I don’t usually do this, but there I was tooling down West 11th when I spotted this red Chrysler up ahead. When I finally got next to him at a light, I waved my camera and gestured if he would pull over for a shoot. A nod of assent followed. But he kept right burbling along, and I began to have my doubts. Suddenly, he pulled into the Lane Memorial Gardens. How fitting.
Especially so since his majestically beautiful 1965 Newport hardtop coupe looks like it has one foot in the grave already. We just don’t see rust like this in this part of the world. The owner said something about it being a “beach car.” I have a different theory.
Studies say that long-time married folks begin to look more like each other. This guy and his car have been soul mates for many decades, and his car is just trying to look like him: a grizzled, hacking, chain-smoking old tough. And the cancerous rust is just the outer manifestation of the state of his lungs. Anyway, you could tell these two were bonded for life and in an unspoken race to see who would end up in the graveyard last. I wouldn’t bet against the Chrysler.
The second half of the sixties was a golden era for Chrysler, perhaps its best after its glorious debut in the twenties. It finally slew the twin dragons of quirky styling and lingering questions of build quality. Good thing, too.
The flamboyant designer Virgil Exner was hired in the early fifties to solve Chrysler’s stodginess problem. His early efforts were exemplary hits, like the superb 1955 Chrysler 300, as well as its over-the top follow-up, the ’57 300 C. But Ex had a tendency to go out of the mainstream of popular taste, like the 1960 Valiant. Technically superior, Valiant sales struggled under the weight of its eccentricity and that fake spare tire.
But the downsized 1962 Plymouths and Dodges were the last straw. Exner was shown the door, and Elwood Engel, the father of the superb (and restrained) 1961 Continental and 1961 T-Bird, was hired away from Ford.
Engel (obviously) was a lover of classic proportions, formal roof-lines, and slab sides punctuated by chrome accents. And his first assignment at Chrysler, the ill-fated Turbine concept has T-Bird written all over it.
The 1965 full-size Mopars were the first production cars with Engel’s signature on them. The Chryslers were the best of the bunch. And Plymouth was mighty happy just to have a full-sized car again. Chrysler sales swelled to over 200k, with the entry-level Newport leading the charge. A handsome car indeed, although its slab-sided edginess made it an outsider from the start, thanks to GM’s tectonic shift to coke-bottle styling in 1965.
But Chrysler’s reputation (back then) was almost always greater for what happened under the skin. Its torsion bar suspensions weren’t quite as floaty as GM and Ford’s. Brakes were taken a bit more seriously. Engines were all solid, and the TorqueFlite slushbox was the most efficient and reliable in the land. Chrysler’s power steering was effortless but notoriously devoid of feeling. Oh well.
Chryslers tended to appeal to those that still saw a car as an engineered device, rather than a styled appliance or status symbol. In my family’s circle of Germanic-academic immigrant types, Chryslers were the car of choice, especially after Studebaker bit the dust (it was that Mercedes connection). Of course, by the mid-seventies they were buying the real thing (Mercedes, that is). But when this battered but still-proud Newport was box-fresh, it spoke well of its buyer: independent, intelligent and successful. Well, the mid-sixties were a long time ago.
Due to my father’s irrepressible modesty, our family Mopar was a lowly ’65 Dodge Coronet wagon. But his cousin, a traveling salesman of fine German optics, was a real car guy. Always drove in style and had a fine eye for quality.
He first drove a gorgeous powder-blue 1962 Caddy Fleetwood. But it was not without its vices, and a traveling salesman can’t afford breakdowns. He traded it in for a four door ’65 Newport. With the 315-horsepower four-barrel 383, it was a more-reliable way to get him to the next small-town camera shop in speed, comfort and style. That is, until he traded that it in for a 1969 Mercedes 280SE. I saw the writing on Detroit’s wall a long time ago.
Meanwhile, this pair of old vets will keep rolling along, oblivious to the tattered shreds of their fenders and lungs. In their hearts beats the pride of a glorious past and a healthy, burbling 383. It wouldn’t surprise me if they both outlive the New, New Chrysler.
(Update: I’ve changed my mind about that last line)
In high school I drove the last year of the first generation of C-body Mopars, a 1968 Chrysler Newport Custom. Mine was a 4-door hardtop that I managed to convince my dad to buy as both a more interesting way to cover the 17-mile, mostly rural trip to school, and a way to spend time together doing tune-ups and the like. Only once – when the water pump sent the fan through the radiator – did the car cause trouble, and even then, it was a relative snap to fix.
Ours came from Arizona and bore the marks of a previous life as a towing rig – heavy duty cooling system, trailer brake, and a 383/TorqueFlite setup. I took it on a few long-distance trips over the years, and that great torsion suspension soaked up every road imperfection as if the car rode on a cushion of aspic. While I naturally wished it was a 440, the 383 could cruise at whatever speed was desired for as long as there was gas in the tank, and passing on rural roads was a snap. Even with a teenage male’s right foot 16 mpg was the average. Back when even 93 octane was under a buck a gallon the Newport was a great way to get around. It only had an AM radio, which was pretty lame by the time I got it in the 1990s, but the 2.5″ dual exhaust more than made up for it. There were lap belts for six, but eight teens could easily fit on the two turquoise cloth and leather benches. The trunk swallowed my entire string quartet’s complement of instruments, music stands, plus the full size spare, jack, and some spare firefighting gear (helmet, coat, trousers, and boots) in case there was a call or need for it while out on the road.
Honestly, about the only thing on the car I didn’t trust was that bumper jack. They really were well-engineered and solid machines, especially with a TorqueFlite in the drivetrain. I know the Slant Six is revered for its durability, but honestly just about any non-Hemi, non-Six Pack Mopar engine from the Sixties was pretty bulletproof.
Paul, you’re probably already aware of Aaron Severson’s outstanding history of the 1962 Mopar downsize disaster. I’ll post the link here for context.
Just like John DeLorean had the Vega imposed upon him, Virgil Exner had that 1962 downsizing imposed upon him, based on something a Chrysler exec overheard at a party?!
After stories like this, the mind boggles that Chrysler still even exists…
That said, I once owned a ’66 300 (non-letter), a ’68 Newport convertible and a ’67 Plymouth Sport Fury Fast Top. They were indeed several cuts above GM and especially Ford in handling, braking and overall engineering, although their fit and finish sometimes left a lot to be desired.
Yes, and I also have come by a nice Chrysler history book. And I’ve written another later ’65 Chrysler New Yorker CC that cover the transition a bit more in depth: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/12/curbside-classic-ca-vacation-edition-1965-chrysler-new-yorker/
I have the rights to some of these older CCs, and so I am re-running them “to bring them home”.
And I’m still waiting to find a ’62 Plymouth or Dodge.
Hopefully, you have a shot of one of the limited “altered wheelbase” examples! A former colleague used to race one.
Wow! We live in two different worlds, That old Chysler wouldn’t last a day on the road,here in Southern Ontario. The first Cop that spotted it,would pull the plates. Oh yeah, then theres the $5.00 a gallon gas.
Its not all bad news. The junk yard would give you $500.00 delivered.
To be honest I’m a little envious of your climate, and political atmosphere there in Oregon. I’m starting to bond with my 2yr old Impala. However I am going to try my best to outlive it.
I commented on this 65 prevoiusly over at TTAC, so I’ll simply say that the 65-66 Chrysler was a high water mark for the brand: powerful, reliable, beautiful. Just a few of the reasons that we own four of them. The 383 2-barrel (base engine in the Newport) will run darn-near forever with proper scheduled maintenance. I cringe a little when I see how far this one has fallen, but at least it’s still out there representing the OLD Chrysler, before they lost their way in the 70’s.
Thanks to the “overboosted” power steering, the fact that the rear window goes right down to the deck, and the overall shape of the body, the driver can see all four corners of the car and it is very easy to maneuver around town and park for its size. I have driven much smaller vehicles that were much more difficult to pilot in reverse.
You’re absolutely right to mention the power steering. I’m not certain what the ratio on my ’68 was, but I remember there being approximately 700 turns lock-to-lock.
One of my favorite features of Chryslers of this era are the turn signal indicators mounted atop the front fenders. As a reference when docking (you don’t merely “park” a C-body) they were always appreciated. They were pretty neat at night, too.
The cars with power steering aren’t too bad IMO, and you can crank the wheel with one finger if necessary so it’s totally effortless. It probably seemed like a lot partly because the steering wheel is fairly large.
However, a friend of mine used to have a 65 Polara without power steering. Parallel parking that car was quite a chore, because the turns lock-to-lock was huge on the non-power steering box, and it was almost impossible to turn the steering wheel if the car wasn’t moving. That kind of experience gives one an appreciation of how hard the steering pump works to turn the wheels when the car is stationary, and to avoid it if possible to reduce strain on the steering gear.
I don’t know if this was still the case in 68, but in 1966 power steering, power brakes and the Torqueflite 3-speed automatic were still optional on the base-level Chrysler (Newport). Some of the chrome trim that was standard on the New Yorker and 300 was also optional on the Newport. Chrysler did all that so they could advertise a low starting price to get people into the showroom. Almost all buyers opted for the automatic over the 3-on-the-tree, and salesmen sometimes would refuse to sell you a Chrysler with neither power steering nor power brakes, steering such ultra-frugal shoppers towards a Plymouth instead.
@Paul: I don’t suppose you got any underhood shots of this car?
As far as I know the equipment you list was still standard in 1968. I’m pretty sure one could get a Polara or Fury with a 318 LA-series V8, but the Chrysler C-bodies were all B or RB engines. That fits with what you said about frugal buyers – I’ll bet anyone interested in a small-block C-body was directed toward the Plymouth side of the showroom. I don’t know if the three-on-the-tree was still available in ’68, but the powerplant options were either a 383 (two or four barrel options) or the 440. I think in ’65 the 413 was the top engine. Nice to see another fan of Mopar C-bodies around these parts!
@Paul, did the owner of this ’65 say what engine she had?
Yes, in 65 the largest engine for the C-bodies was the 413. The 440 replaced the 413 in 1966. All Chryslers got B/RBs.
Base engine for the Dodge and Plymouth was the LA smallblock in the US. In Canada, Dodges and Plymouths still got the older 313cid A engine through MY1966, but the slant-6 was the base engine in Canadian Dodge and Plymouth C-bodies.
One of my old WPC buddies who worked at a parts store had a customer come in for a clutch for a 1969 Newport.
Those 413CID engines were very stout .
When first I began my Civil Service Career we had a fleet of 1970 & 1971
Dodge D500 (?) dump trucks with 3 yard beds and mostly Allison automatic trannies, used as asphalt haulers in town .
It’s ten years, I wonder if this old nail is still out there chugging along ? .
Those turn signal indicators are one of the things I remember from my Dad’s ’66 VIP –
very cool at night.
I never paid enough attention to photos to remember if the other C-bodies had those indicators. It stands to reason that they did, and now I know!
The fender-top turn signal indicators were optional on Newport/Windsor and 300, standard on New Yorker. The Plymouth VIP was basically an optioned-up Fury, so the fender-top signal indicators were probably standard. They would have been optional on lower Fury trim models.
My dad’s ’67 300 and my grandad’s ’71 New Yorker had 440s and they both had those cool fender mounted turn signal indicators. So cool.
I loved those. I loved them so much that when I bought a 71 Scamp on which the fender-mounted indicators did not work (I think wires had been cut at some point), I went to the ChryPly dealer and bought new innards for them. One of my favorite parts of the car.
I recall my Dad’s ’69 Polara 500 had the hood-mounted signal indicators, also.
My favorite feature on those mid-60’s Chryslers was the roofline. Elegant and beautiful. The Newport body? Not so much. I also loved the original Charger, too. I picture these as a halfway point between GM and Ford as to general styling.
This is off topic, but I’ve been meaning to ask and the interior shot of the Newport reminded me. Paul, what’s the deal with the red steelies on your xB? Did you buy it that way or do that yourself?
As for the Newport, I this was really the high point for Chrysler. By ’65, they had shaken off the last of the Exner weirdness and the ’62 downsizing had accidentally left them with a great intermediate platform. The ’65-’66 C-bodies wear Engel’s blocky formal styling very well-a nice counterpoint to GM’s coke bottle look and better-executed than what Ford was doing. The ’67 big cars weren’t bad, either, and the A and B bodies echoed that look quite nicely. And the drivetrains…has there ever been anything more bulletproof than a 383 backed by a 727 TorqueFlite?
But Chrysler really starts to lose it, in my opinion, when they went to the fuselage look. The cars just looked heavy and bulbous. And the interiors were remarkably cheap and junky, at a time when even GM was really starting to slack in that department. I’ve got a bit of a thing for the ’74 C-bodies, but they were horribly-timed land yachts that further sank the company.
My $5.98 rim job? Two cans of spray paint. I’ve been thinking about some dog dish hubcaps too, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.
There’s a practical reason for keeping the steelies (as well as just being cheap): we take the Xbox on lots of rough back roads to go hiking, and I have no desire to screw up a nice alloy wheel. In fact, I put on taller tires (65s instead of the stock 60s) to give a slightly smoother ride, and it did help quite noticeably. Not the usual approach to changing tire sizes!
Not as unusual as you think Paul I just had some used 70 series 14 inch tyres fitted to my toy car, reason, well originally it was built with cross ply razor blades I have one on the spare 13 inch, at some point its had the wagon 4.22 to1 diff head replaced with a sedan 3.89 to 1 unit for lower rpms at cruising speed then had that effect removed by fitting 175/70 x 13 tyres so Ive done the same thing I did with my 59 Hillman 14 inch Michellin steelies and taller aspect tyres after a test on the motorway with GPS the speedo is nearly right and it runs about 400 rpm lower at a cruising 60 mph
@FromaBuick6: 100% in agreement with you regarding the fuselage Chryslers. What a backwards move that was…
I too am a big, big fan of the 65-66 C body Chryslers. I’ve owned 3 of them over the years, and currently drive a 66 Newport sedan with 383 / TQflight. I’ve done some mods to make it handle better, like gas shocks, disc brakes and a “Firm Feel” stage 1 steering gear. Makes a big difference! Not that it was too shabby to begin with.. The C body’s are suprisingly nimble, I can whip mine around and parallel park it like a sub compact. I love, love love my car, drive it every day. I only wish that there was an easy way to put an overdrive tranny in it without having to modify stuff.
Would like to add a picture of my ’65 Newport Convertible
I hope it’s still out there on the road.
The exterior is kind of a tossup, but I redid the carpet and seats last year, so I’m pretty sure I have a nicer interior at least. 🙂
Very nice Chrysler. I had 66 Newport that I really enjoyed.
Scott, Jason & Jim in particular should notice the improvement.
I discovered late in life the joy of driving a full size car, so I think it would be amazing to sit strapped into a bucket seat and slide through town in a 1965 Chrysler New Yorker. I remember the numb steering, the floaty – yet controlled ride, and the sheer width of the car stretched out around you. Nice.
Those big convertibles sure are handsome—and they put the L in Long !
My dad clued me in about Chrysler engineering. My favorite example of the mindset: reverse threads on the lug nuts on one side of the car. Paul, over what period of time did that practice endure ? And, which side of the car had the left-hand threads ?
The left hand threads are on the driver’s side. Not sure of the dates, but my ’65 has them but I don’t think my ’74 Dart did.
I just love that old Chrysler. As rust goes, I’ve seen much worse. I hope that the car and the driver are both still going. I’m in my 11th year of enjoying my 318 powered ’68 Fury VIP after I resurrected it from a 13 year slumber after the death of my grandfather. All of the pleasures of being at the helm of that big Chrysler I know quite well in the VIP. While it doesn’t have a big block under the hood, I’m not at all bothered by that.
cool that this one came back up. I recently posted a wanted add to try to find it.
No luck other that somebody asking if it was stolen from me….