(first posted 4/2/2013) The year 1966 was an exciting time in the American intermediate-car market, with each of the Big Three serving up a fresh, new model. At the time, the Dodge Coronet, although an excellent car, was hampered by its Chrysler parentage–but time is, after all, the great equalizer, and this car has since become a sought-after icon of its era.
After decades of cutthroat competition, the U.S. auto industry had settled into a sort of equilibrium by the mid-1960s. General Motors was the undisputed king, selling just under half of all new cars and trucks purchased in the U.S. Ford Motor Company, good for around (or a bit more of) 25% of the market, was a not-too-close second, Chrysler had settled into a distant third-place niche that seemed to fluctuate between 15-16%, with AMC and imports making up the rest. No matter how good or bad a company’s product might be in a given year, there was a steady base of buyers ready to lap up whatever their favorite company was serving, and it took some doing to move a buyer from one member of the Big Three to another.
It seemed that poor Chrysler in particular could not catch a break. The company had vaulted to second place in the industry during the 1930s and remained there, until its increasingly conservative ways caused their products to lose appeal–and the company itself to lose its second-place status to a resurgent Ford Motor Company. The 1957 line was Chrysler’s play to regain its rightful place, but quality woes stopped it dead. Then, in the early ’60s, the company went on a strange-styling binge, just in case the quality problems hadn’t repelled enough buyers already. Worse yet, the new standard-sized 1962 Plymouths and Dodges were significantly smaller than the competition–as well as singularly unpopular cars. By 1962, Chrysler was down to a 12% market share.
After Lynn Townsend took control of the company in 1962, everything seemed to be coming together. Chrysler had a new styling chief (Elwood Engel, who’d been plucked from Ford) plus a new quality push (resulting in the five-year/50K warranty) to go along with Chrylser’s well-known engineering prowess. The result would be a 1-2-3 of new products designed to finally lead Chrysler out of the woods: the 1965 full-sized C-body; the 1966 intermediate B-body; and finally, the 1967 compact A-body. The C- and A-cars have been discussed previously (here and here, for example), and will certainly be addressed again in the future. Meantime, the B-cars (the Plymouth Belvedere/Satellite and the Dodge Coronet) were solid hits that at once provided us with all of the good–and bad–attributes of both their larger and smaller siblings.
In truth, the 1966 B-body was not really a new car at all, but a thorough reworking of the 1962 Plymouth and Dodge. Although the 1962 Dart and Fury were too small to be competitive as full-sized cars, they did make for generously sized intermediates. In booming 1960s America, the happy result was that the Mopar mid-sizers offered more car than the competition. This Coronet’s wheelbase (117″) and front track (59.5″) significantly best the measurements of the competition. The new 1966 Fairlane rode a 116-inch wheelbase, and the Chevelle’s measured 115 inches–and both employed a narrower 58-inch front track.
There is one area in which this car excelled: It could be almost anything to anyone. Has there ever been a car with such a wide spread of available power trains? After all, six engines and three transmissions should have been enough for anyone. Not only could a thrifty buyer choose the 225 Slant Six (except in the 500 model), but also available were no fewer than five different V8s: the 273 LA block; the 318 Poly (Wide Block); 361 (two-barrel) and 383 (four-barrel) B-blocks; and, finally, the 426 street Hemi. Throw in a choice of three-on-the-tree, four-on-the-floor, or the great Torqueflite automatic, and a buyer could have a choice of power teams perhaps unparalleled with any other 1966 car. If any car before or since had a wider choice of engines, I’m having trouble thinking of it. Because the car had been designed as a trimmer full-sized car instead of an enlarged compact, the big-block engines fit in from the beginning. The Ford engineers must have been jealous, what with none of Earle MacPherson’s intrusive shock towers (here) to deal with in Chrysler cars.
This inaugural B-body (since this was its first time to actually be called a B-body) was a very good car. That’s a good thing, as the basic platform would remain in production through the end of the R-body (New Yorker, St. Regis, etc.) in 1981. Its torsion bar suspension was credited for the car’s good handling (relative to its Ford and GM counterparts), and the rigid Unibody gave the car a solid feel. The buyer could get power unavailable in a Ford, and a modern three-speed automatic unavailable in anything from GM. A Popular Mechanics Owners Report from 1966 detailed owners’ praise of their cars’ power, comfort and handling. However, as was typical with Chrysler-built vehicles of the era, there was a vocal minority whose cars were plagued with significant problems.
The 1966 Dodge Coronet line did quite well–for a Mopar. The production lines turned out around 251,000 of them, up about 40,000 units from the 1965 model. This was a particularly good showing, considering that the industry as a whole was down a bit from 1965’s record-setting year. Add in the 185,000 units from corporate sibling Plymouth and it it’s plain that Chrysler had a hit on its hands with what was then quite a respectable showing for a Chrysler product. Still, despite its many attributes the B-body could not catch the 487,000 combined Fairlane/Comet sales, let alone the successful GM A-bodies, whose sales included 438,000 Chevelles and 344,000 Tempests. So, even though the car was both attractive and talented, it never broke into the leaders’ circle.
As we stated up front, however, time is the Great Equalizer, and today these cars are highly valuable and sought-after. The Hagerty website estimates the value of a car like this as virtually tied with a corresponding Chevrolet (itself no small thing), and significantly more valuable than either a Fairlane or LeMans–that is, unless we’re talking about the roughly 700 Coronets made with the Hemi. In their case, the value triples, into the upper-five-figures. If you thought that 40% of Coronet production got the Hemi based on the numbers that seem to live on the show and auction circuits, you could be forgiven.
The Coronet 500 model was the very top of the line in 1966 (the R/T would not be along for another year). The 500 accounted for about 55,000 cars, of which only about 3,000 were convertibles. Glenwood76.com, which has some detailed production breakdowns, claims that this is one of just 454 1966 convertibles built with the 383 and automatic transmission.
Highly prized, collected and restored as these cars are, it was thrilling beyond belief to find an original version–and particularly a convertible–that appears to see occasional but regular use. This really is one of my favorite cars of the 1960s, as well as one of my photographic prizes. Even I, however, have tired of the never-ending parade of brightly-colored, Hemi-powered “tribute” cars that seem to be everywhere that fans of high performance can be found. An attractive, largely original top-of-the line convertible is a treat that all of us should savor for a moment.
While its styling was perhaps a bit outdated measured against the GM yardstick, it wore those crisp and angular lines extremely well. The mechanical components were (usually) first-rate, and these were very good-driving cars. Thinking it over, I am not sure I would have ordered anything different from what’s on this example. The 383 4-BBL/Torqueflite combo probably represented the best trade-off in terms of performance and temperament. And is it just me, or does this car look stunning in its silver paint and its red vinyl interior? I am not normally a silver-car guy, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a prettier example than this one.
The mother of my sister’s childhood best friend, who lived down the street, owned this car’s Plymouth twin in champagne- gold. I remember being quite smitten by it when I was on safety patrol in the sixth grade. Even though it was getting a little dated by 1971-72, even then something about that car told me it was a classic, and that turned out to be right. It is one of the great car-regrets of my life that I did not latch onto one of these in the ’70s, when they were cheap used cars, much cheaper than the corresponding Chevelles and Fairlanes everyone wanted back then. The way things have turned out, one of these is not likely to be in my budget for the foreseeable future.
Most people look at a 1962 Dart or Fury and see an ugly, expensive flop–and reasonably so, I might add. Look a little closer, however, and you will see the foundation of what became one of Chrysler’s best and most successful platforms when it was turned into the freshly-cleaned-and-pressed 1966 model we have here today. This car does not mark the dawn of “Mopar Performance”, but it does represent the beginning of its full flowering. The 1966 Coronet 500 was an easy car to be proud of then, just as it is now.
Spectacular! This Dodge shows how sales numbers are absolutely no reflection (in some instances) of what constitutes a superior automobile. As you pointed out, time is the great equalizer and this Dodge is clearly equal (or superior) to anything else in the mid-sized field that year.
I’ve always liked the body-side flare of these cars (also found on the ’66-’67 Charger). Admittedly, it’s suspiciously like the ’64 Thunderbird, but it helps alleviate the sense that these cars were styled with a T-square and a ruler.
Join the Dodge Rebellion?! Where’s the sign-up sheet JPCavanaugh?
Joining the Dodge Rebellion is easy: You need to exchange a bunch of green pieces of paper for one pink one, and every member gets a car. 🙂
Hemmings has a couple, like this one.
I often wonder how many people with a $10-15K car budget choose an oldie like this over a new Kia. Gas mileage would certainly be an issue, and it’s not as safe as a modern car. But still, they’re not making any more of these.
There is a Coronet coupe in the Raleigh NC area for $5000 it needs work but looks complete and drivable.
Sexy and you know it. That’s a nice shade of silver, too.
Pure class,watch any TV or film from the 60s and you’ll see all the variants of these and their Plymouth siblings,all cars to all men.6 cylinder plain vanilla run abouts, to tyre burning hemis and everything in between.I always thought the test of a good looking car is does the convertible/sedan/wagon/hard top look equally good?In this case yes they all looked great
I remember an episode of the Man From Uncle where they wrecked one of these but good. Must have had a high budget, since it was new at the time. In another episode, they blew up a near-new Imperial.
Was it this taxi? (IMCDb)
A great film from 1966, ‘The Flim-Flam Man’ starring George C. Scott and Harry Morgan, has a plethora of ’66 Mopars in a crazy comedy chase…Coronet police car chasing a brand-new Valiant convertible that gets thoroughly trashed by the end! Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5O-ZNMxBB8
Had a chance to buy one of these, a yellow hardtop, black interior, 318 poly and auto back in ’82 for $500…..sigh….
“Add in the 185,000 units from corporate sibling Plymouth and it it’s plain that Chrysler had a hit on its hands with what was then quite a respectable showing for a Chrysler product.”
Ouch, JP. Is LaHood on hiatus, or still recovering from yesterday’s, ahem, rear-ending? 😉
I’ll take a hardtop with a mildly warmed-up 273, front discs and a new set of whitewalls on those Magnums.
You make an interesting point. For all of the engine choices, the mid-range V8s were a mite weak. Though stout and durable, the old 318 Poly (that went back to 1957) and the 361 (that went back to 1959) were never performance champions, at least not by 1966 standards. The 273 was modern and a good performer for its size, but none of these would have been really all that satisfying. The new LA block 318 that would appear for 1967 would really take the place of the 3 smaller V8s in the 66 lineup. Of course, if you were partial to the 383, none of the smaller engines mattered.
I’m a fan of the big blocks. I was happy to hear this one has a 383 under the hood.
Although as you have pointed out, these cars have often served as engine-sucking parasites that have attacked our beloved big C body cars. 🙁
Sad but true, and you’d be unlikely to see an A-body from that era in a demo derby either. More likely to find one slowly rusting away in someone’s field thinking that they will get offered big bucks for it.
My second car was a ’67 Plymouth Satellite 2-door hardtop, tan with dark red vinyl interior, 318/Torqueflite. Very pretty and a nice car to drive. Around the same time, a good friend had a ’67 Coronet sedan, black over black, same powertrain. That was a pretty sharp ride as well.
Only negatives had to do mainly with used-car issues (engine seemed to go flat at mid-range RPMs, exhaust manifold failed at one point, seams split on the seats) and, being western Pennsylvania, rust. The front fenders of these things were notorious for rust-though between the back of the wheel well and front door cutline.
Nevertheless, of all the cars I’ve owned, that Satellite, and maybe a pristine ’68 Lincoln that I had for three short months before it got totaled by a hit and run driver, are the ones I’d most like to have back.
Great find Jim, and a well-researched writeup. I think the Magnums and white-letter tires look good on it too. I wouldn’t kick it out of my garage.
> After all, six engines and three transmissions should have been enough for anyone.
Technically FOUR transmissions. The slant-6 and probably the 273cid LA block would have been attached to the lighter A904 automatic, not the A727.
I am eager to hear the reaction to these cars by someone like PN, whose family bought a new Coronet in 1965. Were the 66s seen as a total upgrade, or were there good features about the 65 that did not make the transition.
Today I’m doing what I usually don’t do: following up on your most excellent post with an outtake on a ’67 Coronet that needed to see the sunlight. Stay tuned….
In that, I describe my impressions of having access to ’65, ’66’ and ’67 Coronets to drive via a job. Let’s just say that the 318LA was a decidedly better motor than the 318 poly, which I have generally found to be a bit of a slug from my experience.
One of my former work colleagues, ironically, liked the 66-67 Dodge Chargers which were basically fastback coupes of the Cornet. The neat thing about the Charger is that those two years it was a bit more of a personal luxury performance coupe rather than the “Bullitt/Dukes Of Hazzard” version of 68-70 that sold enormously well. Woodgrain steering wheel, four place buckets, electroluminescent dashboard. Plus it was the first car to feature a spoiler. They are fairly rare since most people keep and restore the later versions.
I will admit to being a fan of the 66-67 Charger as well. I looked at one when shopping for my first car. If it had been in better condition, I would probably have bought it. A red one with 383/Torqueflite. The exterior looks are not for everyone, but from the inside, they were cool as could be. I had forgotten that the instrument panel on the Charger was a major upgrade from the one on this car.
Aside from the dash, the full length console was really cool on those cars. The pic is of a convertible (easier to see) but looked good on the fastback.
There was no Charger convertible. Methinks someone swapped the Charger interior into a Coronet convertible.
To me, NOTHNG could beat dad’s wonderful fire-engine red 1966 Impala Sports Sedan, but all of the big 3 had gorgeous cars that year.
Wish I had a photo of it to share…
Look what they got in Mexico.
Wow… gorgeous. did they get the Charger’s awesome taillight? My dream MoPar would probably be a Coronet/Charger mashup… a Charger with a Coronet roof or no roof at all.
No – the Mexican Dodge got the ’67 Coronet 500 taillights – hidden behind fine vertical ribs.
Here’s a picture.
Even more gorgeous,I’m a sucker for hideaway headlights
Whoa. That is one mean sedan.
Very nice car. I always think some of the Dodge guys have a screw loose* with the hemi worship and unusable tribute cars when they are perfectly enjoyable with the 273/TF or even Slant Six/3sp.
I would not have guessed that Chrysler was outsold by such a wide margin in the 1960’s, since the number of survivors today would indicate that the numbers were much closer.
*No offense intended, I myself have a few loose, just not that particular one.
There are enough “tribute” 427Cobras around to match that and raise you a few. Yes, Chrysler got beat by Ford and especially GM in those days, but remember that the vast majority of the intermediate cars were otherwise pedestrian variants that are now long gone. I have never done a scientific study, but I would not be surprised if the % of “hot” versions of GM, Ford, and Chrysler survived roughly in close numbers since that is where the interest lies. More basic models CAN be very enjoyable to drive but good luck finding them. They were basic transportation then and now most have succumbed to age, rust, or collision.
When I was born, my parents’ car was a 1966 Dodge Coronet 440 2-door hardtop. It had the 273 LA, which we only learned years after giving the car away. Apparently, my father had been told it was a 318 when he bought it, and somehow it had never been in issue telling service writers that it was a 318 when he brought it in for tune ups over the dozen or so years he had it. I suppose they weren’t privy to the 318 poly/ 318 LA differentiation and just treated it as a ’67 or later 318.
I’ve always been partial to the 440 trim level. I’m sure most of it is because we had one, but I just think that it is so much cleaner without the 4 medallions on the quarter panels and the chrome tail panel cover. The center console of the 500 is nice enough, but bench seats came in handy when I was a teenager in our other Mopar hardtop.
While in high school, these cars were the object of lust and extended conversation for all my buddies. Everyone I knew had an uncle who had such a car, and it was 100% of the time equipped with a 426 Hemi. Funny thing was all the ones I had ever seen had either the 273 LA or, later on, the 318 LA!
Sorry, BOC, this is the new best comment of the day! 🙂
😀 I can certainly relate to Canuck’s comment. I think most guys assume that any tough looking/sounding Mopar must have a Hemi, but can’t even identify one when they (don’t) see it.
A friend of my brother’s, who considers himself a muscle car nut, has a shirt from the band Ministry. He proudly showed me the shirt and said it was his favorite shirt because it had a Hemi on it. I said, “Where are the spark plugs in a Hemi?” … “Under the valve covers.” … “Right. Now take a close look at your shirt and tell me where the spark plugs are on that engine. That’s a 440 six-pack, not a Hemi.”
Oh man, I remember that song and that cover. “Jesus Built My Hot Rod”!
I’m reminded of all the ’73-’79 primered-out Ford Pickups in Jasper, AL with the “302 Boss”. You would not believe how many 302 Boss engines Ford must have built, installed, but forgot to document…
I guess straight pipes + 2BBL = Boss (?)
And there’s all those guys running “350 4-bolt” engines. Sheesh!
A great looking car, nice find. To your descriptive phrase, “freshly-cleaned-and-pressed,” I would add “crisply starched,” too. Always loved the mini-Coke bottle styled rear flanks, they made the car look longer, a very attractive attribute.
My grandmother, who had always purchased Chrysler/DeSoto products stretching back since before the war, strayed to a Buick in 1962 when she eschewed the styling binges of that year’s Chrysler lineup. But she always believed in “Chrysler engineering,” so in 1966 she reverted to a Coronet 440 sedan, as it turned out her last car, but she loved it, yellow with black interior, with a huge trunk that accommodated her bulky walker. I remember it had a V8, but can’t say which one now. My main memory of that car was how light weight it seemed, compared to her old Buick and DeSoto before that. But it served her well for the remaining four or five years that she continued to drive, a decent performer, never any quality or maintenance issues.
Interesting notes about the ’66-’67 Charger. My next door apartment neighbor at USC back then had a new ’66, silver with red interior. Sharp looking if you were a Mopar fan, but I always thought it quirky appearing. It seemed very out of place in a time period when all the frat boys were driving GTO’s and 442’s, but time softens your perspective, and it seems pretty cool now.
Excellent article that taught me some things. I thought that I knew almost everything about these, since my family bought into this platform in a huge way:
1. 1966 Coronet 440 4 door sedan. Yellow. My mother’s and later, my first car. Unfortunately for high school me, I had to repeatedly explain that it was not in fact a 440, but a 225 slant six with a 3 spd column shift.
2. 1967 Coronet 440 4 door sedan. Grandma Gladys’ car–Bronze, 318 V8, automatic.
3. 1967 Coronet 440 convertible. Red, 318 V8, automatic. Bought cheap 13 years old, sold cheap—mistake.
4. 1966 Plymouth Belvedere II. Blue. Dad bought this as a used City of San Antonio fleet car. Another slant six, 3 speed manual but so luxurious that it didn’t even have carpet.
5. 1966 Dodge Charger. 318 V8, automatic. Yellow. Didn’t like this as much as I thought I would.
Now that you mention the 1962 Dodge (whose front styling was condemned by the American Academy of Opthamology for danger of serious eye injury), my background research on Chrysler’s turbine program turned up these ’62 turbine prototypes. The engineers must have customized these cars and in the case of the Dodge I think it’s a real improvement.
You can see the Dodge turbine car in action on YouTube.
Great article J.P., well written.
Thanks, Jim, for pointing out my ’65 Sport Fury CC was the C-body platform. I just edited that into the CC.
It’s kind of funny how in the 60s, Chrysler did A B and C bodies just like GM, but in one size off. By the 1960s, the GM A body was the midsize, on Mopar the compact. GM’s B was regular full size (Impala, Catalina, Olds 88, etc) but Mopar’s was mid-size. GM’s C body was premium full size (Cadillac, Electra 225 and Olds 98) where on Mopar it was everything full-sized from Fury to Imperial. Once the Nova came out (X body), that started the alphabet soup and the need for a scorecard.
Part of that is because, until 1967, the Imperial rode on a frame instead of a unibody so did not have a platform per se. With that said, I suppose in those years “Chrysler” badged cars competed with Buick-Olds and Dodge with Pontiac and Plymouth with Chevrolet. I think it was more of a SMALL-MEDIUM-BIG rather than A-B-C specifically against the competition. With the introduction of the Lancer/Valiant, then the ill-fated 62s, and eventually the later Dart/Valiants it got really hard to follow the formula. I suppose that was part of the problem by the end, Dart was full size then went compact Polara was intermediate then full size Fury was full size for the longest time then some of them went intermediate in the 70s. I am sure it was all confusing for the customers, so I just follow the body patterns rather than the names or labels.
Didn’t GM use X for its compact platform from the start? I believe there was also once a smaller full size A body for Chevy and Pontiac, through ’58, maybe?
My best friend in high school (late 70’s) had a red convertible like this with a 361. Faded paint and a worn-out top. Made a left turn in front of a Caddy and totaled it.
I know this is going to piss some of the purists off, but I’d love to get my hands on one of these and build it into one of those “tribute” cars. Plain white with a red / plaid interior.
It would make a lovely bookend to my 66 Biscayne.
I’ve been noticing from time to time that the Hemmings Blog seems to echo what’s been seen on the Curbside.
Now I’m certain. Not only is their Find of the Day a ’66 Coronet, it’s the one I cited in a comment here up near the top.
Nice to see they’re following the leaders 😉
My first ride:
White ext, red int, white conv top, 361, 4-spd, Sure-Grip
Man … I miss that lady
Back in 71 I bought my 1st car. I really wanted a Mustang, or maybe a Cougar, but considered the Falcon as I wasn’t really all that interested in a bigger car. When I couldn’t find a smallish car I found a pretty nice, near new “intermediate” hardtop…but not one of these. Even though this car would have been only 5 years old in 71, it just hadn’t hit with a big enough splash for me to want one with a few miles on it.
If I had been looking for an intermediate sized car in 66 I would have gotten a Failane. A lot of that would be because I am a big fan of the blue oval, but I just think that the 66 Fairlane was the best looking design that year. Yet, the 67 struck me as too gingerbready (?), so in 67 I would probably have bought a Belvedere as I have more of a preference for the Plymouth brand.
In other words, like most folks in the 50s-60s I loyally bought by brand…even if it might have meant waiting a year for the “right” car.
The ’66 Coronet is pretty nice, but I really prefer the ’67 – an instance where a facelift was done right.
And I like the “hidden” taillights.
That grille looks like it came straight out of a Chrysler 300. I always thought it kind of strange that the sporty Coronet R/T got a brushed aluminum grille while the lesser models got one that was more blacked-out (like this one).
A clever modification for these ’66-’67 Coronets is to retrofit the Charger’s hidden headlight grille. I wonder how well a premium Charger convertible would have sold. It certainly wouldn’t have been difficult to come up with one since those first Chargers were nothing more than a Coronet with a fastback roof tacked on (although they did have some really nice touches like the aforementioned hidden headlights, special 2+2 interior, and electro-luminescent gauges). Maybe, for a change, Chrysler’s marketing were too afraid of cannibalizing sales from the regular, upmarket Coronet convertible.
It’s also worth noting that the ’66-’67 Coronet played a significant role in Chrysler’s musclecar program. The story goes that the ‘Father of the Hemi’ Chrysler engineer Tom Hoover had a dark green Hemi Coronet that he would let someone use on Woodward Avenue to test out engine parts. He was smart enough not to drive it himself. In fact, Chrysler was so closely aligned with street racers it’s where the high performance division’s ‘Direct Connection’ name originated.
The other guy who was big into this sort of real-world street testing was Pontiac ad man Jim Wangers. He was bit more bold, though, going along as a passenger in the latest hot Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles.
what is the power of engine dodge coronet 500 1966 ?
You had a big choice of engines – starting with a 145-hp Slant Six up to a 425-hp (actually more like 500-hp+) Hemi V8.
Great example from my 2nd favorite generation of B-Bodies. The ’68-’70’s remain my favorites.
It’s amazing to realize the B-Body went through 10 1/2 iterations in its lifetime:
1. ’62 original body.
2. ’63 rear quarter.
3. ’64 cowl (Let’s count 2 and 3 as 1.5)
4. ’66 redesign, including the Charger
5. The ’68 Belvedere/Coronet
6. The ’68 Charger
7. The ’71 Satellite/Coronet
8. ’71 Satellite Sebring/Charger
9. ’75 Fury and Cornet Coupes
10. ’75 Charger SE Cordoba
11. ’79 R body
Grandma’s 66 picked up in Sept 66 drove until 2010 when she passed. Have all service documents and fill ups. She called the car Mr. Lightening.
I am unclear, are you saying that this silver convertible here belonged to your grandmother? If so, what a great backstory! This was one of my favorite CC finds of all time.