Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1962 Plymouth Savoy V8 – “Plymouth Made The Right Changes, The Right Compromises, For 1962′

This is a vintage review I’ve been hoping to find for some time, as I’m a bit obsessed with this and its Dodge counterpart. The more time has gone by and the better I understand the car market of the times, the more obvious Chrysler’s decision was to abandon the very large and heavy S-Series cars that were originally planned in favor of these smaller, lighter, more efficient and cheaper to build cars. Compared to their predecessors and competitors, they were roomier, handled better, were quicker and more fuel efficient. What else could a discriminating buyer in 1962 ask for. Oh, right…popular styling! The issue that trumps all.

The truly discriminating buyer would also have appreciated that, given that the long-hood, short deck proportions were well ahead of the times, foreshadowing the Mustang and just about everything else further down the road. But obviously there weren’t very many of those buyers in 1962. The Plymouth and Dodge were on the ragged edge of the comfort zone of Americans. It was their loss, as Car Life points out, since these cars had exceptional dynamic qualities, among others.

This test was made at Chrysler’s proving grounds, a month before these cars were officially introduced, and the subject Plymouth was a low-trim Savoy with the 230 hp 318 “poly” V8, three-speed manual, and no power assists.

CL made only a passing remark about the styling “when we first saw it we thought it was a close-coupled coupe”. But then CL was not one to dwell much on the ever-changing styling fads, but focused on the practical and objective aspects, good or bad: “the interiors are even roomier than before, especially in the important matter of leg and head room for 6-footers.”


“Driving a stick-shift car again was really fun, mostly because it turned out to be a bomb—the most performance for the least money we know of”. Rather surprisingly, the new concentric column shifter worked “beautifully”. Hard to believe, given how balky subsequent A-Body column shifters were. I assume it was carefully adjusted, given this car’s pre or early production status.

The 318 was a “torquer”, and combined with the relatively light weight (3335 lbs curb weight), resulted in some pretty brisk acceleration times. 0-60 came in 10.5 seconds, comparable or better than big-engine premium/luxury cars of the times. The 1/4 mile was absolved in 17.2 sec. @77 mph. And 0-100 took a less than 30 seconds. If that wasn’t quick enough, a lower (higher numerical) axle ratio was available, and for those really wanting to move out, there was the 305 hp 361 V8. And of course, later in the year the sky would be the limit, with the 383 and the myth-making “Max Wedge” 413 becoming available.

The low-rev, high torque 318 made driving with the manual relatively effortless, as one could start in 2nd and shift to 3rd at 10 or 15 mph and just chug along in that. Once again, it confirms what I have increasingly come to see: the weaker sixes were better served with either an automatic or a proper 4-speed floor shift, whereas the torquey V8s did just fine with a 3-speed manual. The automatic was of course a nice convenience, but the 4-speed manuals were mostly wasted on them, unless it was a close-ratio box behind a high-winding Chevy V8 or such.

“The ride is very satisfactory: not as soft as some of the bigger cars, but one that seems to hold the car firmly to the road when traveling fast over difficult terrain”. A rare trait for big American cars back then.

There was understeer, naturally, and on winding roads with the slow unassisted steering “driving can get to be a chore.” Yes, the slow manual steering on American cars was a significant deficit. I remember furiously sawing the wheel on my father’s Dart on the winding back roads in northern Baltimore County. But on the highway or freeway, the actual road feel was a boon.

The brakes did well in the two successive stops from 100 mph.

Fuel economy, although not tested, “should turn out to be exceptional”. The guess was that a very careful driver should be able to hit 20 mpg, with 16-18 being more typical; excellent considering the performance. I’m not sure it really got that good in reality though; getting 20 mpg in a V8 was a largely a myth.

Top speed was estimated to be 110 mph (I did get our ’65 Coronet with this same 318 to top 100 once or twice). The reduction in glass area was praised, given the hot and sunny day on which the car was tested.

“One tremendous improvement noted inside the car was the new, functional-looking instrument panel”. Yes indeed; it’s my very most favorite IP of its kind. If you’re not so wild about the exterior, this alone makes it worth it though. And you don;t have to look at the exterior once you’re inside, but you do have to look at the dash. Priorities.

“Particularly commendable is the very worthwhile weight reduction, of more than 250 lb., achieved with absolutely no sacrifice in ride or roadability, but with improved performance and economy.”

“We think Plymouth has made the right changes, the right compromises, for 1962”  Me too.

Automotive & Design History: 1962 Plymouth & Dodge – The Real Reason They Were Downsized