(first posted 5/1/2013) Debasement. For most people, the word means “to cheapen or erode in character, quality or value.”
However, if you’re an auto industry executive, “debasement” is that place in your house to which you scurry when the weather turns foul. For them, it seems cheapening a nameplate is commonplace as breathing.
The auto industry has turned name debasement into a fine art. Think about the laundry list of cheapened names that includes Impala, Galaxie, Lincoln, Bel-Air, Fury–the list seems endless. For now, let’s think about this one: Newport.
As with any fine art, there is a prescribed methodology for debasing a car’s name, so let’s look at the method used in the Newport’s case: With cars, like people, no two debasements are the same, but in this case certain similarities abound.
image source: wikipedia.org
Introduce a show car in 1940. Give it an original and prestigious sounding name; Newport, in this instance. Produce very few; six, in this case. If you don’t have an original chassis to build from, just grab one from a New Yorker; nobody really expects a unique platform to be created for such an endeavor, do they?
To further enhance the desirability quotient, make your car at once highly visible and unobtainable.
image source: wikipedia.org
Ensure that one is snapped up by a young, attractive ingenue such as Lana Turner; also, it doesn’t hurt if somebody with the same name as the car–say, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.–nabs another. It simply demonstrates confidence in the product.
image source: www.fototime.com
Cough up one example (18% of your total production) for use as the pace car at the 1941 Indy 500, since doing so will ensure a boat load of pictures in all the magazines–and thus create the perception of the Newport as a truly high-end car.
Wait ten years, until 1950, when two-door hardtops become all the rage. Upon introducing your two-door hardtop, slap the Newport name on every single one. Repeat for seven model years, until 1956. You are betting people will remember the Newport show car from just before the war; in turn, people will say such desirable things as, “Damn, Roy, you bought a Newport! You gettin’ too high-falutin’ for us regular Dodge drivers?”
It will be a sign you have arrived.
Cancel the name as both your new Forward Look cars (and a non-vehicular product with the same name) are introduced.
image source: www.morningcigarette.com
Nobody wants to be viewed as having a smoking car, much less driving a cigarette. Thus, abandon the Newport name and leave the name plate looking for a new port…er, home.
The name must be cancelled despite a young ad man’s brilliant idea of getting a supply of Newports with the purchase of a new Newport. It could have been a real barn-burner; the tragedy of missed opportunity never fails to resound in one’s mind.
One can only ponder the ruckus that would be caused by the introduction today of a cigarette branded “Charger”, “Fusion”, or “Brougham”.
Let the name simmer and/or ferment for four model years. Reintroduce in 1961. Nobody will notice how this new Newport was introduced to plug the self-created price gap between Dodge and Chrysler that was left when DeSoto was tossed aside like yesterday’s underwear. In turn, expect to sell about 57,000 of your new stripper Chryslers versus 34,000 “regular” Chryslers.
Let the name debasement begin! As an added bonus, not only have you cheapened the Newport name, but you have also managed to sully the Chrysler image–just as Packard did to itself in the mid-’50s. Congratulations, Mr. Auto Industry Executive: Your negative double-play has rightfully earned you a promotion and a big, fat bonus. Great job!
Having recounted all that formulaic behavior, we can now turn to my find: this wonderfully-hued ’68 Newport. This was the last iteration of the Newport design cycle that began in 1965. Still sitting on a 124″ wheelbase three years later, the Newport was now available in two trim levels: the base Newport, or the slightly less-base Newport Custom.
Of course, Chrysler still had the New Yorker for their hardcore and more moneyed customers, but do the two series really look that much different? Obviously, many others were thinking exactly the same thing, as the two Newport series comprised the bulk of total Chrysler production in 1968.
So just what did $12 more than a top-end Dodge Monaco (Polara shown) net a person?
Okay, it also netted you a standard two-barrel 383 in lieu of Dodge’s standard 318; nonetheless, going Newport also got you a three-speed, column shifted manual transmission, extra-cost air-conditioning and very little chrome trim on its flanks–in retrospect, not an entirely bad thing. But from any angle, it was a Chrysler with only a Plymouth level of base equipment. That does seem rather bi-polar, does it not?
Going downmarket wasn’t exactly without precedent; like Packard, Cadillac went that route with its downmarket companion, LaSalle.
Times certainly have changed since 1968. Gone are the days of full-sized cars with 124″ wheelbases, 6-liters-and-then-some engines and manual transmissions. While some of you may be shouting “hooray!”, I’m not quite in that camp.
Admittedly, this car is so long I had to stand at an absurdly far distance just to get a profile shot. With its 383 (or better), it likely drinks like a sailor on shore leave. But regardless of trim or name, it’s a Chrysler! Back then, Chryslers were something to behold (as were the Lincolns of the day), vehicles far removed from the dreary–well, dreariness–permeating most of Chrysler’s current lineup. Do you really think Chrysler would have allowed a minivan into the stable in 1968? Absolutely not.
A Chrysler like this was for the man with a terminal five o’clock shadow, or the woman who always wore heels. They were for the crowd who wanted a Chrysler that didn’t include the visual and financial slap administered by the New Yorker. Similar to the people who always drove Buicks, the buyer of this Newport wanted to be subtle in proclaiming their success. Once upon a time, discreetly proclaiming one’s success was the essence of good taste.
Perhaps I possess a weak spot for Mopars in black, my favorite automobile color (here’s another black Mopar). Fortunately, this particular black Mopar wasn’t for sale. It possessed recently expired plates and was parked in front of an automotive repair shop. Over the next three weeks, I periodically saw it parked outside while being refreshed for more intimate encounters with the local highway system.
Never having really gazed at a ’68 Newport for an extended period, its looks certainly have grown on me. It’s always seemed to me that this generation’s body just doesn’t quite mesh with the greenhouse–
while the rear view seems positively cartoonish.
Despite the nitpicking, this Chrysler is simply, absolutely dripping with presence–there was no mistaking that it was on the lot as it confidently exuded its ample charisma. Were there even any other cars on the lot? I sure didn’t notice any.
Hmm. I think I just figured this Chrysler out. Ingenious.