What a dramatic drop Plymouth sales took between 1957 (762k) and 1961 (207k). More like a crash. Was it all due to weird styling and the residual impact of the quality problems of 1957?
The ’61 was the last big Plymouth until 1965, but given how things turned out, it might just as well have been the last one forever.
As this chart from my post “Who Killed The Big American Car” shows, there was also a massive move away from big cars during this period. In 1957, big cars still had a 95% market share; by 1961, it was down to 60%, which dropped even further to 56% in 1962.
Obviously, Plymouth’s big cars’ 73% drop over those years was a lot steeper, but then big Ford’s sales dropped 52% over the same period; not quite as bad, but…bad, nevertheless (Chevrolet big cars managed a more modest 24% drop). So yes, Plymouth got hit the worst. And it’s not much of a leap to suggest that its rather bizarre 1960 and 1961 styling really did account for that difference.
Given that precipitous drop in big car market share starting in 1958, it’s not really such a big surprise that Chrysler decided to ditch the very large and expensive new 1962 model that had originally been planned and replace them with more compact and space efficient ones. Big cars looked to be on a deadly free fall; by 1962, they had lost almost half their market share in just five short years. It makes Chrysler’s decision look to be rather obvious and logical.
The big Plymouth came back in 1965, but the big sales never came back. Its market share in 1965 actually dropped from ’64, and stayed at about 3.5% through 1969, the same as the ’63s and ’64s. And starting in 1970, big Plymouth sales started their terminal decline.
Given that there was a Chrysler Newport available at the same dealers, they might as well not have bothered with the big Plymouth’s return in 1965. And the big Dodges did even significantly worse. Ironically, Chrysler’s 1962 B-platform turned out to be more successful over the long run for Plymouth and Dodge. The 1961 big Plymouth might as well have been the last.
Counterpoint: since the big Chryslers (and Dodges, since the dealer network was separate) were a given, it cost next to nothing extra to engineer and style the full-size Plymouth, which was good for some incremental sales at a higher profit margin than smaller Plymouths. Only when full-size Chrysler sales as a group became unprofitable did it make sense to drop Plymouth. I’m guessing that was no earlier than 1974, maybe later considering the number of New Yorkers you saw in the late Seventies.
Just a thought!
Counter-counterpoint; a lot more extra cost was put into styling big Plymouths and differentiating them from Dodge Polaras for the fleet sales they gained, and in any case the added profit margin on a base Fury I or II sold to a private buyer was less than upselling him to a well-optioned Sport Satellite at the same price point.
Counter-counter-counterpoint; Often the Plymouth had the best styling of the full-sizes. I like this Googie Lexus better than the mopey Dodge, the ’68 Fury was the cleanest expression of the ’65-68 styling and for many of the fuselage years that applied as well.
Counter-counter-counterpoint: The Fury lured a lot of buyers who would not have considered a intermediate Satellite, and thought Chryslers were too expensive or highfalutin’, into Chrysler-Plymouth showrooms, where they could be upsold to a Newport!
I feel like I’m at Wimbledon with all this back-and-forth.
Multiple random thoughts:
The 1957 Plymouth was a category buster. Up to 1955 or so, the low-price standard category seemed to run 114-116 inches in wheelbase and maybe 3200 pounds in weight. The 1957 Plymouth set the template for what a “standard” low-priced car would be for the next 15+ years, which was an entirely different thing from what it had been before. The 57 Ford was sort of that same thing, but Ford refused to bet the farm, offering a 116 inch wheelbase version in 57-58 that was closer to the established concept in addition to a Plymouth-sized car. The smaller one died in two years.
The stats would be really fun to play with. GDP growth had been exceptionally high through 1955, and Americans have preferred larger cars in good times. Everyone knows about the 1958 recession, but the entire 1956-61 period was quite anemic, so we would expect sensible cars to be more popular – plus they were much more widely available by 1960-61.
And the cars themselves – was the 1955-58 Studebaker Champion a big car? And was the 1964+ GM A body not a big car? The two seem very similar in overall specs at a quick glance. An analysis that classifies the cars by dimensions rather than by brand/nameplate would create a different graph, I think. I also think of the “full sized standard” versions of the traditional lower-priced nameplates from the late 50s through the mid-late 70s as historical anomalies that have no counterpart in the decades before or after. But a herd mentality in Corporate America is not new.
To answer your original question – maybe. But Chrysler in 1962 was no longer influential in the industry. The better questions is whether 1958 and subsequent Chevrolets should have been smaller, because GM/Chevrolet had a level of power and influence in the market that Chrysler never dreamed of having.
Ironic because Plymouth used to offer a shorter wheelbase in the early 1950s with the 1949-50 and 1951-52 models where the 111″ wheelbase was used for the all-steel Suburban wagon and a business coupe and a longer 118″ wheelbase for the sedan and Deluxe coupe.
I’ll tell you this–the ’60 Plymouths with the fins LOOK bigger than the ’61s without them. Same with the ’61 vs. ’62 Chryslers and Imperials.
Mopar trivia: The engineers and stylists referred to the fins as ‘stabilizers’. 9/10 years later some of the same people worked on the Dodge Charger Daytona and the Plymouth Superbird.
Some folks in our neighborhood rented the garage (about 12 feet from our back door) to park a blue “60 Fury” in. Was their daily driver car until mid 1966.Got replaced with a Gray, Ford Galaxie ((brand new)).
Remember the noisy rumble ((and smell of exhaust)) from the Plymouth.
Those of us in 2022 with 1965 and up C-body Plymouth Furys are very glad those cars got made.
When I look back at the car buying choices the Mopar contingent of my family made in the 60’s and 70’s I saw that if a family member was buying a full sized car, all but one of them would choose a Fury over a Newport and the great uncle who did buy the Chrysler over the Plymouth bought a 300 over the Newport. The ’68 Fury VIP I have now is the third of the ’67-68 cars purchased even when they could have bought the Newport.
Probably had a lot to do with a top model of the low price car normally had a much nicer interior than the bottom model of the middle/high priced car. Looking at GM for my example (as that’s what I know), as a child I could never understand why someone would want to buy a Pontiac Catalina over a Chevrolet Impala because, quite frankly, the Catalina had a Chevrolet Bel Air interior and was measurably cheaper than the Impala. (Of course, at the time, the difference between Powerglide and Hydra-Matic didn’t occur to me – advantage very definitely Pontiac).
To me, buyers who went for the bottom line Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick were buying the nameplate for snob value
I would say that was part of it, but also I think the desire for a certain amount of economy led them to buy 318 cars over 383’s. Except for the great-uncle’s 300, I can’t a remember a family Mopar that didn’t have either a 318 or a slant six for all the Darts, Valiants and Dusters we had.
I suspect also that another factor was that there was a certain amount of desire for fuel economy in the larger cars by preferring a 318 over a 383. All of the large Mopars except for my great uncle’s 300 all had 318 2 barrel engines. I can’t remember any of the family Mopars ever having engines other than 318’s or Slant Sixes. The one large car my dad had with a slant was his ’61 Belvedere.
The analysis here would be improved if it grappled with the fact that Plymouth lost distribution through the Dodge network in 1960 and was essentially in competition with the Dart (and the low line full size Dodges that followed) from then on. If you combine 1960 Plymouth and Dart production as a single Chrysler Corp. low priced full size aggregate production number, I suspect it would look better than Ford in ’60 and ’61.
I think after Exner’s excess, Chrysler overcorrected and produced assertively drab designs across most of their product line into the 1970s, especially their intermediates. If you look at the Coronet/Belvedere in comparison to what GM and Ford were offering, there wasn’t much to get excited about–not even a 4-door hardtop. And after Chrysler rebuilt their reputation for quality in the mid 1960s, that too sharply declined at the end of the decade (see C.R. Dots series in this publication). Once muscle cars died in the early 70s, what did MOPAR have left to distinguish itself? The roomiest compacts? The slant six? That’s a lot of heavy lifting for economy products.
Mopar’s only real hits of the ’70s were the Cordoba and Omni/Horizon. Even those didn’t really distinguish themselves; the Cordoba cribbed its opera-window roofline from GM’s personal luxury coupes (though with a classier front and rear treatment than any of GM’s efforts), and the Horizon was a clone of the Volkswagen Rabbit, right down to an actual Volkswagen engine.
Erm…no, Chrysler’s compact Dart-Valiant-Duster cars were enormously popular in the ’70s.
But they were really just carry overs from the 60s.
Yes, that’s what I meant by “hit”; the A-bodies were like a popular song or album from a decade ago that still sells well and gets radio airplay (or downloads or streaming or however they measure music popularity today), but the artists’s new records rarely make the charts.
I don’t know, while the Duster had essentially the same 67 vintage underpinnings and front end it had enough changes from previous Valiants for the 1970 model year that I’d solidly paint it as a legitimate 70s design and hit, afterall it was a truly new design in the current fuselage theme from the cowl back, even the windshield was different which even earlier a body Barracudas couldn’t claim.
Being a hit is being a hit. The pioneers get the arrows the settlers get the land, if the Cordoba and omnirizon sold well it doesn’t matter that they were Johnny come latelys. It’s not like Chrysler had much in the 60s that accusation wouldn’t fit, the most original products they had that decade were the 62 Dodge and Plymouths and were failures, the most memorable hits they had that decade like the B body Charger and Roadrunner and they were emulating 66-67 GM A bodies. Look at the best selling vehicles today, they’re not distinguished among their competitors, nor are the designs and engineering pioneering or remarkable, save for Tesla anyway if you consider EV as a segment rather than a powerplant(like gas or diesel) in a otherwise traditional midsize car and crossover.
To that end I think Chrysler very much resembled a larger version of AMC during the 70s. The Valiant/Duster/Dart was their Hornet/Concord/Gremlin, the tried and true workhorses that were just right enough to carry the company through the decade. The C bodies were their Ambassador, basically irrelevant. The B bodies were their Matador. Chrysler DID have a hit with the Cordoba but the rest between 71 and 77 were similarly out of step with trends like the Matador coupe and the sedans are really only prominent as police cars. And the Aspen Volare was their Pacer, two cars promising to be the new face of their brands, playing off the successes of, and trying to improve upon, the Gremlin and A bodies respectively, seeing some initial success, but ultimately failing for different reasons – the Aspen/Volare being highly troublesome rust buckets, the Pacer being too novel (some might say ugly) and not offering many of the key benefits of a compact, like efficiency.
In fairness, the Horizon was originally a Chrysler Europe update to the pioneering Simca 1100, which inspired the Golf.
I do not believe that is correct. This rather exhaustive and (at least seemingly) authoritative account of the Horizon’s origins does not seem to support what you say.
You also have to remember changes in the car market of the 1950s and 1960s. “Full Sized” kept growing larger in length and width throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The 1961 Plymouth were definned versions in terms of styling vs. the full sized GM and Ford cars. The “downsized” full sized Plymouths of 1962 were oddly styled and downright weird in many ways. People seemed to want the “squared off” look of cars in the early and mid 1960s. Compacts cars were launched in the late 1950s and 1960s. Buyers looked and saw they didn’t need a full sized car and found they could live with a compact. Valiants, Corvairs, Chevy IIs and Falcons sold well. These were enlarged into “senior compacts” like the Fairlane, Dodge Dart, F/85, Lemans, Belvedere, and Coronet. These became the “intermediate” or now “midsized” cars . People liked the compact and intermediate cars over the large full sized ones. Easier to park, greater visibility, large “enough” and comfortable “enough” for a small family, couple, or single person. Also better fuel economy. Also they weren’t like driving a tank or a battleship which is what the full sized cars had become. The compacts and intermediates were much easier to drive in town, parking, and had a good amount of passenger space. Later full sized Plymouths sold well enough. They were cheap to design with “badge engineering” came into being. Change a set of taillights, grille, some trim and badging, make other styling tweaks and a Chrysler Newport becomes a Plymouth Fury. Full size Plymouths were also good as service vehicles in terms of sales. They were used as police cars and taxis. Small profits for the companies per car but they were profits. Chrysler Corporation became more of a follower of GM styling in the 1960s and especially the 1970s. For example the 1974 to 1978 full sized Chrysler Corporation cars look like they took a 1971 Buick or Olds Full Sized car, drove it into the styling studios and said make this a 1974 Plymouth, Dodge, or Chrysler styling wise. The industry changed so much from the late 1950s until 1977 or so. Glad full sized Plymouths were sold. Also the full sized cars were profit machines for the companies. A New Yorker or Newport loaded with options made a good profit per unit for the company. The Big Three also lost money on their small cars like Pintos and Vegas. They cost more to make than they needed than what they were sold for.
Am I the seeing a bit of Lexus grill in that first pic?
I see it. This is another view of the car with a totally different look, but the grill sure has that Lexus shape.
What a great car for impressing your date!
During the second half of the 1960s, the full-size Plymouth accounted for roughly half of the marque’s volume. Chrysler-Plymouth dealers would have objected strenuously if the corporation had decided to kill the Fury.
The Plymouth (and Dodge) enabled Chrysler to spread the costs of the C-body over a wider production base. The full-size Chrysler of this era topped out at roughly 280,000 sales. No doubt eliminating the Fury would have shifted some buyers to the Newport, but I doubt that Newport sales would have increased sufficiently to take up the slack.
Full-size Dodge sales were surprisingly low from 1965 on, so the volume added by the Fury made a much better business case for the C-body. Unless the Chrysler could be built from a stretched B-body, but that would have been a tough sell against contemporary full-size Buicks and Oldsmobiles.
C-P dealers did object strenuously when Plymouth wasn’t given a larger car than the Volare in 1979, after which they got a Gran Fury in 1980 (which didn’t help; total 1980 R-body sales plunged by well over half even with Plymouths added to the mix).
I too think it would have been a better outcome to let the B bodies be the standard size for Plymouths and Dodges. I think the 62s reception resulted in a hasty overcorrection, that it wasn’t just the styling but the downsizing that turned off buyers. That isn’t to say I dislike C bodies, I love fuselages, but I think the right move from a financial and image perspective would have stayed the course with the downsized 62s and just fix the truly polarizing element for mainstream buyers, which was the Exner styling. They were still big cars, even when reclassified as B bodies they were really intermediate+ compared to the competition.
Spreading the costs of Chrysler is as pointed out a fairly valid reason to keep them, but then again, I’m not sure the arbitrary decree that Chryslers are to be large full size only was a wise decision either, the sales success of the Cordoba certainly shattered the notion that their buyers would balk at a smaller Chrysler branded car. A 65 B body based Chrysler easily could have worked in my opinion.
People buy based on looks, perceived “rightness”, and social acceptance. Looking at all 3, Chevy and Ford are embracing the clean, upright look of the 1960s. The Plymouth looks odd and is still speaking 1950s design language. Also the Plymouth is smaller, so the perception is you’re getting “less” for about the same money.
The argument that somehow people “wised-up” and rejected big full-size cars doesn’t explain why the Big Three made and sold tons of gross behemoths in the 60s & 70s. That ’61 isn’t all that big either–at 209.5″ it’s over a foot shorter than a ’75 Chevrolet Caprice or Ford LTD! (223 and 224 inches respectively). And it’s half a foot shorter than the “small” Chrysler Cordoba!
(I still like the Plymouth, but that’s me, not the early 60s mass market. The corresponding Dodge’s front is so weird that even I have trouble warming up to it, despite the car’s other virtues.)
See also: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/automotive-design-history-1962-plymouth-dodge-brilliant-blunder-or-suddenly-its-1977/
Spot on. Virgil Exner gave us some of the most interesting/exciting-looking cars ever but I always thought history would have been very different had Chrysler refined the 55-56 models’ styling for a new 57 line instead of going for the mad forward look creations. The later attempts at updating that look got nowhere, in fact to me every new attempt managed to somehow make things worse. The world moved on but Exner was stuck in 1957.
Ward and June Cleaver’s cars.. Once they moved to the ‘bigger, spiffier house that is.
Lump’s dad “Mr Rutherford” had a “60 Sport Fury convertible” in one episode. Lumpy had a younger sister in that same episode.
Whether the idea resulted from an overheard Ed Cole conversation at a Detroit cocktail party or not, William Newberg’s decision to downsize the full-size ‘62’s was sound one. Compacts and intermediates sold well in the early ‘60’s as the public soured a bit on the gargantuan full-size models available. A trimmer full size model similar in size to the tri-fives would have been accepted. The reason the Chrysler ‘62’s failed wasn’t size, but the bizarre Exner styling. If Engel had arrived a few years earlier and supplied his tasteful, elegant touch, things may have turned out quite differently.
Yeah, if the redesigned mid-size Coronet and Belvedere arrived earlier in 1962 instead of 1966, it would have handled better the competition against the mid-size Fairlane and the “senior compacts” from GM and the Mercury Comet.
Btw, I spotted a interesting comment dropped by James E. Duvall on Indieauto then I quoted.
“…although Dodge received the 880 “full-size” Dodge-ized Chrysler Newport-derived sedan, hardtop and wagon. I guess a re-worked 1961 Plymouth could have been there for the full-size Plymouth…”
Indeed – see my similar thoughts further above. I have a soft spot for the forward look (my father had a 57 Plodge) but in my heart of hearts I know it was bad for Chrysler not to have someone at the top to fetter Exner’s excesses in 1956 when the initial plans for the 57s were put on the table.
We had one of these. What a weird, weird design. The fact the front headlights are barely canted will never fail to bother me.
What does interest me is why Plymouth de-finned a year before the rest of its full-sized brethren , indeed in a year when Imperial introduced the most flamboyant Chrysler fins ever. Was that call made by Exner? Or, more likely by the Division management? And what was the reason? That’s I story I’d like to read.
CC effect struck earlier last week here in Austria of all places…
What happened to Plymouth was called the Dodge Dart. Dodge decided to commit fratricide on Plymouth when the horrid post 1957 years hit. Dodge decided to put their people in place on the Chrysler board and those Dodge guys saved the brand by building a Dodge Plymouth they called the Dart. So, the Dart was a big success and saved Dodge’s bacon. Remember, at this time of intense Chrysler turmoil, DeSoto was offed by the Chrysler Newport and the entire mid-price-range auto market went belly up. I don’t fault Dodge for knifing Plymouth as they felt they were on the verge of going the way of DeSoto at the time.
By the end of the big bad years of 1958-1960, Exner’s next design caused more eyesores on American roads until the Pontiac Aztek. That was when Plymouth got stuck with the new smaller Plymouth, and Highland Park management was still rocking from scandals. This was just a hard time for Chrysler.
Things returned to a more normal state for 1965, but by then, GM and even Ford had figured out how to expand the shrinking full size market into their corners, leaving Chrysler products with even less market share. So this is why we see both Plymouth and Dodge struggle even with far better products in this category.
All market change and it seems that Chrysler’s divisions were, in this case, the canaries in the coalmine, regarding the future of the full size family sedans and wagons.