(first posted 10/16/2013) The 1963 Chrysler has always been an odd vehicle, one that seems to have fallen from the sky bearing little stylistic relationship to its predecessors. It disappeared very soon after its debut, and its replacement expressed yet another new design language that would carry Chrysler into the Iacocca era. Is there another car from the entire Virgil Exner styling period that more strongly harkens back to the Ghia-built show cars of the early 1950s and the 1955 Chrysler line they inspired?
Chrysler Corporation hired Virgil Exner in 1949, ostensibly to take over Chrysler’s Advanced Design Studio. In truth, Chrysler chairman K. T. Keller knew that the uninspired styling then emanating from Chrysler’s studios was killing the company as the postwar seller’s market began to ebb, thus necessitating a new styling direction.
Exner led off with a series of one-off show cars which explored some new styling ideas while showing the public that change was in the wind. We showcased some of them here, here, and here (among other places). By 1953, Exner had leapfrogged longtime styling chief Henry King to take over styling leadership for the entire company.
In very short order, Chrysler went from this . . . .
. . . . to this.
The Exner years at Chrysler were like much of Chrysler history: soaring highs and crashing lows. After the brilliant 1957 models set a new design direction for the entire industry over the next four years, the stuff coming out of Chrysler studios started taking a bizarre turn with the 1960 and ’61 models (like this one).
Actually, the entire 1960-61 period at Chrysler was a blur. Vehicle build quality had been disastrous. The top management that had taken over after K.T. Keller’s 1956 retirement seemed to act like schoolkids left unsupervised with no teachers in the building, only with well-stocked liquor cabinets and illegal supplier kickbacks. Throw in some ugly cars that weren’t selling well, and it was not hard to see that Chrysler Corporation was in a full-throttle mess.
As if all that wasn’t enough, we must not forget the oft-told story of how the short-tenured Chrysler president William Newberg overheard a discussion at a Detroit-area cocktail party, which led him to believe that General Motors was significantly downsizing its lineup. Management’s response was to panic and dictate a crash program for a new, smaller line of Plymouths and Dodges. We should add that Virgil Exner had suffered a serious heart attack in the period where styling was underway for the 1961 models and, to some degree, the Chrysler styling studios were operating on auto-pilot with limited oversight by Exner.
Despite all that has been written about this period, it is hard to find any significant treatment of the ’63 Chrysler. This unique car seems to have been largely ignored, both then and now, while everyone watched the high-stakes game being played with the higher volume or higher prestige car lines. This series of Chrysler is really quite interesting, and deserves a closer look.
As former Chrysler stylist John Samsen recalled on Allpar (here) some time in 1961, Exner gathered his designers and told them that in his view, the car of the future would have a short but high deck and open wheels. Exner’s 1961 Dodge Flite Wing would be the template for the new look, which seemed to go back to Exner’s designs from the early 1950s. In truth, given manufacturing lead times the proposals for the 1962 Plymouth and Dodge had to have been mostly done by the time the Flite Wing was completed in 1961. Regardless of which design came first, it is clear that the Flite Wing ‘s proportions are in many ways similar to today’s cars. However, shortly after the Flite Wing had been completed (and with product planning well underway) Exner was terminated. He was replaced by Elwood Engel, whom new management had poached from the Ford Motor Company, thus ending the tumultuous Exner era. Almost.
In the abstract, it is easy to distinguish the work of Virgil Exner from that of Elwood Engel. The differences are easily seen in the cars that were made during the transition between the two styling regimes. The 1962 lineup was all Exner; in fact, the ’62 cars were headed for showrooms by the time he was fired. With the 1963 models, however, Engel set to work, doing what little he could with the Plymouth and Dodge lines and a bit of cleanup on the all-new Valiant and Dart. Engel also took charge of Chrysler’s 1963 gas-turbine car program, producing a stunning car that would show the styling direction of Chrysler styling for the next decade and beyond. Engel also oversaw a second major restyling of the 1964 Plymouth and Dodge lineup, as well as a completely restyled 1964 Imperial–and oh yes, also dealing with the completely restyled 1963 Chryslers in the midst of this storm.
It is known that Exner had been planning new 1962 Chrysler and DeSoto lines. There are quite a few pictures of proposals for a new 1962 DeSoto that borrowed many cues from the Flite Wing (or vise-versa, given that these prototypes were done in late 1959 to early 1960). It is not hard to imagine that both the planned 1962 Chrysler and DeSoto were shelved for a year, given the “all hands on deck” crash program to revamp the suddenly-shrunken ’62 Plymouth and Dodge. And of course, the DeSoto expired by the beginning of 1961 anyway, leaving the Chrysler all alone on the larger platform.
It is clear from period photos that the Chrysler/DeSoto body was to be all-new. However, it also stands to reason that with only the relatively low-volume Chrysler alive at the end of 1961, a thorough re-skin of the 1960-62 body would have to do instead of the all-new car initially planned. The little side mystery is the planned 1962 Imperial. The studio photo (above, top) from February 1960 shows a very Exner-ish version. However, John Samsen, posting on Forwardlook.net (here), presents a drawing he authored in December 1960, for an Imperial that looks very much like the production ’63 Chrysler. Several models later, it is clear that the Imperial would remain without major change for 1962-63 (except for a de-finning), and that the “Plan B” Imperial would become the ’63 Chrysler.
It is not hard to imagine (although I have never seen it in print) that the ’63 Chrysler was also affected by Newberg’s downsizing edict. After all, the 1963 New Yorker lost four inches of wheelbase and would share a 122-inch wheelbase with the Chrysler Newport and Dodge Custom 880. The ’63 Chrysler, while not a small car, was certainly not of the imposing dimensions of the 126-inch wheelbase Buick Electra, the New Yorker’s primary competitor.
The other explanation is that the ’63 Chrysler, having no other line with which to share its body, was done completely on the cheap. This would explain the single short wheelbase, and the fact that the two-door hardtop shared its roof with the four-door cars, a decision that did not help the looks of the two-doors at all.
The company’s decision to continue the Dodge 880 (as an attempt to plug the gap left by DeSoto’s demise) on another version of the 1960-62 Chrysler body is mystifying as well. “Hey boss – here’s a great idea: Lets take two of our lowest volume cars and make them share the same 122-inch wheelbase, platform and inner structure. But for kicks, lets give one all-new styling, and then keep the other one looking like last year’s model.” The result was curious. New management probably didn’t like either of these cars very much, and likely did as little as possible to make it to the fall of 1964, when Elwood Engel’s all-new generation of big cars would arrive.
If Virgil Exner was the ’63 Chrysler’s Yin, Elwood Engel was its Yang. Engel was fresh off the triumphant and groundbreaking design for the 1961 Lincoln Continental that was everything Exner’s designs were not–clean, restrained and elegant. It is not hard to see the eventual ’63 Chrysler in several of the late Exner-era styling studies; however, neither is it hard to see the work of Elwood Engel in this car. Actually, the interplay between the two design philosophies is nothing short of fascinating. The voluptuous curves, full wheel cutouts and short, sloping deck are pure Exner. The trapezoidal grille and the hint of the wraparound fender blades above the headlights are straight from the Flite Wing. However, the solid front-to-back crease, with thin chrome molding highlighting the slab sides, and the restrained trim would indicate that Engel devoted some last-minute attention to the details. The wraparound windshield also makes plain that the ’63 Chrysler was a merely a heavy restyling of the 1960-62 structure and not the all-new car Exner had envisioned. The big bucks for an all-new car would instead be re-directed to the make-or-break 1965 C-body line.
Somehow, though, the best of both designers came through in what looks to me to be a modern version of Exner’s 1955 model concepts. Park a 1955 and 1963 Chrysler together, and you’ll see similar design themes where sculpted curves exist in tension with angular lines. It takes only a little imagination to envision the 1957 and 1960 versions that could have linked these designs together. The actual 1957 and ’60 designs, of course, could not have been more unrelated to the ’55s and ’63s, but it is an interesting concept to contemplate on a rainy fall day.
The result of this unintentional collaboration of two very different stylists is a unique and fascinating car. In truth, it probably pleased neither of its designers very much, which is likely why it was such an orphan, both then and now. However, I see the very best parts of both styling schools, each balancing out the excesses of the other. Gone were Exner’s excessive use of sculpting and ornamentation, but what’s left tempers Engel’s tendencies toward excessive angularity. Where most undoubtedly see a hash of disarray and compromise, I see a car with a unique appeal. Am I in a very small fan club? Likely.
Perhaps my appreciation for this car stems from my spending quite a bit of time in and around a ’63 Chrysler in my youth. In my high-school circle of friends were a sister and brother who drove a hand-me-down ’63 Newport. Their car may have been the most attractive of all of the ’63 Chryslers–a Newport four-door hardtop, painted in Holiday Turquoise (just like the Indy Pace Car convertible that year). The four-door hardtop was an unusually low-production body style, but the pillarless design, mated to the Newport’s restrained trim, seems to do full justice to this car. In contrast, the bolder (clunkier?) trim on this New Yorker, with the overly thick painted frames around the sedan’s upper door glass is reminiscent of that imaginary Aunt Gertrude who made up for her dowdy wardrobe with liberal applications of lipstick and jewelry.
Inside, however, we are greeted by what is (in my estimation) one of the greatest dashboards in a large car of the era. The wide, sweeping panel with numerous round instruments is both businesslike and sporting. The outside of these cars took a long time to grow on me, but after my first ride in the front seat of that turquoise Newport of long ago, I was smitten. Of course, the Torqueflite transmission’s heavy chrome push buttons at the driver’s left only served to sealed the deal for me.
The 1963 Chrysler is a unique car, yet also a somewhat strange one. Never really accepted by lovers of the Forward Look nor by devotees of Engel’s classic mid-1960s style, it has sat largely unappreciated and forgotten even by Mopar acolytes. However, for those of us who think about such things, this may be the most successful blending of the very best of both the Virgil Exner and Elwood Engel styling eras at Chrysler.
I like the 63 models,they were described as looking like plucked chickens.They got it right with the big cars but the A body still had some time left as an ugly duckling.That 55 is gorgeous the colour sets it off beautifully.Elwood Engel would soon inject some life into Mopar.
I’ve seen early drawings of ’63 and ’64 models under Exner. I believe Exner was exceptional, and one of the greatest of American designers. I went to the Ford Museun some years ago to plead my case with then Director Robert Casey. Exner at that time had no cars in the very large Ford Collection, and no mention on light boards! What an omission, in my view! In fact, he had no mention whatsoever! What would Chrysler have become without him? I even see plenty of Exner in the Turbine car! Turn the rear taillights vertical and they’re the ’56 Dodge! Engle gets credit for that! I even see body weight panels on the Turbine Car reflecting Exner’s Post War Studebaker work!
The same was basically true at Chrysler Historical! They’d practically written Virgil Exner out of their history! They’d underestimated how Exner continued to fascinate individuals such as me and his role in Chrysler design history.
I argued at Ford that if the period between 1947-1957 was one of the greatest and most important automotive design periods in American automotive design history, it could be argued that Exner was, perhaps, the most influential and
innovative American designers in one of the most important periods. His Idea Cars are thrilling with proactive ideas. The 1962 proposals could have been very promising, all the “manta ray” design execution; wide and low! I suspect they would be prized even today.
Today’s 300 HemiC is an homage to Exner! It’s the “Chrysler Special” of 1953 come to life! His work is still rampant from the gunsight grills at Dodge to the fender lines on the Ram!
Why should Ford recognize Exner? Go ask Chrysler to recognize Billy Mitchell, or Ford to recognize Dick Teague. If the company he put into slow decline doesn’t want to remember him, why should another company do so? You may as well ask Chrysler to remember Exner publicly. No one else would do so.
His earlier efforts were striking. His work as manufactured between 1960 and 1963/’64 was nothing short of bizarre. The one person in my family who bought Mopar switched to AMC in the fall of 1962 when he bought a brand-new Classic wagon. I remember Dad asking his next-youngest brother why (Uncle Prentice had been buying Mopar since 1949) and he replied, “I wouldn’t be caught dead driving something THAT ugly!”
Sorry, but thanks to Exner (and some others, to be fair) that’s why they now are Fiat-Chrysler…
In fairness to Exner, he had a serious heart attack (at the age of 46) in 1957. Also, although the Forward Look styling was proving to be an industry leader, there was really no industrywide consensus on where styling was going next. Finally, the 61s got done largely in his absence (and with Bill Schmidt circling and hoping to take the job) and the 62s were screwed up by a last-minute corporate order to downsize. I think that he did begin the trend towards the long hood-short deck look that ruled the 60s and some of his final designs like the 63 Valiant and Dart were popular and have held up well. But there is no question that he always saw things differently than most others in the field.
Fascinating write up Paul. Yes, the ’63 has been one of my favorites for years – not too gauche, not too straight-edge. And not too big. Love the squared steering wheel.
My Uncle Joe had one of these…man, could he make that thing fly!
That would be Jim Cavanaugh…he deserves all the credit possible for this outstanding piece.
What a roller-coaster of styling from 1955 to 1963! You have put this in a very intriguing perspective, one I had not thought about.
You aren’t alone in your appreciation for the ’63 Chrysler, and like you, the Newport is the best of the bunch. Somehow it just appears so cohesive, which is especially remarkable given the two different chefs in the kitchen.
Being a kid at the time I thought that the ’63 Chryslers were cool looking. I had no knowledge then of the Exner and Engel part of the story. I do remember thinking that all the Chrysler Corp. cars in the first half of the 60s looked more old fashioned than those of GM. The ’65 Chryslers did change everything.
This is a car that pictures don’t do justice. Much better looking in person. It has a certain masculine presence that, although existed then, doesn’t seem to exist in todays unisex world.
I think you have a point on the masculinity of these cars. My experience driving Mopars of this era (especially my 59 Fury and my friends’ 63 Newport) was that the cars were indeed very masculine. The steering wheels were fairly thick, the seat cushions seemed to fit taller people better than shorter people, and there was just a vibe that said to me “man’s car.”
GM did a much better job of appealing to women, I think. In my own experience, it seemed that where families owned Chrysler products, it was the man of the house that picked the car. Where the women of the house picked the car, they seemed to be almost all GM. Purely anecdotal, but that was what I saw.
The interesting thing about this body style, to me anyway, is that if you add some big flat 70’s style bumpers on it I think it wouldn’t look out of place calling it a 1975 model instead of a 1973. Not something that would work on the previous or following Chryslers. It is one of those cars that a non enthusiast would have a difficult time placing.
Interesting observation. I think part of Chrysler’s appeal for many years was its engineering legacy, which probably appealed more to men than to women.
No telling what the research data from that era would have revealed, but your theory of the “man’s choice” rings true within my family, so I can add to your anecdotes by two. I had two great aunts, one on my mother’s side (Aunt Lovey) and one on my father’s (Aunt Berta) who always drove Chrysler products. I didn’t know my great uncles, as one died before I was born and one shortly thereafter, but through questioning my great aunts as a budding car nut, I did get a pretty good picture of their automotive history.
My mother’s aunt’s husband (Uncle Howard) started buying Chrysler cars in the 1930s. After WWII, he decided that my great aunt needed a car of her own, and he picked a Plymouth for her. Then through the 1950s, he drove Chrysler Windsors, while she had mid-line Plymouths (usually a Savoy). They lived in New England, and would drive the cars until they started to show rust, at which point they would just get another. Very practical. Aunt Lovey continued buying Plymouths after Uncle Howard died in the early 1960s. Her rationale was simple: Howard had always told her Chrysler products were engineered well, designed for function and were good, solid, rugged cars. Not always true for much of their history, but certainly left an impression and Aunt Lovey never questioned it, until the true depths of Chrysler’s malaise. Her last Plymouth, a Volare, finally soured her on Chryco forever. She switched to Subaru for her final cars, though I think Howard would have approved.
Down in Memphis, my father’s Aunt Berta and Uncle Frank went the Chrysler “glitz and glamour” route with New Yorkers. Starting in 1955, a new New Yorker graced their driveway every two years. When Frank died in the late 1960s, Aunt Berta just kept right on buying them on the same schedule. When I asked her why, the answer was quite similar to Aunt Lovey’s: Frank thought they had “the best engineering” and he just “liked them.” Since these cars were traded frequently and didn’t live in a particularly harsh climate, I think they proved to be pretty satisfactory overall. So Aunt Berta liked them too, being very familiar with them (and the dealer, who must have LOVED that business), and she stuck with them “like Frank would have wanted.”. Aunt Berta’s last Chrysler was a 1979 New Yorker Fifth Avenue, which was actually trouble free. But she was so horrified over the bailout and the sense that the company was “going to hell” that she switched over to Buick, for a series of Electra Park Avenues. Uncle Frank I am sure would have approved of this move as well.
Just funny tidbits from family history, but in line with your perspective.
Thanks, GN. This sounds like my New England family’s involvement with Mopars as well. My grandfather owned and ran a service station from the ’20s-’50s, and always had Chrysler products, for what I imagine were quite practical reasons. Not even the snapping torsion bars on a ’57 Dodge could change his tune! And my Dad and one sister followed the same path until well into the ’80s. (The other sister married my Uncle Frank, who was kind of a slick sharkskin-suit GM guy.)
A couple of corrections (I wrote about the early ’50s Chryslers earlier this year and the ’62s a couple of years ago, so I’ve been over this stuff quite a bit):
First, Exner was hired in the summer of 1949, not 1951. The K-310, his first idea car, was completed by Ghia in ’51, but Exner had been there for a while by then.
Second, Exner had a heart attack in July 1956 and was out for some time with executive stylist William Schmidt filing in. The confusion you described was during that period, lasting into 1957, when Schmidt left to start his own design firm and Exner became a VP. I believe that would have been around the time the 1960 cars were designed.
Third, the design of the ’62 cars as they actually appeared had a great deal to do with Newberg’s decision to downsize the Dodge and Plymouth line. I think they were peculiar in any case, as the surviving styling photos reveal, but the decision to make them smaller and take cost out really didn’t do them any favors. Exner said so, but the board finally made him the scapegoat even though he’d been the only one insisting (entirely correctly) that the whole plan was a bad idea and was going to be a fiasco.
Fourth, the Dodge 880 was not inexplicable at all. It was another crash program to appease Dodge dealers who were frustrated and angry at having to compete with the gorgeous 1963 full-size Pontiacs with weird-looking midsize Dodges. Slapping a made-over nose on the Chrysler body shell was the best Chrysler could do on the fast-and-cheap plan. Replacing DeSoto was purely incidental; DeSoto’s final sales suggest that few people were terribly upset about its demise.
Some of this stuff gets jumbled in various sources; it took me some work to figure out the chronology as best I could determine.
Thanks for your highly informed comment. I have amended the text on your first two points, which are correct.
The whole disaster of the 1962 line is a fascinating subject. As you note, the cars as planned originally would probably not have done well either. Virgil Exner’s styling vision was just too far different from the prevailing aesthetic being served up by GM and Ford. I will admit, though, that I find that proposal for the 62 Imperial from the studio photo to be a beautiful car. But I am enough of a realist to know that the Cadillac and Lincoln would have buried it in the market.
That last point I have to argue with you. The Dodge 880 decision made sense – in 1962. After all, the Chrysler Newport body was being built, and sticking a 1961 Dodge front clip onto it was a quick and dirty way for a new car for Dodge dealers to sell.
But what about 1963-64? Why didn’t they do an alternate front and taillight treatmenton the new 1963 Chrysler body for the 63-64 Dodge 880? There would certainly have been a lot of DeSoto concepts sitting around to crib from, and they had time to design and build a whole new front clip on the old car too for 63. I suspect that it was probably more expensive to update and keep building the old car in parallel with a new car. I will admit that the 63 Chrysler would not be an easy car to disguise as something different. This was about a decade or more before badge-engineering would become common. And in truth, the money spent on the 63 Chrysler might have (from a sales standpoint) been better spent on new sheetmetal and roof stampings on the 62 Chrysler body. The 63-64 Dodge 880 probably came closer to the public’s idea of a good looking modern car than about anything else the company was building at that time.
In truth, I think management just threw up its hands on the big car line in this period. The new 65 C body was well along, so I can see everyone sitting around a conference table while Lynn Townsend says “We are hopeless in this segment. Screw it. Do as little as you have to do to keep something in showrooms in 1963 and 64. Next topic?”
I’m not at all sure that they would have had time to do an all-new 1963 Dodge 880. The 880 was put together after the dealer introduction of the 1962 cars (in the late summer of 1961), so it was a real rush job. By that point, the ’63 cars would have been about done and being prepared for tooling (which would have needed to begin only a couple of months after the ’62 880 was introduced).
The 880 was not part of Chrysler’s original plans, so there wouldn’t have been any preexisting designs for facelifting it until after work had started on developing it in the first place. Even if they had taken some leftovers from a previous year, doing more than a cursory facelift for ’63 would have meant yet another rush job and probably wouldn’t have done quality any favors.
(ETA: It’s important to remember that there’s a lot of time-consuming design engineering as well as actual styling. Even if you have renderings on paper or models that everybody likes, a huge amount of work has to be done to translate them into producible designs that are ready for tooling. You can cut corners on that time or rush it through, but it’s expensive — lots of overtime — and makes quality problems more likely.)
The whole reason Townsend was brought in was that the board and some of the major stockholders had been afraid the company was going to collapse. His mandate was to get things in order. Since he’d been an auditor and then administrative vice president, he was undoubtedly aware that Chrysler had done an awful lot of rush jobs in the past decade, and that was exactly the sort of thing he’d been charged with eliminating.
Viewed in that light, it’s easy to see why he would have decided to leave well enough alone. Given Dodge’s mediocre sales and Townsend’s push to cut costs (he laid off about 7,000 administrative and executive staff), I imagine a cautious facelift of the existing car with minimal retooling costs would have been pretty compelling.
I’m not saying that was the right thing to do, but I do understand why they would make that choice.
Their decision to cover such a large segment of the market with Chrysler-branded cars was the genesis of the considerable trim differences among the Newport, 300, New Yorker, and 300 letter series cars that lasted well into the late 1960’s. Specifically, in 1965 each series had its own grille, rear end treatment, and side trim.
The 62 Dodge 880 was logical DeSoto had shared bodies with Chrysler for years When the ’62 Chrysler had to be redesigned last minute, with no fins, the ’61 Polara had it’s rear fenders changed, a ’61 Chrysler front clip and ’60-’61 Chrysler dash, and styling was done For an instant full size Dodge, put the ’61 Dodge front end and dash back, with the ’62 Chrysler rear fenders, and voila, a brand new car. I had and loved several ’63-’64 Chryslers (all series) and ’62-64 880’s, my favorite a black with red interior and white top 880 convertible wiih 413 and all accessories. These were very underestimated cars
For those few years, it always seemed to me that the Dodge 880 was intended to appeal to the REALLY conservative buyer. The guy who would normally go after an Oldsmobile or Buick. The guy who would have considered the ’63 Chrysler too radical in styling. Hopefully there was some method in the madness of those years.
I get the sense that the Dodge 880 was built with primarily one customer in mind, the California Highway Patrol, who couldn’t care less what it looked like.
Sales to private buyers were gravy, and doing a full line of body styles for them was a matter of the parts being on the shelf anyway.
Beat me to it. Ford and GM had the CHP contracts until Dodge in 1958. Chrysler didnt want to loose it. The ’62 Chrysler Enforcer was quickly offered as a stopgap, but the ’63-’64 880 was built to the spec.
Why was one fleet sale important? Many other agencies leveraged off the CHP buy (still do today) and retail volume of Dodge cars was probably low compared to Pontiac, Oldsmobile or even Mercury. BTW, the CHP required a long wheelbase car at the time, so no Chevy, Ford, Plymouth or downsized Polara qualified.
TheDodge 880 was introduced in teh spring of 1862, long before the dealers would have seen the 63 Pontiac. It was more of an answer to the dealers’ lack of a traditional-size Dodge. It was inded quick and easy to use the front clip from the 61 Dodge mated to the 62 Chrysler body. For a cut and paste job, it was fairly successful and lasted through three model years.
Extremely entertaining and thorough article. I too and a fan of these models – I think they’re very uniquely styled, as all of Exner’s designs were (as you mention, some more successfully than others).
I thought the interior was also very nice, an area that was never a Chrysler strength, though I can’t stand the ovoid steering wheel of that period. I drove one once and it just didn’t feel natural. Didn’t think I’d ever get accustomed to it.
What a great perspective! I had never thought of this car as a fusion between design eras and designers (with the associated politics and “not-invented-here” syndrome). I also see your points about the attractiveness of this fusion, and now I am viewing this car in a whole new way. They sure are rare, and even when I was a kid I only knew of one that belonged to some neighbors around the corner. It was a ’63 Newport 4-door sedan, light blue, and was used as a hand-me-down “kids car” so it was in pretty rough shape. I spent time checking it out in their driveway, primarily because I wasn’t familiar with it and wanted to learn the details. The instrument panel in particular was very nice, as you point out. So while I can’t say I love these cars, thanks to your write-up I have a new-found appreciation for them.
Another fan of the ’63 Chrysler, although I’ll admit it didn’t come close to the ’65’s which I consider some of the finest looking cars of the ’60’s.
Thanks for a great article! I’d agree that that’s a very attractive car, with just the right blend of angular lines and curves and a remarkably clean exterior. Reading how that came about was really fascinating.
Perhaps you’re right that the unbroken line from the front to the rear was Engel’s influence on the design, but I’ve previously read a different take on the 63-64 Chryslers: The ’63 was so far along by the time that Engel took over from Exner that there wasn’t much he could do about it. At the time, Exner was a fan of showing off the wheels with full wheel arches, greatly sloping hood and trunk surfaces, and knife-edge bumpers and detailing.
Engel had an opportunity to tweak the design for MY1964. Engel’s philosophy at the time was to “fill in the box” to make a car look as large as possible. He added very small fins to the ’64 Chryslers to square-off the sloping rear deck when viewed from a side profile, and called it good enough. I always look for those fins to differentiate a 64 from a 63 Chrysler.
I have to admit I’m not a big fan of the 63-64 Chryslers. The styling never did much for me, and I think the instrument cluster looks uninspired. The gauges could just as well be round aftermarket ones and no one would be the wiser. Give me the earlier Chrysler Astra-dome dashboard any day, or the similarly styled 65-66 Chrysler dash, or the dual pods of the 65-66 Polara/Monaco.
I agree that Engle would not have time to do much on the 63, certainly not with any of the sheetmetal. If the trim was done by Exner, it would have been the most restrained trim job he ever did in his life. It would not surprise me that Engel’s contribution would have been to remove some chrome stuff for production. Engel’s influence is certainly seen in the 64s. With the exception of the uniquely shaped taillights on the 64 (and the round steering wheel), I have always found the 64 to be a much muddier design than the more pure 63, which I prefer. The 64 Plymouth and Dodge were improvements over the 63s, but not the Chrysler. That Chrysler design was really hard to square-up without ruining it, and I’m not sure Engel succeeded.
I have an original 1964 New Yorker Salon that’s been under cover for many years..have a little bit of surface rust, good interior and frame. Drove into the garage. How do I find a buyer?
eBay or Hemings. You could also take a look that the website “BringATrailer”. Check Hagerty’s Valuation tool to get a -very- rough speculation as to market value.
With the blunt overhang on the front, the tapered tail, and in white this reminds me of Moby Dick. Just needs a harpoon stuck in the trunk lid.
I like a lot of Exner’s designs and I like Engel’s too. But together they aren’t exactly peanut butter and chocolate…
Funny, my mother always called my white 59 Fury sedan Moby Dick. A white whale with fins. If you are seeing a nautical theme here, this Chrysler reminds me more of a boat. That strong central ridge sort of separates the deck assembly on top from the hull down below.
This is a very interesting and well-written piece — thank you! I like this car. The taillights, square steering wheel, instrument panel, & emblem fonts do it for me.
Thanks for this fascinating look at a car that always seemed a bit lost in its mission and design, but never failed to appeal on some visceral level. It’s about as far removed from a 1963 Buick riviera as possible.
I happen to subscribe to the theory that the ’63 Chrysler is essentially all-Exner. The ’63 Valiant has certain similarities, including the strong horizontal line and the general restraint (even more so). There’s no reason to believe he wasn’t capable of that; perhaps he was more than ready for that after the roller-coaster he had been on.
Regarding the ’63 Chrysler you say: However, the solid front-to-back crease, with thin chrome molding highlighting the slab sides, and the restrained trim would indicate that Engel devoted some last-minute attention to the details.
Yet Samsen’s rendering dated 12/60 has that very same front-to-back crease, right? That’s a remarkable drawing, one I hadn’t seen before, because if the date is correct, it rather proves that the ’63 Chrysler is almost 100% Exner-era.
I’ve just cracked open my two books on the subject and they give opposite points of view. “Virgil Exner – Visioneer” by Peter Grist says Frustrating for Exner, the cars that he had already designed for 1963 were a greats success….although credit would initially go to Engel
Yet Richard Langworth’s book”Chrysler and Imperial – The Post War years” says the opposite: Meanwhile, the “crisp, clean, custom look” made its debut with the 1963 Chryslers. “Basically, these were done by the Engel regime” Virgil,Jr. comments. There was, however, still a touch of Exner in the trapezoidal grilles and clean flanks
I don’t buy that second version at all. These cars look like 99% Exner to me, and that 1960 rendering seals the deal in my book. Congratulations on helping to solve this mystery for me!
Given the timing, I would credit Engel with (at most) some trim choices. None of the Exner-era drawings seem to use the stainless strip to highlight that long side crease (the 12/60 Imperial drawing has a bright strip on the crease, but it stops in the middle of the front door). Engel used that device on his Continental and on the 65 Chrysler as well – it would serve to lengthen the look of the car and divert your eye from some of the sculpting all around it. Of course, Exner could have made that decision as well. However, the heavier trim on the New Yorker (like the stainless strips that start at the grille and run across the hood to the windshield) look more like something Exner would have done.
Nobody has brought up just how unappealing the 2 door version of this car was. I am a lover of big 2 door cars, and for almost every other big Chrysler of the era, a 2 door would be my favorite. Not here. The 2 door version did absolutely nothing for me. Chrysler never sold a lot of 2 doors in the 60s, but I bet the percentage sunk to a new low in this series.
This was a tough piece to write, it kept getting longer and longer because I kept finding more and more things of interest about it. My biggest takeaway from my research is that I was absolutely smitten by that early 1960 Imperial mockup. It never would have sold, but it is just cool as can be. That long wheelbase really makes it work. A shame we never got to see that one.
Great post! Funny enough, I’d just posted about whether the ’63- Chrysler was an adaptation of Exner’s original ’62 Imperial design – I’d seen the styling studio photos, but that rendering is a great find.
Also have to agree that Engel had little to no input on and of the ’63 Mopars – there just wasn’t enough time. Further proof is on Allpar, with a rendering that shows how the ’63 Plymouth front clip, with the odd canted oval parking lights, was originally intended to mate with the original ’62 body, until Ex slabbed up the sheet metal in a matter not unlike the Chrysler. Also agree that aside from the holdover wraparound windshield and rear window, by ’63 the Dodge Custom 880 was Chrysler’s most conventional design.
My family sold Chrysler-Plymouth from ’33 – ’67, and the whole ’60-.64 era has always puzzled me. The ’60 Chrysler/DeSoto was last great fin design, the Dodge was odd in both sizes, the Plymouth ghastly – oddly cheap up front and rich-looking at the rear. The ’61s were worse, and then there’s the disaster that was ’62. But Ex found his footing at the end, with the ’63s.
According to automotive historian Jeff Godshall, writing in Automotive Quarterly in the early 1990s, Engel was shown the proposed 1963 line-up and asked his opinion. He said that the cars looked good, and he didn’t see the need to change much.
The only major change he made was to raise the upper rear quarter panel edges on the 1963 Valiant to lessen the slope, and thus make the car look bigger in profile.
Thank you for this story, JP. I’ve tried to get jazzed about the ’63-’64s. They’re easier to like in metallic colors, like turquoise, that show off the sculpting on the sides. White ones, as most seem to be for some reason, are a little too Kelvinator deep-freeze for my taste. Give me a ’55 or (better yet, AND) a ’65 any day.
This is really a very interesting period in Chrysler history. Just photographing a 1963 Chrysler and posting it online here brings up many questions regarding the personalities, criminalities, trivialities, and conventionalities going on behind the scenes.
I believe that BigOldChryslers hit on a key word that I feel best encapsulates my view of this car – uninspired. You do an awesome job describing the design compromises and evolution of this vehicle, but we have to also recognize that the result was uninspired.
So much of Exner’s work during the previous few years at Chrysler was so polarizing and unsellable, the 1963 Chrysler ends up being a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat by not being polarizing. After 1960 – 1961 and the god-awful 1962 cars, the 1963’s uninspired design looks better than what was feared could come out of Exner at this time. Have we any idea how much damage Exner’s early 1960s pig-ugly designs did to Chrysler’s image?
As to the studio models reproduced here in black and white, I’m not the least impressed with them at all. While I recognize that their intention is to shoot for the stars and be wild – the design elements being worked on appeared forced, stiff and ugly. That Dodge Flight Wing has little to really offer stylists that is workable in the real world. What Chrysler needed after unleashing the magnificent finned rust bombs that were built so badly they ruined the Company’s image for a decade – was not in the Flight Wing.
The 1965 Chrysler line saved the Company. Engle brought the necessary image Chrysler needed after Exner. The 1965 Chrysler took the Lincoln look and made it better. While the 1961 Lincoln saved that brand and showed Detroit how to do late 20th Century luxury cars, the 1965 Chryslers showed how versatile the Engle design could be. While Lincolns looked like magnificent elegant bricks, the 1965 Chrysler made that brand look like it had left the Exner years far behind – a good freakin’ riddance to that.
I didn’t grow up during the time Exner excited the Industry, so I can only look at the 1955-1965 years without any warm personal angles or memories. I find it interesting that many guys here do find these designs to be charming, delightful, exciting and different, and I respect that. With my eyes, I see this finned era as an embarrassing catastrophe of forced styling exercises that only entertain in a cartoonish way. I feel similarly regarding today’s Escalades, Navigators, Acuras and Lexuses. These designs are not classy, just crassy like pimp bling.
So this car looks like the adults returned to the design studios and everyone sat down and took a deep breath and asked themselves, “WTF just happened here?”
Uninspired, but oh so necessary.
This is one of the most interesting articles I have read in a long time. I have studied Exner’s work for some time, and over the years acquired some of his designs ( 55 Imperial limo, 56 Imperial, 60 Imperial LeBaron, 61 Imperial, and a 57 New Yorker Town and Country). I have never given much thought to the 63 Chrysler however,always considering it an aberation (at best!). Clearly, I was wrong, and this essay opened my eyes. Kudos to the author for his research, and even more, to his thoughtful contemplation of the meaning and origins of the 63 styling themes. I must say his analysis is pretty convincing and I never would have arrived at this conclusion myself without his guidance. This is an excellent piece of work. After reading it, I might even look for a 63 or 64 Chrysler myself!.
Fascinating car… it’s amazing how it looks like nothing else: neither its predecessor nor offspring, nor anything else on the market at the time. In an alternate universe, it could be a mid-70’s Olds Delta 88–especially the side profile.
I didnt like the styling on these originally and it has not grown on me. The great story, thanks Paul, highlights what I always suspected. It was done on the cheap.
I cant imagine anyone cross-shopping a Buick Electra or Olds 98 with this Chrysler New Yorker in ’63. You had to be a loyal Mopar customer to buy one, and Im sure the sales figures reflect that.
It’s JPCavanaugh’s story, and a great one it is.
Sorry, JPC, and thanks for the story.
Any time someone reads one of my pieces and mistakenly assumes that it was written by PN, that is a compliment in my book. 🙂
When I commented yesterday that my only 63 Chrysler had been my 300 2-door hardtop, I forgot that I also had a 63 New Yorker wagon. That New Yorker with its large cross-hatched design was the most distinctive of the 63 grilles, which were different for each series. A previous owner had thought the car was too restrained in its original white on burgundy color scheme, and had completely redone the interior in black and gold – seats, instrument panel, headliner and all – and finished it off with inch-long golden yellow shag carpet, complete with a carpet to lay down in the rear over the folded rear seat. He finished it off with metallic gold paint on the body and matte black fake vinyl paint on the top. Somehow the New Yorker was able to carry off this color combination with a certain panache. I only owned the car for a short time. We had my parents over for Thanksgiving dinner, my father, the retired construction guy, expressed his admiration for the car, and since I had four or five other cars at the time I gave it to him.
My 300 2-door hardtop was bright red with a black and white interior. I really found out what a difference color can make on a car when I parked next to a metallic beige on beige sister car at a show. That red/black/white color combination really made my car stand out…in a good way, I thought.
I’d been a fin-car fan for a long time, and it wasn’t until I looked at the interior of a friend’s metallic turquoise New Yorker sedan that I realized how nicely it was styled. After that I paid more attention to the 63 and 64 cars.
When I had my 62 Newport 2-door hardtop I learned how similar the 63 and 64 bodies were to the 62 when I looked at a 64 300 that was being parted out. I discovered that the interior door panels from the 64 car would fit my car, and the inside rear quarter upholstery would fit too except it would need to be trimmed at the top rear because of the different quarter-window shape. The 64 bucket seats were larger than the 63 and earlier bucket seats, which were identical in shape to those used in the 63-up A-body cars.
A friend had a 64 NY Salon. Apparently a rare model designation and the only one I ever actually saw. I drove it a few times and was always impressed with the power that huge 4 door hardtop had. It was the first car I ever drove with cruise control, something relatively new in those days. The control knob was on the lower dash and you turned it to set the speed. The control unit under the hood was large and had a cable and rod system linking it to the carb and, I believe, the transmission. It was made by Perfect Circle. I wonder if it survives today. My favorite Mopars are the 1956 model years. I love them all but the DeSoto was my favorite followed by the Imperial. You knew what any car was from two blocks away. Today you need to get close enough to see the nameplate.
I read about the 1964 New Yorker Salon, here I think. It was basically a NYer that came standard with all the features that were options on the regular NYer.
If I recall correctly, the cruise control actually pulled down on the gas pedal itself. After engaging the system, you pressed down on the gas pedal until it connected with the mechanism that pulled it down. Chrysler continued to use the same system well into the 60’s, though none of my Chryslers came so equipped.
And I loved Chrysler’s name for cruise control: Autopilot! Wiki says that it dates to the 1958 Imperial.
Yes, I believe you are correct about the Auto Pilot being connected to the accelerator pedal. I remember the first curve and me thinking the cruise had run away and increased speed. My friend told me that people unconsceincly backed off a bit on curves. I watched the speedo on the next one and found that to be correct. That car would be an even better pleasure to drive today as it was many years ago.
The Salon was introduced mid-year 63 — it had all available options (except A/C) as standard, and had a recling passenger seat with headrest. It also featured a partial vinyl roof covering. Up in the article, there’s a side veiw of a 63 Salon in gold with the black vinyl roof. I went to school with kids whose mother drove a white Salon. I thought it was pretty dreamy, but then I thought allt he 63 and 64 Chryslers were perfect! When my family was shopping for a new car int he fall of 1962, we visited the Chrysler/Plymouth dealer who had a dark green Newprot 4-door on the floor. If only! A local family bought it and I saw it around for years. One of my favorite Chryslers (among many!).
AC was standard on Salons.
and lots more
I’m thinking for the ’64 New Yorker Salon the only option available or one of the few options available was the new for 1964 adjustable steering wheel.
It even said it at the bottom of the horn ring center emblem “Adjustable Steering Wheel”
I believe the New Yorker Salon was more expensive than the base price of an Imperial! A deadly sin? or the emergence of Broughamism?
Other than the 1958 Plymouth (Thank’s Christine) this is my all time favorite Chrysler model. Make mine a black on black 1963 New Yorker Salon with all of the options.
“Engel also took charge of Chrysler’s 1963 gas-turbine car program…” explains why there is so much ’61 Tbird look to it. At the time, of course, I had no idea who was styling the cars, and certainly nothing about the disastrous internal politics. I thought maybe an outside studio was used, since it looked nothing like any Chrysler product at the time.
Someone dubbed the Turbine the “Engelbird” due to its similarities to the contemporary T-birds. (It didn’t even have Chryslers famous torsion bars, but coil springs up front!) The Turbine styling was also heavily influenced by the 1958 Ford “La Galaxie” concept car. Google it for some pics and you should immediately see the resemblance.
Thats it! The only real difference is the Tbird roof instead of the “breezeway” rear window on the La Galaxie.
Now I see where Toyota got it styling cues for the new Lexus cars. The original predator face!
There are a number of new cars that have the “big boxy grille” look. I think the closest to this inverted trapezoid grille are Cadillacs, Mitsubishi Lancer and Dodge Dart.
When I see the new Lexus models I always think 1958 Lincoln. They both have very pronounced chevron motifs. Meanwhile, the dumbell shape grille of the new Kias harkens back to 1965-66 Dodge Polara.
Also, I spotted some pictures of a Canadian 1963 Chrysler Windsor http://www.1962to1965mopar.ornocar.com/robinsg63c.html
Great write up! I’ve owned three “old” cars. ’65 Riviera, ’67 Galaxie 500 coupe, ’72 Grandville. In my shopping exploits, there were a few contenders along the way, and a gold New Yorker Salon 4 door hdtp with the black vinyl roof and a gold interior was one of them. Not sure if was a ’63 or ’64. It had AC, so it was the ultimate New Yorker. Outside of faded paint in about 1985 or so, it was in pretty good shape.
The factory AM/FM had a “reverberator,” apparently an early attempt at making a mono signal into stereo by delaying the sound to certain speakers. It was not in working order when I turned it on – a horrendous buzzing came from the speakers.
I agree with all the thoughts that these cars don’t tie much to the then contemporary Mopar design language, before or after these cars. I had assumed they were the follow up to the downsizing of the Dodge and Plymouth cars the year before, as these seemed trim in the flesh. And, I thought Chrysler was looking for some European influence, these seemed almost exotic compared to their Mercury / Olds / Buick competition.
The plain thick painted sedan window frames were an egregious faux pas on these cars, especially the New Yorker. It was contrary to any car in its price class at the time, and even contrary to the logic in the Mopar compacts. What the heck were they thinking!?
I agree with you on those thick, painted door uppers. They just ruin the car. Thinking about this, I wonder if the design had something to do with the way the door structure was carried over from the 1960-62 cars? Still, I wonder why they couldn’t have put some stainless cladding on those upper frames. that really would have lightened up the look of the car. Even Studebaker was using bright trim and thin door uppers in 1963.
Strangely, hardtops had a really low production percentage. I recall once seeing that there were only something like 8K Newport 4 door hardtops made, compared to something like 40-50K sedans.
Did you try pulling down on the reverb knob, mine you pull down Turning the knob is for balance All my ’63-’64’s were hardtops, except one ex-cop Newport 4 door sedan with a 426 max-wedge in it, wish I had it back One ’63 Newport convertible had been altered to a New Yorker with all trim and interior, neat car
A nice write up on these, I’ve seen photos of them, but never gave them much thought, and this sample being white does NOT help the situation IMO.
I so see the resemblance of these to the styling ethos, from the doors anyway to the 63-64 Dodges at least, though the front and rear designs were totally different.
As to the Polara models, I didn’t like the fronts at all. Too much of a mish/mash to be good looking, especially since the high beans were angled in, and lower from the low beams lamps on the outside, and the grill didn’t incorporate the low beams much.
I have always found the ’64 Dodges to be MUCH cleaner in overall design over previous Dodges, even though the midsections were similar to their 61-62 counterparts (doors, roof primarily).
My parents had the ’64 330 Dodge wagon with the 225 Slant Six and Torqueflite auto, and it HAD AC and AM radio when they bought it brand new.
The wagons of this iteration only came in the 330, and 440 Designations, and were ONLY available from ’63 and ’64, as far as I know.
As to the subject car, a very interesting look into an odd year model, thanks to Exner being Exited, and Engle taking over, coupled with the misunderstanding about the GM downsizing causing the Plymouth/Dodge full sizers to be suddenly downsized for ’62.
In this case, this cause the Dodge and Plymouth to be, in my mind more right sized for many than they’d be otherwise.
What I have always likes were many of the styling cues of these cars from the early 60’s with their semi round steering wheels to futuristic dashes to push buttons for the automatics and all that. They really did stand out from the crowd, and not always in a bad way IMO. I am well aware that Exner was sporadic in his success with these cars, and I think he didn’t know restraint where it would benefit is being why he was finally exited.
I find the rear door treatment not unlike the current Kia Optima, especially in the Dec 1960 rendering. I like it. (also like it on the Kia!)
My mom had a odd green ’63 New Yorker, it replaced a black ’60 New Yorker that was great looking, but had electrical issues from day one. My mom would deny ever having the ’63, for literally 45 years. I knew there was a pic of it someplace, I remember taking it, of the car in the garage with the “rocket” tail lights being shown very prominently. I looked and looked for a couple of years for it, and not long before mom died, I found it. “Oh, is that the car you’ve been talking about?”. “It was so ugly!”. The corroded copper green was just one more thing to make it forgettable, it’s basic shape was terrible looking. It was, IMHO, the best of the Chrysler cars made in that era, but it was still pretty damn ugly.
I have several car mags that tested the ’63 300J coupe, calling it “Stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, European and the best from Chrysler in a long time”
A great write-up on these cars. They seemed very strange looking to me as a boy – even stranger in some ways than the 1961-62 Chryslers. I always thought that, if I had bought a brand-new 1964 Chrysler, I’d kick myself for doing so when the sharp 1965 Chryslers were introduced.
Great write up JPC. I didn’t care for the Forward Look cars, or most of Engel’s designs and absolutely despised the fuselage cars. But the ’63 New Yorker was pretty nice. I see more second gen Corvair in it than anything else. The overall look matched the steering wheel shape, square and at the same time round. It didn’t look anything like the ’55 though. That was the best ever from Chrysler.
A very detailed article, I loved it! I love, too, when Aaron Severson joins the discussion and we get these intelligent back-and-forths. Another reason I love this site!
I really like the look of these ’63s. The rear is so handsome and unique, but without being over-the-top. It looks almost futuristic. But you are right, it is more restrained than Exner’s previous work.
It’s interesting, I love the Forward Look Chryslers, and I love the mid-60s Engel Chryslers. But those 60, 61, 62 and 63 Chryslers, Dodges and Plymouths really appeal to me too. I don’t find them repulsive (’61 DeSoto being the one, sad exception to that rule). It’s refreshing to see a little bit of daring! Contrast with what Ford, Chevy and Mercury were putting out at the time… Many looked cleaner than the Mopars, but I find them a lot less interesting.
In a sort of internet “CC effect” I noticed an interview with one of the designers at Chrysler in this era, George Kripinsky, at Dean’s Garage, complete with a couple of early (said to be 1958) concept drawings–for the 1962 Plymouth Fury.
The interview doesn’t plainly sort out the chronology of Chrysler design in this period, though it adds some color about Bill Schmidt, who came to Chrysler in 1957 during Exner’s convalescence. Kripinsky himself seems to have been fluent in Exner and Engel–part of the difficulty in sorting out the history must be that a lot of the same people worked at a pretty high level for 2 or 3 of Exner, Schmidt, and Engel.
Growing up, a neighbor up the street had a ’64 New Yorker 4-door hardtop (deep turquoise with a lighter top), another down the street a ’64 Newport sedan (beige), and on the next street a ’63 Newport sedan (white).
Great article, my understanding is that the 1960 dated Imperial design depicted above was a response to the potential shuttering of the Imperial assembly line which would have required a migration from the body on frame constructed Imperial to the uni-body C platform. The plant clousure and platform shift was another cost cutting effort lead by Chrysler leadership. The artist rendition above reflects the proposed C-body Imperial that would have been produced along side the 61/62 Chryslers on the same line. Once the decision was made to continue Imperial production on the 1957 body on frame platform and not keep the plant running all prototype work on the C-body Imperial was flipped to a new Chrysler New Yorker/Newport replacement for 1963/1964.
When I was 15 years old,(the year I got my drivers’ license),my father had a black, 1958 Chevy Impala, and was thinking of buying a new car. As we did every year, we toured the dealers in September to look at all of the new designs. When we got to Adamson Motors in Rochester, there was a black, 1963 Chrysler New Yorker 4 door hardtop in
the showroom. I was stunned by the beautiful styling! From friends whose parents had New Yorkers, I knew they were fast…so I spent the next 4 months trying to talk my Dad into buying one. Finally, he bought a black New Yorker 4-door hardtop with a claret, bucket-seat interior and the 365 hp 300H 413 engine. I kept that car, (in good condition), until 2004, when I felt I had to sell it. Now I would like it back, (or at least a copy).
I just bought a 1963 Chrysler New Yorker hardtop from the original owners grandson. It has the California black plate on the front from 63 and was bought from McCune Motors in National City,CA. It’s in great original shape including the paint and interior, white with claret interior with 98,600 miles. The car was even in France for a while when his grandparents lived there. I bought it because it reminded me of a 64 Chrysler 300 my parents had that all of the kids in the family drove and my mother, it has the same dash and color interior, except it had a 383ci and the New Yorker has a 413ci. I took my drivers license test in that car in 1971. My mothers favorite car though was her 1954 Buick Super, my dad bought it for her new and it sat in the garage until she got her license.
Sounds like a really sweet car!
Sorry for the late reply. It is a nice car and it brought back some nice memories of that time.
I have probably said this elsewhere already, but the 4 door hardtop is the most attractive version of this body style by a long shot. The sedans and 2 doors have always left me just a little flat. You have a really nice one.
I’ve seen early drawings of ’63 and ’64 models under Exner. I believe Exner was exceptional, and one of the greatest of American designers. I went to the Ford Museun some years ago to plead my case with then Director Robert Casey. exner at that time had no cars in the very large Ford Collection. In fact, there was no mention whatsoever! The same was basically true at Chrysler Historical! They’d practically written Virgil Exner out of their history! They’d underestimated how Exner continued to fascinate individuals such as me and his role in Chrysler design history.
I argued at Ford that if the period between 1947-1957 was one of the greatest and most important automotive design periods in American automotive design history, it could be argued that Exner was, perhaps, the most influential and
innovative American designers in one of the most important periods. His Idea Cars are thrilling with proactive ideas. The 1962 proposals could have been very promising, all the “manta ray” design execution; wide and low! I suspect they would be prized even today.
Today’s 300 HemiC is an homage to Exner! It’s the “Chrysler Special” of 1953 come to life! His work is still rampant from the gunsight grills at Dodge to the fender lines on the Ram!
The 63 Chrysler always looked to me to be much smaller than the 62, even the 62 Newport which had the same wheelbase. For a long time I thought Chrysler had downsized its cars for 63 (the Newport, not the New Yorker which was bigger in 62.) It’s probably partially because of the smaller greenhouse compared to the 62.
Here is what the full sized ’62 Plymouth hardtop coupe would have looked like.
Here is what the full sized ’62 Plymouth station wagon would have looked like.
The proposed full sized 1962 Plymouth hardtop has a roofline that resembles the 1965-68 Chevy Impala and other GM fastbacks of the era. While I find the ’62 Plymouth an attractive car in a quirky way, the styling themes seem to “make more sense” on the larger car and is quite handsome. I consider the 1962 Plymouth Super Stock 413 to be the first muscle car. The dimensions of the car are eerily similar to the 1964 GTO, which is usually considered the first true muscle car. The Plymouth is slightly bigger (within an inch or two in most dimensions) but has a more powerful engine. The 1962 Dodge 413 is a bit bigger than the Plymouth but could also be considered a muscle car. Unlike the GTO which was only available as a top of the line sporty model, the 413 was available in the bottom feeder Savoy, the midrange Belvedere, the luxurious Fury, or the sporty Sport Fury. The 62 Plymouth (but oddly enough, not the 62 Dodge) did lack a 4 speed manual transmission, but a 3 speed manual was standard on many muscle cars and even Corvettes. Some writers have said that cars like the Olds Rocket 88 and Chrysler C-300 were the first muscle cars, but they were full sized performance cars while muscle cars must be midsized or smaller. The only other car before the 62 Plymouth that an argument could be made that it was a muscle car was the Rambler Rebel which was more of a sports sedan than a muscle car.
Wonderful article, and in my opinion also, the 1963-64 Chrysler is an overlooked and underrated car. I remember seeing them on trips to the US as a young boy, and in fact still have the brochures. I liked the styling them, at least on the hardtops, and now, with my favourite being the New Yorker Salon. Absolutely the most beautiful facia of a large car of the period, and beats the dreadful one on the 1963 Imperial hands down.
That 1961 Exner Dodge Flite Wing study, with its riot of conflicting angles and look-at-me jewellery, looks like a distant ancestor to modern Toyotas and Nissans. What goes around.
Another great article. I like this generation of Chryslers – chunky but handsome. What’s interesting is that Chrysler did not bother to tool up a new roof for the ’63-’64 station wagons. They kept the old roofline instead, which had the upside of continuing the four-door hardtop wagon body style.
That wagon roof lasted *through* 1965 on the Coronet/Belvedere which were rebranded as “proper” midsize cars alongside the new ’65 full size line.
Although the 65 Coronet/Belvedere wagon roof had some stylistic similarities, they came from the 1962 Plymouth/Dodge body which was a completely different animal from the 1960 Chrysler body that was the genesis of these Chrysler wagons. The 4 door hardtop wagon was never a part of anything built from that early version of the B body, but was only on the bigger Chrysler/DeSoto/Dodge 880 (the precursor to the C body). But both being born under Virgil Exner’s styling studio they were certainly of the same design language.
So much so that it only became clear to me with a side-by-side comparison! (tip; the first image on a GIS for “1962 Plymouth wagon” is a ’61 making that instantly possible) but there are clear differences not only in windshield but rear door shape.
Looking at the whole ’63 Chryco line with Gem’s top comment in mind, it seems like it was one (the first?) of the few times Dodge got the short end of the stick compared to Chrysler-Plymouth.
Dart had a weirder face than Valiant, the “standard” Dodge had an even odder face compared to the Plymouth’s almost elegant proto-Brougham bladed fenders, and the Dodge 880 missed out on Chrysler’s reskin.
A couple of the drawings show cars with “half” vinyl roofs, did Chrysler offer a vinyl roof on ANY of it’s products in 1963?
This is one of those cars that comes across as…different, but is it good different or bad different? It’s also a bit like the 58 GM sedans…not like the cars that preceded them, and the cars that came after were not like them, either.
If I had to buy a 63-64 Chrysler, I mean REALLY had to buy one, it would be the wagon. I really love that instrument panel, I wonder if it inspired the designers of the 67 Chevy interior?
Funny you should mention that. The US ’63 Salon had a “Canopy” style top that became popular a decade later. Regular New Yorkers had none available.
In Canada, however, all ’63-’64 NYs had the Canopy top. Also, the NY sedan was NA here, hardtop only.
I remember these cars distinctly. My aunt owned a 1958 DeSoto. When she was ready to trade it in, she looked at a 1961 Plymouth and thought Chrysler had lost its mind. He held out to 1962. Then she REALLY thought Chrysler was nuts. Fortunately, it seemed that in 1963 sanity had returned to Chrysler and she bought a very attractive Chrysler New Yorker. I was ten and even I thought it looked good.
I’ve read that Exner realized the discontinuous fender lines chosen for 1962 would not be commercially successful. While looking for a new shape, the designers were inspired by the cross section of a classic Greek vase.
I always felt this design was let down by the small windows. The roof looks too heavy, too thick in cross section. And the previous Chrysler designs had been glassier. If the windows were extended a few inches into the roof (hey, it was a new body so why not?), with thinner window frames, the design would work better IMHO.
Oh, I like these, particularly the ’64s. I test-drove one in the mid-late ’90s, a ’64 NYer 4-door with an indifferent gunmetal respray and a blue interior. Power windows on it. The 413 ran like a Swiss watch—stare hard at the accelerator and you’re soon exceeding the speed limit—and the (pre-1980) Torqueflite was as damn-near-perfect as they are. It was on one of those old-cars-only used car lots in Denver, the kind that price their cars ridiculously high and hope for some sucker to come along. Might’ve been Oldies but Goodies, but I can’t swear to it. If the price had been less and the paint had been more, I’d’ve seriously considered snapping it up.
Jim, of course you like that dashboard, it looks like it belongs in a Studebaker. 🙂
Seriously though, I’ve wondered where that dash design came from. The ’60-’62 & the ’65-’66 dashes all seem to part of the same family, while ’63-’64 just come out of nowhere and disappear without a trace.
Now that you mention it, that dash is almost a mashup of the 55-56 Chrysler and DeSoto dashes.
I had a ’63 Newport sedan with the 361 2 barrel and a three speed manual. I got the car for $200 back in the late ’70s. The car had 85,000 miles on it and ran like a charm. The only options the car had were power steering and brakes. I drove it for five years, and by then the car had 170K miles on it. It was a very simple and extremely reliable car only needing routine maintenance.
My mom replaced her trouble (Electrical) plagued ’60 New Yorker with a turquoise ’63, and it’s looks must have traumatized her because she claimed to not remember it at all for years. I remembered the tail lights well, and eventually I found a pic of the rear end of the car that I took at age 7 or so that jolted mom’s memory of it. “OMG, it was so ugly!”. It was quick though, my dad always got the biggest engine available. My dad entertained me with a huge burnout soon after we got it while waiting for mom at the doctor’s office, and that was one of my fondest memories of him. My dad was the one who picked the cars out back then and he bought it without looking at it apparently, as he told her on day one, “Don’t worry, you won’t have it too long!” It didn’t stick around long at all, maybe a year or so, replaced by a vastly superior, if even worse colored baby blue ’64 Cadillac Sedan De Ville, loaded to the max. My parents just didn’t keep cars very long and the Caddy went away in ’66, to be replaced with an Olds of some kind. It was at least a decent color, a nice darker blue that my sister got on her first two cars too. Then came my dad’s ’69 Lincoln MKIII, which he hated so much he traded my uncle straight up for his last car, a ’69 Caddy in the always bad Avacado green. It stuck around until early ’73, when dad passed out and crashed it, knocking power out to the entire south end of Toledo. Mom had a series of Cutlasses in the early to middle 70’s and then her last car, a ’77 Impala which stuck around until ’82, when she quit driving, almost. A couple of short trips in my ’79 Trans Am scared any desire to drive anymore out of her..
I’ve had a strange fascination for ’63 & ’64 Chryslers since I was a kid back in the ’70s. Something about the styling was oddly appealing to my young eyes. Wouldn’t kick one out of my driveway.
While Cadillac and a few more companies tried to keep remnants of the “Tailfin Era”, the 63 Chrysler New Yorker was always to me…The Anti-Tailfin car.
With it’s short bobtailed trunk design…it showed the 60’s was truly an evolutionary time in automotive designs.
Chrysler got rid of those long arse protrusions and never looked back.
Not a bad thing, but Cadillac seemed to never let go.
I heard that the 1955 Chrysler cars that Exner designed bears little of the K.T. Keller designs as with Engle Elwood’s designs that are from Virgil Exner’s, do anyone agree with that?
I’ve been admiring a white with red and grey interior 1964 Chrysler Windsor 2 door hardtop with a 361 V8 at the Natick, Ma Auto Clinic for less than $15000 along with a spare parts car at no additional cost, too.
My favorite model among Mopars of that vintage since new, if I could budget maintaining I would buy it ASAP.
Excellent essay and comments!