You know the rules now, and it’s time to trade in your 1950s love object for one from the 1960s. And you’re going to be driving it until the next one in the 1970s.
Isn’t it easy? It’s the sixties. I mean is there anything else? Well sure there is; like a ’65 Chrysler 300, or ’63 Grand Prix, or a ’61 Cadillac, or…
So many obvious choices; all of them objects of many such MM sessions spanning back all the way right to the dawn of the sixties, when I arrived in the US as a wide-eyed seven year-old.
Only one small problem:
I’m a lot older now. Meaning that my taste, priorities, technical expertise and appreciation for things out of the mainstream have grown. I don’t eat the same food or drink the same kind of drinks, or listen to the same music, or watch the same kind of tv or movies, or have the same kind of thoughts and ideas form even ten years ago. And yes, ten years ago I would have picked the Riviera. And it’s going to hurt a bit not to have it for this return to the 60s. But I can’t go backwards; I have been enlightened.
So this is what it has to be; there’s no turning back. It’s the best all-round big American car of the 60s, period.
GM cars of the 60s go down nice and easy, like soda pop.
The ’62 Plymouth (and Dodge) are the Laphroaig of cars. Here’s a description of it: one of the most divisive Scotch whiskies, loved by those who enjoy its medicinal, smoky flavour and looked on in amazement by those who don’t. Pretty much sums up these cars. Look on in amazement.
Now I’m not going to go overboard here, as I’ve already done that with me deep immersion in the ’62 Dodge and Plymouth. My time spent on that article gave me the deeper appreciation for these cars, although I’ve always had some, right from the day in 1962 when Dr. Miller, who lived two doors down, showed up with a red Dart 440 just like this, having traded in his big ’56 DeSoto. It was clearly a bit more distinctive and challenging than anything GM and Ford had in 1962, and its trimmer size was obvious, especially compared to the big hulking DeSoto.
But then I’d been noticing a trend already in just the two years I’d been in the states: there were more and more compacts and trimmer American cars on the streets, including these downsized ’62s. And why not? It’s not like Dr. and Mrs. Miller had kids around.
I was nine, and had no clue as to who Virgil Exner or Bill Mitchell were. But from the day we arrived in the US in 1960, I’d instantly picked up on the obvious fact that Chrysler marched to a different drummer stylistically. GM’s trimmer 1961 lines were on full display that fall, and I was utterly smitten. I became an acolyte of the church of St. Mark of Excellence, and Mitchell was the high priest, had I know of his existence.
And the ’63 Riviera was his gift to the faithful.
I’m afraid my faith has lapsed some over the decades. Although looking at these pictures is giving me some serious doubts about that. I want to believe…but…I know that the Riviera is sitting on an outdated X-Frame chassis and the ’63 still had an antiquated transmission, and the nailhead V8 wasn’t ever really a genuine performance engine, and…
So now I must pay for opening my eyes to the truth, and drive a car that was derided by many when it first came out, and was quickly forgotten by the rest. That is, except for the few that saw it for what it really was: a car that was in many ways ten years ahead of the competition, if not even fifteen.
It was a tight and trim full unibody (unlike the really big Chryslers that used a front sub frame), with a degree of rigidity that was unheard of at the time. Which of course is the key to letting a suspension do its thing properly. Which it did.
It’s long hood, short tail proportions were unprecedented at the time, and were quickly appropriated by the Mustang. As maybe aspects of the Dodge’s front end.
In terms of its class, its size and proportion took 15 years to be finally adopted. And become the default big American car.
In all aspects, the benefits of its lighter weight (starting at a mere 2930 lbs) and advanced engineering were indisputable. It steered easier, even without power assist, it handled better than anyhting in its class, and it went better too.
The 305hp 361 Golden Commando V8 and the superlative Torqueflite, which was the top performance option at the start of the year, yielded 0-60 times of 8 seconds or less. We’re talking about an utterly tame engine, no lumpy-idling semi-racer.
By mid-year, the engine palate was extended to the 383 and the legendary 413 “Max Wedge”, which shut all the competition down on the strips. With a Torqueflite. Who needs to shift anyway?
The Sport Fury was a nice place from which to watch the competition recede in your rear view mirror. No, not Riviera nice, but priorities change.
And although the Riviera was the only car to have a comparably-fine speedometer, it had idiot lights for the rest (expect gas).
I’m going to have to make this short, as there’s more to life than MM’ing over old cars, but this is it for me. I might have some regrets by the end of the 60s, but I will be secure in the knowledge that none of the others will actually be better cars. There’s more to life than a pretty face.