By all accounts, the mid-1960s were peak Chrysler Corporation. They were at the top of their game engineering-wise, and after some brief diversions in the early sixties, back on track stylistically with Elwood Engel firmly taking over the styling reins from Virgil Exner. You can clearly see Engel’s Continental influence at work in the featured 1966 New Yorker. Consumers responded as sales were steadily climbing year over year.
If the mid-’60s were peak Mopar, then the 1965-68 Chrysler branded models represent the pinnacle. (Forget about Imperial: For much of the 1960s this slow-selling brand was still riding on a platform that dated back to 1957).
1966, the year of our featured car, would be the apex of the Chrysler brand in terms of market share, reaching a level of penetration that the Chrysler would not achieve again until the mid-’70s.
Chrysler (the brand) offered a relatively full lineup of cars for 1966 (at least by the standards of the day). At the “entry” level you had the Newport (base price $3,052 – $24,000 in 2020), a name introduced in 1961 to take over the mid-market from DeSoto, which was then on its last gasp. The Newport represented the lion’s share of Chrysler brand sales and was available in a variety of body styles: Two-door, four-door (pillared, hardtop, and six-window), convertible and “Town & Country” wagon styles.
Next up the ladder in 1966 was the 300 ($3,583 – $28,000 in 2020), available in two- and four-door hardtops, plus a convertible. But with the letter series and glass-covered headlights from the previous year’s 300 now gone, it had little other than a 4-barrel version of the Newport’s 2-bbl. 383 V8 to distinguish itself (the new for 1966 440 V8 was available across the entire line as well). With the death of the letter series, the 300 would continue to suffer from poor differentiation, eventually being dropped in 1972.
At the top of the Chrysler lineup in 1966 was the New Yorker, available as (in order of increasing price) a 4-door six-window Town Sedan, 2-door hardtop, and the most expensive model, the featured 4-door hardtop ($4,233 – $35,000 in 2020). All New Yorkers were available only with the 440 V8.
The featured car appears to have most of the available options, including air conditioning ($510), power antenna, and the 40/20/40 vinyl bucket seats with a very awkward looking middle front seat. This likely pushed its sticker price over $5,000 (over $40,000 in 2020).
No trailer queen this car is. It wears just the right amount of patina and wears it well. The fact that it remains largely rust-free in a northern climate serves as a testament to how well these cars were built. For a brief period of time, Chrysler could go toe to toe with the best of GM and Ford, no asterisks required.
1966 must have been a welcome respite of calm for the Chrysler corporation, the eye of the hurricane if you will. The Exner styling excesses and the disastrous 1962 downsizing were behind it, and the full effect of Lynn Townsend’s cost-cutting and the Fuselage Deadly Sin was still to come. So for now we will let this New Yorker enjoy its time at the top of the heap.
Curbside Classic: 1966 Chrysler Newport – Camelot Comes To Highland Park
Lovely example. Just slightly rumpled. Black with the argent? chrome accents is a great look for these. I wonder if the Padded C pillar appliques were originally silver, but have faded to what appears to be white. The 66 is nivce, However, it was just a 2nd year “update ‘of the 65, in my estimation a more finely executed example of Engel’s design Ideal. i do like ’em long ,low and linear, with tall greenhouses. Hope this cycles back to replace the bunkermobiles of today.
I believe this is the specific model of Chrysler about which the B52s wrote, “I got me a Chrysler and it seats about twenty.”
Yup, essentially. In the video, it looks to be a 1965 Chrysler 300 convertible.
I have always believed the 65-68 Chryslers were “Peak Chrysler”. Excellent styling, bulletproof mechanicals, torsion-bar handling, great V-8’s. I think the quality control was pretty good, too. The greenhouse – you can see forever, so light and airy. Excellent space utilization, even though these are large cars, all that largeness is accessible. It seems to be these years were not just “peak Chrysler” but “peak American Car”, as almost every brand was riding high, not just with sales, but also with execution. Then everything seemingly went wrong beginning in the early 1970’s. It almost seems like the American car designers/engineers collectively caught some disease which led them to make cars which were somehow at the same time bloated and claustrophobic,or else something like the Vega or the Pacer or the Pinto.
Detroit painted itself into a corner with yearly styling changes, started by GM,
in the 30s with Harley Earl’s “Art and Color” department.
Buyers were conditioned to whine when this year’s model looks the same as last years. There’s only so many ways to skin a cat…..or a car.
Then there dramatic drops in material quality due to early 70’s monetary conditions. Even so, it was astonishing how quickly Chrysler fell in 10 short years. By the mid-70s, they were crap. This is particularly disheartening
considering the quality recovery from 1957, only to go down the commode again.
I agree. If you look ahead a decade or so from the mid-sixties to the Euro cars which devoured the market for American luxury, these annual changes really were a “lipstick on the pig” approach.
For a brief moment it looked like FoMoCo and their buddies at J. Walter Thompson seemed to understand this and wanted to buck the trend. I wonder what happened?
I agree that the 1960s may have been “peak American Car”. That seems to be the point just before it all went to hell in a handbasket. These were the last truly good full sized cars, at least as long as we think of full size cars as truly American. And really, they were. Full size cars were more luxury cars in Europe and Asia, not for commoners, and not practical for most to use. But here in the USA, with cheap gas, lots of new interstates, and growing families, the big three (and quite a few other independents) seemed to really understand how to build a good large car at a low enough price to put tons of them into the driveways of America. Then, a combination of gas pricing, government regulations, and a shift to quantity over quality all conspired to degrade and debase what the USA was best at building.
I think it’s really a symptom of the effects of Europe and Japan rebuilding infrastructure after WWII to a similar interstate system to completion around the time the ideas of government mandated changes were being thought about here back home. They had teething issues, as well, but they were adapting to new realities people needed in a car and evolved from there, and baked price in accordingly. Here, not so much. The cars were well already suited to existing realities and were mandated to change, not adapt. Big difference. I know my best efforts come from my own desire to do so over being told what to do, so there is that.
This one gets my vote. And I agree, it is hard to top the 66 in ChryslerWorld.
But Tom, Tom, Tom – you missed the most fabulous part! That amazing dashboard. Big chrome-plated diecastings everywhere you looked and little unexpected touches everywhere.
When I owned my 66 Fury III I happened on a 66 New Yorker 6 window sedan for sale. It was a one-owner car in condition something similar to this. The longtime owner’s daughter was selling it and had it priced way too high, but it drove so nice. There was a noticeable difference in the quality of the seats and it definitely felt heavier.
So true, that dash! For me that would be the main reason for NOT choosing a 67 or 68, if it ever comes to that.
I usually don’t care for fake wood (if this Chrysler’s is fake), but it really looks good here. The design somehow manages to combine the futuristic and the classical, which is not an easy thing to do. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this great dashboard!
Compare to what Chrysler was offering a decade later:
I consider the 1967 New Yorker to be the peak Chrysler. Design, dash which I love, and the quality of the build.
Oh my, that would have been a nice addition to your fleet. Imagine staring at that dash while driving the streets of your town. Quite a feeling.
Even as a youngster in the mid sixties, I knew that Chrysler’s engineering was highly regarded.
The styling was another matter.
I wonder how much input Elwood had in the development in the ’63 Mercury Monterey, as the sides of the Merc. were faithfully copied on the ’65 Newports.
As kids, we felt the later ’67-’68’s with their concave sides looked to be like a mix-up at the assembly line.
As in “Ernie, you guy’s put the wrong sides on the cars, the panels are supposed to bulge OUT!”
This was rectified the next year of course, with the fuselage designs.
Riding in thes cars when they were new, or nearly so, was great. They really were impressive to those of us used to the Fords, Chevys, Plymouths, etc.
+1 on the Mercury influence on mid-sixties Chryslers. For a change, it was Mercury that Engel copied instead of the last model cycle, big GM cars. Thankfully, Engel decided to omit the ‘Breezeway’, reverse-canted, roll-down rear window. I’d be willing to bet he’d have done it if Chrysler had the money for it.
Still, as was usually the case with the GM clones, Engel did a credible job of not only keeping the same lines but, many times, improved upon what GM’s (and in the case of Chrysler, Ford’s) stylists had previously done.
A terrific example is the flying-buttress, tunnel-back rear window of the ’66-’67 GM intermediates when that styling gimmick reappeared on the stunning ’68-’70 Dodge Charger, a car many consider not only the pinnacle of Chrysler styling, but even of the entire domestic industry.
The design influence of the Lincoln Continental probably doesn’t make any detours via Mercury on the way to Chrysler. It’s probably a coincidence that Lincoln’s showroom partner wanted some shared glory.
Quite the contrast in posts today…a degree of respect for Nissan Presidents and Toyota Crowns that aren’t updated with any frequency for decades then the horror of a 1966 Imperial being on a 1957 era chassis. 🙂
These are great looking cars that I would like to experience at some point. Of the run, the ’68 Chrysler is my favorite despite the cartoonish tail end treatment of the Newports. I would remove none of them from my driveway.
It’s interesting to note while we’ve covered a nice assortment of this era Chrysler, we’ve found and covered very few of the fuselage cars with Chrysler branding. Granted the production was smaller for the fuseys, but we have some real gaps of coverage in 1969 to 1973 Dodges and Chryslers, making me wonder if the intrinsic goodness of the featured car simply wasn’t there for the next generation.
Fuselages were quality nightmares, especially the 69s. Lots of body integrity issues,
rain water in the trunk being one.
Having said that, 69s are my favorite fusies.
I have a fetishist for the far left side mounted key switch, I guess. Make mine a 4 door black Imperial LeBaron.
“Make mine a 4 door black Imperial LeBaron.”
Good luck with that. I’ve been looking for a ’69 triple black Imperial LeBaron for years.
One less after this little incident in my home town back in ’70.
It’s etched upon my mind because it involved Kenny Shields, who was an
incredibly popular local music celebrity who eventually formed the rock band Streetheart, very big in Canada. My brother was also heavily involved in the prairie music scene, then too, eventually becoming a recording artist with Franklin records in Winnipeg, and then on to Toronto with Anthem records and touring extensively.
The news story underplays his injuries. He was in hospital for 6 months and physio for 2 years. This accident set his career back years,
and in a lesser car, maybe for good. That big Imperial saved his life.
All because he wanted to sit in the back and relax, and let some bozo drive for him.
Mine was a ’66 Newport. I bought it as it came in on trade at the Ford garage where I worked as a mechanic. I planned to try college by taking night classes 45 miles away while keeping my day job at the garage. I had a ’62 Olds 98 that was comfortable enough, but I knew I was going to have to rebuild the transmission eventually, so I decided to invest in something with more life left. It wasn’t particularly fast off the line, but I quickly became fond the 383’s punch in the short passing zones of the winding 2 lane highway that became my commute. An added bonus was far better fuel economy than the 98 as well as the ability to use regular vs. premium. As others mentioned, visibility was great. To this day, I miss that light open feeling the interior had. Returning home at night, the instrument panel was another delight.
After a year of this, I decided I could make it in college. I peddled the Chrysler and bought one last car off my employer’s lot – a ’59 Chev Biscayne cheapo that would have been scrapped for $10. A few repairs and it was my ride to college.
The Biscayne 6 gave me horsepower withdrawal symptoms compared to the Chrysler, but I needed every cent to tackle college full time. Besides once I got to college, I didn’t figure on needing to drive much.
I’ll say this about that Chrysler, it was a road car par excellence. As a traveling salesman, I’ve had some company vehicles that gave a pretty good account of themselves. Even so, none of them filled the role any better than that Chrysler.
It was the right tool for the job.
Agreed – there was something about Chrysler’s suspension designs that made them feel extraordinarily “planted” at high speed on the highway. They were not at all twitchy or such, but gave a driver a real feeling of confidence.
Agree, J P!
Mopars were often the car of choice by traveling salesmen or people who racked up a lot of road miles per year.
Other makes may (or may not?) have looked better; but none of ’em could match the torsion bar front/leaf spring rear suspension set up of this generation’s Mopars.
Our next door neighbor bought a new ‘66 Town and Country wagon when his old Ambassador wagon proved not up to the task of pulling his new, huge Airstream trailer. It was a magnificent vehicle, with all the heavy duty trailering goodies, A/C, six ply tires and the mighty 440 TNT. Felt and kinda looked like a bank vault. The dash featured full gauges, heavily trimmed in real chrome. The leather seats supple and luxurious. Had that cool roof rack that went the length of the roof. It reeked of quality. And the TNT had the most pleasant exhaust burble from the factory dual pipes.
Was replaced in 1973 by another T&C. What a difference. The TNT was no longer available, ditto for the dual exhaust. The luxurious interior was gone and refinements that were everywhere in the ‘66 were decontented in every way. As opposed to an feeling of quality there was a feeling of cheapness. Really little more than a Fury. Quite clear that Chrysler just phoned it in for this year.
Why am I getting a Green Hornet vibe from that lead in picture?
What an odd time in American sociological history. From the 300 ad:
“You couldn’t find a better example of what Chrysler is all about this year.
Everything says youth. Vitality.”
“Think about it for a minute.
How’d you like to feel that exhilarating kick you experienced when you bought your first new car? Then do the thing that people who want to be young are doing these days.
Go drive a Chrysler.
1966 is Chrysler’s year for young ideas. Make it yours.”
I was only ten-years-old so I don’t remember the zeitgeist. The oldest Boomers came of age that year. Perhaps the sheer number of them was driving Chrysler’s marketing strategy, assuring the Boomers’ parents that a new New Yorker would keep them from getting passed by.
I’ve never driven any Chrysler of this era, but as a ten year old kid at the time, I drank the KoolAde peddled in the Chrysler advertising about torsion bars and unibody, and believed that they must handle better than other domestic cars. Based on the favorable comments here, perhaps it wasn’t KoolAde, but a juicy nectar. And it looks nice too, though I’d probably rate the ‘66 Chevy a bit higher. The Chrysler has a nice greenhouse but I’m not a fan of the concave sides.
In the just-barely middle class suburb of New Orleans, LA, USA that I grew up in during the 1960’s and 1970’s, this generation Chrysler was all over the place. Often as a station wagon model, second in popularity to the smaller and cheaper Ford station wagons.
The “plug and play” Mopar 383 engine/Torqueflite automatic transmission gave peppy and reliable yeoman service often taken for granted. The front AND rear air conditioning was much appreciated by the 6 to 9 people (or more!) that rode in them during the hot & humid 8 months of the year that New Orleanians call “summer”.
Compared to the same time period Mercury or Oldsmobile station wagon, the Chrysler’s torsion bar front suspension and rear leaf springs was far superior for road handling during the vacations to “Six Flags Over Texas” or the “Redneck Riviera” of northern Florida. The seats were still comfortable 6 hours later. The interior of the Chrysler’s were HUGE inside! Somehow the competition felt smaller inside.
And then there was the Mopar “Highland Park Hummingbird” gear reduction starter. Once you got used to it’s warble all other cars sounded somehow most bland and blahhhhhh when starting up.
Back in the mid 70’s at high school a friend had a used one of these that we used to rat around in. Could easily fit 6-8 of us in the thing. He got it cheap off of one of his uncles as I recall. It was a brother to the featured car with a 440. I recall the girls never complained about the jump seat. It was quick comfortable and cool.
Even in our small town, the mid-’60’s Chrysler Newport was a step-up in prestige and quality for the generation that had driven Plymouths and even Dodge Coronets and Darts before the latter became compacts. Though none would admit it, the Lincoln Continental influenced styling gave their cars an elevated luxury aura which they enjoyed. The six-window sedans were the most popular with the staid, middle-aged family men who were always dressed in suited, arms straight out on the wheel, cigar in their mouths.
The only driving experience I recall was in the ’80’s piloting a ’65 Dodge Custom 880 for about thirty miles, being impressed how nicely the car drove, rode and handled compared to the crappy ’70’s Fords I was used to.
It looks like this car has birch bark padded c pillar inserts. As mentioned in a previous post, that dash is one of the all time greats.
Chrysler’s market share probably peaked in 1957, but 1956 was the year that they introduced their best transmission and still had the best quality.
I have to agree, there is a certain timeless charm to these cars. To be fair, this period of 65-66 was rather good for a lot of big sedans and coupes, but Chrysler really knocked their game out of the park. I’ve seen a white 1966 New Yorker a couple of times, and even though it isn’t in the best shape, the design still makes me go “wish I had one”.
Great essay, Tom! The ’66’s were stunners.
I recall working under the dash of one of these back in the late ’80s, for some minor electrical problem. Except for the padding and clear windows over the dials and gauges, everything was metal! And not thin, stamped sheet-metal, like on the Darts and Valiants.
Just thick, sculpted, cast zinc-alloy pieces, both large and small, chromed and painted.
Many attached with chromed philips screws. Imagine the cost to duplicate all that today!
I wonder if these now-vs-then price comparisons can really factor in the current cost to duplicate the labor, manufacturing processes and materials in these old cars?
By 1970, the bean-counters and government were taking control, and it’s all been plastic ever since!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Why is my comment not showing up here today?
Mark, for some reason it was going to the Trash folder. Thanks for letting us know — it’s restored above.
Thank you so much for your prompt attention. I’m no computer whiz, so sometimes when stuff happens, I start to think I’m hallucinating!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Green Hornet, some commie dictator or ?
A 1965 Chrysler was briefly featured in a couple of scenes from the movie “Terms Of Endearment”.
“with the letter series and glass-covered headlights from the previous year’s 300 now gone, it had little other than a 4-barrel version of the Newport’s 2-bbl. 383 V8 to distinguish itself (the new for 1966 440 V8 was available across the entire line as well). With the death of the letter series, the 300 would continue to suffer from poor differentiation, eventually being dropped in 1972.”
Aside from only offering one wheelbase, Chrysler offered as much differentiation in its 1966 line as the full-size Buick line. The 300 had an upgraded interior, series-specific grille and body trim, series-unique rear fenders and rear end (derived from 1965 body stampings), and a unique coupe roof. All three series had a different coupe roof.