I love the Chrysler Corporation. It is sad to me that they have struggled so much in recent years, though really it is not just in recent years. It seems like they have spent much of their history struggling and even in good times have been the underdog in Detroit. They always had to find ways to do more with less, which led to their producing some of the most unique vehicles of their times. If you’re like me and love their historic cars, you should enjoy this assortment I saw during Auction Week in Scottsdale, Arizona. There are 15 classics after the jump, so settle in for a supersized dose of Mopar greatness (and quirkiness).
We’ll go chronologically through this collection of cars. Silver was a relatively small auction with about 350 cars (about half as many as Russo and Steele and a fifth of Barrett-Jackson), many of which would get laughed off the block at the big boy auctions. Never the less, it was well worth the modest gate charge to get in because some of the most interesting cars I saw all week were there.
Case in point, they had this very nice looking 1935 Chrysler Airflow sedan. The Airflow was made by Chrysler division and Desoto from 1934-1937 and was an amazing gambit by Walter Chrysler to radically advance automotive engineering. The most obvious innovation was the wind-tunnel-tested, streamlined styling, with a sloping grille and flush headlights. The body proportions were strange for the time as well, since the engine sits more forward over the front axle and the wider cab is located more over the center of the wheelbase. This made for increased interior room and a smoother ride for passengers. The truly new beam-and-truss steel body was light and strong, though curiously still had a fabric roof panel.
A hood-up photo doesn’t do the Airflow justice. This is a photo I took at the Houston Fine Arts Museum a couple of years ago when they had a special exhibit of Art Deco Cars. It is also a 1935 model. After selling 8,389 Airflows in 1934 (not counting Imperials), 1935 saw 4,996 sold, only 379 of which were coupes. Sales went down from there in 1936-37. Sales were clearly less than expected from day one. Chrysler hastily modified the front end to have a more upright grille for 1935 (as well as introducing, with amazing speed, a conventionally styled Eight [cylinder] model called the Airstream).
All Chrysler Airflows had straight 8 engines, while Desoto Airflows had 6 cylinders. 1935’s had 323.5cid putting out 115hp, or 120hp optionally. They were pretty fast for their time and got good gas mileage.
In the photo of the Fine Arts Museum car you can see a screen which had a video playing. It was this 1934 Chrysler promotional film, which some of you have probably seen before. It’s pretty entertaining and worth the six minutes because the last minute is the best.
Since this car was at Silver, I don’t know if it sold or for how much as they haven’t released a sales list yet. Barrett-Jackson had a 1934 Airflow in their indoor tent. It was in nicer condition and sold for $55k. According to the Barrett-Jackson website, they have only sold 7 Airflows in the last 15 years at all their auctions nationwide, and surprisingly to me, 3 of those are customs.
You will definitely get noticed driving one of these, a 1947 Chrysler Town and Country offered at Silver. The only production four door woody sedan, they were built from 1946-48 along with a two door convertible. 1947 was the highest production year for the sedan at 2,651 with a base price of $2,713. Doesn’t sound too expensive, except when you consider an equivalent Windsor model cost $1,711 and even a top of the line New Yorker sedan only cost $2,073
After WWII, all the manufacturers were working on developing new designs, but that would take a few years. In the meantime, Chrysler thought a good way to bring attention to its cars, which were basically 1942 models like everybody had, was to have a whole line of wood bodied cars. They were planning on a full line of Six’s and longer wheelbase Eight’s with sedan, convertible and hardtop coupe available in each. They ended up having full production only for the Six sedan and Eight convertible. Still, the publicity purpose was served. They were popular with the Posh set and actually sold pretty well considering their high price (but probably didn’t make much, if any, money due to the high cost of hand building the wood bodies).
Strangely, Chrysler built woody wagons in 1941-42, but not after the war until 1949. In 1949, they had a convertible and wagon and in 1950 a hardtop coupe and wagon, their last wood bodied or trimmed cars. More obscure trivia: That 1950 Town and Country hardtop was one of the first U.S. cars to have disc brakes.
While not a musclecar, hot rod or sports car, Russo and Steele nevertheless had a 1950 Chrysler Windsor Club Coupe. Unfortunately, it did not sell. If you read my last article on Fords, you’ll recall I talked about the 1949 Ford as a design that was very forward thinking, and advanced the styling language perhaps a bit too fast for my tastes. Chrysler (along with Dodge, Desoto and Plymouth) took the exact opposite approach, releasing probably the most conservative all-new postwar cars.
Chrysler President K.T. Keller wanted cars that were roomy, practical and solidly built, to appeal to value driven customers who weren’t looking to make a fashion statement. Those qualities were built into a vehicle that would not challenge anyone’s existing expectations of what a car should look like, showing how much Chrysler had changed in the 15 years since the Airflow was released. Keller’s most famous decree was that a man should not have to remove his hat when driving a Chrysler. That would certainly not be a design parameter today!
In a deeper sense, the 1949 Chrysler corporation cars are actually a product of the same form-follows-function philosophy that birthed the Airflow. The devotion to functionality and quality engineering were there in both cases. The difference being that after the bad sales experience of the Airflow, it took 20 years for the company to want to do anything stylistically daring.
This car has the Highlander package, which gave you plaid upholstery. The seller states that the interior is all original. I think the dashboard and steering wheel on these are fantastic. The Windsor is part of the shorter wheelbase, six cylinder series. The 250.5cid straight six had 116hp, 19 less than the larger straight eight series cars. The horsepower race had definitely not been joined yet by Chrysler.
Suddenly it’s 1960! Fast forward 11 years and we have the Chrysler 300G. If you aren’t a Mopar junkie, G indicates its a 1961 model (OK, it was released in 1960!). Maybe it’s just me, but I found this car so FREAKING sweet, it was hard to breath in its presence. Did we ever actually build cars like this? My gosh, what an amazing vehicle. It sold at Russo and Steele for $57,000.
In my opinion, this car is just about perfect from stem to stern. Many 300 aficionados consider the F and G (’60 and ’61)to be the high point for Chrysler’s luxurious brute. Chryslers switched to unit body construction, so they are much stiffer. Also in 1960, 300’s got long cross ram induction, increasing torque significantly, as well as rear bucket seats and the Chrysler electroluminescent instrument panel. 300’s had their own 150mph speedometer, since the standard 120mph Chrysler unit would clearly be inadequate!
The 1960 front end was fairly conservative, but they had a fake spare tire (or toilet seat) on the rear deck lid. Though many manufacturers began to tone down their tailfins by 1960, Chrysler’s remained proudly large and kept them for 1961 while mercifully ditching the toilet seat. The front end got canted headlights and the trapezoidal grille was inverted. The 1960 front is pretty, but I think the angularity of the ’61 fronts works well with the tailfins and gives the car a bolder, distinctly Chrysler look. Sales increased in 1961, but still only sold 1,280 hardtops. For 1962, the 300 moved to a shorter wheelbase and completely lost the tailfins. Apparently, outgoing styling chief Virgil Exner was not happy with it since he called it the “plucked chicken”. 1962 also saw the introduction of a heavily decontented non-letter 300 series, contributing to a drop in letter car sales by 2/3’s.
Another notable Virgil Exner design is the 1962 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible. CC had a series of articles on the downsized 1962 Dodges and Plymouths a couple of months ago that were very interesting. I’ve always like the ’62 models. The styling is so out there, it delicious. I prefer the Plymouth to the Dodge. This one sold at Barrett-Jackson for $31,900.
Back at Silver, there was a 1963 Chrysler 300 non-letter car. In condition, it doesn’t compare to the 300G above or the ’62 Plymouth, but I included it because I really like these ’63-’64 Chryslers. This one has tired paint and cheesy wheels, but was still worth lingering on for me.
I have a soft spot for these that stems from my college days in the late 80’s. A friend of mine’s grandmother had a very low mileage ’64 300 four door that was in mint condition, even still rolling on its original tires. His dad took us out in it one chilly winter evening. When we started off, it felt like we were driving on a cobblestone street. He explained that those old bias ply tires were stiff in cold weather and that they had to get warmed up to get the flat spots out. Sure enough, they did after a few minutes. Then we just had a nice smooth ride in that charismatic car. He let it out a couple of times. In the late 80’s when just about everything on the road was slower, it seemed immensely powerful. Probably not any faster than an Accord now, but forever imprinted in my mind.
I love the dashes on these. Really simple and graceful. They even have a passenger “oh crap” chrome grab handle in the right side and, of course, pushbutton transmission. The interior on this car was nicer than the exterior.
Now for the Mopar muscle fans, here’s a 1967 Plymouth GTX. Parked next to it was a virtually identical car. They were both Hemi/4-speed cars. This one sold for $110,000 while its doppelganger went for exactly half that amount. They were both perfectly restored examples, but one was a recreation Hemi that originally had a 440. It was like a scientific experiment to find out exactly how much matching numbers are worth.
If you don’t need a Hemi, but like convertibles, Barrett-Jackson had a third ‘67 GTX available. The “Super Commando” 375hp 440 and A727 automatic were standard, with the 4-speed a no cost option. This was a meticulously restored 440 car that sold for about the same as the recreation Hemi at $52,800. It was ready for cruising with the Torqueflite transmission and nice redline radial tires.
I like the 1966-67 intermediates a lot. They have simple, clean styling and the hardtop coupe’s roofline is really elegant. I’ve always preferred the Dodge a bit, but on this trip the Plymouths have grown on me.
Ever heard of an $82,500 Dart? You may have if you are familiar with Dodge’s insane one year decision to make the big block 375hp 440cid V8 available in the 1969 Dart GTS.
This car was in better-than-new, so-clean-you-could-eat-off-the-undercarriage, restoration-overkill condition. It was even sold new at Grand Spaulding Dodge. For a car that’s a restoration showpiece and likely doesn’t get driven, it seems odd to me that they would put radials on it. I think the stance has a tad too much rake, as well. I suppose I could correct those things if I wanted to invest in the ultimate Dart, which I don’t!
Only at the peak of the muscle car era would it have seemed like a sensible idea to sell such a small car with largest engine the company made! (though it actually doesn’t look all that crowded in there)
The 1968 Plymouth Road Runner was the original budget muscle car. This 383cid, 4-speed car represented just about the least one could spend in 1968 to get a genuine mid-size “supercar”. You could get a no-frills car that could do 100mph in the quarter mile for $2,896. The fact that it came with a Beep-Beep horn was just a sweetener.
Plymouth had been making hot engines available in their regular models for years, but was slow to get into specifically marketed midsize performance models (like the ’64 Pontiac GTO). The GTX was only introduced for 1967 and came standard with a 440 and a higher level of trim. Plymouth very astutely perceived a demand for an entry level high performance intermediate. The Road Runner sold almost 45,000 in 1968 (The G.T.O. sold 80k) and actually outsold the G.T.O. in 1969.
This car doesn’t look to have any options on it. It’s a coupe (not a hardtop) like all the early Road Runners and had only some basic heavy-duty chassis components from the police package and GTX, in addition to the 335hp 383. It sold at Barrett-Jackson for $36,300.
The Road Runner sold so well, that Dodge made its own stripped down muscle model, the Super Bee, and released it mid-year. It came with the same engines as the Road Runner and the same minimum of comfort and style features.
This 1968 Super Bee has the optional 425hp 426cid, dual 4-barrel Hemi engine and Torqueflite A-727 automatic transmission. The seller states the car has its original engine and 11k original miles, though it has had paint, interior and other refurbishment. He also states they only made 126 Hemi Super Bee’s in 1968, 94 with automatics. It sold for $61,000.
I like this generation of Dodge intermediates better than the Plymouths. They work well with the full rear wheel openings, coke bottle curves on the rear fender and the slightly coved front end. 1970 is a different story, but I think those are groovy, too. This particular car has a great color and perfect stance and looks particularly menacing with its dog dish hubcaps and blackwalls. It says, “Yeah, I’ve got a Hemi, but I don’t need to shout about it.” If I had $61k to spend on a muscle car, I’d be really tempted!
Now this really pushes some of my buttons. I’ve got a thing for full size performance cars, if you haven’t picked up on that yet. Obviously, I’m a fan of the Chrysler 300 letter cars which ended in 1965, around the time most companies started to get away from full size performance and focus their efforts on mid size muscle. The non-letter 300’s continued through 1971 as a slightly sporty trim model on the standard Chrysler. However, the 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst was a special one-year-only model that harkened back to the old letter cars, with a bit more contemporary muscle car flash.
The Hurst model got unique fiberglass hood and trunk lid, spoiler, special paint, decals and painted wheels, white letter tires, leather seats, 375hp 440cid “TNT” V8 with torqueflite automatic transmission, and upgraded suspension. Oddly, a Hurst shifter was not offered.
Chrysler’s 1969 “fuselage” styling is polarizing. Being a lover of Chrysler quirkiness, I dig it. This rear shot really shows off the absurd length of the cars. These are the longest standard length Chryslers ever, at least until 1974 when they grew by a couple more inches.
This car was at Russo and Steele and did not sell (because I was not a bidder!)
Barrett-Jackson also had one, in nicer condition but with an unfortunate black vinyl top, which sold for $50,600. It’s the only one listed on the B-J website that they’ve sold in the last 15 years.
This 1971 Dodge Challenger is a head scratcher. I neglected to shoot a photo of the info sheet, and my recollection is limited to it saying it was mostly original with a repaint, as well as some info about its equipment being original. I only have a casual knowledge of these cars, so this appealed to me as being different from the typical car show/auction Challenger R/T or T/A, as well as not looking like a base model either. So what the heck is it?
The car has a R/T scooped hood with hold downs, R/T fake side scoops ahead of the rear wheels, blacked out R/T grille and taillight panel and the 383cid Magnum 300hp engine with dual quad style chrome plated exhaust tips. On the other hand it has 14 inch wheels, hubcaps and whitewalls, no stripes or decals and very non-muscle-car colors. It also has a strange wide chrome molding around the nose,
which may be aftermarket. Per XR7Matt: The Challenger with the pseudo loop bumper treatment was factory, the option code was M28, available on all trims but only for 1971.
With the help of the Old Car Manual Project, I found a 1970 salesman’s guide with a fair amount of detail, though not quite as much as I’d like. Assuming 1971 is similar, this car is an R/T, just a very unusually equipped one. 14 inch wheels with poverty caps were standard on R/T, with three hubcaps and two styled wheels optional (15 inch painted Rallye wheels were standard with 340 and 426 engines).
The Magnum 383 was one of nine (!) engine choices in the Challenger, and was optional in the base model and standard on the R/T. The one thing I haven’t determined is the stripes. A couple of sources state stripes were standard with either side stripes or a bumblebee tail stripe, while the salesman’s guide is silent on stripes. It seems likely that Dodge would have a stripe delete option, or it could be that the car was repainted and the original stripes left off. Stripes would look out of place on this car, so I choose to believe it never had them.
In any case, it is a very appealing car and appears to be a cool Mopar factory freak. It looked to be in very good condition, and the auction sale price of $25,000 seems reasonable.
Getting out of the muscle car era, this 1978 Dodge Magnum XE was at Silver. I think that this is the most attractive post-1974 version of this platform that Chrysler made. It may not be fast compared to the cars sold several years earlier, but it looks about as bad-ass as anything with opera windows can.
This car has the Gran Touring package, which had fender flares and 15×7 slotted wheels with trim rings and white letter tires, t-tops optional. The Magnum was only sold for 1978 and ’79, the first year along side the Charger (which it outsold 55k to 2.8k) Even in malaise-era 1978, it was available with five choices of V8. This one had a 4-barrel 360 good for 170hp. Not bad for the times, and you could get a 190hp 4-barrel 400.
This car wasn’t quite as nice as it looks in the photos. It was definitely rough around the edges, particularly the interior. I don’t know if it sold or for how much.
Lastly, at Barrett-Jackson we have a 1990 Chrysler TC by Maserati, the ultimate K-car. Based on the common 1980’s/early ’90’s corporate chassis with body work by Maserati, it was assembled in Italy and sold from 1989-’91. The 1989 engine was a Chrysler 2.2L turbo 4, while ’90 and ’91 models got a Mitsubishi 3.0L V6. Engines were the same ones used in many other Chrysler products.
Chrysler sold 3,762 in 1989, but sales dropped to 1,900 for 1990. It was a well-equipped, luxurious convertible cruiser with a well-trimmed leather interior, proven mechanicals and the latest safety features of airbag and anti-lock brakes. It had a soft top and removable hardtop. Who wouldn’t want one? Well, anybody who would prefer paying almost exactly half the price for a LeBaron convertible, which was visually and mechanically the same basic car with a backseat.
I appreciate that they put tiny rear quarter windows in it. Functionally, they don’t really serve a purpose, but not having them would be really cheap looking.
Say what you will about the car, but Chrysler put some of the most sumptuous looking seats ever in the TC. Chrome door jambs are a nice touch. The broughamy seats and hardtop porthole had to be a result of Iacocca influence. This example is a low-mileage, very clean looking specimen that sold for $5720. B-J has only sold these seven times in the last 15 years, one of them being this same one at Scottdale last year. That time, it only brought $2720, so it looks like the seller made out pretty well. You could pay me $3000 to drive a TC for a year, no problem!
If you missed them, here are the previous articles from my Scottsdale trip: