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.
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.
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 lasted 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, the 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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- Fish Story: The Plymouth Barracuda (Part Two)
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- Forward Look: Chrysler’s Early Fifties Transformation, Part 2
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