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.
That Plymouth show car seem to basically taunt Plymouth buyer: “You should count your blessing you got such a sensible, conventional styling for 1960. Look what it could have been!”
To me, the only bad line on the car is those big oval outboard parking lights in the front. Otherwise the 63 was a pretty good looking car. Unfortunately, it had to go up against two of the best looking Fords and Chevys of the 1960s. The 63 Impala and Galaxie were uncommonly good looking cars. So, while Plymouth was better looking than in 62, the competition was too.
I never owned one of this series of Plymouth or Dodge (although I once tried to buy a 63 Dodge sedan) but have always understood that they were very good road cars. The torsion bar setups were still fairly stiff then and the cars higher power to weight ratios made them very good performers.
To make your piece even better, we got a bonus view of the 59 Fury (my avitar) that is still one of my favorite cars ever. There will be no dissing of the 59 Fury’s face tolerated here, sir. 🙂
> To make your piece even better, we got a bonus view of the 59 Fury (my avitar) that is still one of my favorite cars ever. There will be no dissing of the 59 Fury’s face tolerated here, sir.
Wholeheartedly agree the 59 Plymouths are beauties… but I wouldn’t try to defend the 1960 Plymouth with it’s awkward tall, stubby (shark) fins and the weird chrome strip that starts at the headlight eyebrow then wraps around the front wheelwell. Laurence seems to imply that this is an improvement.
I am with you on the 60 Plymouth. In fact, I prefer the wierd 61. I was in college in 1979-80 when I owned my white 59 Fury sedan. In the same parking lot was a baby blue 60 Plymouth sedan (whatever trim level was one down from the Fury that year). No way would I have traded. The 60 looked bad from so many angles. Actually, I thought the rear was its best feature. That flat front with the strange upward-jutting trim line that went from the front wheel arches up to the top of the fender eyebrow – just awful. There was also a 3rd guy with a 61 Lancer 2 door. We had quite the pushbutton Mopar club going at the time.
I’m sorry, but the 1959 Plymouth looks like a Miss America contestant that didn’t get her braces off in time for the competition. It ruins the lightness of the 1957-58 face, and as I think of all the Mopars for 1959, seems a bit too “GM” in the heavy chrome department. The only one that I think pulls it off is the 1959 Dodges.
The 1960 is less festooned with a bunch of trim that seems like it was out of a catalog rather than the factory.
Egads, Laurence! I was taking you pretty seriously until you got to the part about the 59 Dodge. Ack. Nobody should drive one of those unless they are dressed like either Batman or Robin.
“To the BatCave!”
I like the look of the 59 Dodges EXCEPT for the front bumper and grille. It reminds me of the front of a 58 Chevy but not as well done. I would be happy to own a 59 Dodge, but I’d want to replace the grille with something custom.
I still don’t see how the 60 Plymouth is anything but ugly though. I’d take a 59 or 61 over the 1960 model.
The 1959 models were a response to the terrible sales of the 1958 models. Several people inside Chrysler blamed the corporation’s sales drop for 1958 on cars that were basically unchanged from the prior year. Of course, that year’s severe recession and severe quality control problems with the 1957 models were the real culprits.
Chrysler therefore made more revisions to the same basic body shell for 1959, but the results weren’t especially good for any of the divisions. The DeSotos and Chryslers, in particular, were a step backward compared to their 1957-58 counterparts. The 1959 Plymouth probably came off the best, in my opinion.
The 1960 Plymouth is ruined by the tailfins and the awkward front-wheel opening. It looked dated even in 1960.
If the looks weren’t bad enough, Chrysler also cut the 1960 Plymouth off at the knees by taking Plymouth franchises away from Dodge dealers and giving them the Dart, which used the Plymouth body. Plymouth suddenly had a strong in-house competitor. The 1960 Dart actually outsold the full-size Plymouth. The only way Plymouth retained its third-place ranking was by adding Valiant sales to its total, even though the Valiant was not badged as a Plymouth for the 1960 model year. (Some sources show Rambler ahead of Plymouth for 1960. Either way, it was a very close finish for Plymouth that year.)
The 1960-62 era is when Chrysler really ran off the rails and never truly recovered. The styling ranged from awful to bizarre, the quality control was terrible and the marketing decisions were truly strange (giving Dodge a Plymouth competitor, when Plymouth was already struggling to keep up with Ford and Chevrolet?!).
The 1963 models helped the company get back on track, and the corporation made some progress in the mid-1960s. But Plymouth was never a strong competitor for Ford and Chevrolet ever again, and Dodge ended up selling cars mostly in the low-price field (its most popular offering was the compact Dart). This left the old medium-price field pretty much wide open for GM.
Chrysler’s recovery was carried by the booming market of 1964-69, but the corporation was pretty much out of gas again by 1970, when the market got tougher.
“The 1959 models were a response to the terrible sales of the 1958 models.”
I asked on another thread, wouldn’t the 59’s be locked in before any 1958 model year sales #’s came in? The story is that the 62’s couldn’t be unchanged, they were locked in place. How fast could any changes be made back then? I wouldn’t think in a few months they could whip up new tooling, etc.
If I recall correctly, Chrysler’s sales dropped immediately after the 1958 models debuted (and were actually softening in the summer of 1957). It was still possible to rush a facelift into production in those days. At any rate, after two years on the market in unchanged form, the basic 1957 body was due for an extensive facelift.
The concerns about the 1962 models weren’t just about the styling. They were about the shorter length and less width, along with much plainer bumpers than had been originally envisioned by Exner. These changes made the cars look odd and less “impressive” than a comparable Ford or Chevrolet.
When the 1962 Dodge and Plymouth were initially shown to dealers, they immediately hated them. Supposedly, several Dodge dealers handed in their franchise agreements on the spot. Plymouth dealers at least had Chryslers to sell. So Chrysler leadership had plenty of advance warning that these cars would not be popular.
Lynn Townsend, who assumed leadership of the corporation in the wake of a scandal involving conflict-of-interest charges among top management, also did not like them. The cars were too close to production by the time he gained control of the company for him to kill them or order a major facelift for the 1962 models. He could, however, order an emergency facelift for 1963.
The original plan was to facelift the front of the Plymouth and Dodge for 1963, and minimize the side “flares,” but Lynn Townsend told them to change the deck lid and C-pillars, as well. Much of this was done on a “rushed” basis.
Chrysler couldn’t, however, afford to make the car wider or as long as contemporary full-size Fords and Chevrolets. Changing those aspects of the car required new tooling that was very expensive and couldn’t be completed in a year. Fortunately, Chrysler was able to make lemonade out of lemons by using the 1962 cars as the basis for the “new” 1965 intermediate Dodge Coronet and Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite, while bringing out all-new, more competitive full-size cars that same year.
It wasn’t out of the question in this period — both the ’59 Chevy and the ’60 Ford were hasty redesigns, rushed through after the original concepts had been approved — but it was tricky and probably very expensive. It also tended to drive down quality (since it cut into the time normally allotted to identify and fix tooling and assembling issues.
However, for Chrysler make changes to the ’59s after the ’58s were on sale would be pushing it, and just from a logistical standpoint I would assume that any alterations would have to be relatively superficial. I could see rushing through a new grille in that time, for instance, but, say, a new roofline would seem a real stretch.
I quite like the 59 Plymouth. The parents of a classmate in grade school had a white Fury 4-door hardtop that I thought was a very classy looking car, toilet seat on the trunk and all. They traded it for a 62 Plymouth which I also liked but they didn’t – it was traded for a new 63 Ford Galaxie four door hardtop. I couldn’t agree more that both the Galaxie and Impala were beautiful cars in 63, and quite popular. Unfortunately these folks were a bit disappointed in the ride and overall quality of their Galaxie and soon traded up to a new Buick Wildcat – becoming mostly a GM family for years to come. The 63 Plymouth – meh, OK but too much taxi cab look.
The more I am reminded of cars from the era, the more I think that ’63-’67 was the sweet spot for classic exterior design of American cars. I quite like this Plymouth, although I’d call it handsome rather than beautiful, and kind of dig how it backed off somewhat from the trend of size for sizes’ sake.
My second car was a ’67 Plymouth Satellite 2-door hardtop, tan with red vinyl interior, and which in my humble opinion was a real pretty machine, incorporating many of the styling cues seen in the ’64 full-size shown above, particularly the tapered C-pillar.
I agree on the ’63 to ’67 period. The 1960-1962 period still has a lot of post-fifties hangover, and by the ’68 model year, I feel like a lot of formerly attractive cars started becoming too bulbous and/or Broughamy.
Great write up and it brings back memories of my childhood. Dad traded in his 1960 Plymouth on a 63 Savoy Coupe shortly after my sister was born. He and mom were afraid of the 4 doors on the 60 with a baby on board. Plus I think they hated the fins on the 60. The 63 was as basic a car as could be. I remember it did not even have a heater as delivered. Dealer swapped out the Deluxe Wheel Covers for Dog Dish Hubcaps for the Heater which we did need in Savannah, GA. I think the car was originally delivered to Miami. The car served us pretty well with its 225 slant six and torqueflite pushbutton transmission, pulling the nimrod camper with little hesitation up to PA at least once a year. By 1967 my brother and I were in our growing spurt going to 6 ft plus so the 63 got traded for a Fury 2 4 door.
Even though the 63 was very basic I always thought the car had a certain class in its lines that was missing in the 60-62 Plymouths.
In 1995, an acquaintance in Honolulu obtained a ’65 Sport Fury, 318 in real good shape, almost no rust – a few dings – an estate car. Delivered new to Honolulu sans heater (you do need a defroster from time to time out here). No P/S, no A/C . . . . opened the hood and it was the 318 V-8 – engine – and nothing else. Off into the weeds, we’re talking ’62-’64 right? I think it was the Savannah, GA Savoy story that got me thinking about ’60s cars sans heaters.
Heaters used to be optional on most cars back in the early 60s Delux models had heaters as standard but all the base cars had nothing until defrosters became mandated here in the late 60s. I removed the heater blower from my parts car and installed it in my project and certainly it wasnt a simple bolt in affair if not done during assembly its quite a mission lots of stuff has to be moved or unbolted but its in and works but how someone drove the car for 48 years un heated is amazing
Perhaps(?) I am losing it in my dotage, however, the 63-65 Plymouths and Dodges were my favorite cars of those years. 2 door post was at the top. I was a big fan of the drags and those cars with the 318 or some of the lesser known sizes were always competitive. You can only eat so much steak at one setting and I wouldn’t buy one now because I’m about full. I think I will just continue to admire from afar.
Kabong, I agree that this era was a high point for Detroit styling. And I also love the “upside down” c-pillars on many Mopars from ’64-’67.
AFAIK, the only modern car with a comparable “flying” roofline was this one:
I know modern Benzes get no love around here, but this airy look is a nice change from the now-typical bunkered greenhouse.
I quite like that coupe too.
I finally remember why this car resonates with me. When I was in 7th or 8th grade, my best friend Dan and I started a hubcap collection. Back then, a lot of cars would toss their wheelcovers with a hard bump. Dan and I would ride his family’s tandem bike all over northeast Fort Wayne, Indiana and would pick up every hubcap and wheelcover we found.
One day, I forget where I was, but I saw an elderly lady getting out of a very nice white 63 Belvedere sedan. What caught my eye was the single Edsel wheelcover on the car. It was the fancy one with the spinner and was color-keyed to a white car. I asked the lady if I could trade her another hubcap for it. She said she needed to ask her husband, but gave me her phone number. I called back, and the husband (a very nice older guy) said that would be fine as long as he got a good hubcap out of it. I picked out 3 or 4 nice Plymouth wheelcovers and gave him his choice. That Edsel cover became the crown jewel of our collection. And I have never forgotten the white 63 Belvedere that it came off of.
Congratulations. I dreamed about doing stuff like that; you did it.
Even this shop that specializes in hubcap clocks doesn’t have that particular Edsel: http://www.etsy.com/shop/StarlingInk?section_id=6258825
I never cared much for the early 1062-63 MoPars – the full-sized ones, but loved the mid-60’s models with that reverse-slanted C pillar.
One thing I truly loved about Chrysler products from the mid-60’s until the mid-90’s was the amount of roof height and glass area compared to the competition. Our K-cars had a higher roofline and visibility than most other makes, right through the Acclaim/Spirit/Dynasty years. I miss that feature, as the 300 looks squashed by comparison – but I still like them.
A plain pillared Plymouth sedan from this vintage has a certain “Mam, I’m here from the FBI, could you answer a few questions?” vibe, I know they had fancy hardtops and coupes, but to me they all seem like pillared government sedans.
I’ll always remember the front of these Plymouths from the excellent 1967 film “In the Heat of the Night” a dark blue one of these serves as the 2nd town police car.
One word. Fugly. All of them.
For you late-50s Mopar aficionados…enjoy. The Plymouth stuff starts around 8m:20s
What a difference between the GM film the other day and these from Chrysler, back from when Chrysler was still an engineering powerhouse. And I REALLY want that 59 DeSoto hardtop!
Did you take that shot north of Clay Street from Downtown Oakland? I do recognize it as Oakland; I was just in Oakland/San Rafael earlier in the week. I do love my Mopars! And I do like the “cleanliness” of the ’63 and ’64 Plymouths (’64 the swan song year of pushbuttons for the TorqueFlite!)
Actually saw both the Belvedere and the Wagon 3 blocks from work. Someone that works at an Auto Body shop owns the Wagon and the sedan was there about 3 months later, both on the Indiana St. Onramp to the 280 Freeway spur.
Always liked these Belvederes and there still quite a few wandering around generally hotrodded but they were good performers in their day and held the road well.
Boring! Boxy boring and bland. I’ve always loved the ’62 Plymouth. Clean and light, the right size. Too bad the Space Age had to die.
The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be.
I’ll have to be a bit of a contrarian here by stating that the 1959 Mopars are a case study in how NOT to do a facelift. Start with clean shapes and trim of the 57s and 58s (I’ll cut some slack for the Imperial), lard on the chrome, exaggerate the taillight shapes and headlight brows, make the grilles heavier and toothier, add oddly shaped side trim and gee-gaws like the infamous “toilet seat” and you’re good to go. NOT!
I always liked the ’63 Plymouths, thought they were a big improvement over the ’62s. I have to agree that except for the C-pillar on the 2-door hardtops, the styling became too conventional in ’64.
When I was growing up, our next-door neighbor on one side, a monument (tombstone) salesman, would trade in his Plymouth 4-door sedans every 2-3 years. I remember a green and white ’56, a gunmetal gray ’58 Belvedere, one of those weird-looking ’61 Belvederes in beige, and last, a turquoise ’64 Belvedere. He retired after that and kept the ’64 until his passing in 1972. His wife never drove, and she disliked his driving so much that she always rode in the back seat!
We were mostly a GM family, and the next-door neighbors on the other side were Ford people. Funny how loyalty was such a big factor back then.
Agree the ’59s overall were overly heavy re-works of the clean ’57-’58 designs – and I’d include the Imperial, too. The heavy grille and especially the smaller headlight surrounds sit oddly in under the front fender and hood brows, and there was a lot of unfortunate chrome trim added to the rear quarters. Oddly, the Russians pretty much lifted this grille and light combination for their early 60s ZILs.
I owned a 1960 Fury 4-dr hardtop in the late ’60s. 318 Torqueflite. Put 65,000 miles on it. The drivetrain was bulletproof but the body suffered from massive tinworm erosion. By the time I drove it to Lajoie’s junkyard in S. Norwalk, CT, the only part remaining of the front fender brows was the chrome (actually stainless steel) trim. Aside from its bizarro styling, it was a good car. The ’64s were fun to drive, relative to contemporary Fords and Chevys, since they were so much lighter. I worked for a cab company in ’64 and we took delivery of about 100 new Dodges with slant sixes and Torqueflites. The taxi package brought bigger brakes and stiffer suspensions. The cars handled very well. No power anything, didn’t need it.
In the 80’s I owned a 63 suburban wagon that was a trouble free car.
Funny thing I remember about that wagon though, was how it seemed out of proportion length wise to its narrow wheelbase.
we had a ’63 Belvedere, the paint peeled badly. It wasn’t prone to rust, it seemed like the primer was quite good at preventing rust but the color coat wouldn’t stick to it. the solution was finally to get it painted at one of those “we’ll paint any car for $29.95” places. the paint job was crap but it had a one year guarantee. it always started to peel before the year was up.