You might look at this 1964 Plymouth Valiant with its skinny front and large rear tires and expect it to be packing some huge horsepower for single-digit passes down the quarter mile, but that would be missing the point.
Over the span of many years, Toad Runner has been built up for cruising and having fun at the traffic lights in Tallinn, Estonia.
Its owner, Mario ‘Berg’ Amberg, received the USDM Valiant as a gift from his friend’s father back in the late ‘00s. The car had been parked up for many years, had extensive rust damage, and its slant-six engine wouldn’t fire up. In other words, it was the perfect starting point for new project.
Mario has been fixing up cars since the age of 11, so despite the size of the job ahead, he was totally up for it.
The rebuild began in 2011, with the idea of a rat-style Valiant in the back of Mario’s mind. He restored the bodywork and swapped out the six-cylinder engine for a 400ci Chrysler B big block from a 1974 Dodge D200 truck. The V8 had some history, too. For the previous 25 years it had been sitting dormant in a basement, after the rare (for Soviet times) Dodge truck it came fitted in was crashed on Estonian roads in the late ’70s. The crankshaft bearings had ‘Made in USSR’ stamps from previous maintenance, and some mounts were broken off the block.
The big block felt like a capable motor, and when its torque broke the Valiant’s stock rear axles, Mario decided to step things up another notch. The V8 was sent to Finnish engine builder Jyrki Aukio, who increased the compression by zero decking the block, aligned the main bearings, enlarged the oil channels, and made a custom oil pan. It runs Keith Black pistons, Eagle forged rods and crankshaft, a flat-tappet Edelbrock camshaft, and Edelbrock E-Street 75cc aluminum custom ported cylinder heads for a reliable 450hp.
The transmission is a classic TorqueFlite 727 with small upgrades like a deep oil pan, race valve body, Lokar Kickdown kit, and a Cheetah SCS shifter. Adjustable racing shocks feature at all four corners, while the rear end now benefits from a shortened Chrysler 8.75-inch axle with Chrysler’s Sure Grip differential, and relocated Calvert Racing CalTracs with mono-leaf springs.
The wheels are Hoosier-equipped 15×4-inch Weld Racing Prostars up front, and you’ll find matching 15×10-inch Welds out back with 29×13.5 Hoosier DOT-rated (street legal) slicks. It’s hard to pick, but the rear arches have been dropped lower, and the wheel wells were also enlarged to accept the 345mm-wide tires.
I found it interesting that all the graphics are hand-painted, and right down to things like the brand logos. Jarmo Nuutre, the most recognized pinstriper in Estonia, can be credited for this amazing work, and although the original idea was to base the main design around a psycho Road Runner, Jarmo took the idea further by naming the car Toad Runner and creating a cartoon character to suit.
As you might expect, the interior is very basic, with a roll bar, Sabelt racing seats and some aftermarket gauges – including a 5-inch AutoGage tachometer – the notable additions. The doors were upholstered by the previous owner, but Mario liked the old school green ‘granny couch’ pattern and decided to keep it.
Since being built, Mario has covered a lot of street miles in the car (usually around 1,500 miles every year) including daily driving to his work, but in 2019 the Valiant saw more drag strip action than ever before, resulting in a best ET of 11.3 at 190.7km/h (118.5mph).
With Estonia’s winter now in full swing, the car is not sitting quietly in the corner, but being worked on again. When it emerges in the summer, it’ll be with a fresh ’70s street machine-inspired look that we can’t wait to see.