Curbside Classic: 1972 Plymouth Scamp – A Tasty Little Number

(first posted 11/27/2012)    A gastroenterologist once told me that a person’s taste in food changes significantly about every seven years.  While that assertion seems odd at first blush, I find it credible based on personal experience.  Thus am I challenged to apply the principle of the ever-changing palate to other venues: Specifically, can one’s taste in automobiles evolve in a similar way?

I submit that yes, it can change. As proof, I present Example One of Jason’s Theory:  This 1972 Plymouth Scamp.

Introduced for the 1971 model year, the 111″ wheelbase Scamp joined the Valiant sedan and Duster two-door as the third variant of Plymouth’s Valiant series. A total of  49,470 Scamps were built for 1972.

As a ’72 model myself, I have vivid memories of seeing these while I was growing up. I never liked them.

Why did I never like them?  This may sound superficial, but I hated the tail lights.  I simply could not stand such small, uninspired excuses for tail lights–and stuck into the bumper, no less.  They looked cheap, geriatric, and like the afterthought they were.

My disdain even encompassed the Dodge Dart, which donated its 1970 tail treatment to the Scamp.

A child’s mind is a thing of wonder and bewilderment. To wit: Although as a four-year-old too young to know about cognitive dissonance, I nonetheless recall automobiles of that part of my life that simply did not jive with my Scamp-phobia.

My maternal grandparents had a 1970 Chevrolet Impala similar to the Caprice pictured above.  Gee, those tail lights are stuck into the bumper, aren’t they?  Two clumps of three rectangles? How inspiring!


My parents had a base 1973 Ford Torino, in the same fecal-brown metallic as this one.  When I think about it now, my tail-light prejudice doesn’t make much sense, does it?

I admit being in awe when I encountered this particular Scamp about two months ago…but why was I?  Perhaps time does indeed heal all wounds.  Or perhaps I’ve matured (something truly painful for me to admit).  In any case, it was a fine example of a model I hadn’t seen in a very long time.  This one is quite nice, wears a great color combination, and is for sale.

Soon after I found the Scamp, the pesky little thing infected my brain. I found that out one evening during our seemingly never-ending relocation process, when my wife and I went to view a new-on-the-market house. The house had been built in the 1940s and  had a single-car, tuck-under garage and an unfinished basement.  As I stood in that basement, I tried hard to figure out how I could fit both my ’63 Ford Galaxie and the Scamp into the available space if I bought the house.  Yes, the infection was that bad.

The little Scamp kept hounding me.  I kept telling myself that the little lady cost less than $2,800–barely above its original $2,528 base price–and probably with a slant six attached to the automatic transmission.  I was tempted.  Common sense told me to forget it since I already own four vehicles, but my pictures to share with you had already been captured.  What’s a fellow to do?

Many years ago, Packard’s slogan was “Ask The Man Who Owns One”.  It is also very sound advice.  Having decided to not pursue the Scamp (dammit!), I thought perhaps sharing the first-hand experience of a Scamp owner could at least illustrate the delights of driving one.  After countless hours of title searches and researching various online discussion boards, and dozens upon dozens of phone calls and emails, I came across the former owner of a ’71 Scamp who lives in the Indianapolis area.  Yes, I was obsessed with this Scamp.

I drove 30 miles north to I-70, then eastbound and down to Hoosier Land.  Obsession knows no limits.

It really is a small world.  The gentleman I’d located near Indianapolis turned out to be our very own JPCavanaugh.

Sitting down with a case of ice-cold Coors I’d smuggled in, JP and I discussed all things automotive, and his Scamp in particular.  I soon learned that the pretty face of the Scamp concealed a few quirks lurking beneath the veneer.

JP said that his Scamp, like most Mopar products of the time, didn’t like cold weather, often stalling after the choke shut down and before the engine was fully warm.  It also was hard to start when it was hot.  The distributor was prone to collecting moisture, although JP said a shot of WD-40 every few months worked wonders.  I’ve known other Mopar owners who went through the same drill with their cars’ slant six engines.

The ’71 Scamp JP had owned was equipped with 9″ drum brakes at all four wheels, which made panic stops worthy of the name as the front end weaved all over the place.  Had JP’s Scamp been equipped with 10″ drums, stopping quickly would have involved a smaller pucker factor.  The seat material was as confidence-inspiring as the 9″ drums, with every seam splitting after a few years.

In spite of Mopar’s minimalist approach to sound isolation, he loved how the car drove, and was impressed with some of the finer touches Chrysler had included.  JP said that few cars of the time had illuminated ignition switches or offered optional fender-mounted turn signal indicators, but his Scamp had them both.  Even the windshield washer was operated by a squeeze bulb exempt from electrical and mechanical foibles.

JP concluded that all in all, the Scamp was a great car for a college kid. It was quite simple to work on and always ran as smooth as a baby’s butt, even after 145,000 miles.  In fact, he told me it ran much smoother than the Mustang II driven by a friend of his, much to the friend’s annoyance.

Yes, his Scamp was one of many, each with its own unique history, but with just as many commonalities.

For me, the hook is still set.  That blasted little Scamp still permeates my thoughts sometimes, and I know it’s only about 10 minutes away from where I am writing this.

The reason for my sudden infatuation with this Scamp has emerged during this journey of discovery. Many people are content with their experiences and never venture beyond them.  Familiarity with compacts is something I  never really had, although my knowledge has certainly grown since I began frequenting Curbside Classic.  While I still don’t have much first-hand experience, I find myself seeking more as I begin to appreciate the real virtues of compacts from this era.

Sometimes, trying a new flavor makes you realize you’ve been missing out on a really good thing.

Plymouth kept the Scamp until the end of the Valiant’s run in 1976.  It was then replaced by a true, bona fide Deadly Sin called Volare.  Despite my recent tongue-in-cheek CC about the ’78 Aspen wagon, one’s desire to purchase an Aspen / Volare back in the day should have been akin to eating a green tomato–either let it ripen or avoid it entirely. After all, consuming a green tomato can produce some undesirable outcomes.

Indeed, tastes do change.  There was a time when I had absolutely no desire for anything classified as a compact.  Now that I’ve discovered a succession of compacts in a short time, the car gods seem to be telling me to pay closer attention–and what better way to evolve my tastes than this Scamp?

 I want to thank JPCavanaugh for contributing his personal experiences for this article.  After several very descriptive emails, I feel as though I actually have driven a Plymouth Scamp.