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
Fantastic piece, Rich. Being a GenXer myself, I too never really knew what to make of the Plymouth Satellite (or the Dodge Coronet) when growing up. They were never common, and to my 5-year old eyes, the ubiquitous GM A-Bodies and abundant Ford Torinos were clearly better and certainly more stylish.
first things first – someone needs to insert a “Read the rest of this entry » edit into this excellent post.
The escape from the box was fully realized in the 1971 model Plymouths with their (IMO) beautiful full surround and round-ish front bumper.
When I was shopping for a car to replace my then perceived "dangerous" VW Beetle I loved the '71 full sized Plymouths, but the Duster was a less expensive and more viable option. Choosing the Duster seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was cheaper for a reason (at least how I optioned it).
Thank you for this wide ranging Saturday morning post.
I like the squared off cars of the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s. Buy 1970, this car seemed “old” styling wise compared to the curved on the Ford Torino and GM A cars. They still were a good looking car in a mid 1960s kind of way. I like the Plymouth Satellite front end better than the loop bumpers they put on its twin the 1970 Coronet. It looks like on the 1970 Plymouth Satellite and Dodge Coronet, they tried to give the cars a more slightly rounded look or styling cues so they would fit in with the for 1969 Fuselage Full sized Chrysler Corporation cars. Corporate car image I guess. These were the last year of this squared off body style. I think they look better than the 1971s and later with their bulbulous body. Nice cars! Probably is still a solid car. It looks nice for its age. 53 years old! Doesn’t seem possible! Enjoy your posts! Thanks!
Come June, my nephew will be “53”!! Speaking of “doesn’t seem possible..lol
This is another car that I am surprised that somehow I never came to own. These are the last B body cars that I really loved. The later ones (coupes at least) may have been sexier, but the bodies on these were far superior for giving a feeling of solidity. These were every bit as good as the big C body cars from 65-68. I still remember my evening of delight with a rusty, dull, dented 70 Dodge Coronet Crestwood wagon. It was a “shop car” at the pizza joint I was delivering for, and it was an absolute blast with its strong-running 383.
I always found these a fascinating mix of box and curves. The Charger did the look best, but I don’t think any version of these looked bad.
The difference in sales figures is interesting – Dodge sold far more Coronets than Plymouth sold Satellites, but Plymouth more than made up with it in the Fury vs. Polara/Monaco count.
From other posts, it is clear that I am a big fan of full size upscale vehicles. Beginning with 62 Plymouth and Dodge, I found little interest in Chrysler intermediats. Chrysler and Imperial were still 🔥 for me! 50s Chrysler 300s were ultimate combination of performance, luxury, and comfort!
To me these cars mostly bring back memories of police cars, more so than Coronets which seemed less popular in that role locally. I think these were really the cars which began the shift to intermediates as patrol cars; previously everything had been full size, though of course the downsized Caprice and Panther blurred the lines twenty years later.
A friend’s parents had an ex-police example of one of these in the mid-seventies. At least we assumed that’s what it was, as it was the right color, minus markings, with plugs on the deck lid and roof from other lights and antennas, though it still had spotlights with internal handles. But it was a very low-po 318 and had manual steering with about 6 turns lock-to-lock. Maybe assigned to rookie cops before trusting them with the real thing? But it was fun to cruise around town and see other cars suddenly slow down or even move over.
These scream “taxi” or “cop car”, although for some reason the Dodge Coronet seemed to have a strangle hold on the NYC taxi market instead of the Belvedere.
Speaking of Belvedere, the reason the Satellite wasn’t on the cover of the brochure is that it was just one version/trim/model of the Belvedere family (the B Bodies). Yes, that actual name was only applied to the very lowest trim version, but technically they were all Belvederes, including the GTX, Road Runner, and Satellite.
These Chrysler B-bodies (1965-1970) were always a bit different than the GM and Ford competitors, as they couldn’t belie their roots in the ’62 cars that were technically “full size”. As such, they always looked a bit bigger and heavier, especially the coupes, than the competition. Not a bad thing, but they exuded a slightly different vibe; a more masculine vibe, to put an adjective to it.
I like that these cars, as basically squared-off as they are in every major angle, just own it and run with it in their trim and details. A squiggle here and an angle there on the small stuff, but square. The mid-late ‘60s Rambler American did the same. The late ‘60s-70 Dodge version of these went for some crazy angles on the major styling, and was much less successful, IMHO.
Wild, seeing turn signal/parking lights, that far inboard. While doing absolutely nothing, to improve the looks. lol
Banzai Blue was a very popular electric blue paint colour used on various Chrysler products in the early 1990s.
That brown two door hardtop Sport Satellite, that’s a handsome car! It would perfect with a 318 and auto.
These at least had some coherent style. I particularly like the front end. ’68 Fairlane, post-vertical headlight ’67 had none. Chevelle was sexy by comparison, but I liked the ’66-’67 GM intermediates best.
The 70 Satellite was pretty regressive in its design, the 68-69s while sharing the same body shape had more definition to its front and rear ends, as well as subtle arches stamped over the fenders to hint at more curvatious aspirations, but those were shaved away with the ends becoming blocky, despite the front end hinting at the radical 71 loop bumper shape. The 68-70 B bodies all looked better as coupes too, the 4 doors are as generic upright 3 box sedan as it gets.
When I see these it reminds me of Vanishing Point. For a bit of totally useless trivia Chrysler not only supplied a few brand new 1970 Challengers but also supplied a brand new 1970 Coronet and Belvedere 4 door, both in black. If you pay attention throughout the movie the Plymouth appeared in multiple scenes both as a civilian background car as well as a police car in pursuit, with many action scenes. One scene it was accidentally rolled over when it was supposed to just spin out, making it the only total loss chrysler product in the film, since a Camaro was the Challengers stunt double at the end.
The 4 door 68-70 Belvys and Coronets were certainly sound in every way, except assembly finish maybe, but great practical family cars with plenty of inside room, unlike GM/Ford intermediates, and superb power-trains no matter which one you picked. My sis drove a used ’68 Coronet sedan with the famous leaning tower of power 6 for many years, nothing would kill it, and it looked pretty good too. Wish we could buy a new cars like this now.
I learned to drive in my dad’s 68 Belvedere (no, not the Sarellite trim), The Satellite’s were the upscale trim levels for the Belvedere line ie; Satellite I, II, III. The III being the highest trim level and “Belvedere” being the lowest. My dad’s was his first and only car he bought brand new. I drove it for 2 years and couldn’t kill it, even with my driving. God Bless the 225 /6.
When I was 17 my 1st car was ’67 Plymouth satellite convertible with the 383 3 spd automatic in the floor. Real nice car
My parents considered buying a new “70 Belvedere”, sedan. Was yellow with black interior.
Not sure if it was a “6” or “8” , under the hood.
Neighbors had a “spiffy, new, blue, Satellite coupe. It was “looker” with it’s black top, wheel covers, white stripe tires…..
The “Belvedere” looked like a “phone ((or gas)) company car..lol
Anyway, parents bought a “70 Rebel SST”. Was more “deluxed up”!
The car had some miles on it though. ((around 11k)).
Even had a “hang on the dash, aftermarket”, a/c unit. It was a “V8”.
In 1970, I was assigned a dark blue 1970 Plymouth Belvedere sedan for a summer public health job assignment. I was lucky, the other cars in our group were 1968 Plymouth Belvederes, a 1967 Chevelle and a 1968 Ford Fairlane. The 1970 Belvedere was a near-stripper like the other pool cars, the only options being an AM radio and air conditioning. It had no power steering, no power brakes. The engine was a 318 and it was strong. Handling and power were both markedly superior to the other cars in the pool. Either there was something special about that Belvedere, or it was built on a “good” day of the week. The handling, I could understand, from Chrysler. And maybe the motor pool mechanics had advanced the timing a bit!
A memory…on that assignment, one of the others lost the keys to a 1968 Belvedere on his last day of the week. It was an easy task to reach up under the dash, unplug the wiring harness from the dash-mounted ignition switch, and jump the RUN and START terminals with paper clips, then pull the START one when the engine started. It was easier than the Kia Boys stealing a Kia, and got him back home so the motor pool guys could make a new key and he could drive back to the site on Monday. I looked at the 1970 Belvedere I had; it would have been more difficult, as there was a steel shroud and sound deadening in the way. Theft prevention!
Ahh, the innocent, relatively crime-free days of 1968! Guess Plymouth didn’t see the need to add a lot of anti-theft features in the car back then.
Great article. I loved the B body Chryslers. My first car in 1986 was a 1970 Charger the only options it had were the 318 V8 and Plum Crazy paint. The 318 had great power in that good sized car. Good handling and better looks than the 80’s junk on the road at the time.
yep, those were good looking cars.
That yellow ’69 Dodge Coronet in the ad is a damn good looking car! No wonder it sold well.
Naming was confusing, and some think all 2 door Plymouth B bodies are Road Runners.
imagine if Plymouth used the RR name as Dodge did with Charger. “1975 Road Runner SE” with hood ornament and landau vinyl top!
Here’s a pic of an actual 1975 Plymouth Road Runner. However, they did not come with vinyl roofs or stand up hood ornaments.