When Virgil Exner’s Forward Look burst onto the scene at dowdy, conservative old Chrysler Corporation in 1955, it marked a new era for the company that had spent the previous fifteen years trying to build cars that nobody would notice. The follow-up 1957 models were styling home runs – cars that made the entire industry re-think what a modern car should look like. But after several tumultuous years and multiple quality and sales disasters later, everything had changed. In September of 1961, Lynn Townsend was brought in from an outside accounting firm and asked to take over leadership of the company. Two months later, Virgil Exner was relieved of his duties as chief of styling as Chrysler prepared to enter (another) new era. By 1964, there was very little left in Chrysler showrooms that harked back to the glory days of 1957 when The Forward Look was in full flower. But there was this one.
The Dodge Custom 880 of 1962-64 has always been a curiosity. Or perhaps mongrel is a better description. The 880 was born of several levels of desperation. There is more than one version of the story of how this car came to be, but this kind of confusion seems to be normal when dealing with the Chrysler Corporation of the early 1960’s. What we do know is that after a conventional (but strangely styled) lineup in 1960 and 61, 1962 brought a brand new body for Plymouth and Dodge on a shorter 116 inch wheelbase. We also know that DeSoto (which shared the larger Chrysler body) had expired after an abbreviated 1961 model year, and that Chrysler’s dealer system had been reorganized so that Dodge dealers were independent of Chrysler-Plymouth dealers (instead of the older system where each “senior” brand offered Plymouth in addition.)
Some have opined that because the California Highway Patrol required a 122 inch wheelbase for its pursuit fleet, the 880 was demanded in order to meet the spec. However, closer observation tells us that this was not the case. Because the 88o was not introduced until February of 1962, fleet orders had long been submitted for 1962 models by the time the cars arrived. Also we know that the CHP ordered a batch of 1962 Chrysler Enforcers, which were Chrysler Newports with specs that largely matched those of the ’61 Dodge Polaras that CHP had purchased the year prior.
Others have suggested that with the demise of the DeSoto, Chrysler needed a car priced below the Chrysler Newport in order to fill the gap. This rationale doesn’t wash either. The ’62 Newport started at $2964. And the Dodge Custom 880? $2964.
The real reason for the 880 seems to have been that Dodge Division general manager W. C. Peterson was livid that his Division had been left without a full sized car to sell. Curtis Redgap at Allpar relates that Peterson went to the board of directors and threatened to quit if his Division was left without a big car. In hindsight, Peterson’s demand was not unreasonable, as Dodge sales had plummeted since 1959. Having lost its tradionally sized car and with its dealers being deprived of Plymouth sales, things were looking grim at Dodge. Even after the 880, Dodge sales for the model year dropped to 12th place in 1962, its lowest showing since before WWI.
What actually happened in 1962 is not in dispute at all. Chrysler hastily took the ’62 Chrysler Newport that it was already building, restarted production of the front clip from the departed ’61 Dodge for the front end, and threw in the dashboard that had been shared by the ’61 Dodge Polara and ’61 DeSoto. And there it was – the genuine, full sized Dodge Custom 880. Unless we are talking about the station wagons, because those used stampings from the ’61 Plymouth wagons mated to the 4 door hardtop wagon body of the ’61 Dodge Polara. If this doesn’t make for an automotive version of a “Heinz 57” breed of dog, I don’t know what does.
For 1963 this strange story remained, but turned up a notch. Dodge still needed the car in its lineup. However, the source of its body (the Chrysler Newport) got a thorough front-to-back, inside-and-out restyling for 1963. So unless there was some willingness to design a Dodge companion to the rotund, Italian-influenced Chrysler, another solution needed to be found. The answer turned out to be leaving the old Chrysler body in production alongside the new one, with some minor cleanup including its very own new front end – which was probably the very first in-showroom evidence of Elwood Engel’s new design direction at the company. The ’63 Custom 88o (joined by a slightly lower priced “regular” 880) was still a mongrel. But this time, where the ’62 was a current body with last year’s front end, the ’63 was a current front end on last year’s body. The ’61 Dodge/DeSoto dashboard remained in place too, providing a car that combined three distinct model years into one.
The body used for the 880 line actually dated back to 1960. Although the Unibody structure was completely new, the 1960 Chrysler and DeSoto’s styling was not much more than a mild evolution from the 1957-59 model that had began as a smashing success and ended in a mediocre muddle (both in its styling and in its sales figures). Still, the ’60 Chrysler was an attractive car, especially if you liked fins.
Virgil Exner was nothing if not creative, and for his follow-up to the 1957 Forward Look he started off on at least two new styling directions. First came the 1960 Valiant. Its long hood/short deck look, coupled with full wheel openings and six-light greenhouse (derived from the Imperial D’Elegance show car) was Ex’s stab at a second revolution in the styling of the modern automobile. A second direction came with the 1962 Plymouth and standard Dodge lines which employed heavy bladed fenders and cleaner sides, a design language exemplified in the Dodge Flite Wing prototype.
By 1962 only the big Chrysler was continuing with some version of the old Forward Look theme. Some didn’t like the elimination of the fins and some didn’t like the canted headlights, but all in all it was a reasonably attractive car. Especially when compared with almost everything else the Corporation was turning out.
But back to the Dodge 880. By 1964 the old girl got some more attention from Elwood Engel’s styling studios which resulted in cleaner sides and a more modern tail end, along with a revised but still Mercury-like grille.
On the inside the dash design was toned down a notch but in pretty much every other way the car was still a 1962 (or 1960) Chrysler Newport. In many ways the 1964 Dodge Custom 880 represented the most conventionally styled car that Chrysler had turned out since perhaps 1952.
The car was quite conventional mechanically as well, built like everything else the company built and powered by either the 2 bbl 361 (5.9L) V8 or the larger 4 bbl 383 (6.3L) engine. Although almost all of them were driven by a pushbutton Torqueflite automatic, either a three or a four speed floor shift was available for the eleven people who might be interested in a car that was offered for neither the economy nor the performance minded.
I still recall seeing one of these when I was just a wee tot. A man who worked with my father was a dedicated Mopar guy. Even at the age of 5 I knew that there was something just weird about Mopars. The guy’s wife drove a baby blue ’61-ish Valiant, and I remember walking around and around it, taking in all of the details that were so foreign to someone who grew up in a nearly undiluted sea of GM normalcy. When Gene and his family drove up in a new Custom 880 one evening (in this very color combination) I walked around it as well. I could tell that it was a Dodge by the prominent “fratzogs” all over the car. But it was a strange Dodge in that it was . . . almost normal. Not actual normal, just almost normal. Hmmm, I remember thinking, if Dodge can make cars that look like this, I think people will buy them.
Little did I know at that tender age, Gene’s ’64 Custom 880 would be the last of its (half) breed. An all new C body was on the way which would result in what many would consider “Peak Chrysler”. That new C body would arrive just in the nick of time, too. Although the 880 tried to plug a hole in the lineup, it never did so very effectively. Although the ’64 version was the best selling of them all (31,796 units) the 880s never sold well. With the exception of the 1962 4 door sedan, no single body style in any of the car’s three years ever broke the 10K unit barrier. This ’64 convertible is one of only 1,058 built.
It is clear in looking at this car that although some of the details looked modern, the basic car was not. The soft, rounded shoulders where the doors met the side windows, that ubiquitous slight kink at the top of the A pillar and those pull-out “Chrysler-type” door handles identified this new car as a direct descendant of the Chryslers and DeSotos that had ever so briefly ruled the sales charts in 1957 before their reputation for quality woes caught up with them. In one way, that this body could provide the basis for a credible big sedan in 1964 affirms how advanced Exner’s Forward Look was. Is there any other 1957 car that could wear so much of its basic styling so well seven years later?
The car also shows just how badly management wanted its cars to go mainstream. Even with the executioner’s axe in mid swing, this low-volume Dodge got dressed in a respectable suit in a clear effort to conform to the styling norms being once again set by General Motors. Despite some curious details.
Although the Forward Look jumped into the world with great fanfare in the 1950s, it is less clear when that styling era at Chrysler ended. Most would probably say that the Forward Look died with the fins that disappeared after 1961. But I believe that the Forward Look was more than fins – it was about shape, form and stance – a combination that projected the traditionally masculine traits of power and strength with the soft curves that most would consider more feminine. And by 1964 there remained one car on dealer lots which still embodied at least some of the spirit of the Forward Look. And did it very well.
1963 Dodge Custom 880 (Laurence Jones)
1963 Dodge Custom 880 (Perry Shoar)
1963 Dodge Polara (Paul Niedermeyer)
1961 Dodge Dart Pioneer (J P Cavanaugh)
1963 Chrysler New Yorker (J P Cavanaugh)
It might be a look that went out with a whimper, but the ’64 880 is a handsome car.
It’s a car who’s styling translated well over the years. Nothing outlandish, nothing strange, if anything it’s comfortably boring.
You know, the entire rationale behind a Camry . . . . . . .
IMHO…I find the last advertisement photo…the gold-ish color convertible…captured this Custom 880 quite attractively. Of course, I am very partial to convertibles.
@ Don. That isn’t a photo. Brochure and advertisement images were almost always paintings in those days. There is a whole technique to tarting up a car for the painting. There can be subtle changes to the proportions and the way light reflects off the surfaces.
I still want to add a ’62 Plymouth Fury/Belevedre/Savoy 2 door to my driveway.
318/361 V8 engine, push button Torqueflite automatic, power steering and factory A/C, please.
(Not saying I will ever find this; just want it.)
You mean because every one ever built has been turned into a Max Wedge clone? 🙂
Well it was turn it in to a Max Wedge clone or send it to the crusher because it wouldn’t have any value as a stock vehicle, so which is better?
Well, to each his own I guess. I’ve kept my house for the same reason I’ve owned my Taurus wagon for 20 years – because I like it.
Some people prefer to keep their cars stock, just because that’s the way they were built. Aside from some mild custom upgrades – adding power seats on both sides, putting in a SHO speedo and tach, getting rid of that horrid 1990 fake woodgrain on the dash, fatter sway bars at both ends and other little things – the car’s largely as it was when it left Atlanta in October 1989.
I know it’s never gonna be a collector car, but who cares?
I’ll sell you mine.
There was a Belvedere 2 door hardtop for sale locally 4 weeks ago. Strait body, no rust, 318, auto, ps, radio a heater, aftermarket A/C that has a bad clutch, all trim in good shape. Needed resto or at least paint and seat covers, was listed at $1800, finally was able to reach seller, he sold for $1500. Had been driven all it’s life, rebuilt engine 5-7 years ago. Currently a 65 dodge Coronet 2 ht at $750 rust free, w/s out other drivers side glass broken, some dents. ’66 Buick Skylark convert, nice interior, needs paint, runs good $1800. And a ’61 ambassador in black, 4dr sed 327, pushbutton auto, runs excellent, cant remember price but wasn’t bad. craigslist chico. Cars are still cheap here for many don’t realize they’re collector cars. Lots of cheap 50’s-70’s pickups-el caminos.
A terrific car that by virtue of its muddled conception is now one of the most interesting Dodge’s of the 1960s.
I never saw a Dodge 880 until the early 1990s. It was upon going to a car show that I saw one and was quite intrigued and it’s the only car from that show still in my memory.
Finding a convertible is truly icing on the cake.
I’ve always liked the ’64, but since the 880 series wasn’t sold in Canada it’s not a car I became aware of until much later.
Something I’d never noticed before is that the front and rear bumpers appear to be a common piece.
Same here. Really interesting stuff..
Interesting that the rear is a preview of the coming fuselage cars, the shell is a throwback to the forward look and the front is just generic.
At least for a while, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was sponsored by Chrysler. They advertised Barracudas & then, the new Charger — cars that would be attractive to potential secret agents.
I recall a closing note from Napoleon Solo, after solving some Iron Curtain plot to eliminate the ubiquitous & nameless ‘Prime Minister.’ Having escaped with his life in a tuxedo, he leaned into the camera;
“And now a word from Chrysler and The Big Dodge 880.”
The 880 remained the Dodge flagship in 1965 but was renamed Monaco in 66. I don’t think the big Dodge ever got out from under the Chrysler Newport’s shadow.
Love all the Fratzogs!
Agree with Tonyola… This is a good looking car. Great piece, Jim. I never fully took the time to learn about the Custom 880.
Great detailed account of this model JP! I always found the 880 a curious creature. On the one hand it made sense, but on the other it raised so many questions.
W. C. Patterson must have been a powerful guy at Chrysler back in the day. Besides demanding (and getting) a true, full-size Dodge, albeit a cobbled together one, the guy was supposedly directly responsible for the ‘wart hog’ grille on the ’62 Dodge. As if the downsizing weren’t bad enough, that goofy grille pretty much guaranteed the ’62 was going to be a flop.
Maybe if Patterson hadn’t insisted on the nose, it would have sold better and there wouldn’t have been the need for the Custom 880.
Also interesting that he wanted and got the low-end Dart, which poached a lot of Plymouth sales in 1960-61. And after turning Dodge into a Plymouth clone he then demanded a Newport clone too.
I have never quite figured out how Dodge remained the “800 pound gorilla” Division within Chrysler Corporation for so long.
Maybe it stems from Plymouth consistently being in a weak position since they were always up against Fords and Chevys. Coupled with weak corporate management oversight, Dodge then always held the upper hand. Frankly, with that kind of situation, it was really only a matter of time before Plymouth was cashiered, even if their demise hadn’t been hastened by Dodge encroaching on the low-priced auto market.
It was the purchase of Dodge Brothers by Chrysler Corporation in the late 1920s that enabled the corporation to become one of the “Big Three,” and even push the Ford Motor Company out of second place in the 1930s. Dodge’s production facilities were critical to the corporation’s success.
If I recall correctly, Keller, Colbert and Newberg had all moved directly from leadership of the Dodge Division to corporate leadership positions. This made Dodge inordinately powerful within the corporation.
In retrospect, Chrysler would have been better served if it had simply extended Dodge into the low-price field after it had purchased the company, and then allowed DeSoto to compete in the lower-medium price field. Dodge, with its truck line, would have been a very natural competitor to both Ford and Chevrolet.
Finally a decent looking car from Chrysler after a bunch of bizarre looking ones from 1960-63. They sure did get a lot of mileage from that vintage-1957 windshield design didn’t they?
Imperial not only kept the windshield until 1966, the side windows were the same, basically the entire frame/inner structure was the same except for engine and getting more inner structure added until ’66 When it worked that well, why change? I had a ’61 Polara 4 dr ht when I bought a ’62 Chrysler 300 4dr ht. I soon realized in Chryslers panic redesign for ’62, all they did was changed the rear fenders, put a 61 Chrysler front clip on and a ’60-’62 Chrysler dash to create the ’62 chrysler, then to create the 880, put the ’61 Polara front clip and dash back for the 880, that and using the Plymouth wagon structure for several years they got much mileage from the design. I had several 880’s including convertibles in each year 62, ’63 and ’64 The ’64 being exactly like the ad for the black car. It was fully loaded, and looking back on my notes on my cars, was special ordered for the Dodge dealer with a .426 engine and hd suspension. The only reason I ever sold it, I already had my ’63 Electra convertible which did everything very slightly better than the 880, plus better fuel mileage. But I’ve thought about that beautiful ’64 880 convertible ever since.
One of those “eleven people who might be interested in a car that was offered for neither the economy nor the performance minded” were friends of ours in Iowa City. They bought a new 880 wagon in 1963, and the first time I got a ride in it, I was stunned to see it had a floor shift! Whoa! In a big station wagon?!? I was aware or Chrysler’s Valiant having a floor shift for the three speed, but ten year old me could not have imagined that some of their full size cars also came with a floor shifter for the three speed. Very odd.
Mrs. Way started up the big V8, put it in gear, and off we went, and I watched her shift the gears. It all seemed quite out of context. Now I wonder if it had power steering?
I was quite aware at the time that the 880 was a mongrel, especially with its obsolete-looking dashboard. But it made for a mighty big wagon for the Way family, who had just moved out to a rural property, and where it served as the equivalent of a Suburban in more recent years, hauling all the stuff that goes into that lifestyle. But with a three speed floor shift.
According to oldcarbrochures.org, you could get a ’64 880 wagon with a 383 and four-on-the-floor – now that would be something really special. Also, the 880 had something that was getting pretty rare by that time – ammeter and oil pressure gauges.
What a unicorn! There were fewer than 1000 of the base 880 9 passenger wagon made to begin with, and how many of these had a 3 speed? What a great car to experience.
I can’t confirm that it was a 9 passenger wagon, as there was no third seat up that day, and I don’t remember it at other times either. I suspect not.
I do remember having a momentary thought that maybe it had a six cylinder, but that was quickly dispelled when she started it up and took off, briskly. I had assumed that all big non-upscale American cars had six cylinder versions.
Well, the 2 seat model was a sales star with over 1700 out the door. 🙂
I think part of the standard trans on the floor was the “sporty” flavor. I had a ’63 Pontiac Bonneville wagon with 389 with 3×2 bbls and a 4 speed on the console (bucket seats) It was deep metallic blue inside and out and gorgeous, also had a ’63 Mercury Coloney Park wagon, tan with metallic red inside, with 406, 4 speed, hd suspension, 15 inch wheels w/’56 merc hubcaps with spinners, bought for $15 because it got such lousy gas mileage (3 to 8 mpg), which was not what that car was about. A close friend also had a ’64 880 wagon with a 383, 4 speed (he put swivel seats from a ’60 Dodge Matador in it) it had full power and A/C as well.
One would thing that if they ordered a full size wagon in that era with the manual transmission they would probably be too cheap to order power steering. Do you remember if it had a radio?
On the one hand it is surprising that they didn’t offer a column shift for the 3sp. But I guess for always on a budget Chrysler it was cheaper to do a floor shift since they could use the same steering column as they did on the automatic cars, thanks to their push button shifting. Plus I don’t think they expected to sell very many with the manual transmissions, figuring that was for “low price” buyers, not for the Dodge man who is on his way up.
Also the 60-62 Chrysler with the Astro Dome dash could not accommodate a column shift. Coupled with the low take-rate on the 3 speed in Chryslers and DeSotos they just used a floor shifter on the big body cars from 1960. The small body Plymouth and Dodge used a column shifter for the 3 speed.
I don’t remember if it had a radio. I was too focused on that floor shifter. Quite possibly not. None of our cars did, and quite a few cars I rode in back then didn’t either. She was a part-time piano and violin teacher, so I doubt radio at the time would have had much interest for her. In fact I rode out to her house in it because she was my piano accompanist for my annual violin recital. Which did not go very well. I hated practicing. Even if it was an easy piece. “Lento”, by somebody. That means “slow”, which should have been easy.
I still have dreams of finding myself having to give a violin recital and realizing that I’d never practiced it and didn’t know the piece.
Hmm too bad, I can picture you playing now in the forest at a boondock somewhere.
My daughter enjoys playing violin, the temperament of music teachers seems to have changed quite a bit since my sister and I took music lessons in the 1970s
I can picture it too, but unfortunately it’s just a mental picture. 🙂
Paul, as a lifetime musician (and teacher of future music teachers), this gave me a big smile as another school year gets rolling.
1) Overall, I’m still amazed at how much of the K-12 music-education business *hasn’t* fundamentally changed since we were kids.
2) The story about your musical dreams/nightmares really hit home; mine are always about either being a teacher caught unprepared, or being a college student who forgot to do write the paper, drop the class, etc..
A tidbit about Iowa City’s grade-school level public school music program back then: it was run by two women who lived together and everyone knew they were a couple. It was my introduction to the word and meaning of “lesbian”.
And the one that was my violin teacher drove a baby-blue Porsche 356 B Cabriolet. She drove to Lincoln School one afternoon per week to give lessons, and I used to love to watch and listen her drive by as I rode my bike home from school. One very rainy day I was walking and she stopped and gave me a lift. That was a memorable ride.
Her partner “Miss Bruehnig” conducted the all-city orchestra that practiced once a week after school in the old junior high near downtown. I rode with my friend Dean Harless, who played the viola, in his dad’s ’60 Rambler American, and then the ’64 Bel Air (with six and stick), or my sister would drive us in the ’62 Fairlane. I’d goad her to “floor it”, which she did for a block or two, but the result, with the little 221 inch V8 and Fordomatic, was not at all impressive or memorable.
Unfortunately the band and music programs are slipping away in some school districts. My daughter coaches color guard at the school that replaced the one her and my son went that just opened this year. Unfortunately the band room and their storage area is significantly smaller than it was at the old school. The band director is less than pleased. The fact is that in recent years the field show and various bands have been doing quite well at competitions.
On the other hand I’m happy to report that the auto shop program survived the move, something I was afraid was going to be lost. And there is are proper shops, designed so the robotics, drama, wood shop and metal shop all have access to the tools they need. The shop classes are returning after an absence at the HS level. That is due in part to the realignment from a elementary, MS, JHS, HS system to elementary, MS and HS so the former Jr High shop teacher and equipment made the move.
The entire elementary school music program in Redondo Beach, CA during the early 1960’s consisted of a plastic flute given to each forth grader and some lessons from our regular teacher on how to play it.
Damn, Paul, we have something in common. My mother really believed I’d be the next Van Cliburn, until at age 15 I completely froze up in a piano recital competition. Was still forced to take piano lessons until my 18th birthday, but that was the end of the competition circuit.
I still have the piano, sitting in my living room. It hasn’t been tuned or played in 25 years.
When we moved to Towson after 6th grade, the teacher was so lame that I convinced my parents to drop it. Whew…
My older brother and sister had to take piano, but they didn’t last nearly as long, since my father played piano and he was impossible to please in any way, and they just refused to keep doing it.
My Uncle Fred had a ’63 Dodge 880 sedan, during the mid Sixties. It was red and it seemed very ordinary at the time. He bought it to replace his ’63 Plymouth Sport Fury coupe. He needed a car low enough to take my Grandparents to the doctor and on other errands. He was always a Mopar man. The last time I saw him fifteen years ago he was driving a black Dodge Magnum. Maybe now he’s driving a new Chrysler 300, I could see that car suiting him.
Me, I would like to have that light blue ’62 Chrysler 300 convertible. Actually any bodystyle would do.
“If you think big cars are back in style . . . you’re right.” Haha. I guess Chrysler decided that made a better ad campaign than “If you think we made a BIG MISTAKE discontinuing the full size Dodge . . . you’re right.”
For anyone with a sudden craving, here’s a nice one-family ’64 convertible in CA: https://www.hemmings.com/classifieds/cars-for-sale/dodge/custom/1906283.html
Which I’ve wanted since seeing it in Hemming’s
Despite its mongrel origins, the styling of this car has actually aged well, in my opinion. On the other hand, it really illustrates how Dodge has struggled to find a place on the Chrysler Sloanian ladder from the 1960s onward, particularly the full-size models. If I had been a potential mid-priced full-size car buyer in 1964, I would have gravitated toward the Pontiac Catalina or Bonneville, based on looks alone. If I had to purchase a Mopar, then the Chrysler Newport would have gotten the nod. The Dodge would have had to be significantly cheaper and/or exhibit far superior roadholding and ride capabilities to earn my vote.
My Father was a Mopar man. A new 1946 Dodge, a used 1948 Desoto convertible, a new 1951 Dodge Convertible,(replaced with a 1951 2 Dr Diplomat hardtop), Then a 1955 Desoto 2 dr hardtop, followed by a 1958 plymouth convertible, and a 1960 Dodge Phoenix convertible
He bought a new car every 2 years and kept them for 4. In the Spring of1962 it was time or a new car. We went to his favorite Dodge dealer who had been around for many decades. A Dodge 880 convertible was ordered in medium blue with a blue or white top and blue interior. It came in with black top and interior. May Father sated ;
” That is not my car.”
The owner of the dealership, who looked like a minature Ed Sullivan; complete with double breasted suit, offered to upgrade to a Chrysler for free. When he called his factory contact, he learned all Dodge 880 and Newport convertibles in blue got black tops and interiors. All of the sales literature showed blue interiors and white or blue tops. They briefly tried to sell my Father the black and blue car with no success.
I steered him down the street to the Pontiac dealership. I asked how many colors of tops were available on a Catalina, the reply was 7 or 9. My Father ordered a Catalina convertible in Bamboo cream with a tan top, and a darker tan interior. In 5 or 6 weeks, the car arrrived exactly as ordered. My Father kept buying a new car every 2 years, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, and Buicks but never again a Dodge.
^^^^^Yup, there’s the blue convertible top, available with blue interiors, and the white top, available with all colors (1964 showroom book on eBay):
Friend in Little Rocks father always bought white Plymouth convertibles with white tops and the biggest available engine. He bought a new one every year I think. In 1964 or ’65 he tried to order another and Plymouth would only sell a white convertible with a blue top. No idea why but that is what they insisted on. So, he went down the street and bought a white GTO convertible with the desired white top. GTO was so much fun he never went back to Plymouth. I think he may have had Catalinas and Bonnevilles too, always white with a white top and way too much horsepower. Great fun!
I’m a Plymouth guy at heart, but I wouldn’t kick out a Custom 880 convertible for a lack of interior colours nor top colours as well. And I can add a ’62 Fury ragtop in model car form courtesy Johan, and a Dart on the way. Something about the 880 made them “forbidden fruit” in Canada, but in its short life, there were SOME Canadians who made the trip to Seattle to rent, test drive, and/or buy one…
The ad for the Chrysler for $2,964 certainly caught my eye. Dog dish hubcaps of a most uninspired design on a CHRYSLER? I can’t imagine that many were ever sold like that! To me, those things scream “CHEAP!”; I expect to see those on a base-series Plymouth, or a Chevy Biscayne, or a Ford Custom, not on any kind of Chrysler.
Back then, name meant a lot (as if things have changed). I knew a few people in my neighborhood who had to have a Chrysler, even if they could have gotten a well equipped Plymouth for the same money.
But for only $17 you can get full wheel covers.
A sales pitch might have gone something like this.
(as they are walking back to the showroom) You’ve made a fine choice with the all-new for 19XX …, its exclusive xxx makes it far superior to those lesser Brands.
(sitting down at the salesman’s desk) (the salesman handing the color card and accessories brochure to the missus). Let me pull out the order sheet for your car, now you want the deluxe or custom trim? (buyer pulls out a cigarette and lights up). Oh I see you are a Chesterfield man too. (salesman reaches to the back of his drawer and selects the pack of Chesterfields and dead lighter. Puts it to his lips only to have the lighter fail to spark) Darn time for a new flint again, can I borrow yours? So you want the cigar lighter, correct? It is only $3 and you’ll surely save that in flints and fluid and it is always right there and ready. What always annoys me is when I’ve got friends in the car at night and they miss the ashtray because they can’t see it. Now you’ve got ashes on the carpet. For only $12 you can get the lighting package which gives you a light in the ashtray as well as the trunk light and extra lights under the dash.
Speaking of lights, back up lights are an important safety feature, don’t want the missus backing into a … because she cant see in the dark. Plus they warn others when you are backing out of a parking spot and they are only $8 for two. The peace of mind is well worth it in my opinion.
(salesman turning to the wife) Have you picked out your favorite colors? You know they just added …., my wife really likes it and is after me to get it on our next car.
(turning back to the man) Now I see you’ve got a trailer hitch on your current car, what do you tow with it? Well in that case you really should consider at least the 4bbl and dual exhaust, or step up to the big engine that comes with those things. You’ll definitely want the posi for towing too and lets change to the performance gear ratio while we are at it. Of course you’ll want the power steering to make backing up the trailer so easy even your wife could do it. Power brakes too, you want that extra safety margin, plus it makes it easy for your wife to drive, even in her high heels.
(turning back to wife) You notice those full wheel covers, they really add the finishing touch don’t they? (turning back to the man) and those wheel covers are full stainless steel so they won’t rust and they are only $17. The white walls are only $8 and really set off those fancy wheel covers.
(turning to the wife, reaching out and turning the accessories brochure to a specific page). You know my wife really likes the tissue box holder, she says it is so handy when she needs to fix her lipstick. (flipping the page) and she really appreciates the curb feelers, she says she’s never driven a car as easy to park as our car with them. (turning back to the man) And those curb feelers will keep her from messing up your white walls and full wheel covers.
Now which color scheme have you decided on for the outside, the 2 tone or 3? How about the interior? You know that all vinyl is only $15 more and will still look like new when its time to trade. You’ll also want the all vinyl floor mats for $4 to keep that carpet looking new.
Next thing you know that $2964 had turned into $3500 and the profit climbed significantly too.
Now of course it is all about moving the buyer up to the super special deluxe trim that includes XY and Z that you don’t get on the special deluxe trim, “for just $10 more per month.” and selling the navigation and infotainment upgrades.
The Buick name carried the same prestige as Chrysler. I dont know the price, but a ’64 LeSabre sedan carried even less chrome than that Newport. Dog dshes and blackwalls were shown in the brochure. Standard powertrain was a 300ci 2bbl V-8 with three-on-the-tree.
Mid-priced brands had stripper models “just a few dollars a month more than the low priced three” since the 1950’s. Pontiac was more parallel with Dodge, but my dad bought the cheapest Catalina in 1955, probably because of the bigger standard V-8 than the optional Chevy engine.
When the ’62 Chrysler CHP cars became available to the public, a friend bought one and added New Yorker hash marks to the rear fenders and lower, and wheel well trim with full 1956 Chrysler hubcaps, in all black it was a low cost stunning high powered car.
What I’ve never understood is why Dodge settled on 880 as a name for this car. Lancer, Dart, Polara … and 880? Really? Couldn’t they have pulled an old series name out of mothballs instead?
At a glance, probably because Dodge didn’t want to compete internally with, or distract from, its volume Dart line. At the same price as a Newport, the Custom 880 was an uncompetitive product with no hope of selling in volume. Its only function was to keep loyal full-size Dodge drivers at their usual dealers.
Dodge had a Dart 330 and 440 around that time, but they skipped 550 660 and 770. Maybe because Rambler used some of them?
The 1962 Ramblers weren’t numbered like that.
This is quite a mutt, but a lovable one. Belated CC effect: I saw one of these earlier this summer at a local car show. It was in pristine shape, and other than one exterior repaint, all original. The car is owned by a Vietnam Vet, who bought it from the original owner in 1989. He wanted a ’60s Mopar, and frankly wasn’t looking for this vintage or model, but this particular car was so nice he couldn’t resist. He was amazed that I actually knew what it was, since he said that basically no one can ever identify it.
Here are a few shots of the car.
Here’s the interior. It’s amazing to see the original cloth seats with no rips or tears.
When you’re talking automatic, they should have never done away with the pushbuttons. They make a hell of a lot more sense than that long lever.
Once the parking pawl was introduced the long lever was needed occasionally if the car was parked on a steep incline or a not so steep incline with a big trailer attached. Way too many people if they use the parking brake don’t apply it until after the vehicle has been put in park and rolled so the pawl and drum are under tension. The preferred method of course it to set the brake firmly before releasing pressure on the service brakes.
Still trying to get S.W.M.B.O. to grasp this simple concept .
I love this survivor rag top .
I’m not sure if this answers your concern, but that slide lever beneath the push buttons is a separate control for the parking pawl. Visual symmetry dictated that an identical set of controls on the right were used for the heater/defroster, with the slide lever used for temperature.
Fast forward 20 years and you essentially get the same situation with the US market Pontiac Parisienne.
How timely. Last night I was watching Surf Party (1964) on TCM on Demand. Mostly for the cars, of course. Chrysler clearly had the contract. This Polara is a beauty. There also was a 63 Chrysler 300 convertible, one of my favorites of the era.
With the crosstown competition being Pontiac during their Cinderella years, the 880 was dealt a tough hand.
Never seen a Custom 880 in person, not in traffic, car shows, or old car junkyards, only in pictures, and often glamour shots. It’s story and hodgepodge origins always interested me though, and buff book history often glosses over them completely, making it seem as though the biggest Dodge between 62 and 64 were the downsized 62s. I found out the Custom 880 existed from a book full of brochure pictures, with little more than a short caption.
I think Syke summed it up very well, and much like a Camry, or just about any modern sedan for the most part, these presumably got treated as disposable appliances and fell completely off the map – unlike the period Chevy’s, which in sheer volume were comparable to Camrys, but in addition were still leading edge styling machines, inciting enthusiast debate between bubbletop preferances a half century later – The Custom 880 was as early to mid 60s as they come, but in familiar but unremarkable ways in just about every detail (that’s the modern beige sedan design philosophy in a nutshell), and even vintage car collectors never seemed to save the 880s.
Even now looking at it I find myself looking at parts, rather than the sum of the parts, like the Oldsmobile F85ish front end, the 60 Chrysler body and oddly Jeep wagoner-like wraparound taillights.
much like a Camry, or just about any modern sedan for the most part, these presumably got treated as disposable appliances
I see this line repeated all-too often, and it rather grates on me. How exactly were/are 99.3284% of the buyers supposed to treat their cars? As appreciating assets? As something to hold on to forever because someday it might be worth something?
I’ve got news for you: almost absolutely everyone treated their cars as a disposable appliance back in the day. They were meant to be used, and there was always a newer, better car on the horizon.
Even owners of Corvettes, and all manner of sports cars just used and wore out their cars, with very rare exception. Which of course explains why one could pick up tired used exotics for peanuts in the 60s or 70s. Obviously, some of them cared for them a bit better than others, but nobody was trying to preserve them perpetually.
Yes, one reads about someone sticking their beloved car into storage when new, but that’s one in 50 million.
Prices for used cars other than sedans did not hold up much better percentage wise, and thus it did not make sense to spend a lot of money on them. All of this started to change in the 80s, when the first real collector car boom took off in earnest.
If you’re thinking the typical buyer of an Impala coupe had any thoughts of preserving it longer than the owner of a Dodge 880 back then, let me heartily disabuse you of that assumption.
And why does the Camry have to be the perpetual yardstick? Ironically, I’d bet that the Camry not only has the longest average life of its segment, but probably the best resale value. So using it as a reference stick for “disposable appliances” is a bit off-base. They’re certainly lasting a whole lot longer than the typical car of the 60s did.
A truly excellent and “Real World Correct” rejoinder, Paul!
I agree 100%.
A. you completely missed the point. Yes, Impalas Galaxies Corvettes are all in essesence disposable through history, don’t just assume and condescend to me like I’m delusional and think that 99.3284% of people didn’t exist back then just as today. My point is, unlike the Custom 880, the .6716% of enthusiasts looked back and resurrected and embraced the remaining Impalas, Corvettes and the like that managed to survive, because there were redeemable qualities they offered, be it styling(mostly), performance(by 80s-90s standards), engineering variety, or simply the nostalgia. The Custom 880s were fine enough cars for 62-64, but there was no specific quality about them to drum up that sort of passion, which has more or less kept it in obscurity compared to it’s competitors. This is something I see in modern sedans with little options or color variety, very long production cycles and similar performance and driving experiences between brands. If anything the Custom 880 represents that not every “classic” is collectible for the sake of being old. Longevity is a different matter, very few driving early 90s Camrys are doing it for any other reason than being cheap and reliable for the owner’s means, if they do break, rust out, or get wrecked they go straight to the junkyard with no remorse.
B. Ask Syke. I directly referenced his post referencing the Camry as a jumpoff point for my post – and do note that I purposely followed it with “or just about any modern sedan for the most part”, consciously to avoid unfairly singling it out.
C. Why is it Camry is sacrosanct? Seriously, nearly every time I use it, I use it as a mere example for a different point, and every time I get steamrolled into being a delusional enthusiast hater for doing so. It’s the best selling sedan in it’s class, EVERY automaker would dream of capturing it’s real or perceived magic. That, by the very definition of it, is a yardstick.
I think though the key is that with Chevy production being in the millions (just for the full-sizers) in the 60s compared with a few thousand 880s over 3 or 4 model years (depending on whether you include the 1965s), there were bound to be many more Chevys surviving as the decades went by. There have always been a few people who drove very low miles per year, garaged their cars, avoided snow and salt, and/or maintained them exceptionally well, so that some would still be around half a century later.
That is definitely a fair point I hadn’t really considered, similarly Mid-priced brands in general tend to be fewer and farther between because of the lower production numbers. You don’t see the Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac equivalents to the Biscayne/BelAir/Impalas in the numbers they survive today, and when you do you’re most likely to see them in order of most produced to least.
I’d still say though, the rarer brands, in both initial and surviving numbers, have models with more potential value to a collector than the Custom 880 for the reasons I mentioned in my original comment. All those other B bodies still had interesting designs and traits, and they’re certainly not worth much less than the more popular(in numbers) Chevy’s. But I feel like if I were seeking out an early 60s full size Chrysler product, I’d be more inclined pick a 62 Chrysler Newport over the almost identical Dodge Custom 880, all else being equal, simply because there is more character and purity in the slant headlight Chrysler execution.
In the early 1980s, I worked at a family-owned stationery/newspaper/magazine store in our small town. One of the regular customers was a man in his 70s who drove a pristine, medium-blue metallic 1965 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe.
He didn’t baby it because he thought it would be worth some money in the future (although, by this point, people were beginning to express interest in buying it). He preserved it because he thought it would be his final car purchase, due to his age and impending retirement at the time of purchase.
Another customer was a 50-something woman who drove a very clean, all-original powder blue 1964 Imperial Crown hardtop sedan. (Robert Kim wrote a story on it – this car still exists.) For her it was a daily driver, but she did take very good care of it.
At the various Carlisle swap meets, there are usually at least two or three low-mileage, all-original cars in mint condition for sale. Now those cars tend to be from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most of them are Lincolns and Cadillacs, with perhaps a Buick Park Avenue or Ford and Mercury Panther car thrown into the mix. (Although one might find a Ford Tempo bought by the proverbial little old lady.)
These cars were generally preserved because of the age of the person who originally bought them, not because the buyer viewed them as a potential classic.
You are correct, most preserved cars of the 60s are the product of older owners, with the occasional service member who bought prior to deployment and tragically never returned (such as the apocryphal Corvette in storage somewhere guarded by a grieving mother). Growing up in retiree-centric Florida, we used to treat Easter as used car season. Up through the 1980s, we would find lots of older, low mileage cars that had been owned by elderly drivers, but they passed away over the winter and the estate (often a wife who no longer drove, or family from “up north”) did not want the car. One could find interesting cars for very reasonable prices. Yes, there were mostly big cars, but not all luxury or near luxury makes. There were plenty of big Ford and Chevy products, with a few Mopars, all there for the picking. Now, not so much. The downsizing of cars, along with the loss of aspirational branding, has led to mid-sized and reasonably well equipped models (like the Camry) to be the cars of choice for those preparing to retire, or for a last car. Not one was bought as a paean to styling, or as the penultimate version of such and such a car. It was a nice car on the lot at the time of the original sale, nothing more and nothing less.
A lot of those southern cars end up in the car corrals at various Carlisle events.
Great article. I remember when these came out in late ’63 I was somewhat surprised by the front end – it certainly wasn’t what one would expect from Chrysler – it had more of a “plain jane” American Motors look to it. Of all the ’64 models, I thought these were the least interesting looking. Jim.
Looking at the classic car database, I see that the longer wheelbase Polara is not a good seller after a shorter wheelbase Dodge is introduced in 1960 (Dart). Compared with the Polara sales for 60 61, the 880’s do fairly, but nothing like the Newport. Of course if you can get a real Chrysler for the same price why buy a Dodge.
Dodge did have a longer wheelbase than the Plymouth in the 50’s, so they did have a valid reason to want a longer wheelbase on one model to distance them from Plymouth.
I recall as a youngster being puzzled by these mongrels (they were new at the time and I recall the ads for the BIG Dodge 880). Trying to keep the model years straight was a challenge, and that 61 Dodge front end mated to a 62 Chrysler greenhouse and rear end seemed odd to say the least.
Nice treatment of an obscure car. Like Churchill’s unfortunate run in with a plain pudding, it has no theme, especially as a ’64 model. But it does stand up well as a sort of generic ’60s car, and I find it handsome in that regard.
If any front clip ever deserved to be a one year only deal, it was the ’61 Dodge. Dodge really struggled to move the notoriously ugly ’61s, and the decision to bolt that clip to a Newport body in ’62 was just…………stupid. Desperation does make you do stupid things, and the ’62 880 may just be exhibit A.
The ’63-’64 front end theme is sort of generic, but I guess inoffensive. It is probably the worst part of the otherwise sort of handsome ’64. It reminds me a lot of the ’63 Buick Skylark, and interestingly, the ’64 Dodge 880 overall comes across a lot like a plus size ’63 Skylark – probably the dullest Skylark of the ’60s.
Outside of the Imperial, this car really was Chrysler’s most conventionally styled car for ’64. It’s interesting that it was handily outsold by a lot of other Mopar products, I suppose the obviously dated rooflines of non-convertible styles were pretty obvious to buyers in 1964.
It history could be rewritten, the ’64 Custom 880 probably would have been a relative hit if introduced as the ’61 Dodge Polara.
While this car carried on some of the Forward look, I’d probably give some nod toward the ’66 Imperial as the final breath. It carried on that A pillar and as far as I know, used what amounted to the 1957 body on frame architecture.
The ’64 Custom 880’s little brother by another mother………
Grandma drove a ’63 Skylark. While the ’62 carried forward the ’61 Buick look, ’62-’63 big Buicks also looked boring from the front, not too unlike the 880.
The ’63 Custom 880 is the one that has a Buick grille. The ’64 880 is closer to an Oldsmobile.
I agree on that 61 front end. But the longer I thought about it, it didn’t mate particularly well with the rest of the 61 car either, so how bad could it be? 🙂
This car also seems to answer the question “Would Mopars have sold better if they were not so odd looking?” This one certainly didn’t, even though hindsight says that it should have. I think that buyers in 1963-64 recognized a rehash of an old car that was almost Studebaker-like. This car looks modern, until you park it next to about any other 1963-64 car, then its shape gives it away.
I thought about the Imperial as the last Forward Look car standing, but other than the unmistakable windshield and vent windows, there was not much old about it. The sharp ridges atop the fenders from front to back was a definite departure. The 880, however, kept the same “bubbletop” hardtop roof and rounded door tops at the beltline that were straight out of 1957.
The Studebaker analogy crossed my mind before on the 880. Which says a lot about Chrysler in the early 60s.
With a choice of ’61 Plymouth, Dodge or DeSoto front clips to put on the 880 the choice was the best looking.
The canted headlights of the earlier cars actually frightened me as a young child. Some weird guy who lived along the route I walked for elementary school had two parked in front of his dilapidated hovel of a home. They were both clunkers, rarely moved, and I did my best to avoid them….even jaywalking to the other side of the street so I didn’t get too close to them.
Nice old Dodge but if were mine I’d do a color change all triple black, drop the ride hieght 5 inches and get some nice chrome rims and meety tires on the old girl. I can just imagine the thumbs up I be getting?
These cars were a question mark for me, too. The 1962 models really left me scratching my head – a Dodge front mated to a Chrysler trunk? And from different model years?
The 1964 models were more coherent, but I wouldn’t wanted to have been a Dodge dealer pedaling these against full-size 1964 Pontiacs. Compare this to a 1964 Bonneville…and it’s no contest. For that matter, I’d take a 1964 Mercury Marauder over this car.
I’m pretty sure that the 1964 Dodge Polara easily outsold these cars, despite the Polara supposedly being too “small” to successfully compete in its segment. But the Polara did look much more modern in 1964. It’s clearly a car of the 1960s.
Where the 880s sold about 31K in 1964, the “standard” Dodge (330/440/Polara/Polara 500) series sold about 250K, including wagons.
The longer I think about this one, it is Dodge’s version of the 1964 Studebaker. They were both good looking cars – for what they were. The only reason the 880 works better is that it started with more modern proportions. A 64 Chevelle made a 64 Stude Daytona look terribly dowdy. A 64 Catalina or Bonneville did the same thing to this car, as you note.
The only folks buying these were hard-core Mopar lovers. Like the folks who bought the 880 wagon with the three-speed manual I mentioned earlier: he worked in some engineering department at UI. Geek-mobile.
Realistically, nobody cross-shopped these with a Pontiac.
While I can’t speak of the featured Dodge 880 convertible, the 1963 Custom 880 was a very fine car in most all respects. The 361 cu. in. engine coupled to the pushbutton TorqueFlite automatic provided more than adequate power for anyone but the drag-racing crowd. The interior gave adequate and comfortable room for 5 adults. It gave great visibility. Was a comfortable highway cruiser. And, the trunk was absolutely huge. I learned to drive on one in 1970. It was my mother’s car, and was originally ordered new by my grandfather, a Dodge guy. In my mind, the 1963 was the one they got just right. The 1962 model’s front end certainly didn’t fit that car and didn’t enhance the looks in any way. And, while the front end of the 1964 didn’t change that much, I never particularly cared for the rear end treatment. However, if a very well-kept 1964 convertible or sedan was available for sale near me, I might be inclined to want to buy it. But, I’m in Ohio.
Our local Dodge dealers in WNY were affective at selling the 880 by the numbers I saw back in the day. Even in our rural area, my next door neighbor had a black ’64 two door hardtop with red interior, though he was a Dodge dealer mechanic…
Another was a ’62 sedan, turquoise and white top, driven my a big kitchen lady in our elementary school, next to a Chrysler, it was probably the only car she fit in..
While the ’64 is conventional but handsomely attractive, for the craziest mish-mash, its hard to beat the ’62 880. Take your pick of body style: a convertible, four door hardtop or hardtop wagon would be a great choice. No one is going to know what it is at any car show!
In case anyone wants to see what a 1964 Dodge Custom 880 Convertible SHOULD look like…
In 1989 I saw this car parked on a street in Burbank, CA, with a For Sale sign in the window. I fell in love with it.
I’ve had this car now for 29 years, and as a previous poster said, in all that time nobody has ever guessed what it is. It is such an elegant car, and I have always thought it would be the car First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy would have driven!
A beautiful 880! If I had seen that in 1989 (or any other time) I would have fallen in love with it too.
That’s a gorgeous car. I love it.
A few more pictures of the above car.
Last one, I promise!
Up until maybe the late 80’s [when saw feature in Collectible Automobile], I didn’t know model year or name of this Dodge. Used to think were Polaras. I knew Chrysler and Plymouth models well, but these Dodge 880’s were rare in 60’s/70’s.
Saw a ’64 hardtop wagon at local car shows, often*, in early 90’s to commit them to ‘memory bank’.
*Was for sale one summer and owner seemed to be at most local cruise nights, and maybe even spent another summer trying.
I have always thought that the 64 Custom 880 Convertible was a good looking ride. Along with the 65 Polara & 880 Convertibles these cars embodied the mid-sixties and looked good doing it. You can absolutely see the Elwood Engel influence and the similarity to the early to mid sixties T-Birds, Continentals, & Mercurys. This is my favorite era of automobile.