Bigger was still better for most buyers in the Medium Standard segment circa 1969. In keeping with the ethos of the marketplace, Chrysler revealed a thoroughly redesigned line of larger-than-ever full-sized cars, including the perennially popular Newport Series. Without question, the new ’69 Newport was bigger than before—but was it better?
The ’69 model year marked the last time that the Big Three would simultaneously serve-up major restyling on virtually all of their full-sized cars in the same model year (the only exception for ’69 was the Lincoln Continental, which received a minor facelift). Jumbo was conquering Detroit at the time, so each of the revamps added pounds and inches compared with their 1968 predecessors.
But from a styling standpoint, Chrysler most aggressively pushed the boundaries of bloat. Chief Designer Elwood Engel promoted the new look as “Fuselage Design,” likening it to the rounded cross section of an airplane.
However, with its curving sides and enormous flat hood and rear deck, the Fuselage Chrysler arguably looked more like an aircraft carrier than a jet plane.
Compared with the crisply chiseled, concave-flanked 1968 Chrysler, the 1969 Fuselage Chrysler looked puffy and soft, like it was on the receiving end of a few too many Botox treatments.
|Key Dimensions (inches)||Wheelbase||Length||Width|
|Oldsmobile Delta 88||124.0||218.6||80.0|
Ironically, the 1969 Chrysler was dimensionally close to its Medium Standard competitors. They were all huge cars.
But styling made a world of difference. Chrysler flaunted its flab, while competitors like the Oldsmobile Delta 88 used a variety of styling flourishes to visually mask the bulk. Also, both Ford and GM full-sized cars were moving toward the “longer hood/shorter rear deck” styling that had been popularized by the Pony Cars. Chrysler, on the other hand, retained the old-fashioned “long hood/long deck” looks from the mid-1960s.
Styling, of course, is subjective. To get a better feel for the Newport’s other attributes, let’s take a look at what Road Test Magazine had to say in this May 1969 review.
Even Road Test had to weigh-in on the Fuselage design, though they tried to be complimentary. However, saying that the Fuselage Chryslers “had a lean look to them” is akin to calling Dom Deluise svelte. Road Test also acknowledged one of the huge downsides to the Fuselage styling: enormous door cross-sections with ample wasted space.
Road Test praised the Newport for coping with the unusually wet weather experienced in Southern California during the test period—it kept running during heavy rainfall (amazing!), though the power windows, radio and climate control stopped working until “the next morning when things dried out a bit.” Imagine how well that would go over in wet, humid markets like Houston, New Orleans and Miami….
Even though the mammoth new Fuselage body was married to the carry-over C-Body chassis, Chrysler had dialed back the handling precision that had formerly been a hallmark of Mopar products. The ’69 Newport now listed and wallowed just like its Motown Medium Standard competition.
There were no complaints about the robust 383 2V V8, a Chrysler staple that routinely delivered the sort of performance big car buyers expected at the time (though the test car’s engine slurped down ample oil). But workmanship and build quality were another story altogether. The Newport Custom 2-door Hardtop tested was atrocious: sloppy trim, unfinished seams, messy finishes. Road Test opined that surely Chrysler’s quality would improve on later cars (the test car was apparently an early build unit), but sadly that would not prove to be the case, as all Mopar products gained notoriety during this period for poor workmanship.
Whether it was the styling or the growing reputation for poor quality, Mopar’s Medium Standard offerings did not fare as well in the marketplace for 1969 as Chrysler would have hoped.
|1969 Sales||% Change vs. ’68|
|Oldsmobile Delta 88 (Delta & Delmont for ’68)||252,087||49%|
Sales for the restyled Newport (and related Dodge Polar/Monaco) actually decreased compared with 1968, while most of the other revamped Medium Standard rivals saw a huge sales surge. Pontiac was the only exception: perhaps the Poncho’s drop was due to its styling, with the ultra-prominent proboscis being an acquired taste, or perhaps the striking new Personal Luxury Grand Prix siphoned away sales from the more conventional Executive and Bonneville models. Still, Chrysler had to have been disappointed by the sales results for the new styling direction.
No matter how you slice it, the Fuselage Chryslers did the corporation no favors. And the sales gap with rivals would widen in coming years as Mopar’s full-sized fortunes continued to decline. The Fuselage Chrysler turned out to be more like the Spruce Goose (the infamous gargantuan plane/boat that did a big belly flop) rather than a soaring success.