Curbside Classic: 1976 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham – The Joys Of Getting Lost

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(first posted 10/8/2014)    This past weekend, as most of you have read, was a rather fun-filled affair; not only did I get to meet a large handful of our readers and writers at our Heartland Meet-Up, I was given a renewed appreciation for CC’s sense of community.  I left Auburn, Indiana feeling quite lucky and decided to take the long way home through Northeast Indiana. I somehow got a bit lost as I made my way through Decatur, and as fate would have it, it was not without reason.  I was apparently too busy stopping every few miles (I kid you not) after getting off I-69 to snap pictures of cars I just don’t see in Bloomington, IN or Columbus, OH to stay on the right path.  You see, the corollary to the area’s sense of lost prosperity is a huge number of antiques, automotive or otherwise, and this C-body is just one of several cars I managed to capture.  As it turns out, however, my encounter with it was less than what was by then becoming routine.

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The owner found me taking pictures and said hello seemingly out of nowhere, startling me in the process. I hurriedly and awkwardly stated the reasons for my interest in the car; I often expect people will be suspicious or even angry when they see me snapping pictures which in turn makes me nervous, and my delivery was far from graceful. But Eddie, the manager of the O’Reilly’s Auto Parts where this car was parked, was far from suspicious and totally got what CC is about.  In fact, he immediately offered to let me–a complete stranger–take Big Brown here for a spin.  Naturally and perhaps foolishly, I suppressed the fear that I might end up in fifty little pieces in a box somewhere, and took him up on the offer.

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It was the right choice; among other final generation C-bodies which get dailied, this has to be one of the better examples from which one could get a first-hand impression.  Mothballed in 1995, it was purchased last year from the woman in whose barn it was sitting.

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I believe Eddie paid $1900 for it, and has since put 4,000 miles on it for a grand total of 128,000.  It had been used extensively to tow, which Eddie says explains the road wheels (which he says wear 10mm wider tires and, in my opinion, are more attractive).

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Initial impressions of the car (and that’s all I got, I had to continue on my way home and had already spent a good thirty minutes shooting other cars) were surprising.  I’ll admit to limited experience with the landyacht–very limited.  Other than my great uncle’s 1984 Town Car, my main exposure has been through rides in taxis and, unfortunately, a cop car or two; outside of that, GM’s H-bodies are the closest I’ve gotten.  I’d argue that the front-drive GM full-sizers offered the smoothest and most isolated experience for the passenger.  From my perspective as a driver, while the Chrysler felt very heavy, it was not as soft as I’d expected.  Control efforts were also quite reasonable; I’ve felt lighter steering in boosted systems from Toyota’s 1980s sedans.

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Body lean was evident, but no more than in, say, a Mercedes W123.  Unlike those cars, all the roll stiffness seems to come from the front end; this car is a resolute understeerer and must have an enormous anti-roll bar, which is expected.  Please understand that in my comparison to a Mercedes, I’m not calling this famously porky Chrysler nimble or balanced, I just expected a lot more isolation, creaking and numbness.  If someone were so motivated, it seems this would be a good platform for modifications; all it really needs is more power and a firmer suspension to truly feel capable and those seem like attainable changes.  This is a big, heavy car, but subjective impressions were of solidity and substance, not paunch and flex.

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It would make sense, then, that Eddie gets offers from demo derby teams to purchase the car, which was still built with the famous K-member in 1976.  Naturally, he tells them to take a hike; he loves his Mopars and that includes this car.  His others are a ’72 Duster with a 360 under the hood which he keeps in the garage and a Dakota.  As this Chrysler hasn’t escaped the tin worm, though, there’s no reason not to just drive it daily.  I’d want Sure-Grip in the winter, and as this car was mostly loaded and once used to tow, I’m inclined to think the limited slip is included.

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The air conditioning works, as do all assists bar the antenna and headlight covers, and all four window motors were replaced within the past year.  They work with the quick, quiet action I expect in a land yacht and which I have always been denied in my older Hondas, which often have terribly slow windows.  After adjusting the six-way seat and tilting, telescoping steering wheel, I was actually quite comfortable.  Unlike in my beloved H-body Buicks, this Chrysler’s seat was firm enough to support my 170 pounds–perhaps the leather was just extra stiff after nearly forty years.

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As for material quality, I’ll refrain from commenting decisively.  Suffice it to say, it was on par with the first-generation minivans which, given what followed, seems good enough in retrospect.  The seatbelts retracted a lot more smoothly than the ones in my Civic, which must be fed into their reels in front–they haven’t aged well and Honda refuses to help, despite a transferable lifetime warranty on those parts.

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Riding in a true hardtop is a magnificent experience; while my favorite Chrysler C-bodies based on exterior styling have to be the six-window “town sedans” of 1965 and 1966, the ability to turn your head to an unobstructed side view is truly special.  Hardtop design is a nuance lost on the majority of the public; industrial design would be taught to school children alongside art in an ideal world.

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The interiors of these final C-bodies is more tinsel-y than what preceded them, but the overall look is rather truckish.  I’m afraid I prefer the Fuselages here and speaking of those cars, we passed by a ’69 Newport on our drive.  It was sitting behind a junkyard fence and while I’m sure it’d have been safe to grab pictures, I wasn’t going to take any risks.  Eddie says he’ll send me some; we shall see.  In any case, the famous full instrumentation worked, including this chronometer.  Yes, Chrysler was very proud of this feature, because God knows you want to be aware of every second during a long drive or when running late.  Sheesh–how terrible for a neurotic, impatient person like myself, especially in a car which you can’t aggressively weave in and out of slow-witted traffic.

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Yes, I can be a very, very cocky driver and to me, the lighter the car, the better as far as that’s concerned.  This car would feel a lot lighter with some modifications made to the engine; it accelerated without hesitation, but high compression pistons and a de-smogging would really wake up each of its 440 cubic inches–a step in the right direction for battling dense traffic.  And really, wouldn’t a big Brougham which could stand up to a brash driver be badass?  As it is, with 5,000 pounds to haul around and tall gearing, 205 horses @3600rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm just aren’t enough; at least the air cleaner hints at the engine’s potential with its orange paint and “440 four barrel” sticker.

At the National Car and Truck Museum in Auburn, a number of us were gawking at the arched exhaust manifolds in the 413 we saw stuffed into a ’62 Polara.  This engine’s headers have a similar design, but the bay at least provides enough berth for them not to directly cook the (brand new) master cylinder, unlike the Dodge.  I can attest to the firmness of the pedal as well, something else I expected to be softer.

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Besides the car itself, it was fun to behold its variety of period trinkets.  It’s seemingly been driven everywhere, and has spent extended periods in Texas, Mexico and Chicago.  My favorite piece is the Aladdin Shriner logo on the decklid (in the fifth picture down from the top of the page), but these others are also in keeping with the car’s character.  It’s far from a rolling casket, despite the stench of death surrounding the automaker who slapped it together.  It makes sense that someone who loved life and who loved to drive would’ve purchased and cherished this New Yorker.

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I understand most of you will continue to say that the big Fords and GM B/C bodies of the period were better, but this Chrysler nevertheless acquits itself very well.  I’ve been in a number of sedans with overlight control inputs and wallowy ride motions, bad traits which failed to manifest themselves here.  And given the horror stories I’ve heard apropos Highland Park’s abysmal quality in the day these were built, I saw no glaring faults, nor did I hear any squeaks or rattles.  This, in a rather old car with high mileage by ’70s domestic standards.  I’ll concede to some disappointment at the lack of isolation, but that’s a worthy tradeoff in light of other merits.  I will always choose to drive a manic flyweight, but you might say I’m under the spell of Broughmance at the moment; I can’t help but be a bit promiscuous when it comes to cars.

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Of all the CCs I’ve shot, this one may stick with me the most.  I was most fortunate to have come across such an enthusiastic, friendly and generous owner.  I’d have hung around longer if I had the time and energy, especially since I’m unlikely to come across someone so willing to share for quite a while.  This write-up is therefore dedicated to Eddie, whom I hope is reading this and will contribute some pictures and commentary if he’s able.  He truly is one of us.

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Related reading:

Car Show Classic: 1974 Chrysler Newport – Sorry, Please Play Again