Curbside Classic: 1965 Chrysler New Yorker – The Last Great Chrysler?

CC SM74 116

(first posted 4/17/2015)    Why exactly does this car create such a powerful response (in me, anyway)? It projects such solidity, dignity, and self-assurance. It flew in the face of GM’s 1965 coke-bottle styling, and showed that hard-edged angularity still had some serious life in it. Most of all though, this Chrysler New Yorker represents a pinnacle: never again would the New Yorker attain this degree of success, prestige and quality.

CC SM74 118

The Virgil Exner years at Chrysler were a styling roller-coaster ride. He resurrected Chrysler from the stodgy, boxy K.T. Keller years and set it on the path toward styling leadership with the handsome ’55 models and the more radical ’57s. But those were a seemingly impossible act to follow, and the combination of a heart attack and resultant politics resulted in some very uneven results, some of it bizarrely so. His planned 1962 models showed promise, but the forced downsizing at the last minute and some of their details created another disaster. Exner had to take the hit for the 1962s, and had to resign.

lincoln 1961 _continental

Elwood Engel was recruited from Ford, where he was credited with the milestone 1961 Lincoln. Its angularity and compact was a bold contrast to the over-wrought finned Caddys. Although the Continental was not a big sales success, it saved the brand from an imminent death, and showed a new design direction that had very long tails. Its influence is still seen in the current Chrysler 300.

Chrysler Turbine Car Frt Qtr Blue Bk

Engel brought a radical change in styling direction to Chrysler, and in its first few years, like so many new starts, it worked like a charm. The first sign of the new direction was manifest in the very T-Birdish Turbine Car of 1963.

Its distinctive front end, which coincidentally also appeared on the Exner-styled 1963 Dodge Dart, was first seen on Engel’s 1958 La Galaxie concept car. How that coincidence happened is one of mysteries that I’ve not yet cracked.

But there was a lot of cross-fertilization in Detroit at the time. Since it appeared on the La Galaxie back in ’58, the safe assumption is that Exner was inspired by it for his ’63 Dart. And that Engel decided to use that front end theme again because the Dart was already styled when he got there, for some corporate consistency.

CC SM74 121

It took a few more years for Engel’s angularity to come to full fruition at Chrysler, and it arrived in 1965 just as GM was heading the opposite direction. And Ford was chasing the Pontiac look. Eventually, it boxed Chrysler into a stylistic dead end, and the radically different fuselage Chryslers of 1969 were seen to be the way out. It wasn’t, despite their strangely appealing qualities. By 1974, Chrysler was back to a boxier, edgier look, hoping to recapture the success of the ’65-’66 models, without avail.

Chrysler 1965 NY ad

Chrysler was still clawing its way out of the 1962 disaster when these were designed, and as a consequence, the coupe shares its roof with the hardtop sedan. Yet the result is equally appealing, if not more so.

CC SM74 119

This stately New Yorker that I found on a walk in Millbrae, CA called to me; I could practically feel its presence over a block away, standing out among the curvaceous little cars around it, like the Chrysler Building in a trailer park.

CC SM74 120 800

These big Chryslers were some of the best built cars carrying that name since its WWII tanks and the passenger tanks it built just after the war. The unibody was tight, the torsion-bar suspension was less floaty than some of its competitors, and interior and trim quality would never again be this solid. But that doesn’t mean it was all that heavy: 4,295 lbs listed shipping weight. The 340 horses (gross) on tap from its 413 CI V8 hustled it down the road effortlessly. Brakes were better than average for the times, and the Torqueflite was arguably the best in class. Chrysler’s numb power steering was the only fly in the ointment, but for its intended purpose, who cared?

CC SM74 117

Chryslers appealed to buyers who still felt that a finer engineered car was the one to buy. There were several relatives and University acquaintances for whom these vintage Chryslers were the last American cars they ever bought; they all drove Mercedes by the mid seventies. Now that I think of it, that’s the reason why I hold these Chryslers in such high esteem: they really were the end of the road in more ways than one for Chrysler.