Charting The Big Cars, 1965-1974 – Were Chrysler’s Fuselage Cars A Failure? Which Brand Dropped The Most? (Hint: It Wasn’t A Mopar)

At the recent 1969 Chrysler 300 review, there were several comments reflecting on the poor sales of Chrysler’s fuselage cars, which arrived that year. And in 2020, Jim Cavanaugh did a CC that called the fuselage years a Chrysler’s Deadly Sin. That got me wondering; was that really the case? Time for a chart to confirm or contest the assumptions.

The charts are from the stats in my database, which I just expanded to create a new category: share of the big RWD car market, meaning how the various brands and manufacturers fared within that particular slice of the market.

Note: the big RWD car market as a percentage of the total passenger car market went through a deep decline in these years, from a 54.9% share in 1965 to a 24.4% share in 1974. So these charts only show the relative success (or failure) of these brands within this shrinking market. This was covered in my in-depth post “Who Killed The Big American Car”. Comparing actual production/sales numbers is largely irrelevant in such a strongly shrinking market.

My first chart (top) shows the respective shares of that market by the Big Three during this period and up to the first year of the energy crisis (1965 – 1974). From this chart it’s pretty obvious that Chrysler did suffer a drop after the fuselage cars were introduced, from 1968 to 1970, but it was pretty modest, from 17.6% share to 14.8%, or a 16% drop. Not exactly a massive failure, and they were still ahead of where they were in 1965 (13.6%), never mind in the early ’60s when they were in the single digits.

And it shows that Ford was the only one of the Big 3 to gain market share in this specific category during these years, going from 23.8% in 1965 to 26,1% in 1974. GM lost 1.2 percent of its share; Chrysler lost 0.8 percent. So yes, on a percentage basis, Chrysler lost the most (down 9.4%). That’s pretty modest over a ten year period, but nevertheless.

I also charted the individual brands, which is a bit more interesting (and surprising).


This is “The Low-Priced 5” and includes Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth, Dodge and Pontiac. The big surprise? Chevrolet had a huge drop in the share of big cars in 1970, a 25% reduction in share from 1969, and a whopping 31% from 1968. What happened? It wasn’t the UAW strike, which started in the fall of 1970, affecting 1971 MY output.

It’s pretty clear that buyers liked the all-new 1969 Ford styling much better than Chevy’s warmed-over styling, and relatively better than the new fuselage styling by Chrysler. Ford’s 1971 peak was almost certainly due to the GM strike, as they fell back to earth in 1972, and Chevy then started to pickup market share quite strongly. The new ’69 Ford conveyed an upscale image that went very well with the growing success of its LTD nameplate.

As to Plymouth, the ’69s were down a bit, and market share in this segment did droop from 1971 on. Dodge, which never came back from its crash in 1962, muddled along, with a gentle drooping also after 1972.

But the real story is that all of these low-priced brands’ market share of big cars was down in 1974 from 1965, most of all Chevrolet. We need to look at the next chart to make sense of that.

Here’s the “Medium Priced 4” (Mercury, Olds, Buick and Chrysler) although of course there was some overlap with the low priced 5 as well as with Cadillac and Lincoln. Mercury got a similar boost like the Ford brand. Olds had a surprisingly big jump in 1969, with Buick getting a similar but smaller bump starting that year. It seems like Chevy as well as Ford, Plymouth and Dodge all lost a lot of their buyers to Olds and Buick starting in 1969, a trend that would only continue in the next two decades. This presaged the eventual dominance of the Oldsmobile brand in the ’70s as well as Buick’s growing success. Americans were moving up the Sloan (Image) Ladder, even if the actual differences in prices were quite modest.

The Chrysler brand had a bump in 1968; it’s hard to say why exactly, but both Mercury and Olds were down that year. In 1969 – 1970, they drooped, a reflection that the fuselage styling wasn’t taking off, keeping their share earth-bound. And by 1970, the rep of poor quality was becoming more widespread. On the other hand, that was still considerably better than the Chrysler brand had been doing in the early ’60s, when its share of the big car market was in the 2-3% range.

The Chrysler Corp. had some very good growth in overall market share starting in 1963, despite the 1962 downsizing at Plymouth and Dodge, but they never really got a lot of traction in the full-size market again after their 21.5% share in 1957. That peaked for them in 1968, with a 17.6% share of that market segment, which was of course a rather modest one. And of course after the energy crisis, it all went downhill for them, until they bailed from that market segment after 1981.

The market liked Ford’s 1969 styling better, and its not surprising, as the fuselage cars’ styling was something that was more appropriate for the smaller car, and it did work much better on the 1971 B-Bodies, whose “fuselage” had more taper front to rear, and looked less like it had been squeezed out of an extruding machine. Chrysler took a bold gamble with that styling approach but the market acceptance was modest, at best.


Related CC reading:

Automotive History: Who Killed the Big American Car?

Curbside Classic: 1971 Chrysler Newport Royal – Chrysler’s Deadly Sin #6, The Fuselage Years

Charts and Analysis: Big Three Full Size Car Market Share, 1955-1984 – Did Quality Sink Chrysler After 1957?

Curbside Classic: 1971 Plymouth Satellite Sebring Plus – Chrysler Jumps The Shark (Again) With A Tip Of The Hat To Virgil Exner and Marcello Gandini