Plymouths Great and Small: The Plymouth VIP and Fury

As far as size was concerned, Plymouth was taking no chances. The Fury was within 1 inch (25 mm) of the Galaxie and Impala in most dimensions, and all three cars weighed within 100 lb (45 kg) of one another. Equipped with similar engines, their performance differed little. Even the Fury’s traditional firm ride was largely gone, eroded by ever-softer shocks and more compliant suspension bushings.

Again, conformity had its rewards. In 1968, Plymouth sales hit almost three quarters of a million, only 15,000 short of its 1957 best. Sales for 1969 were almost as good, despite thoroughly unfortunate styling that even Plymouth stylists didn’t particularly like, dictated by pressure from Washington for improved bumper protection.

The Fury’s sales tumbled badly in 1970. The “fuselage” styling theme, with a flat, wraparound front bumper, made the big Plymouth look even more massive than it was just as buyers were rediscovering compact cars. Plymouth’s total sales were down only 35,000 units for the model year, but the Fury fell by almost 30%.

Although Plymouth sales increased steadily in the early seventies, rising to a new peak of more than 882,000 in 1973, Fury sales did not improve, hovering at their 1970 level for four years. Buyers were now gravitating toward the A-body Valiant and Duster, which by 1973 accounted for 43% of all Plymouth sales. The belatedly introduced big Fury was rapidly becoming too big for a changing market.

1970 Plymouth Fury III convertible front 3q © 2009 Bull-Doser PD
The 1970 Fury discarded the rather bland grille of the ’69 for a wraparound design, developed by stylist Neil Walling. It was remarkably similar to the nose of the 1969 Chevrolet Impala, which was almost certainly coincidental. This was the last year for the big Plymouth convertibles, although the Barracuda ragtop stuck around for another year. (Photo: “’70 Plymouth Fury III Convertible (Orange Julep)” © 2009 “Bull-Doser“; released to the public domain by the photographer; resized and modified 2010 by Aaron Severson)

SPLIT DECISION

The big Fury received its final complete restyling for the 1974 model year. Again overseen by Dick Clayton, it was less bulky looking than the “fuselage” cars, but no smaller, measuring more than 222 inches (5,639 mm) on a 122-inch (3,099mm) wheelbase. It had the misfortune to arrive only a few months before the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, which devastated all big-car sales, albeit temporarily. Plymouth sold fewer than 120,000 Furys in 1974, only about 15% of its total volume.

The poor sales led Lynn Townsend to implement several ill-advised and controversial tactics, including the “sales bank” (a pool of unallocated cars that stockpiled until dealers could be persuaded to accept them) and the introduction of cash rebates as a sales incentive. Townsend was pilloried for those decisions at Chrysler’s 1975 annual meeting, leading to his early retirement later that year. Chrysler president John C. Riccardo took his place.

With big-car sales dying on the vine, Chrysler decided to revisit the idea of downsizing. For 1975, the Fury name was transferred to the intermediate line, making the Fury a B-body again for the first time since 1964. Rather than drop the C-body Fury, which was only a year old, Plymouth renamed it “Gran Fury,” a badge previously applied to a VIP-style luxury trim series from 1972 to 1974 — essentially the opposite of what the division had done in 1965.

This somewhat confusing sleight of hand did not help sales of the C-body Gran Fury, which were fewer than 73,000 for 1975 and fewer than 40,000 for 1976. Around the end of the 1976 model year, John Riccardo decided to abandon the big C-body cars entirely and invest heavily in the new front-wheel-drive K-car line. In 1977, its final year, the Gran Fury sold fewer than 48,000 copies. The B-body Fury survived until 1978, disappearing the following year. By then, Chrysler was in the throes of a financial crisis that would culminate in its 1981 federal bailout.

1978 Plymouth Fury sedan front 3q © 2009 J. Maierle PD
1978 was the final year for the midsize Fury. Structurally, this car is still very similar to the 1971-vintage B-body Belvedere/Satellite, albeit with bigger bumpers and styling changes like rectangular sealed-beam headlights. It was not a particularly small car by modern standards: nearly 18 feet (5.5 meters) long on a 117-inch (2,972mm) wheelbase. (Photo: “1978 Plymouth Fury” © 2009 J. Maierle; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized by Aaron Severson)

In 1979, Chrysler introduced a slightly smaller big car, the R-body, to match the recently downsized Chevrolet Impala, but Chrysler president Eugene Cafiero inexplicably decided not to offer it in the Plymouth line. Dealer protests led to the introduction of an R-body Gran Fury the following year, but that model last only two years; Chrysler abandoned all the R-bodies shortly after the launch of the K-car.

Although Chrysler was now heavily committed to a compact, front-wheel-drive future, there was still a modest market for bigger, rear-wheel-drive cars, if only for police and fleet buyers. In 1982, Chrysler-Plymouth moved the Gran Fury badge to a new M-body sedan, essentially a slightly made-over version of the 1976-vintage Plymouth Volare/Dodge Aspen. In overall dimensions, M-body Gran Fury was not that far from its much-maligned 1962 ancestor, although it was quite large by eighties standards. Sales never topped 20,000 units a year and it finally disappeared in 1989. It would be Chrysler’s last rear-drive sedan until 2003.

ONE STEP UP AND TWO STEPS BACK

In 1969, Car and Driver remarked on the perennially reactionary nature of Chrysler’s product planning and the tendency to overcompensate for a late start through sheer overkill. The Fury was a case in point. Most of its sixties and seventies incarnations were perfectly competent family cars, hindered by their manufacturer’s almost comically incoherent long-term marketing strategy. Like a dancer always a step or two off the beat, Chrysler made the right moves at the wrong times: downsizing as the market was shifting to big cars, getting bigger just as the pendulum swung back the other way.

Other than overly conservative styling and some hit-and-miss assembly quality, there was nothing particularly wrong with the Fury (whether in B-body or C-body form) except for its timing. Unfortunately, in the auto industry, as in comedy, timing is everything.

# # #


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources for this article included “1965 Plymouth VIP” (n.d., Car Styling, www.carstyling. ru, accessed 30 March 2010); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1962-1964 Dodge 880” (23 August 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, www.howstuffworks. com/ 1962-1964-dodge-880.htm, accessed 9 January 2009); “1962-1964 Dodge Polara 500” (9 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1962-1964-dodge-polara-500.htm, accessed 2 April 2010); “1965-1968 Plymouth Fury” (23 October 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1965-1968-plymouth-fury.htm, accessed 1 April 2010); “1969-1973 Plymouth” (25 September 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1969-1973-plymouth.htm, accessed 3 April 2010), and Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Frank Billington and Bill Watson, “Dodge Diplomat, Plymouth Gran Fury, Chrysler Lebaron, Town & Country, New Yorker, Fifth Avenue, and Caravelle” (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 6 April 2010); “Chronological history of Chrysler Corporation, Dodge, and Plymouth 1964-1971,” (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 4 April 2010); comments by “Bob” on Dick Clayton, reposted by “66GG1TnC” on the C-Body Drydock Forum (13 April 2008, C-Body DryDock, www.cbodydrydock. com/ forum_viewtopic.php?8.55510, accessed 3 April 2010); Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 102, “Transmission shift position sequence, starter interlock, and transmission braking effect,” 49 CFR 571.102; James M. Flammang and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Chrysler Chronicle: An Illustrated History of Chrysler – DeSoto – Dodge – Eagle – Imperial – Jeep – Plymouth (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International Ltd., 1998); Jeff Godshall and John Boyadjian, “Styling the 1963 Plymouth,” (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 1 April 2010); John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Rev. 4th ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Lanny Knutson, “Best of the Carryovers: Plymouth for 1965” (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 1 April 2010); Lanny Knutson, “Cordoba-d: The Plymouths of 1975,” Plymouth Bulletin (reprinted with the permission of the author at www.allpar. com, accessed 5 April 2010); Richard M. Langworth, James M. Flammang, and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Great American Cars of the ’60s (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International Ltd., 1992); Curtis Redgap, “Chrysler Corporation R Bodies: 1979-1981 Downsized, Full-Sized Cars” (2008, Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 6 April 2010); John R. Samsen, “Barracuda design history” (n.d., Car Design, cardesign.homestead. com/ barracuda.html, accessed 3 April 2010); and “Plymouth Belvedere and Plymouth Satellite” (n.d. Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 5 April 2010).

Additional information on Chrysler’s internal politics during this period came from David Halberstam, The Reckoning (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986); Charles K. Hyde, Riding the Roller Coaster: A History of the Chrysler Corporation (Great Lakes Books) (Chicago, IL: Wayne State University Press, 2003); Terry Parkhurst, “Lynn A. Townsend, Former Chrysler President (n.d., Allpar, www.allpar. com, accessed 4 April 2010); “The Man on the Cover: Lynn Townsend & Chrysler’s Comeback, TIME 28 December 1962, www.time. com, accessed 11 January 2009. Car and Driver‘s observations on Chrysler marketing came from “Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi: Lavish execution with little or no thought toward practical application,” Car and Driver November 1969, reprinted in Dodge Muscle Cars 1967-1970 (Brooklands Books) ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1984).

We also consulted the following period road tests: Jim Wright, “Plymouth Sport Fury,” Motor Trend April 1962; “1963 Plymouth Sporty Fury,” Car Life February 1963; Jim Wright, “Plymouth Sport Fury Road Test,” Motor Trend January 1964; Bob McVay, “Plymouths – Top & Bottom,” Motor Trend August 1965; “Plymouth Sport Fury,” Car and Driver August 1965; “Car Life Road Test: Plymouth VIP,” Car Life January 1966; “Car Life Road Test: Fury III Convertible,” Car Life August 1967; “Plymouth Fury III Four-Door (Autocar Road test number 218),” Autocar 13 June 1968; “Plymouth’s Fury: Furious by Degrees,” Road Test May 1970; Jim Brokaw, “Establishment Motor Pool: Comparing the AMC Ambassador, the Plymouth Fury, and the Ford LTD,” Motor Trend November 1970; “Fury Gran Coupe,” Road Test May 1972; “Driving Road Test: Plymouth Gran Sedan: Detroit’s most improved sedan,” Driving July 1974; “Comparison: Caprice, LTD and Gran Fury,” Motor Trend, June 1976, reprinted in Plymouth Fury Limited Edition Extra 1956-1976, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2002); “Satellite: The Chrysler Corp. has Lost its Buttons,” Car Life January 1965, Jim Wright, “Plymouth Sport Fury Road Test,” Motor Trend January 1964, and Robert E. McVay, “very important plymouth: VIP Road Test,” Motor Trend February 1966, reprinted in Plymouth 1964-1971: Muscle Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2003); and Steve Kelly, “3 of a Kind,” Motor Trend March 1967, reprinted in The Great Classic Muscle Cars Compared (Muscle Portfolio), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1999).

The title of this article was suggested by a line in the Anglican hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” which also inspired the title of a 1972 book by James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small, and its various film and television adaptations.


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  1. You mention that "pushbuttons … were dropped because a Chrysler marketing study found that they were a deterrent to buyers who had never tried them before." The story I remember hearing when I was growing up was that it was a government mandate – part of the same ruling / legislation (not sure which) that imposed additional safety standards such as backup lights, outside mirrors and seatbelts (all of which had previously been optional equipment) – that also spelled the end of GM’s unusual column shift automatic (with reverse down below first gear rather than between park and neutral). Supposedly this was due to people renting cars and having accidents because they put the car in the wrong gear by mistake and/or because they would leave a Chrysler product in neutral because they couldn’t find the park button (since there wasn’t one, it was a lever). My father’s favorite "trick", on either his ’61 Dodge Phoenix convertible or my mother’s ’63 Dodge 330 four door sedan, was to depress the reverse button slightly if someone was tailgating him; that would flash the backup lights and generally startle whoever was following too closely, enough that they would either back off or roar around us. I later owned that ’63 sedan, and a few years later a ’63 330 wagon, also with the pushbutton automatic. When my father’s aunt passed away in 1968, the family attempted to convince my grandmother (her sister) to take Aunt Ethel’s ’65 Studebaker Lark, but she wouldn’t give up her ’61 Pontiac Star Chief because she didn’t want to learn a new shift pattern; Dad brought the Lark home on the assumption that my mother would jump at the chance to have a car with air conditioning (the ’63 330 did not), but she didn’t want to make the switch either because … you guessed it … it had what we consider today to be the standard shift pattern, and she liked her pushbuttons. And of course Dad wouldn’t give up his convertible, so the Lark was passed on to another member of the family who drove it for many years. Mother finally surrendered to the modern shifter in 1970, when they bought a new Galaxie 500, and she’s been griping about it for forty years now!

    1. I’ve heard that story in various forms, but to the best of my knowledge, it’s not true. There was indeed pressure to standardize automatic transmission shift patterns for the reasons you mention, but as far as I know, it was from the SAE, not from the government. Moreover, Chrysler pushbuttons did follow the NRDL pattern that became standard (big Chryslers didn’t have a parking pawl until 1962), even if it was on the dash, rather than the console or column. This bears more research, but there was apparently nothing to ban things like the Hurst Dual-Gate or the “Slap-Stik” shift controls of some years later, certainly.

      In any case, the timing doesn’t really support that idea. The first real federal safety legislation didn’t go into effect until 1967. Chrysler would have had to make the decision to ditch the pushbuttons no later than the summer of 1962, before that legislation was even passed. That [i]would[/i], however, have been in the wake of the disastrous ’62 model year, and coincided with various other moves the Townsend administration made to make Chrysler more like Ford and GM.

      When Chrysler made the change, their explanation, in their press releases and public statements, was all about marketing, and even the less-credulous magazines didn’t question that. Considering that when the Big Three [i]did[/i] start complying with government safety regulations a few years later, they made a big deal out of their compliance, I haven’t seen anything to make me doubt that explanation.

      Naturally, if I find compelling evidence to the contrary, I’ll go with that, but the marketing explanation seems to make more sense.

      Was your mom left-handed? One of the objections some journalists always had to the pushbuttons was that they could be awkward for right-handed drivers.

      1. Yes, she is… as am I. Interesting point, I hadn’t even considered that as a factor.

      2. I used pushbuttons on my ’56 Plymouth, my ’64 Dart, my ’61 Valiant.Though right handed, had no trouble with left on the buttons, felt the Park pawl taking the car out of gear and locking it was great, as it was on my ’61 Valiant.
        I feel it was strictly marketing pressure, conform to the others, that made them give up the buttons.
        And now Lincoln has them again!
        Just like push button starting as on my ’47Dodge!

    2. It appears that I was at least partly incorrect. The federal General Services Administration required Neutral to be placed between Reverse and Drive (effectively mandating the PRNDL shift pattern) for all government-purchased fleet vehicles, starting in the 1966 model year, and that spurred the industry shift. I’m still not sure that influenced Chrysler’s decision to drop the pushbuttons; their shift pattern didn’t change, and the buttons created a much more positive separation between Drive, Neutral, and Reverse than column-shifted automatics. But there was a federal mandate, so that may have been part of the decision, if not the sole reason.

  2. The immediate reason to not reinstate a C-body Plymouth was that Plymouth and Chrysler sold in the same dealerships. The Chrysler Newport was a lot of car for the money, and the Chrysler brand had a banner year in 1962…probably because the corporation had reduced its traditional full-size cars from four brands to one (plus a limp “Dodge” version of the Chrysler at the same price as a sop to Dodge dealers and their loyal customers). The puffy 63 Plymouth was reasonably competitive on apparent size.

    It’s kind of funny that Dodge dealers had the tables turned in 62. In 1960, they’d blown the doors off their stores because they had great looking Plymouth-sized and -priced junior Dodges, at the expense of Plymouth. Now they were stuck selling a Dodge at the same prices as an equivalent Chrysler. Lotsa luck, fellas.

    1. [quote]The immediate reason to not reinstate a C-body Plymouth was that Plymouth and Chrysler sold in the same dealerships.[/quote]

      That would be a logical reason — although, as the article says, they subsequently ignored that logic with the VIP, which I think sold badly as a result of it. What I don’t know is if that was the actual rationale. As the whole ’62 debacle demonstrates, a number of Chrysler’s product planning decisions in this period were not exactly sensible!

      In the long run, of course, the closeness of the Chrysler brand to the top Plymouth and Dodge (and earlier, DeSoto) did Chrysler more harm than its stablemates, dragging down its market position. But in the mid-sixties, it was hard to argue with the prospect of a ‘real’ Chrysler for Plymouth money.

      1. I agree that the biggest problems of selling Caprice/LTD type Plymouths was that they sold in the same dealerships as comparable Chryslers for nearly the same money.

        I’d think dealers wouldn’t even bother stocking them without some extra wholesale discount (as in the days of the sales bank).

  3. Also, note that the shortened mid-size B-bodies didn’t come til 1966. The 65 Belvedere and Coronet were the same size as the standard 64 Plymouth, despite the new C-body full-size cars in 65. IIRC, the 65 Plymouth was the least popular “mid-size” car that year of any brand, although the newly styled Coronet was reasonably popular and outsold the new Dodge C-body; the 65 Belvedere was obviously the same car as the 63–64 standard Plymouth, and was outsold by the 65 Fury by over 2:1.

    1. [quote]Also, note that the shortened mid-size B-bodies didn’t come til 1966. The 65 Belvedere and Coronet were the same size as the standard 64 Plymouth, despite the new C-body full-size cars in 65. [/quote]

      The restyled ’66s were indeed smaller than the ’65s, but the ’65s were also somewhat shorter than the ’64s. The overall lengths are as follows:

      1964: Dodge 330/440/Polara: 209.8 inches
      Plymouth Savoy/Belvedere/Fury/Sport Fury: 206.5 inches
      1965: Dodge Coronet: 204.2 inches
      Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite: 203.4 inches
      1966: Dodge Coronet: 203.0 inches
      Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite: 200.5 inches

      The ’66 B-bodies had a new body, but the move to reposition them as intermediates had already begun in ’65.

      [quote]the 65 Belvedere was obviously the same car as the 63–64 standard Plymouth, and was outsold by the 65 Fury by over 2:1[/quote]

      Yup, pretty much; Plymouth’s total model-year sales for 1965 were 721,234, of which 329,950 were C-bodies and about 162,675 were the Belvedere and Satellite. Unlike Ford’s ’62 Fairlane, Chrysler didn’t do a very good job of marketing the ’65 B-bodies as new products. Given the oscillation in size of the previous years, and the fact that the ’65 Belvedere was pretty clearly a facelift of the ’64 big car, I imagine that a fair number of buyers were puzzled by the nameplate shuffling.

      [quote]IIRC, the 65 Plymouth was the least popular "mid-size" car that year of any brand[/quote]

      Yup. Here’s the breakdown:

      Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite: 162,675
      Dodge Coronet: 176,647
      Ford Fairlane: 223,954
      Chevrolet Chevelle/Malibu: 326,977
      Pontiac Tempest/Le Mans: 307,083
      Buick Special/Skylark: 234,974
      Olds F-85/Cutlass: 212,082
      Rambler Classic: 199,063

      [quote]the newly styled Coronet was reasonably popular and outsold the new Dodge C-body[/quote]

      Well, the Coronet was more popular than the ’65 Belvedere and Satellite, but as you can see from the numbers above, that wasn’t saying much — they were still second to last.

      The B-body Dodges had outsold the C-body from the start. In ’62, it was understandable, given the mid-year introduction, but even in ’63 and ’64, the Custom 880 accounted for only 6-7% of Dodge’s total volume. Dodge stretched the B-body more than Plymouth did; the ’63 B-body Dodge wasn’t really that much smaller than its main competitors. (It was about four inches shorter than a Catalina, two inches shorter than an Impala.) What that suggests is that the C-body was more for the comfort of Dodge dealers and management than Dodge buyers, not unlike AMC’s Ambassador, which John Conde said was created more to placate AMC executives than for any specific marketing purpose.

      1. Might want to double check your sources on the size of the 64 Plymouth and Dodge.

        Except wagons, the 63/64 standard Plymouths are approximately 206″ from tip to tail (barring variations like the vee’d front bumper on the 64 Plymouth). The Dodges are approx 209″

        The 63/64 “B-plus” Dodges had been built on a longer WB (119″) than the standard Plymouths (116″), which is why the 65 Coronet needed new rear styling to fit the Plymouth-sized chassis (unlike the 119″ 63/64 Dodges, the 116″/117″ WBs on 65 and later Belvederes and Coronets are done with different axle positions on the same floorpan).

        The 63/64 Plymouth and Dodge wagons are approx 210″ long. Both brands used the same 116″ wheelbase for wagons.

        1. Hmm, it appears you’re correct. I’d taken the overall length figure from Jim Wright’s ’64 Sport Fury road test in [i]Motor Trend[/i] (January 1964), but it looks like they either had a typographical error or took the figures from a station wagon, rather than a hardtop. I looked up the AMA specs for the ’64, and the overall length of non-wagon models is listed at 206.5 inches, so I’ve amended the text accordingly.

  4. First off, what a great website!
    In 1980, with a growing family, I traded my ’68 VW to a lady who wanted a Bug for her 1972 Fury III. Beside a ’65 Dodge Dart, the only other Chrysler product I’ve owned. It had, to the best of my recollection, a 360 with a Holley 4bbl.
    When you put the pedal to the carpet, it was the classic case of irresistible force meets immovable object. I think I was getting about 10 mpg. One day I had the hood open with the motor running and noticed the mechanical fuel pump was squirting about half the fuel out the side. After I replaced the fuel pump mileage improve to about 13 mpg. One curious feature of this vehicle was the turn signal indicators on the fenders, which was a nice touch excepting there were no turn signal indicators on the dash instrumentation. I believe what you said about the torsion bar suspension being “de-tuned” as it was a challenge to travel in a straight line on the highway. Having said all that this vehicle was pretty reliable. Also built like a tank. Was at a red light and got rear-ended by a Toyota doing 45 mph. Toyota = totalled (no injuries to the driver thank goodness) Plymouth = bent license plate holder/fuel filler door. Also knocked all the accumulated junk out of the bottom of the fuel tank and had to clean the tank/fuel system/rebuild the Holley. Thanks for allowing me to share my story.
    Regards,
    Mark

    1. The big Plymouths were not particularly svelte, and fit and finish was hit and miss, judging by the complaints of contemporary reviewers, but they were certainly sturdy. The owner of the silver VIP in the photos told me that he drove a lot of these cars in demolition derbies years ago, and found them nearly indestructible.

    2. In reply to Mark Benedict, the 360 engine was new to the Chrysler Corporate engine line in 1970s. Being the largest displacement ‘LA’ engine built by Chrysler, but it was only equipped with a Holley 2bbl to begin with. No similarity to the 361 which was an ‘LB’ engine. The 383 and 400 engines were also ‘LB’ engines with the exception of the Golden Lion 383 which was an ‘RB’ engine. Other ‘RB engines being the 413, 426 and 440.
      When the 340 engine was replaced by the 360 in 1974, it became the performance ‘LA’ engine equipped with a Carter Thermoquad, performance cam and duel exhaust as the 1973 340 had. Mostly seen in the ‘A’ body Duster and Demon but also found in the 1975 Plymouth Road Runner before the old bird died.

      1. The 361, 383, and 400 engines where B blocks. The 413, 426, and 440 engines were RB or “raised block” engines. There was one RB small bore 383 for one year but only in Canada.

        1. You’re right. I had subsequently straightened this out, but there are still some glitches in older articles.

  5. First of all, great article. I enjoy reading about the machinations of automakers as they try and figure out how to fit in predetermined sales niches.

    One quick correction, though: in the caption for the blue 1962 Belvedere, you mention that it has “lake pipes.” The pictured car has headers, but no exhaust pipes running along the rocker panel (which are good for little more than calf burns).

    1. Oops, you’re right — it’s running open exhaust pipes, but not lake pipes. Corrected!

  6. Another great article. These cars are fascinating, given their “wallflower” status compared to the contemporary Chevrolet Bel Air/Impala/Caprice and Ford Galaxie/LTD.

    It’s always a treat to see one at an old car show – especially the somewhat wacky 1961 models! At one of the Carlisle Events shows last year, someone showed a largely original 1961 Plymouth Suburban in very good shape. THAT is a rare sight these days, even at old car shows.

    When I was growing up in the early 1970s, the big Plymouths were considered a bit “off” as a choice. The Bel Air/Impala/Caprice, and, to a lesser extent, the Galaxie/LTD, were the safe choices. Chrysler products, aside from the Valiant/Dart, did not have an especially good reliability reputation at that time, and were also considered to be plainer and more spartan than their GM and Ford competitors.

    It was always amazing to me how quickly the sales of the full-size Plymouths and Dodges collapsed in the wake of the first fuel crisis. Sales of the big GM and Ford cars did recover to an extent in 1976 (except for the full-size Pontiac), but the Dodge Royal Monaco and Plymouth Gran Fury never did. Full-size Chryslers did sell well, however, probably at the expense of the lesser corporate siblings.

    One quibble – I believe that the 1970 Fury resembles the 1969 Chevrolet, not the 1970 Chevrolet. The 1969 Chevrolet had a front ensemble that featured a wraparound bumper that enclosed the headlights and grille. The 1970 model had a more traditional front that aped a contemporary Cadillac. The 1973 Dodge Polara, however, does look like a great deal like a 1970 Chevrolet.

    I’d love to see an article on the big Fords of the 1960s, along with the post-1964 AMC Ambassadors (when AMC again gave the Ambassador its own wheelbase and unique styling).

    1. [quote]I believe that the 1970 Fury resembles the 1969 Chevrolet, not the 1970 Chevrolet.[/quote]

      Ack, you’re quite right — the ’69 Chevy, like the Impala Custom.

  7. I remember the mid 60s Fury making a sales comrback for Plymouth. Uncle/aunt had ’65 Fury III coupe and 69 sedan, my family had a ’68 wagon.

    However, in my opinion, Plymouth/Dodge big cars lost sales to GM/Ford family cars during the sales boom of 1971-73, just before Oil Crunch I. Chryslers in my family had reliability issues, such as hard starting. My folks went to GM in ’75 and never looked back.

    Also, the fuselage styling was ‘too swinging 60s’ by 1971. So, Chrysler brought out GM copies for 1974, just in time for OPEC. By the time oil fears eased in 1976, buyers had moved on to GM/Ford mid size cars, and imports. Mopar dropped their best cars by then, the A bodies, and went downhill.

    1. As the article points out, the reintroduction of the C-body did boost sales, but not as dramatically as one might think; ’64 Plymouth sales were already pretty good, nearly 600,000 units. I suspect it had as much to do with more orthodox styling as anything else, rather than that buyers were waiting for a really big Plymouth.

      Reliability was always a bugbear for Chrysler. The sixties big cars were durable enough, but their assembly quality was below par (albeit better than in ’57-’58), which dragged down resale values. A lot of people saw Chevrolet as the safer choice, even though its quality was nearly as bad by the late sixties.

  8. The smoke and mirrors of the ‘new small Fury’ for 1975 was just a rename of the Satellite line. I think this confused buyers more, they expected a big car and got a middie. My uncle was a loyal Fury man, and got a ’75 middie Fury wagon after a big 1970, but it was cramped inside. Next family car was a full sized Dodge van.

    Gran Fury was kind of an odd name. A Grander form of anger? Making all the big cars use a once top of the line trim level, GF and Royal Monaco was redundant and confusing. Toyota never did that and kept their cars’ names true to their segments.

    1. The questionable logic of moving the Fury name back to the B-body line was emblematic of the bad decision making that pushed Chrysler to the brink of collapse in the late seventies. One gets the impression that nobody at Chrysler had any grasp at all of branding; the decision to apply the Charger name to [i]all[/i] two-door B-bodies was another fine example. All it did was confuse people, and the effect on net sales was not good.

      All automakers have ‘promoted’ their existing models to some extent — the Corolla, for example, is getting close to the size of past Camrys, while the four-door Yaris is closer to the size/price position of past Corollas. You can get away with it if it’s a logical progression, but Chrysler did it repeatedly, with no rhyme or reason, and they suffered for it.

    2. I owned a ’75 “small Fury” – it was the Sport Fury hardtop coupe (with full rear-quarter door glass unlike the opera windows on GM cars – but like the operas were fixed in place) Lemon Twist with white vinyl top, Magnum 500 wheels, white interior with bucket seats/console, along with 318 2-bbl, TorqueFlite, power steering and disc brakes. Bought in 1984 with 48,000 miles and sold it in 1995 with 175,000. Still presentable condition but rust in the lower rear quarters was difficult for do-it-yourself repair – a common problem with all Chrysler products of that era.

      Though the styling of the ’75 Fury coupes (and Dodge Coronet, which got back its coupe models for first time since 1970 as the Charger was now a single Chrysler Cordoba-cloned SE version)was all new, the sedans and wagons retained the basic 1971 bodyshell but did get the same front ends as their coupe counterparts bolted in.

      In addition to Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco, another big-car nameplate downsized to mid-size was Ford’s LTD. While GM downsized all their big cars in 1977, Ford (as well as Mercury and Lincoln) continued their traditional big cars until the downsized ’79s. In addition to the big LTD, Ford added a new mid-sized LTD II line for 1977 which replaced the Torino and got a heavy facelift of its basic 1972 body.

      The LTD II was a respectable seller until its end in 1979 – during which year the II was bigger than the newly-downsized parent. In 1983, Ford (now Mercury) would again downsize its big-car nameplate to a mid-sized model. That year, the LTD went to the heavily facelifted “Fox” sedan formerly known as Granada while the big car stayed on as the LTD Crown Victoria (reviving a top-shelf ’55 Fairlane) and the mid-sized Mercury (previous the Cougar sedan and wagon – from 1983-on Cougar was again only a personal-luxury coupe) became the Marquis while the “Big-M” became the Grand Marquis – which had been a top trim line of the big Marquis since 1974.

  9. The old [i]Popular Mechanics[/i] Owners’ Reports from the 1960s are interesting to read. Assembly quality was a real problem with late 1960s Chrysler products – particularly the 1969 “fuselage” full-size cars. Chevrolet and Ford had some quality complaints with their all-new 1965 models, but they did improve as the decade progressed. At least, according to those survey results, they did.

    Chevrolet had another big factor in its favor. It was seen as the style leader of the Chevrolet-Ford-Plymouth league. It didn’t hurt that Chevrolet regularly incorporated styling cues from GM’s upper-level divisions. Chevrolet looked like either a cut-rate Cadillac or Buick, and people loved it.

    I remember that, by the early 1970s, most people thought that the full-size GM and Ford cars were much more attractive than the fuselage Chryslers. GM was seen as the styling leader, and Ford was applying Lincoln Continental cues to the Galaxie/LTD and Mercury Monterey/Marquis.

    Everybody knew that the big Plymouths were widely used as taxis and police cars, and somehow the “civilian” versions didn’t come across as being much nicer or more luxurious than the fleet models. In the early 1970s, the market was going in two directions at once – some people wanted the economy and frugality offered by imports or domestic compacts, but people who bought domestic full-size cars wanted a cut-rate Lincoln or Cadillac. The full-size Plymouths didn’t satisfy either audience.

    Another problem Plymouth faced was direct competition from Dodge. By the end of the 1960s, most people didn’t view a Dodge as a step up from a Plymouth. They were basically two peas in a pod. Pontiac was still viewed as being “better” than a Chevrolet, and Ford was trying to once again turn Mercury into a mini-Lincoln, with the Marquis. (At any rate, Mercury was so weak that it wasn’t a threat to Ford. At least Ford knew which division was more important.)

    This started with the 1960 Dodge Dart, which boosted Dodge sales, but seriously hurt Plymouth. If Valiant sales are taken away from Plymouth’s 1960 sales figures (and they should be, given that Chrysler promoted Valiant as a separate marque for 1960), then Dodge outsold Plymouth for that year!

    There are even ads for the 1960 Dart urging buyers to compare it to “Car C,” “Car F” and “Car P”!

    One wonders if the right hand knew what the left was doing at Chrysler.

  10. Minor point: For 1968 the DPL was supplanted by the SST as the top-of-line Ambassador. It is fascinating how in 1969 the SST outproduced Plymouth’s VIPs by two to one (not including wagons).

    You mention in a comment that John Conde said the Ambassador was created more to placate AMC executives than any specific marketing purpose. To make matters worse, AMC repeatedly tried – and failed – to turn the Ambassador into something more than a top-end afterthought.

    Most obviously, Roy Abernathy bloated up the Ambassador in the mid-60s to compete more directly against the Big Three’s full-size cars. Despite the Ambassador’s mediocre sales, Roy Chapin maintained that strategy through 1974 – thereby diverting scare resources from AMC’s increasingly neglected mid-sized offerings, which had once been the company’s bread and butter.

    1. Well, in fairness, that is one of those things that’s easier to say in hindsight than at the time. Looking at the sales of the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Galaxie/LTD, it’s pretty easy to see why AMC would have wanted a piece, even a small piece, of that action.

  11. I don’t think the Commando V8 badge on the ’66 VIP indicated the 318ci engine.

    I think that the Commando V8 badge indicated the 383ci and maybe only the 4BBL version of that engine.

    440ci got a Super Commando badge.

    1. I could have sworn the owner of the VIP said the car had a 318 (although it was admittedly more than three years ago now), and he definitely said it was an all-original car. However, looking at the brochure for the ’66 line, it does indicate that the Commando V8 badge would mean an RB-series engine.

      Which one? Well, the brochure for ’66 calls all three RB engines (383-2V, 383-4V, and 440) Commando V8s. In 1967, both 383s are listed as Commando V8 and the 440 is a Super Commando, while in 1968, the 383-4V and the 440 are both Super Commandos. To add to the fun, the 273 was called Commando in ’64-’65, as was the 1968 340 (not offered in the VIP, obviously). So, if I was confused, I was apparently not alone…!

  12. The reincarnated 1962 Dodge 880 was created by using the 62 Chrysler rear end with different taillights plugged in along with the 61 Dodge front end with a crossbar added to the grille and the 61 Dodge interior. It didn’t appear in the same showroom with the Chrysler which donated the rear end.

    So the rear end was already reused and was on display in the same showroom as any Plymouth. There was nothing left. No one would have wanted to bring back either end of the 61 Plymouth, besides as others have pointed out, the Newport was sitting there to sell. Before the 880 the Dodge dealers didn’t have anything big to offer in its showrooms.

    I’m sure Plymouth would have liked something big of its own to throw together and put on sale as well.

  13. Does anyone know how many 1965 sport fury convertible’s
    were produced with the 426 wedge

    1. I don’t have that info, I’m afraid. Anyone else?

  14. Can anyone tell me how many 1966 fury convertibles were equipped with a 4 speed transmission? Thank you.

  15. in the options list for the 1966 VIP I think a reverb for the radio was an option.mine had one and I don’t think it was dealer installed but I could be wrong.my wife loved that car and still complains about me trading it in for a 68 coronet 500 convertible.

  16. Driving around town with my girlfriend on New Years eve 1966 and saw a fabulous looking new car parked in front of First National Bank. We parked next to it and found it was a PLYOUTH VIP! My 63-1/2 Ford Galaxie500 hardtop was pretty well “down the tubes” as I’d driven the P_ _ _ out of it’s 260 while I owned it. I liked luxury and speed so ordered one on the second of January, ’67: Metallic Green on the bottom with a white top – a 2-barrel 383, chrome wheels, electric windows, and I believe it was to have a 2.75 or 2.76 to one rear end. Lu and I honey mooned in it that fall and I rarely drove it under 90 mph on pavement. When the original equipment tires wore out quite quickly we put on Michelin tires and she became a real cruiser! On trips to see relatives in Montana she’d sail along at 110 and make close to 20 miles per gallon! We drove ‘er to nearly 150,000 miles without spending more than maintenance money on it – sold it to the neighbor kids for four hundred bucks in the fall of 1973 who drove it many more miles for several years until hitting a white tail der one night and totaled her out. Wish I’d just parked it in the Quonset until now!!

  17. I am shopping for a 1966 plymouth fury vip
    318
    turbine bronze metalic
    2dr
    A retirement present for my self.Does anyone no of one for sale?

    1. I can’t help with buying cars, but I wish you good luck with it — it certainly sounds like a fun and painless retirement toy.

    2. I have a 1966 VIP 2 door, restored with the original 383 with manufacture mold 2-26-66 engine, 2 barrel carter carb and intake, original interior with matching replacement seats, original hub caps and 14 inch wheels. The icing on the cake is that it is “turbine bronze metalic” repaint. It can be for sale if the price is right. Contact me if still interested.

  18. The ’65 and ’66 Fury’s standard engine was not the 318 LA V8. It was the 318 A engine, the old poly head engine. The 318 LA engine didn’t debut until I think the 1968 model year. My parents owned a 65 Fury I station wagon and it had a 318 poly head.

    1. Oops, you’re absolutely right. Thanks!

  19. This may be a stupid question . Have a big project going on now, restoring a 1968 plymouth fury III to better than new condition. Im looking for a donor car and pics all look different. Are there tow different roof lines for 1968 plymouth fury III. All the ones i see for sale the roof slant appears to be different.

    1. Yes, there were five Fury III body styles in 1968: a four-door pillared sedan, a four-door hardtop, a two-door convertible, and two different two-door hardtops. The type with the almost triangular sail panel, like the yellow hardtop here, was called a Fast Top, but there was also another two-door hardtop style with slanted, parallelogram sail panels like those of the contemporary B-body hardtop.

  20. lookin for a pretty clean 1968 plymouth fury III donor car

  21. I have a 1969 VIP 383 and transmission sitting in the subframe up for sale,looking for offers.

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