The domestic compacts really changed the automotive landscape in the years 1959-1961. Before that time, most folks who just wanted basic transportation bought a big low end car with a six. Now they could buy a smaller car, and possibly even a higher trim version. The 1960.5 Corvair Monza unleashed a storm of interest in well-trimmed compact cars.
Obviously all this affected the appeal and sales of full-sized low-end sixes (actually all full size cars). The stripper sixes would steadily peter out throughout the decade, but in 1961 if a traditionalist still wanted a big basic car, cars like the Plymouth Savoy—and equivalent Fords and Chevys—offered a lot of car for the money. Powered by the 225 slant six, it performed adequately for the times too.
The tested Savoy had the 225 inch slant six teamed with the Torqueflite automatic “which we discovered to be admirably suited to the Six’s modest horsepower and torque characteristics.” Total price: $2694.40. To adjust that to 2022 dollar value, multiply that by 10. Yes, the dollar depreciated by exactly one decimal point since 1961.
CL points out that given the reality of body-sharing, this is essentially a cut rate Chrysler. Room for six, as long as one has short feet, as the large transmission tunnel in front impeded significantly. The interior “is done in serviceable fabric”. But the drivers seat was considered too low, impeding front visibility over the long hood.
The Buck-Rodger’s style instrument panel sitting on top of the dash didn’t exactly help with visibility. The unassisted steering’s “ridiculous 5.5 turns lock-to-lock” wasn’t exactly helpful in the basic handling department. “However, despite soft shock dampers and springs, the Plymouth somehow manages to handle fairly well at highway speeds.”
“Open road performance of the Savoy Six is adequate, but not exciting.” That’s a shocker. 0-60 took 15.3 seconds; the 1.4 mile took 20.0 sec. @66.6 mph. In other words, almost identical to the ’66 Chevy Bel Air six we posted here not long ago. And fairly similar to several other domestic sixes, large and compact. 15 seconds to 60 seemed to be what was acceptable then, and 10 seconds was brisk. Average fuel consumption was 16.83 mpg; presumably it could be a bit higher with gentler driving.
CL makes some fairly gentle comments on styling, “on the whole, it isn’t displeasing“. But “the grille resembles a fugitive cabbage grater.” Well said.
The trunk was very roomy, to go along with the interior space. “If you’re a big family man, say with five youngsters to haul around, then you’ll appreciate this space.” In summation: “The Plymouth Savoy Six then is an adequate car—in handling, performance and appearance—but outstanding in cheap, comfortable transportation.” One could do worse than that, in 1961. Or better.
Related CC reading:
Curbside Classic: 1961 Plymouth Fury – What Planet Are YOU From?
Sounds like a good value for 1961. The slant six was a great engine and the Torqueflite a great transmission. The 1961 definned Plymouth also looked decent compared to the “Suddenly Its 1960” generation of cars. 15 seconds for 0 to 60 would have been considered fast in the mid 1970s cars. The same engine and transmission was being sold twenty years later. So not a bad deal for 61! :)!
15 secs was not ever considered fast in the last 50 years.
Good value for the money, yes. But who, even in 1961, wanted to drive a stripper model as his main source of transportation? And that’s exactly why these did not sell well.
These full-size Plymouths with a 6 were good for one thing only: Taxi service. Nobody wanted to haul around a carful of people with an engine straining to make it up the hill.
My own dad avoided six cyl. models for that very reason. You want to be able to get out of your own way on the road!
Me, as much as possible. The only thing I would want in this would be a radio. (And lose the slushbox, I’ll take a 3-speed.)
Though…I would prefer to wait for 62, and get the first of the famous B-bodies.
These early sixties Plymouths have a loopy charm that is growing on me. They definitely make me smile. Looks like it would have been a great buy back in ’61, though the ‘splotches of glue, gunk and grease’ comment would have given one pause to think..
Were cabbage graters common household items in the early sixties? We had cheese graters but IIRC when my mom made coleslaw she just chopped the cabbage with a knife. It strikes me as an odd analogy, but despite being a familiar sight once upon a time, the Plymouth’s styling looks equally odd now. Which I wouldn’t say about a ‘61 Ford or Chevy.
My mom had one and made coleslaw often, I used to call it “cold slaw”. This was when “ready to eat” foods were not quite around yet. Now, just get containers to go.
At least the Cheapskate ’50s Dad Big 3 models had dropped the black rubber around the front and/or rear window that made the cheapness so obvious on them in the 1950’s. Springing for full wheel covers and whitewalls on one of these would disguise the buyer’s frugality from most of the neighbors. It’s hard to imagine that anyone actually bought a car without the optional heater and ONE outside mirror, but apparently you could. At least unlike for example a stripper ’58 Chevy it has front seat arm rests and probably a passenger side sun visor and an oil filter.
Actually the real cheapskates back then would have skipped the TorqueFlite for the standard no synchro on low gear three on the tree.
The writer mentioned the optional squared off steering wheel (a weird extra cost option on a stripper car typically only seen on the lux models) but the photos show a round one. The interior and doors-open shots are of a different car which does have whitewalls and wheel covers. It’s interesting that squared off steering wheels were widely derided and considered way too weird both with Chrysler models here and BMC (or whatever it was called at the time) cars in the UK, and now we get flattened steering wheels on many cars and even the stupid yoke on Teslas.
Many people elsewhere complain about unaffordable new cars. Imagine what they would say about a $27,000 car that comes without about a hundred things every car comes with today.
It was fairly common for CL (and other magazines) to use pictures of cars other than the actual one tested.
I suspect many cars in Florida, Houston, LA, or New Orleans were ordered with no heaters. I actually saw a heater-delete 71 Demon a while back. (It was bought new in Puerto Rico.)
It’s difficult to overestimate the brilliance and value of the Torqueflite in this era, especially while the two main competitors were dinking around with 2-speeds. And even more so with the low-powered (relatively) six.
Especially when fully laden. I’m guessing that this car would be getting close to 30mph while the driver of a similar car with a manual transmission was still riding the clutch trying to get going.
0-60 in 20 seconds.
Then look at it.
Are you freaking nuts?
0-60 in 15.3 seconds. It’s in the stats table and a wrote it out in the text. That was just fine at the time.
OH – Nevermind.
I do need to tell you that I am really enjoying these contemporary car reviews. Thank you Paul for doing this.
This is a neat little series you’ve got going here Paul, with these CL road tests! I just bought some more vintage Consumer Reports magazines with road test articles I’ve never seen before including the 1954 Auto Issue, plus tests of 1958 and 1960 low-priced sixes.
B&W photo #2 makes this car look real sleek! The front end–I like that bold, aggressive look. It’s ready to eat up Chevys and Fords! When you’re standing next to it, it doesn’t look the same way it does in the photos.
My ’60 Dodge Dart is, status-wise, the polar opposite of this car, but mechanically and chassis-wise identical. This is the bottom-rung Savoy, and mine is the top Dart (Phoenix). Among full-size sixes driving-wise, Plymouth/Dart is the best choice. This 225/TF is smooth and surprising powerful (as when accelerating on highway on-ramps.) Power steering is a must–makes all the difference in the world! Torsion-Aire ride feels more “alert”, yet is well-cushioned. They say the front seat is low? They ought to try a 59-60 Chevy! I like the seat height, and it’s well-cushioned. My spare tire is at the far back of the trunk, not on the side. The Dodge speedometer is EXTREMELY visible, with a florescent-white-like “see through” feature in any lighting condition, with a giant red needle that rises as you accelerate.
If you look at period photos of streets, parking lots, and traffic, you notice that there were a lot more of these low-end full sizers driving around than you think!
We bought one of these, well used, in 1970. Newly married and dirt poor it served us well for three years. While I had dreams of a Road Runner or Charger the reality was it was what I needed, cheap ($300) to buy and run. It was the cheapest car in Richmond’s cheap car mile, US route 1 south. It was a back of the lot bargain due to its styling. The headlight buckets rusted out and it wouldn’t pass state inspection. All the junkyard buckets were in the same condition so we had to revisit “cheap car mile”. The Plymouth was one of our most successful cheapo purchases.
I like these big ugly tanks from Chry corp mostly they had V8 power when landed here the six would have been overwhelmed by the terrain and embarrassing to own and drive, these were not among the low priced cars on our market at all and VW like performance for the kind of money these cars cost wasnt any kind of reality.
It screams “The Jetsons” to me. That began airing in ’62 so yeah it works. (and I mean it as a good thing).
In a bright color on a bright day, why not? Seems like a decent value with decent specs. Not everyone was able (or wanted for that matter) to buy a New Yorker or Buick or whatever.
Memo to Lexus: Plymouth wants their front grille back.
I thought the exact same thing. Maybe Chrysler can take them to court for royalty fees.
My father had one of these as a company car in 1961.
It was even cheaper, being a 2-door sedan with the manual transmission although I think it was a Belvedere, one model higher in the food chain.
I was disappointed that it had blanks instead of the push-button transmission.
It was a mint green color and extremely ugly but, at the time, we thought it was futuristic and cool-looking. It was a very comfortable car and I was proud to be seen in it.
In 1962, he went with Ford. They called all their full size models Galaxie that year no matter how cheap they were.
I remember seeing one of these at a classic car auction. It was a real low-end strippo, in gorgeous original condition, and was painted a vivid salmon color. I was really taken with it, but the guy I was with shot me down by saying “Kinda campy, don’t ya think?” He was right, but I have no problem with camp in the right car. And this is the right car.
I agree with the magazine guys and have always found these really attractive from the back, mostly attractive from the sides, and tragic from the front. I have always wondered how it might have looked if that front eyebrow line had gone straight across the front of the car, or maybe done a very slight V in the center.
The campiness is definitely the appeal here. And in that department, the front end works just fine for me.
The front end works fine for Lexus nowadays too!
I started my COAL with the wagon version of this, and I stand by what I said at that time…this thing is firmly imprinted on my mind as being what defined “car” to me in many ways. Of course, not having ever driven that particular 1961 Plymouth, it was really all about aesthetics to me. That “campy” (hummmmmm) face, the Jetsons dashboard and instrumentation in particular…but yes, also the weird synthetic upholstery.
I think that these look best with the contrasting color roof like how Stephen has painted his 1960 Dodge. Our wagon had a white roof.
Like the “one could do worse” summation!! Just stirs the soul!! lol
Base, I6, full size cars still had a following in the 60’s with elder adults, with vivid memories of the Great Depression, and WWII. Still wanted ‘standard size’ for comfort, but bare bones.
Inflation in early 70’s then steered them to smaller cars, base Novas, Mavericks, and Valiants. Rarely in Pintos or Vegas, but maybe Gremlins.
The idea why power windows were shunned, up to the 80’s, was they broke more often. So, cranks in 60s/70s PLC’s and Broughams. Nowadays, rarely hear anyone complaining about them.
There were TWO of those in my family: slant six Mopar C-bodies. Both were Furys…I think a 71 and a 72. The 72 was a Fury II 2-door HT, with…probably typical options for the era: power steering, power drums, AM, automatic, vinyl bench with carpet. I recall navy over black.
The 71 was the polar opposite: it was a loaded 4-door Fury III, with power windows, power locks, power plush seats, disc brakes, tilt, cruise, A/C, Sure-Grip, AM/FM-8 track…and a slant six. I recall dark bronze over sort of a khaki interior. Acceleration was…leisurely, though it would happily run 70-75MPH even with 4 people inside and the A/C on. (And it was noticeably quicker than Mom’s VW.)
The blue car died of rust well past 200,000 miles. The bronze car got hit about 115K.
I don’t think the word ‘dumpy’ was in my vocabulary yet, but as a little kid in the mid ’70s, I probably would have identified this Plymouth as having serious ‘loser’ styling.
The TorqueFlight transmission and the rear-end gearing (3.31:1) proved well chosen for the task:…With this gearing, the maximum torque is at 65 mph, just right for highway cruising.
And there’s your dinner. For places w/o many hills, this powertrain combo fit the bill. A modern prairie schooner. Competent, spacious, and economical. A perfect fit for Midwestern sensibilities. I remember seeing ten-year-old (very) used versions as a kid. Sure, 235/PG Biscaynes outnumbered them by an order of magnitude but these strippo Plymouths kept running until they rusted to nothing.
In the mid- sixties my dad drove a ’61 Chevrolet Belair two-door sedan and our neighbor drove a sinister black ’61 Fury two-door hardtop. They were parked next to each other in the area assigned for the apartment building we lived in. I alway’s joked with my friend’s that the poor Chevy feared for its life next to Plymouth. One day, the neighbor was late getting to work, he backed the big 383 powered Plymouth out of its parking space and left 15 feet of rubber when he left. I have been a fan from that day on. The fact that my dad traded the Chevy for a new ’68 Fury sedan helped too. Been a Mopar fan since I was a kid and nothing will change that. I would be proud to park any ’61 Mopar in my garage. I love everything about them. I liked GM styling in ’61, but Ford’s in my opinion, were boring, however, Chrysler’s were so cool in my opinion.
We had a 59 Plymouth four-door it was a beautiful car My mom’s anyway it turned out to be a lemon you’d get it up to about 50 miles an hour and it would just about rattle you right out of the car they took it back eventually
I found an excellent photo of that incredible dashboard. This is a top-of-the-line Fury model. I wonder if it really is hard to see over those gauge “eyeballs”! Hard to believe this is actually real:
It does look like the speedo and the “eyeballs” on either side are too high up, a complaint made about the new 2023 Prius’ instrument cluster.
But in actuality, I don’t recall them actually blocking the driver’s vision (see below).
Hard to believe that no one has mentioned that a 61 Plymouth sedan like this was a major player in the
cult-favorite movie HOT RODS TO HELL. Chase-scenes involving the Plymouth are available on YouTube.
When studying the car during the flat-tire repair (at a gas station), it appears to be a Belvedere with cheaper
incorrect hubcaps, in keeping with its nerdy theme.
A 1950s-style juvenile-delinquent movie incongruously made in the mid-60s. With some other great cars
and over-the-top acting and dialogue, lol.
I love this series of Car Life articles from the early 60s. Back in the day, our next-door neighbor was a Plymouth man. (His wife never learned to drive, and she rode in the back seat like Miss Daisy in the 1989 film.)
He had a series of Plymouth 4-door sedans starting with a 1954 based on old family photos with his driveway in the background. That was followed in succession by a light green ’56, a battleship gray ’58 Belvedere, and then a beige ’61 Belvedere. This last probably had a V8 and definitely an automatic transmission, likely Torqueflite.
My mother on the other hand bought full size strippers, one step above base models but very sparsely optioned. This began when she had to buy her first new car in 1955 after she was widowed. Her next car in 1961 was a Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door sedan with the Stovebolt 6 and 3-on-the-tree. I remember our neighbor looking over the car when she brought it home for the first time and exclaiming, “You still have one of those?” as he gestured toward the shift lever and clutch pedal.
These are kind of repulsive in my eyes, but somehow that makes them pretty cool. Owning one today would make quite a statement, which was why I bought my boat tail Riviera in the late 90’s.
I had the pleasure to drive this car’s sibling, my Dad’s ’61 two door, Dodge Seneca stripper with the slant six, but three on the tree. This was in the mid ’70’s. The first car I ever saw with a radio block off plate. I found it to be adequately powered when driving on the freeway at 65-70 mph, The brakes were fine and it “handled” as well as anything that I’d driven in my short experience. I’m impressed that the featured test car returned almost 17 mpg. on average. Imagine what a set of radials might do to improve the overall performance. I could only get 15 mpg. out of my ’70 Mustang 250 six, by keeping it at 55 mph.
I thought that my Dad’s Seneca was the ugliest thing that I’d ever seen, but I would love to have it now.
I miss strippers, I bought a new ’90 Honda Civic SI coupe that was well equipped in some ways but still a stripper. Manual transmission, windows, locks, seats. Likewise my ’07 F150, it came with lot’s of good stuff in the chassis, and a/c, but manual windows, locks, seats, no cruise control, and rubber floors.
I recall someone describing the front as (paraphrasing here) ‘a face that inspired many a monster in Japanese movies’…it stuck with me all these years that I think about it every time I see one of these. The ‘wrinkled lip’ on the front bumper enhances this look.
I remember that quote, I think I read it in a history of Chrysler book by Richard Langworth. Interesting given the similar later Lexus design.
Having never seen a Japanese science fiction monster, I have to take his word for it.
Since the subject of this post is a bargain basement full-size car with a Six, I just have to bring up my ’64 Bel Air again, which features a 230 Six and Powerglide and no power extras whatsoever.
I’ve gotten used to the manual steering (almost six turns lock-to-lock) and non-power brakes (I hesitate to call them manual brakes) that need a firm push on the pedal.
The Powerglide upshifts very early and smoothly so the car will spend most of the time in second gear. Kickdown is pretty much useless in combination with the 230, only plenty of revs and no power surge.
Still, I’m perfectly happy with the Six, wouldn’t have my Bel Air any other way.
Needless to say, I love the looks of the ’64 Chevy, particularly the four-door sedan; I’ve always preferred four-doors over two-doors. I even had the wheels painted in the lower body color and bought OEM poverty hubcaps
The picture attached shows the Chevy parked in front of my yard, a typical German street scene.
Today’s classic car lovers can knock stripper four-door sedans with Sixes all they want, I’ll stick with my Bel Air.
My 1st car was a 61 Plymouth Belvedere with the 318 and pushbutton automatic. Tough car. It would peg the 120 mph speedo. It had a very good ride and was good in snow or muddy roads.
This Plymouth is neat ~ I too am put off by the grille but I’m also of the age where many (? most ?) families bought strippers like it, bare bones, nothing extra and always the i6 engine .
The reason you don’t see them anymore is : they were serious work horses and did yeoman duty until the rusted away or were worn out and scrapped by the mid 1980’s .
I like the ’64 Bel Air, I too had one, bought it in the late 1970’s for $130 ~ the exact price of a train ticket home for the guy I bought it from .
Mine had the Saginaw three speed, someone had put a T10 floor shifter in it so the quadrant was reversed .
I yanked out the good 230CID engine and scrapped the rest, not a scratch / ding on it, .