Curbside Classic: 1970 Plymouth Satellite – Lesser Known B-Side

Out of the box, yet not quite fuselage. By the mid sixties Chrysler’s stylist had trimmed, decorated, and embellished Elwood Engel’s favored boxy forms so many times, that they must have been ecstatic to finally be freed from the ‘tyranny of the box.’ This 1970 Satellite is part of that liberation, with the brand transitioning from blockish orthodoxy to occasional sexiness.

Not that this B-Body Plymouth is the brand’s most daring example of its new found styling tendencies. Nor is it the model that pops to mind when thinking of late ’60s Plymouths, at least to a Gen-Xer like me. Other Plymouth releases evoke better images; the humble Valiant appears clearly, the Fury sounds familiar (if not quite memorable), and Belvederes I was aware of. The Barracuda was the runaway hit of course (culturally, not sales wise). But a Satellite? I knew its fuselage later self, but not this transitional period.

Here’s another 1970 model, with better fate than Plymouth’s (or so I’d like to think). From its title track, to Cecilia, to Baby Driver and The Boxer, all are part of the popular music lexicon, whether one cares about Simon & Garfunkel or not. Even tracks like ‘So Long Frank Lloyd Wright’ and ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ are vaguely familiar to the public.

And then there’s ‘Why Don’t You Write Me?’ A fine serviceable B-Side tune (track 4), but far from a Simon & Garfunkel standard.

The Satellite also seems to have been a ‘B-Side / B-Body’ filler in Plymouth’s lineup. Or a ‘hidden track,’ as the model didn’t even get a mention in the brand’s 1970 brochure cover.

Instead, one has to go to the liner notes to be aware of its existence. To be fair, the Satellite started in ’65 as a top trim for the Belvedere line. In typical ‘Detroit debasement’ mode, when restyled in ’68, the model was no longer the Belvedere’s topper, but a ‘cost-conscious’ line. ‘Our miserly 225 cubic inch six…. Across country or on a trip to Grandma’s…’ are sell lines that show the Satellite was intended to be Plymouth’s family yeoman.

Not that the six was the only option. These were the sixties after all, and even the ho-hum sexiness of the Satellite had to offer V-8s (the 318 and the 383). If looking for something a bit more stylish, the hardtop Sport Satellite could be had too; anything the client wanted, after all ‘Plymouth Makes It!’ Or so promo materials promised.

‘Tyranny of the box,’ that’s how Dodge stylist Jeffrey Godshall referred to Elwood Engel’s early years at Chrysler. And no matter how hard one tries, making a box sexy is tough.

As it’s known at CC, Engel was fond of playing around with certain themes over and over. New tendencies were explored and accepted rather slowly; whatever was happening in the markets, the Engel-machine took time to mull over cautiously.

Engel may have been a cautious player, but not an oblivious one. Some of GM’s brio had been brought into Chrysler’s studios with the hiring of Richard Sias in ’64 (a youthful 24, coming from a brief stint at GM), who toyed with some ideas that led to the ’68 Charger, all with Engel’s blessing. Sinuous forms quickly percolated throughout Chrysler’s lineup.

This was no longer Lawrence Welk era Chrysler; it was Dodge Fever and Plymouth Makes it! Rebellion was in the air (and in Dodge), and Engel and company were even toying with concepts such as fuselage bodies and loop bumpers. Cartoons took over the company’s print; hints of psychedelia all around.

The colorful ad campaign was the mastermind of Jim Ramsey and Joe Schulte, from Young & Rubicam (Joseph Dennis has already shared his feelings on one of these). Being a child when these toon-Chryslers roamed around early 1970s Puerto Rico, I remain on the fence on the whole concept, as the cars and the toons didn’t really click together in my child’s mind. Like a mousy church-going coworker that suddenly begs to join an Ayahuasca retreat, you knew someone was trying too hard to be cool.

Still, the campaign was a successful one and has been associated with Chrysler’s products ever since.

Not that any of these trendy ideas were much used on the Satellite. Some of the Charger’s double-diamond shapes decorate its lines, but don’t carry the ‘attitude’ that made mid ’60s Pontiacs such a knock out. As we all know, sexiness and family obligations are a hard balancing act.

There are hints of the ‘loop bumper’ in the ’70 Satellite, a trend that was quickly encroaching Chrysler’s whole lineup.

If Satellites seem somewhat rare B-sides, numbers agree; in 1970 its 82,654 units pale against the 114, 548 sold by its sibling, the Dodge Coronet (US figures).

Honoring its name, this Satellite appeared in San Salvador’s streets surrounded by a tiny constellation of vintage cars. Even here VW T1 buses are a rare sight nowadays, although its proximity to the Plymouth was no coincidence; this particular spot has appeared previously in posts of mine, as someone in this neighborhood seemed to collect/trade vintage cars. Every few weeks the models would rotate, and prior to this grouping I had already shot a Fiat 127 and a ’65 Belvedere wagon.

From the rear view the Satellite’s wide expanses are obvious; to my eye the least attractive angle. Also from this view, a VW Thing is visible, and since now it can’t be avoided, let’s get closer for a better look.

In Central America most of these came from VW’s Mexico plant, locally branded as ‘Safari.’ They never sold in the numbers Beetles did, but have a devoted fan base.

For the most part this Safari (and the Plymouth) is in rather original condition, luckily eschewing some of the odd flourishes locals prefer. Gauges have been added to this sample, but seem to serve a purpose; for once.

What drives a person to own old Fiats, VWs and Plymouths? That’s a question for which I’ll never have an answer, for whoever it was moved away during the pandemic. The street corner is now filled with modern Korean sedans and crossovers.

After coming across a few Plymouths around San Salvador in the last few years, I’ve come to believe the brand was a bit of a thing back in the day. Perhaps among the last American built cars sold locally (by the late ’60s Ford sold German and UK models, while GM was about to shift to Isuzus), probably marketed on its relative economy and remaining ‘Made in USA’ aura.

The Satellite doesn’t standout in memory like the two VW hits that surround it, but I certainly do enjoy coming across a lesser known track from time to time, regardless of its fortunes.

For a more detailed take on the B-body family:

Curbside Classic: 1969 Dodge Coronet 440 – Bread And Butter B-Body

Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: 1969 Dodge Coronet 440 Sedan – Grandpa Joe’s 440