Curbside Classic: 1963 Plymouth Belvedere – Exner Could Do Normal, Mostly

(first posted 6/8/2012)    This might not be the prettiest 1963 standard-size car. But to the loyal Plymouth buyer at the end of 1962, these crisply-styled new cars were a cool oasis after a desert delusion of outré styling over the prior four years (or six, depending on your opinion about the Forward Look).

The goofiness started in earnest in 1959 when a healthy amount of lipstick was called upon to mask the delicate but deadly Forward Look revamp for its third season on the market. 1960 was rapidly approaching, but heavier, bulkier styles like the Squarebird pointed more solidly to the future.

I find the 1960 models a bit of a reprieve, considering the interstellar battleship that greeted mere earthlings in 1961. But they screamed “I told you what 1960 would look like!” When in fact, the fourth season of wildly befinned behemoths was becoming rather stale Wonder Bread.

In reality, none of Virgil Exner’s visions of what the 1960s would be were accurate, beyond the long hood, short deck proportions of pony cars.  But for some reason, he was able to come up with a few elegant ideas on the way out the door. Before he was fired…err, “reassigned as a design consultant” he was able to salvage both Chrysler and Plymouth with some elegant re-skinning of the previous year’s designs.

A Blind C-Pillar there, some more stately crosshair tail lamps there, jauntily thrusting forward fenders and some elegant, almost Buick-Riviera styled parking lamps make the 1963 Plymouth full-sizers light years more elegant and expensive looking that the decidedly unfinished-looking 1962 models that spawned them.

Unfortunately, not all of those clean, classy, end-of-Camelot-era details were applied to the wagon bodies, which retained the basic rotund 1962 upper roof structure until the wagons were fully re-skinned in 1966. But the  lower body re-skin takes kindly to the more aggressive stance employed by the 1963 lineup, as on this three-tone ’63 Suburban.

Ironically, the 1963 big Plymouths kept the sportier long hood, short deck style alive as the Valiant went rather flaccid and Falcon/Nova like for 1963. In all of Virgil’s iterations of this new look, this and the 1963 Chrysler line were possibly the best interpretations of what he was trying to accomplish. Thank god his beloved “Chicken Wing” is absent here.

Here’s a reminder of what his “Chicken Wing” would have looked like, on the 1962 DeSoto proposal. You can see some of the direct influence on the general stance he would place on his swansong cars, but thankfully that poultry wing didn’t survive outside of the styling studio and ended up in the KFC bucket of styling trends.

But at least at the end of the day, the 1963 Plymouth’s were just a three-inch longer, slightly better built and better selling version of the 1962 cars. So they were more manageable to drive in base form than either competing full sized Chevrolets and Dodges.

With their lighter weight, these midi-Mopars were certainly better matches with a six cylinder engines compared to the full-sized Chevrolet and Ford. For the same reason, one didn’t have to go far up the option chart to get a V8 that was ready to dance. These were the GTX’ and Roadrunner’s direct genetic predecessors. And your only choice in automatic transmissions was the peerless at this point Torqueflite.

Though it was still a matter of personal taste and/or brand loyalty, the 1963 Plymouth’s lines had little to be ashamed of in comparison to the competition. That had not been the case in previous years. The 1963 models strike a perfect balance between the reduced girth of full sized cars and the elegant style expected of an American car at any price.

All of this elegance and implied athleticism was remarkably watered down for the 1964 model year in anticipation of restoring the “Full sized” Plymouths to proper Full Size in 1965, and re-casting the B-Body as the intermediate it always kind of was (although it was a good 10 inches longer than either the initial Fairlane and Chevelle).

So the 1963 Plymouth looms heavily in my mind as the best big Plymouth of the early 1960s, making the most of its sow’s ear body and spotty reputation as possible in an overnight makeover, before the game changed again in 1965. It made for a beautiful bookend to an era of crazy Plymouths.


Related CC reading:

Automotive & Design History: 1962 Plymouth & Dodge – The Real Reason They Were Downsized