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Road Test - Valiant Charger R/T E-49 (Sports Car World October 1972)
The stopwatches don't lie - but it's pretty hard to believe. A 0-100 mph time of 14.1 seconds! That's really flying - and the engine's no thumping V8 nor four cam V12.
It's Chrysler Australia's 4.3-litre in-line six, in a stormer called the Charger RT E49. Chrysler managed to scrape through the supercar furore that killed the phase four HO and Torana V8.
It had the first batch of its Bathurst contenders built before the storm broke, and in the hullabaloo over the GMH and Ford cars somehow the Charger was overlooked. So few people, us included, were prepared for the phenomenal performance of the E49.
It seems incredible that mild (mainly cam grind) changes to last year's E38 engine and the addition of the new four-speed gearbox can have done so much for straight line performance without sacrificing tractability.
The three-speed E38 was a brilliant enough performer, running the standing quarter in 15 seconds with a best of 14.8 and to 100 mph in 16.5 seconds. A Porsche 911S, generally acknowledged as the worlds best six-cylinder performer couldn't even match this time to 100 mph, putting down 17.1 seconds and getting over the quarter in 14.7. So the E49, which is utterly untroubled to lay 14.4 second quarters and record those 14.1 times to 100 mph is in a realm on its own.
Has there ever been a six that went like this? God knows, we thought the Phase Three HO was quick, and its time to 100 mph was 15.2 seconds. What would the Phase Four have done?
With such fantastic performance and with the restrictions that the three-speed gearbox placed on cam work removed, it would not have been unreasonable to expect the E49 to be a fussy, snorting sort of mill, with a power peak that came in like an elevator in the Empire State building.
But not so.
The most immediately noticeable thing about the engine is its tractability. We were hopping from an E38 into the car and getting backwards and forwards while we had it on test, and for low-speed ability there was nothing in it. The only difference came in peak hour traffic jams when the E49s plugs oiled up much more quickly.
On cold mornings it fired consistently with the first twist of the starter, not needing nor having a choke, and pulled smoothly and easily, with never a trace of falter. In fact, so willing was the engine from cold we had to keep reminding ourselves to let it warm up before opening up a bit.
Naturally, the hot six isn't as smooth nor strong at the bottom end as a V8, but it is still alarmingly steady down low. For instance, you can drive round town at a steady 1500 rpm - 30 mph - and never feel the need to change down unless you want hard acceleration. In fact the engine needs to come down close to 1000 rpm before it grumbles at all. Even then, with gentle throttle pressure it will still pull away smoothly enough and still with more strength than most drivers will ever feel.
But in terms relative to this engine, its real oomph begins from around 3000 rpm. That's where you really start to know you're flying, and can see the tacho needle starting to flash around the dial. The engine's maximum 302 bhp is developed at 5400 rpm, with the 320 lb/ft of torque at 4100 rpm.
We picked 5500 rpm as a Working limit, though the car will run past this quite easily if you want to go well into the red. At 5500 the gear maximums are 40, 61 and 85 mph, with a top speed of 112 mph. For the race track, with blue-printed engines, another 1000 rpm can be added to this, so that the car will easily top 130 mph.
Now, with such low maximum performance speeds you can see that in conjunction with the new gearbox Chrysler has used a lower diff ratio. It is 3.5 to one, and quite obviously it's a major reason for the E49 going so hard. This means that as long-legged touring car the Charger has lost some of its appeal but in mountain country and on the race track it's much better than the E38. The new Borg-Warner four-speed box suits the engine very well. The ratios feel particularly pleasant for full-bore performance, bringing the power on a smooth consistent zoom.
The shift itself is nice to use, still a little notchy, but with short throws. Location is excellent, and since the knob must be pushed down before you can slide the stick across to the left and forward for reverse there's no chance of picking it up accidentally.
With the well-spaced ratios and the totally instantaneous performance of the mill, the Charger is a hard-driving motorist's dream on the road. So strong is the top gear pull - take a look at our overtaking times - that down-shifting to power out of corners or overtake isn't necessary unless you really want to fly. That is, take 3.3 seconds (in third) to blast from 70 to 90 mph instead of top's mere 4.9!
I find it difficult to convey just what it's like to drive a car like this really fast. But I believe that unless you are an extremely experienced, capable driver you should not try. That doesn't mean that the Charger is difficult to drive at moderate speeds - it isn't. In fact, it's so fuss-free your mother could puddle back and forwards to the supermarket in it.
By the same token, it's not a particularly pleasant car to meander along in, especially on a winding road. Without the power being squirted on to make the car respond the way it is built to - as a racing car - the steering feels vague and sloppy and you tend to get frustrated because you think you're wandering around on the road too much.
But when the power is wound on hard, either in second, third or top the car responds. It responds beautifully, like a Ferrari or Lamborghini Miura. But you'd better know what you are doing because you will be going so hard you'll get few second chances. You need to know exactly why and how much you should back off the throttle coming into a bend, and what happens when you do.
You need to link gentle throttle movements - remember, you're controlling 302 bhp - to minimal steering wheel movements, and to have the whole lot set up on exactly the right line.
You need to know how and when to brake, and how to use the brakes to advantage to set the car up with the tail kicked out coming into a bend, because there is just so much power hard acceleration out of a 90 mph bend will have you going into the next one at 110, perhaps without realising how rapidly you've accelerated.
In short, you need to understand and be able to manage a big motor car very, very well. If you can't, you'll have little pleasure because it will scare the hell out of you and you'll only be aware of the wasted potential.
However, for someone who does know, the motoring is just magnificent. The car is a racing machine and it acts that way, responding to throttle, brakes and steering quite superbly. We ran 32/30 psi front to rear in the Goodyear Grand Rallies on the wide 7-inch ROH mags and found the selection perfect for the road.
The mildest understeer was detectable on tame or trailing throttle, with power evening this up to neutrality, and then mild power oversteer coming on during full-bore driving.
Roadholding, stability and safety is brilliant - as it should be.
As a test, we backed off sharply in a fairly tight bend at 90 mph. Doing this in some cars would produce an instant spin, or at best require desperate correction. Not so the Charger. The tail moved out fractionally and the nose tucked in to a similar degree, but that was it. Simply, it's just superbly stable and safe from this point of view.
Brakes on our car were not good. To make the pedal easier to push for road use, Chrysler had fitted the test car with a power booster. But the linings and pads had not been uprated accordingly and they were flat out to stop the car in 145 ft from 60 mph. They faded badly too. We'd have preferred the standard, unassisted picks even though they require big pressures to work.
To go with the new performance Chrysler has uprated the Charger's rear springs from 120 psi to 160 psi. This has stiffened the ride slightly, but it is still quite good for open road touring, and the benefits instability and handling are obvious.
There is some axle hop over heavy bumps but you quickly learn to allow for that.
The driving position annoys many people because the wheel is big and slopes slightly towards the right. Pedal layout is good except that the toe-and-heeling should be improved. And the dipswitch location is poor.
The Chargers instruments are small, but easy to see. The tacho, from normal production models, is red-lined unrealistically at 5000 rpm - 4000 below maximum bhp. Once again we noticed that the oil pressure gauge was unreliable, often oscillating furiously. The tacho on our car was also dangerously inaccurate, reading 4500 rpm at a genuine 5500 rpm.
The Charger does have spotlights mounted in its grille, but they're not good enough for the performance.
Trumpet horns are a sensible fitting, though.
Personally, we dislike inertia reel seatbelts in a performance car - you want to be held infirmly. The upper belt location is poor in the Charger too, so that the belt cuts into the back of your neck. The seats both front and rear are very good.
This particular Charger was the second we have had with a badly out-of-balance tail shaft, too. This set up a frightful vibration above 100 mph. Chrysler has a problem with them. Let's hope it's sorted out soon - a dropped shaft in such a high performer could be disastrous.
The fuel tank in the test car was the small 17.5 galloner, not the 35-gallon race job. Fuel consumption was surprisingly low for the performance. Running the test track figures dropped it to a worst of 13.8. On the open road you easily get 15 mpg.
Such is the incredible E49, a road-going racer and a damned good one at that.
It's excitement to the extreme, a high-performer that will probably set the outright six-cylinder performance standards for a long, long time.
|Model||Valiant Charger E49|
|Quarter Mile||14.4 sec|