough ground to put him within striking distance of the leaders.
The races proved the obvious. The Valiant, with its larger motor, will beat the other six-cylinder compacts when they are comparably tailored for racing. But, against the Lark and Rambler eight-cylinder compacts, the results will be different. Unfortunately, the limitations placed on the Daytona race kept both models on the sidelines.