Curbside Classic: 1969 Chrysler Newport – A Lens Into Time

As one who was somewhere between being a twinkle in the eye and weak concept at the time, it seems the year 1969 is one of milestones, large events, and transition.  Such has always been the perception to someone who simply was not around.

The world has continued to change in the last fifty-four years, in ways both immense and minor, with the automotive market being no exception.  Any car built in the idiom of this Newport would be horrendously challenged today but it certainly made sense in 1969.  Well, maybe not universal sense, but for its intended audience it did.  It’s a product of its time and what an interesting time it was.

Technically, the reign of the 1969 Chrysler, that first year of the fuselage styled C-body, began in September 1968.  While no specific date of this new model’s introduction can be determined, it’s safe to figure the introduction would have been in mid-September.

That was the timeframe in which Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and the Tet Offensive came to an end.

In the philosophy of longer, lower, and wider that permeated the automotive market in those days, both front and rear track increased a fraction of an inch while overall length was up four inches.  Wheelbases remained at one hundred twenty-four inches for every short-roofed Chrysler.  Weight was up around one hundred fifty pounds.  All that extra-ness does add up.

This was also the time when it always appeared the prevailing wisdom (among many) was more of a good thing is a good thing.  This thought process didn’t just apply to automobiles, such as our Newport.  There were other elements of the transportation industry in which this philosophy could be found.

It was in February 1969 when a Boening 747 flew for the first time.  Any plane dubbed “jumbo jet” will indicate it is simply more of an already good thing.

Further, it was less than a month later when the Concorde had its first test flight.  Speed is good; more speed is better.

Written by Tony Benn, Labour’s Minister of Technology to solve the English vs French debate

It also seems the year 1969 was rife with conflict of varying types, even about how to spell words.  Perhaps the “e” could also stand for extraordinary, as in being extraordinary that such a disagreement occurred and one had need to clarify.

But, just like the rest of the year, I wasn’t there to get the full story.

As it relates more to this Newport, and demonstrating how more can indeed be more, on May 14, 1969, the final segment of Interstate 5 was completed in Washington State. This last piece connected Everett with Marysville, allowing one to travel from the Canadian border to the California state line without interruption.

While no 1969 Chrysler traveled as fast as a Concorde, or even a mere 747, Mother Mopar certainly gave it what she could for motivation, all of which allowed for effortless cruising on interstate highways.  Powertrains were carry-over from 1968 with a 290 gross horsepower 383 cubic inch V8 being standard for the Newport.

For those of a more motivated mind-set, there was the optional 350 gross horsepower 440 that was standard for the rest of the Chrysler lineup.

While not the fastest thing on the road, a 440 powered Chrysler certainly had that hard to quantify but impossible to overlook quality of executive presence.

If one is to examine history as we are doing here, there are several good lenses for doing so.  Automobiles are great lenses but music is very insightful also.

When this Newport was new, the musical world seemed to be in a period of transition (or perhaps inconsistency might be more descriptive).  While Billboard says the top hit song of 1969 was the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard and toothache inducing “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies, the second biggest hit song was something with a bit more, let’s say, sophistication.

While it’s challenging to imagine the first owner of this Chrysler ever listening to either of these songs over this Newport’s radio, 1969 has always seemed a bit more astrological than sugary.  Let the sun shine in on decent, thoughtful music.

That still doesn’t detract from how sweet this Chrysler is and how this newest Newport provided a new dimension to Chrysler’s history.

Speaking of music in 1969, in researching this I stumbled across reference to Melody Maker magazine, the late British publication.  For both 1969 and 1970 the magazine named Christine Perfect, of the band Chicken Shack, as the UK’s best female vocalist.

Christine left the chickens at the shack in 1970.  She is infinitely better known for her tenure in Fleetwood Mac with the married name of McVie.

Sadly, this lady with the amazing voice passed away in November 2022 at age 79.

McVie’s music, much like this Chrysler, endures.  The Newport name was the inadvertent songbird for the Chrysler brand.

Endure is an apt word for this particular Chrysler.  It appears to currently be owned by a younger person as evidenced by the child’s safety seat found mounted between the rear doors.  As these pictures were taken at about 6 am one July morning, the dew prevented any interior shots.

There is no way to know where this particular Chrysler originated; the dealer tag I remembered was apparently a figment of my imagination.  However, this sticker provides some undeniable insight.  With the Airtemp being a $406 option on a Chrysler having a base price of $4,252 this Newport likely did not spend its early years in a place having mild summertime weather.

Its presence makes this Chrysler all the more interesting now.

Television is another insightful lens into a particular era.  Among the three American network’s primetime television offerings, the best rated show in 1969 was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In on NBC, a product very much of the late 1960s.

For years, Chrysler Corporation was the third largest automaker in the United States.  In a sense, it was like ABC, the American Broadcasting Company, in its seemingly perpetual third-place standing.

While the next two highest rated shows were Gunsmoke and Bonanza, respectively (with neither involving the 20th Century, exhibiting a dissonance similar to the music world), ABC’s best rated show was Marcus Welby, M.D. It was the eighth best rated show on American television.

A review of an episode of Marcus Welby, as found on YouTube, revealed Dr. Welby drove none other than a blue 1969 Chrysler for the 1969 (and through at least 1971) television season.

A compact method of finding a vampire

Further, the Chrysler brand was the 11th best selling in the United States.  In another parallel, ABC had the 11th best rated soap opera which was also their most popular daytime program.  It hit its peak in 1969, and the show was called Dark Shadows.

It is likely the only American daytime drama to have ever inspired two motion pictures (plus a remake of sorts), a board game, a comic book, and action figures.  Perhaps that is simply a reflection of pop-culture in 1969.

While no 1969 Chrysler has merited a board game or comic book, a 1969 Chrysler has been turned into its own action figure.  However, this bronze action figure is of the more upscale 300 but still using the same body as a Newport.

Should I suggest it as being a Marcus Welby action figure?  No, that’s too much.

In the time period between taking these pictures and beginning to type, a few curiosities struck me.  While these curiosities could apply to countless other cars featured here over time, for whatever reason this Newport really strengthened the curiosity.

A random dealer ad

One was about the dealer itself.  Was it a large, medium, or small establishment?  Was it in an urban, suburban, or rural area?  Was the dealer tenured or new?  Was the salesman who made a commission from the sale of this Newport novice or experienced, personable or off-putting?

Was our base model Newport a special order or was someone’s next car simply a unit from dealer stock?

Did the original owner color coordinate his shoes with the upholstery, and his socks with the exterior, as seen here?

But, more seriously than one’s socks, what events transpired between the time this Chrysler was built and found a home?  As mentioned in the opening, 1969 was a year chock-full of large scale events.

Was our Newport awaiting sale when Neil Armstrong blasted off for the moon in July or when Teddy Kennedy took an Oldsmobile for a swim in Chappaquiddick three days later?  Or had it already found a home?

Where was our featured Newport in August when that rock concert happened in New York?  Or, did our Newport play a role with someone in the military, perhaps even 90 minutes from its point of discovery at Ft. Leonard Wood, as seen here the day after that concert ended?

Incidentally, my father broke his hip at that very military installation on Easter Sunday in 1969.  And, mentioning Laugh-In earlier, there is an episode in which Jo Anne Worley jokes about Ft. Leonard Wood.  Might that episode have been from 1969?

The questions are endless.  Yet despite all this, we know three things.  First, the wheel covers have undoubtedly been changed.  The utilitarian ones as seen retrofitted on our Newport tend to hang around quite well.

Second, the color doesn’t easily match with what was available.  Most of the colors weren’t on the dark end, with “Formal Black” being the closest.  This Newport isn’t black, it’s more of a gray, which makes one wonder about a color change or a mid-year color addition.  Any color change is hardly the end of the world; rather, it may have helped extend our Chrysler’s fine physical condition.

Lastly, our Newport is still on the road.  While the base model Newport was the most popular Chrysler, proving the adage people liked Chryslers as long as they were cheap ones, time and entropy have both exerted their undeniable influence.  Of the 55,000 Newport sedans built for 1969, they are no longer plentiful on the ground.

Chrysler Old and Chrysler New(er)…a distinct difference

Found at an auto repair facility, it appears our Newport is being prepared for more happy usage.  Perhaps this Newport has found a lingering member of its intended audience.  Let’s hope this remains to be the case.

Found July 2022 in Jefferson City, Missouri