Curbside Classic: 1971 Plymouth Satellite – Who Says There Aren’t Second Chances?

All those sayings about a person never getting a second chance are a load of rubbish marinated in hogwash.  Sure, there’s some things like first impressions and losing your virginity in which it’s a one shot deal.  But karma is an equal opportunity thing and she’s on my side this time.

While loathe to admit it, I have written this 1971 Satellite up once before.  Let’s not dwell on this as it was a poetic yet not particularly earth-rattling take; sometimes you hit a home-run and other times you strike out.  Hmm; home runs and striking out sounds awfully related to first impressions and virginity.  Anyway…

Since the cosmic forces of the universe put me back in touch with this Plymouth a second time it’s only right and proper to give it appropriate attention because we all know there’s no such thing as a third chance. Is there?

While gazing at our inaugural year fuselage styled B-body, there is an elephant in the living room that needs to be eradicated immediately before it makes a big mess.  It’s a colorful elephant, quite unlike the white one that often emerges at Christmastime.

It’s a purple one in this case.

No, Virginia, this isn’t the factory color of this Satellite although it theoretically could have been.  If it isn’t an exact match this color is something reasonably close as you can see upon finding In-Violet Metallic on this paint chart.

It’s right in the middle of the top row of colors.  Some of the more boring colors, about four of which look like diaper gravy, were relegated to the bottom row.

It wasn’t like this violet color wasn’t being recommended as it could be found on the cover of the 1971 Satellite brochure, seen here on the totally different appearing, and shorter wheelbase, Satellite two-door.  Pretty, ain’t it?  This picture also reflects upon Plymouth’s shrewdness; Sassy Grass and Snow White were also available and can be found in this picture upon close examination.  Plymouth knew they only had one chance to make an eyeball capturing brochure.

But the $64,000 question is whether or not a four-door Satellite was ever painted purple.  Now before anyone is too prematurely flippant by saying “Absolutely not Jason; what are you thinking?” keep in mind this was 1971.

In that fine year of 1971 one could actually find some color pigments on a car lot, as seen above, and not have to endure the fifty shades of ambiguity that is currently in vogue.  Plus, Chrysler being Chrysler they’d likely consider making something unique to land a sale long before Ford or GM would do so.

Such has been documented over time.  Allpar has a short snippet about a 1971 Plymouth wagon that was built with a four-barrel 383 and a four-speed.  It was special ordered.

Here’s why I mentioned one ought not be too rash in rendering a judgement; other four-door Satellites were originally painted in high-impact colors so why not our featured one?

The color of a car is definitely something in which you can get (an expensive) second chance as one can always repaint it.  Which is obviously what happened here although to channel what Paul Harvey used to say, stay tuned for the rest of the (suspected) story.

For many in my generation the name Belvedere conjures up images of either a low rated comedy on ABC during the 1980s or it’s a throwback to Saturday morning airings of Warner Brothers cartoons, specifically a 1950 Merry Melodies cartoon about a dog seeking a new home.

Those of us in the terminally ignored Generation X finally got the opportunity to learn Belvedere had been a name used by Plymouth since 1951, branching off into being a separate model in 1954.  By 1970 the Belvedere name was being used on base model cars and Plymouth decided this name had had its last chance.  When these new fuselage bodied mid-sizers were introduced for 1971, the Belvedere name was consigned to the dumpster of automotive history.

All these curvy new midsize Plymouths were now named Satellite regardless of trim, with the 117″ wheelbase sedan coming in trims named Satellite, Satellite Custom, and Satellite (wait for it!) Brougham.  Of these three, the top-line Brougham is the one few people even allowed a first chance, as only 3,020 were produced.  In relative terms this was just over 25% that of the base Satellite and one-tenth that of the Custom.

At least Plymouth gave the Brougham a chance on the sales chart, dedicating an entire page of the Satellite brochure to it.

Introduction of these new four-door sedans saw sales remaining reasonably consistent in the transition from 1970 to 1971.  Subsequent years saw more people giving them a chance as sales nudged up to around the 50,000 to 60,000 mark for a year or two.  These mid-sizers were given a new lease on life (read as second chance), in a weird sort of way, by being renamed Fury for 1975.

Shockingly, sales of these four-doors peaked in 1978, the last year they were available, at 98,613.  Yet this success needs two qualifiers; first, for 1978, this was the biggest Plymouth available as the C-body Gran Fury had been terminated.  This jump in volume is pretty close to what full-size volume had been in 1977.

Second, Plymouth was the best selling police car in the United States during the 1970s and a likely not insignificant number of those 83,000 base model 1978 Furys likely saw duty with the constabulary or some other type of fleet.

Looking at the brochures, it’s obvious Plymouth didn’t dare take a chance showing their mid-sized car in anything other than some shade of green.

Taking a chance on building a graph in a spreadsheet, here’s a better representation of Mopar mid-size four-door sedan sales from 1970 to 1978.  This does not include wagons.  For comparison, I’ve included the Dodge version based as Coronet (1970 to 1976) and Monaco (1977 and 1978).

An aside…

While legends certainly grow, since many people feel the need to give them ample chance and opportunity to do so, one legend about the 1978 Fury comes from where I work.  Ancient scrolls relate somewhere north of 100 of them were purchased that fine year.  While the intention was for a car as austere as possible, damned if Plymouth didn’t ship everyone of them with five whitewall tires on or in it.  It seems somebody in a key position had what Freudian scholars call a “come undone” about it and every tire was removed from every wheel and turned around backwards before the car entered service.

Despite the digression talking about fleets, I would be negligent if I didn’t take this chance to mention a 1971 Plymouth fleet vehicle to complement our plum beautiful featured one.  Watching too much television as a child has had its advantages…

Jack Webb, ever the one to portray a high degree of accuracy in his television shows, used a 1971 Satellite on Season 4 of Adam-12.  Hands down that was my favorite car of the ones used on that series, so naturally it was the one used for exactly one season, the shortest amount of time any particular car was used during regular production of the series.

Yes, there was another 1971 Plymouth used on a different television show at the time, but it was a brown wagon.  One need not chance a guess to know it was gas powered and had an automatic transmission.

This missing door panel brings the narrative back to our featured car.  Adam-12 was set in Los Angeles, which is out west.  Eugene is also out west and sometimes the cars we see from Eugene have been divorced from their door panels.

I live fifteen miles north of Eugene and have seen this very Plymouth several times along US 54 heading toward Eugene.  Spotting it is easy as it’ll never blend in with contemporary traffic.

As alluded to earlier I have a strong idea about a partial history of this delightful old Satellite, yet I can’t fully prove it.

In late 2012, when my family was in the depths of inability to sell a house as part of a work-related relocation, we rented an old farmhouse just west of Jefferson City (our new location) as a stop-gap measure.  During the time we were moving in, I saw a dark green 1971 Plymouth Satellite parked nearby at the rural water service’s office.  I had two or three other sightings during this period.

Each time it was being driven by an elderly gentleman and I made a note to keep an eye out for it.

Fast forward three to four years and one Sunday brought about an ad in the newspaper for a one owner 1971 Plymouth Satellite.  The online version of the ad had a picture revealing a dark green sedan; the mileage was advertised as 45,000 with motivation being from a tough as nails 318.  The price was the nebulous yet tempting “best offer”.

Despite the temptation, the timing wasn’t there for me.

The odds of there being more than one dark green 1971 Satellite sedan in a county of 76,000 aren’t tremendous forty-odd years later but stranger things have happened.  This chain of events did facilitate a very strong suspicion.  Sometimes a person is hesitant to take any chances on a mere suspicion.

Sometime after seeing that ad, I started seeing this purple Plymouth on various local highways.  The joke earlier about seeing it near Eugene isn’t a fabrication; there is a town by that name south of me and I’ve seen this Satellite covering a sizable swath of area.  Other than the chance encounter that gave me poetic (yet regrettable in retrospect) inspiration, I’d not seen it parked again until I was able to get these pictures.

Seeing this Plymouth for sale in a parking lot bolstered my theory.  Advertised as having 50,000 miles I’m pretty well convinced this is the formerly green Plymouth that taunted me six years ago.  It’s nice to close the loop.

Since a new owner is being sought, let’s hope this old Plymouth gets another chance for a vibrant life.  That purple color alone goes a long way toward its vibrancy.

Found August 2018 in Jefferson City, Missouri