TOTGA : 1970 Chrysler Newport – What Beautiful Music This Golden Oldie And I Could Have Made Together

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.