(first posted 8/20/2015) Perhaps it’s unfair to level the blame for the 1974-77 full-size Plymouth’s failure entirely at the 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis. After all, Chrysler Corporation was grappling with a rapidly degenerating financial situation and rampant quality issues. The company was fast heading for bankruptcy, cars were piling up in the infamous sales banks, and incentives were being offered like never before. The Fury (Gran Fury for 1975) was launched into a perfect storm, and drowned in the tumultuous tides.
The story was different for the C-Body sedans, wagons and coupes bearing the Chrysler badge. Their sales rebounded shortly after the fuel crisis, and they were modestly successful during a trying time for the corporation. And yet, the Fury (Gran Fury for 1975) and its Dodge Monaco cousin floundered in sales oblivion.
Plymouth was Chrysler Corp’s low-price marque and rivalled Ford and Chevy. Accordingly, the Gran Fury was targeted at the Ford LTD and Chevrolet Impala/Caprice. To say they outsold the Plymouth during 1974-77 would grossly understate it.
In 1974, Ford produced 461,743 of their full-size models. Chevy produced 629,847 of their Bel Air, Impala and Caprice models. As for Plymouth, only 118,283 of their brand new Fury sedans, coupes and wagons were manufactured that year.
It looked grim, and it was. Even Pontiac’s full-size range, traditionally one of the least popular full-size lineups during the 1970s, handily outsold the full-size Plymouths with 1974 production figures showing a total number of 175,653 full-size Pontiacs.
The low sales figures weren’t due to a limited range. On the contrary, Plymouth offered its full-sizer as a 2-door coupe, 4-door sedan, 4-door hardtop sedan and a 4-door station wagon. Sedans and coupes had a 121.5-inch wheelbase, as on the Monaco. Wagons shared the longer 124-inch wheelbase with the full-size Chryslers and Imperials. The range consisted at first of Fury I, Fury II, Fury II and Gran Fury; wagons were labelled Suburban, Custom Suburban and Sport Suburban. Styling was cleaner and more elegant than the ’73 Fury, if somewhat conservative and reminiscent of the ’71 full-size Buicks, and the government-mandated 5mph bumpers were neatly integrated.
The interior styling was similarly conservative, and even the flagship Gran Fury cabin couldn’t match the poshness of the Ford LTD’s cabin.
Chrysler’s 360 V8, with a two-barrel carbureter, was the base engine: power output was 180 hp. For California, the base engine was the 360 with a four-barrel carb. Wagons had the 400 V8 with a two-barrel carb or optional four-barrel. The flagship engine was the 440 V8, optional across the entire Gran Fury range. The big 440 was down to 245 hp, and fuel economy was barely in the double digits with an EPA-estimated 10/15mpg. Skinflint shoppers couldn’t buy a three-on-the-tree anymore, as the sole transmission option with every engine was the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.
Once again, Chrysler Corporation had the full-size cars on the market with the best ride/handling balance. Ford was still invested in cushy isolationism above all else. The Gran Fury’s dynamic superiority wouldn’t be challenged until the down-sized 1977 GM B-Body’s arrival.
For 1975, the Gran Fury name was adopted across the entire full-size line. Plymouth had done some nameplate shuffling and put the Fury name on a restyled B-Body Satellite and advertised it as the “small Fury”. Perhaps “smaller” would have been a more apt description, but they were also marketing the mechanically-related Chrysler Cordoba as a “small Chrysler” after all.
The 1975 Gran Fury was available in base, Custom, Brougham and Sport Suburban trims, and the new base engine in 49 states was the 318 V8 with 145 hp and 245 lb-ft. Brougham models featured single headlight units, rather than duals. But sales fell by 38.46%, and the entire division saw an almost identical decline. The full-size line was now accounting for only 15% of Plymouth’s total volume.
Gran Fury sales numbers continued spiraling downwards. For 1977, only 47,552 units were produced. The bulk of those would likely have been to fleets. Private buyers were flocking to the downsized GM B-Bodies or, if they wanted to continue livin’ large, were buying LTDs. Even the related Dodge Royal Monaco sold better, albeit marginally.
As sales never picked up, Plymouth started to simplify the range. The four-door hardtop was dead after 1975, leaving just the pillared sedan, coupe and wagon. For 1977, all mid-range Gran Fury models were gone: only base/Suburban and Brougham/Sport Suburban models remained. Plymouth would axe the entire range for 1978.
The Gran Fury was a sales disappointment with private buyers, but one of its biggest customer bases loved them. The Gran Fury and related Royal Monaco were well-liked by police forces across America. As the 1970s wore on, though, many police squads were downsizing too and the B-Body Fury and Monaco became increasingly popular. Plymouth learned they could no longer count on even police fleets to save their biggest sedan.
It’s telling that Plymouth didn’t bother to offer a replacement for the Gran Fury. While GM was downsizing their entire line and Ford was slowly following, Plymouth first dumped their full-size model and then dumped their intermediate Fury the following year. Shoppers at Chrysler-Plymouth dealers looking for a full-size model would have to pony up some extra money and buy a Newport.
For 1980, Plymouth would half-heartedly field a new Gran Fury. A straight rebadge of the 1979 Chrysler Newport, the new Gran Fury rode the aging B-Body platform. Coupes and wagons were gone. Sales were even more dismal than its predecessor, and the new Gran Fury lasted just two years. The name was then transferred to the M-Body, where it lasted until 1989 on a single sedan model, never exceeding 20,000 units annually.
By the dawn of the 1980s, the majority of Plymouth’s lineup would consist of captive import Mitsubishis. The oil crisis had rattled American consumers, and made them seriously re-evaluate what they wanted in a car. Those consumers who were less concerned about fuel costs and still desired a dreadnought were only interested in more luxuriously-appointed models like the LTD and Cadillac and Lincoln’s offerings. That desirable private buyer just wasn’t interested in the plainer Gran Fury, especially considering the very real fear Chrysler Corporation wouldn’t live to see the 1980s. Roy Schieder may have said in 1975’s Jaws, “We’re going to need a bigger boat”, but in the choppy seas of the 1970s, a bigger boat didn’t help.
N.B. I spotted the featured Gran Fury in Far Rockaway, NY but could only snap two shots as it was in motion. It is definitely a 1975-77 model, but I’m not sure of the exact year.
Personally, with few exceptions I don’t see the appeal of the last truly large full-size domestics, but these are pleasantly styled and are said to be decent to drive. I much prefer the look of these to the overly fussy Chrysler Newport and New Yorker of the same generation.