This will be the first in an occasional and sporadic series about cars that, for any of a million reasons, I was never able to add to the list of cars I owned but that made a deep impression. For any CC contributor who feels the urge to add a story to this series, go for it!
By now there are hours and hours of reading on this site about COALS – Cars Of A Lifetime – as experienced by many of us here, me among the latest to the party. But as I was writing my COAL series it occurred to me that there was another category that has gotten much less attention: The Ones That Got Away – or TOTGA if we are going with the acronym thing.
A TOTGA, at least in my case, is a car that came into my life oh so briefly, and was owned by someone else. It is a car that I really wanted to buy or almost bought in a transaction that never happened. Many of these left an impression and it seems that some deserved their own fifteen minutes of fame. So, thus begins an occasional reflection on the cars that failed to reach COAL status because they were among TOTGA.
In the late winter of 1981 the world pretty much sucked. Fuel prices were through the roof, a nasty recession was taking hold and getting worse, and lots of change was afoot. As for me, I was a junior in college – which was the one thing going well. I had developed an aptitude for economics classes, and had made that my major. Economics is more about human behavior than it is about money, which was good because I had very little of the latter.
Part of that was because I had tried to avoid a job during the school year so as to keep my grades up, but worked hard in the summer to put away enough to get me through the next year. Another part of that was because I had
wasted spent so much money on cars. I had owned two at a time, I had chosen poorly, and I had bought and sold too frequently – more out of emotion than out of any kind of need or good sense. It was in this environment that I saw today’s subject.
Muncie, Indiana is a funny kind of place, or at least it was when I lived there. There is a university and a very small pocket of wealth, much of which comes from the family whose name (Ball) is still on canning jars. There was also a large population of working class folks who had done well in the industrial boom years of the 1920s through the early 1970’s. But those times were over as some companies closed, some moved and others laid off their workers. What was largely missing from Muncie was a solid middle class. The place may have changed in the last forty years, but that was what it was like in early 1981. The point is that most used car lots in Muncie were there to cater to the working man.
I was driving past one of these lots and happened upon a car that I decided I really needed. It was a 1970 Chrysler Newport 2 door hardtop. Why did I need this car? First, I suffer from The Fever – one that creates a powerful craving each fall and each spring to buy a car. I had last succumbed by buying my 1971 Plymouth Scamp in the spring of 1980. I had held off in the fall of ’80 (for the first time in awhile) so the urge as spring approached in 1981 was doubly strong.
Second, a walk round this big Newport indicated that it would be a solid upgrade, for all kinds of reasons. It was bigger than my Scamp, and there were (and are) few things I love more than a big car. It had far fewer miles than my Scamp (which was over 100k by then) and it was in much nicer condition than my Scamp. Best of all, it had air conditioning. I had never owned a car with working air conditioning, but this Chrysler had it.
It was a gold car with a black vinyl roof, virtually identical to the one shown in these photos I found online, right down to the approximate condition. And even better was that gold vinyl interior. I had first seen such a thing (though in leather) in a ’67 Imperial owned by an old man who lived near my mother’s house. It was evidently a Chrysler thing for a few years and was really unlike anything I had ever experienced. What’s more, that gold vinyl interior had not a split, tear or cigarette burn – all three of which plagued my then-current car. Who wouldn’t feel like King Midas in a gold car with gold interior?
I opened the trunk lid and peeled back the thick vinyl floor mat. There was a tiny bit of surface rust in a couple of isolated spots but the inside of the lower quarter panels exhibited none of the blobs of Bondo often seen by looking down into the spaces between the side sheetmetal and the trunk floor. So far, this one checked all the boxes. Both inside and out, the car was clean, straight, and un-messed-with. That last one may not be a word, but it should be.
I was offered a test drive. The big 383 V8 started right up and the car felt right. Or at least as right as any big Chrysler of the fuselage era could feel. The engine was smooth, the Torqueflite shifted the way it should, and there were no unusual noises or vibrations. I think the only issue I noticed was that the pushbuttons for the heater control were pretty stiff in their action. Surely that could be fixed with a little WD-40 on the cables, right? So there I was. I don’t recall the price, but I think it was somewhere in the range of $900 or $1,000, which was really reasonable for what it was. I figured that the price was due, at least in part, to the car being located in an area populated by lots of people on factory layoffs during historically high gas prices.
There was one problem with the Chrysler – a problem that was more about me than about the car. If we could think of my college year as being like a Monopoly board, I was probably about to round the corner where the “Jail” space was located and was still several properties away from my summer job, when I would pass “Go” and collect my (hopefully more than) $200 in earnings. In other words, I was about 75% of the way through the school year and had to survive on what I had until I could start working in May. This meant that I did not have $1000 and had no way of getting it.
The car had me excited enough that I could not just walk away. I knew better than to call my father. Dad would not have let me starve or get thrown out on the street, but he also reminded me more frequently than I wanted to hear it that he had run away from home at 14 and had earned everything he ever got. I decided that I was more likely to succeed by calling my mother, so I did and laid out the situation. I probably told her about how great the car looked, about the perfect interior and how it had working air conditioning. And in return I got a lecture.
My mother had been furious with me when I straight-traded my perfectly good ’68 Mustang hardtop for a 1959 Plymouth Fury 4-door sedan. One that needed a transmission within six months. In the Scamp, I had finally bought a sensible, if worn, car. Mom had unloaded her ’74 Luxury LeMans for a new Plymouth Horizon the year before and knew a thing or two about gas hogs. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was just going to have to stick with what I had and like it. I am sure that she added the additional wisdom that I needed to grow up and stop with this constant car buying and selling. She almost certainly continued dispensing her observations and wisdom for several more minutes (of expensive AT&T long-distance) as was her custom.
Adult me knows that my mother was right, of course. Which is why I kept driving my Scamp and never took ownership of that big gold Chrysler. I know that the Chrysler and its 383 would have slurped down a lot of fuel, so may not have been the most rational choice for a broke college kid. And maybe this would have made me sell it for half of what I paid and buy a strippo three-speed Dart even less presentable than the Scamper. However, that Chrysler was really clean and was air conditioned, so maybe I would have kept it for the rest of college and law school instead of the Scamp. I will also note that I never explored what kind of monthly payments I could get with a trade of my Scamp. Even I knew that making monthly payments on an old used car was a bad idea.
I doubt that taking ownership of the big golden Chrysler would have changed my life in any real way, but I would very much have liked to find out. I eventually got some up-close fuselage experience when my roommate Dan bought a ’72 Dodge Polara station wagon. And yes, it did slurp large quantities of fuel, even with its modest 360.
In the years since I have never been able to look at a fuselage-era Mopar C body without thinking wistfully about that ’70 Newport 2-door. I have seen many nice examples of Chrysler Corporation’s fuselage project. But so far, none of them has had quite the appeal of that golden Newport that was in my imagination for a short two or three late winter days in 1981. I wonder if this one is for sale, wherever it may be? Then again, I kind of hope it is not. An actual ownership experience could not possibly be as wonderful as the one I have imagined for forty-plus years.
I’ve only had that got-away-from-me feeling a couple times, and never too strongly. One time was when I was looking at a 1959 Shasta camper that was priced low… It was on a Saturday morning, and I mulled it around (though I knew I was going to purchase it) while looking for a place to park the thing. Called back at noon, and it had been sold for a few hours by then. Drifting back toward the realm of motor vehicles, a rather nice Clark Cortez motorhome got away; it was one of the later ones with the Olds 455/TH425 powertrain. And then there was a 1979 or 80 Renault LeCar (stop laughing at me!) that popped up for sale in a run down Pizza Butt parking lot in my hometown. It was a dark blue color with the big sliding sunroof, and somehow managed to live into the late 1990’s looking like it was treated to a level of love and care not afforded the others. Would’ve made a good companion to my 1975 Renault 12 wagon, but I just didn’t *need* to have another car fighting for a parking space. Sadly, it sold to someone who beat it to death in the space of less than a year.
So, what kind of fuel economy did you get with the Scamp? I’m guessing a 225/automatic would be worth about 15-16, compared to something like 10-12 for a Chrysler 383?
Goodness, that sounds familiar. I’d followed that path so many times in my teens and early 20s – finding a “great” and seemingly un-messed-with older car and convincing myself that buying it made great sense, only to be knocked down to earth by a parental lecture that at the time was completely deflating but in hindsight was 100% correct. Thank you dad, for saving me countless headaches.
This Chrysler reminds me of a New Yorker that I (almost) came across a few years ago. My wife and I bought a house 7 years ago, and shortly after we moved in, another house came up for sale nearby. That particular house had a garage out back, and in looking through the pictures there was an early ’70s gold-colored New Yorker parked in the garage. I couldn’t help thinking that if we’d just waited a little longer, we could have bought that house, and maybe talked the owners into leaving the Chrysler! But, again in hindsight, it’s probably best that that didn’t happen.
As I have said in other posts, we all have our own tastes . I never liked the corporate wide Chrysler fuselage design, except for the fact that they looked HUGE! But as for my regrets, I had a 78 Lincoln Town Coupe and 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance that I should have kept. The ULTIMATE regret is in early 70s, could have purchased a 61 pampered Imperial LEBARON for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately that price was not reasonable for me at the time. This, along with final 61 DeSoto, was my ultimate dream car(last of Exners fabulous finned fantasies). So rare today and well beyond my reach. But have advertising literature, and scale models. Much less expensive and much more affordable than buying and maintaining the car That Got Away. Think about it 🤔! 👍
Never was a fan of corporate wide Chrysler fuselage design, except that they looked HUGE. Had 78 Town Coupe and 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance that I wish I had kept. The one that got away was in early 70s. Could have purchased mint condition black 61 Imperial LEBARON for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately at the time, that price was out of my range. Along with final 61 DeSoto, the LEBARON was my ultimate dream, last of Exners fabulous finned fantasies. Today a 61 LEBARON is so rare even if I found one, it would still be out of reach! BUT I have advertising literature, scale model and framed collages of both 61 DeSoto and 61 LEBARON. This is one way to still have your dream cars, and much less expensive than buying and maintaining them! 🤔. 👍 😎
As a teenager, family car was a black DeSoto which I loved and learned to drive on. Subsequently, parents passed up buying a 59 DeSoto ADVENTURER, and later the last 61 DeSoto (black) ! I was sort of OK with that, since we still had that 55. But in summer of 62, they traded for a 62 Plymouth Belvedere. One of ugliest cars ever 🤮! Always hated that car as the cause of lost opportunities. Loved my Dad and Mom, but this time I did NOT believe Father Knows Best! 😎
Always liked the fuselage Chryslers. Very impressive and imposing looking. 1970-1971 my favorites of the early fuselage era (1969-1973).
How the world has changed!! The second photo reflects cars half the size and weight, and three times the mileage. But the big boy Chrysler would eat any one of these for lunch and a second for dessert.
If I had enough driveway, it would be at home in front of my house.
Great web page devoted to Chrysler fuselage:
A big old Chrysler in that condition would indeed have been hard to pass by.
My car that got away was a VW Karmann-Ghia. I wrote about it on my blog a long time ago.
A gold interior on these seems rather esoteric until you realize for 1970, eight of the seventeen standard factory shades available were various degrees of tan/brown (this appears to be Mystic Gold). A lot of these came with gold interiors. I understand, personal tastes and all, but details like this make me chuckle when I hear the derision over cars being too grayscale in our modern times. I don’t hate all this gold, but I do know I sure wouldn’t want to live with it…
I can well see the fatal attraction.
I never made the connection with Ball State to the Ball canning jars until now. Doh! I had a friend who went there, and always thought it was a somewhat odd name. Stephanie has done her share to keep the Balls (or whatever private equity fund that owns it now) in dough.
Ball got out of the glass making business back in ’96 then two years later moved its headquarters from Muncie to Broomfield, CO. In the US it’s a big aerospace/defense contractor but it still owns metal can manufacturing facilities outside the US. The downtown Denver basketball/hockey/concert venue is called Ball Arena.
A family on our street had one, but it was dark brown. I remember it being HUGE inside compared to our Rambler and Vega.
I didn’t pay much attention to the fuselage Mopars at a young age, but there was a tan 4-door for sale locally a few years ago and I must admit they are more tempting now…
Perhaps for the best that you avoided further wrath from your mother.
Fuselage fan also…but without vinyl roof, or the craptastic levels of trim…as the all take away from the impact of the cool shape. One last thing, anybody else dislike the grill treatment? I love me a loop bumper all day. but that oddly protruding grill profile always looked like it was trying to be different without a real theme…its just doesnt “work” for me.
Excellent idea for a new series! We all have had many opportunities we should have taken. One comes to mind a Jaguar E type which paint was awful but did not have much rust. This was just before they got worth crazy money. Why didn’t I take the action?
Never myself saw the attraction of such a big whale with so much (gold colored) plastic I needed. Would not say no to a big Mopar from the 55-66 period though.
This is a great idea for a new series! Any time I see a fuselage Mopar, it takes me to my teen years. One of my brothers had a ‘70 Fury III 2 door hardtop and it was the car I practiced for and took my drivers test in. It was an attractive dark green metallic with a lighter green vinyl top. The interior was a classy two (or possibly three) tone vinyl. However, being a standard ‘70 Fury, it had one of the PLAINEST grilles ever! The ‘69, ‘71 and ‘72 at least had some visual interest. It was a good car for my brother with 383 2 barrel and TorqueFlite.
IMHO, Chrysler nailed the styling of the early fuselage Newports. The one you described and its twin whose pictures that grace this post are sure sweet, especially in that honey gold hue! The grille and taillights really do it for me. (Compared to the standard trim levels of the Plymouths and Dodges.)
My grandparent’s neighbor lady had a white 1971 Plymouth Fury four door and I loved that car back in the day. It had an offset trunk lock on the far right side of the trunk lid (or turtle shell as my grandmother used to call them).
Of the early fuselage Newports, the ’70 is my favorite, simply because it’s the only one that doesn’t have an emblem directly in the middle of the grille. For 1970, it’s a simple ‘Chrysler’ logo by the bottom of the driver’s side headlights.
Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the 1969-71 Newports, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“In the late winter of 1981 the world pretty much sucked. Fuel prices were through the roof, a nasty recession was taking hold and getting worse, and lots of change was afoot.”
Wow, very much opposite from me. I had finished grad school, got my license, could start practice while planning my own office. Yeah, gas may have been a dollar a gallon but no big deal. I didn’t really notice or was impacted by a recession.
As to your 70 C body, being a fusie owner myself, I have to say that I would still prefer a 66-68 Newport or New Yorker to a 70 Newport or New Yorker. Has mostly to do with the looks as I like the slab side look. So if I did a TOTGA it would have to be a 66 New Yorker sometime back. Also the dash was to die for.
Of course I wouldn’t turn this one down since I always believe in buying the best example one can find at the time and this could be the best example C body at the time. Wait and lose.
No; there aren’t any cables involved with those buttons. The trouble was in the 5-button switch, which contains flimsy fibre plates with angled cutouts. against which bears a fang on the back of the button. Push the button and the fang slides along the angled cutout, moving the fibre plate laterally, thus blocking or unblocking certain vacuum ports and making or breaking the feed to the fan switch and the A/C compressor clutch. Eventually the fibre sliders get raggedy-edged and warped, and the plastic fang gets a groove worn in it, both of which greatly increase friction, making the buttons hard to push. Gritty details here (pdf).
I came ||☜that close. One of the two times I was getting set to go back to university from Colorado, I put a $200 deposit on a ’72 Chrysler (I think, maybe Dodge) wagon, but then decided losing the deposit would be wiser and less expensive in the short and long runs than going through with the purchase. What might have been…!
When new I didn’t care for the fuselage look but it has grown on me over the decades .
I still don’t like driving big vehicles .
In 1976 I was given a 1968 Plymouth Fury III two door, I got it running and traded it to a VW parts guy for some parts for my Bug .
IMO these were very good cars indeed .