Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 Chrysler Newport – Big, Strong, Fast And With Auto-Pilot

The Newport was the entry-level Chrysler, and it was a lot of car for the money: 122″ wheelbase, 215″ long, 4225 lbs weight, a husky big V8, and in the case of this tested one, a number of options including Chrysler’s Auto-Pilot. It had all the usual Chrysler strengths as well as some of the usual weaknesses.

Auto-Pilot was Chrysler’s name for its cruise control. Curiously, although they drove this car over a thousand miles “we found no occasion that demanded the use of the Automatic Pilot”. Well, no occasion demands cruise control; it’s a convenience feature, one that I’m utterly addicted to. But it was a fairly new thing at the time.

This Newport was very heavily optioned, something that CL questioned. They’d have preferred a basic 300-G instead, for obvious reasons.

Compared to the 318 Dart they had recently tested, the Newport with its 361 V8 had a very slight acceleration advantage to 40 mph, but the Dodge was quicker beyond that, for what it’s worth. These aren’t exactly hot rods either way, although a 0-60 time of 10.9 seconds was respectable enough. Of course there was a price to be paid at the pump for the bigger, heavier Chrysler.

The Chrysler had plenty of weight to give a “road flattening” soft ride, but its shocks were essentially shot, which substantially diminished the ride quality over anything but a smooth road. Presumably this was the result of hard driving by previous reviewers, but it still seemed questionable that the shocks could be so worn out so quickly.

Predictably, the Torqueflite automatic came in for lots of praise, and the overly numb power steering got the opposite. CL opines that power steering effort could be doubled “without causing even the slightest-built damsel to grunt in protest'” With its 2.93 rear axle, the Newport’s cruising ability “is naturally very high.

As to fit-and-finish, the usual Chrysler inconsistency was evident. The paint job was pretty good; the panel fit not.

Chrysler’s “chair high” seats were praised for their comfort, perhaps in part because they had the optional”airfoam cushions” in them. Presumably that was the latex foam rubber that was being increasingly used in car seats, especially the higher end ones, instead of that upholstery padding (cotton batts?) that was used otherwise.

The “AstraDome” instrument panel was a bit much, although it did offer a full complement of instruments. “Our first reaction was to look for the knob you pull to shoot the marbles, but since no “tilt” sign was in evidence, it apparently wasn’t something stolen from the penny arcade”.

CL states that “The Newport would be particularly well suited to the Southwest’s ‘wide-open-spaces’ with its roads to match.”  True that; reminds me of a couple of memorable drives in two fuselage Plymouths out west. Just set the Auto-Pilot to 90 and watch the scenery roll by.

“We feel this is a car for for the man who likes the big car with the big, slow-turning (and therefor quiet) engine that just loafs along at 70 mph uphill and down, all day long.” Now who does that remind me of?