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
Ive been in one of these it was further lightened from a lot of rust but it was what seemed a quick car but a handful on corners, from memory it was a 318 auto, I liked it but the owner did too so it wasnt being sold merely being shown off.
I owned a 1955 Plymouth Savoy, black/red, 2 door post, flat-head 6, circa 1975. It was a more ‘conventional’ design.
I’ve heard these cars were pretty space-efficient for the era, and didn’t give up much space in relation to an Impala, Galaxie, etc. But I didn’t realize they were actually roomier in some respects than the cars they replaced.
They must have measured trunk volume differently in those days though…there’s no way I could see that car having 27.2 cubic feet of luggage space! No full-sized sedan of the dreadnaught 70’s era even had that much. Neither did the more space-efficient downsized big cars that followed right after.
Plymouth’s styling was somewhat less weird that year than Dodge. If only they had been willing to carry the crease over the fenders straight along the entire length of the car.
I thought the same thing about that side crease, and then remembered that the 63 Chrysler did exactly that, although with less pronounced side sculpting.
Curious that Car Life didn’t say anything about the styling. Guess if you don’t have anything nice to say…
For me it’s that kickup on the rear door, if it was kept flat it would have looked much less weird.
I’m generally not a fan of beltline upkicks, but if this one is deleted it makes much bigger problems—go here and scroll up a few.
Nah I definitely like the photoshopped one better, I see what you’re saying with the relationship with the back glass, and definitely agree that’s why the kickup exists in the first place, but think it’s a pick your poison compromise either way, but it’s two wrongs rather than one wrong as is. Without the kickup the overall design just looks more cohesive, I think the Plymouth especially would benefit since it’s front and rear side sculpting/creases are more, dare I say, clean than the Dodge.
Actually what might bother me as much as the kickup is the bright trim along the beltline strongly suggesting “this is where the window should start!”. The kickup might not be so jarring to me without that.
I’d wonder if adjusting the shape of the backglass’ lower corners might adequately tether it to the lower-without-the-upkick beltline, but that’s clearly not possible with the shape of the greenhouse. Perhaps just a piece of bright trim connecting the aft end of the beltline to the lower line of the backglass would adequately tether the two elements.
Wasn’t that feature known as the “chicken wing” ?
In 1962 I thought this was the ugliest car in the world………..until I saw the Dodge!
I will confess that these have grown on me a lot over the last few years. The Dodge is still a bridge too far (unless we are going for the camp factor) but I am coming to appreciate the cleanliness of the design. I think my main problem with it now is that the front overhang is a mite long, but again a shorter snout might cost more in looks than you would gain by it.
But there is a herd mentality out there when it comes to style and design – just look at all of the home remodels that follow the HGTV trends. Everyone in 1962 knew what a car should look like, and this was not it. I would absolutely drive one of these now, where I would once have avoided them.
On the column shifter – Long ago I took a brief drive in a 63 Dodge (6/3 speed) and I recall that the shift action was quite nice. It was smooth and loose, and did not have the crunchy/clanky feel of the 74 Charger and 71 Duster 3 speeds I had a fair amount of wheel time in a decade earlier.
I completely agree.
Once again, Paul and I agree on a car.
Quite familiar with these cars. My older brother has restored more than a few. He loves their size, quality, speed and handling. His Savoy was a beautiful monster. He painted it gloss black to hide the ugly better, but had a white interior to show to highlight it.
Roomy, fast, an excellent car. Too bad it was so ugly. Exner struck again and ruined it.
Outstanding gauges in the IP. Yep, mid-century modern asymetrical design at its best.
As with the ’60-’62 Valiant, it’s a shame that a well-engineered Plymouth was disdained by buyers due to too-weird exterior styling.
That instrument panel, although nicely laid out, is the improved (imaginary) version shown in Daniel Stern’s “CC Design: Chrysler Studies Ergonomics in 1962, and Now Just Look!”. The mods from the real ’62 panel (quoting Daniel) are: Oil pressure gauge replacing clock, ammeter converted to voltmeter, and engine temperature gauge now has numbers, not just “C” and “H”.
Thankya; you’ve saved me the trouble of pointing back at those comments in that post.
My viewpoint, from the back seat, leaning on the top of the front seat, quietly talking with my Father during our many road trips, as the rest of our family slept.
My viewpoint, from the back seat, leaning on the top of the front seat, quietly talking with my Father during our many night road trips.
The ’62 Plymouths and Dodges are from before my time, but they call to mind the 1977 GM B bodies whose introduction I remember well. Like that GM B/C lineup, the Chrysler duo from 15 years earlier (also coincidentally B bodies) was downsized to obtain more manageable dimensions, lighter weight, faster acceleration, and better fuel economy. Also like the 1977 GM products, the ’62 Plymouth/Dodge maintained and even increased interior dimensions. But unlike the 1977 GM B/C bodies, the downsized ’62 Dodge and Plymouth were sales flops.
The blame for this is usually placed on styling, but it must be pointed out that the ’77 GMs took some getting used to too – many found them “boxy” (both then and now) compared to the big, swoopy, curvy ’71-’76 cars they replaced. GM, though, had acclimated buyers with the boxy, er, “sheer” look with the 1975-1/2 Seville; when similar styling showed up on the on the 1977 full-sizers they looked rather like Sevilles, only larger. Nobody who bought a ’77 Caprice complained it looked too much like a Seville. Chrysler though did the opposite – they introduced their new “forward flair” styling language on the ’60 Valiant, so the ’62 Savoy and Polara looked like a low-buck economy car (Valiant) instead of an expensive luxury car (Seville). Also, GM went all in on their downsized ’77s; they didn’t keep the big ’76 Caddys around in case there was a backlash. Chrysler though didn’t seem confident in their new direction, hedging their bets by not downsizing Chryslers and Imperials, and retrenching with big Dodges partway through 1962. It didn’t help that Chrysler didn’t play up the advantages of lower size and weight in their marketing beyond some mentions of better fuel economy, quite unlike Chevy’s ’77 “That’s more like it!” ad campaign.
When these (rarely) come up on the collector car market, they’re nearly all 413 Max Wedge clones. It seems no one wants to have just the regular 225 or 318.
Growing up, a family down the street from me (father was an engineer) had a ’62 Savoy 4-door. And my elementary school science teacher, Mr. Traetto, had a ’63 Fury sedan in cream. And of course I saw many ’62 Plymouths/Dodges in the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (police cars). Haven’t seen any of the ’62s since.
So there’s your sales demographic–high IQ individuals and police. Not a formula for dominating the market.
It’s like when Adlai Stevenson was running for president in the ’50s. A pollster burst in the door and exclaimed, “Good news! Our polls indicate that among the most educated and intelligent citizens in the United States, you have overwhelming support!” Stevenson: “I’m doomed!”
Anyway, I think these cars are cool. Good luck finding one (other than on the internet).
Later on those Stevenson people ended up with SAABs.
Yep I’ve got a 1963 Dodge 330 which looks quite similar and you’re right you sure don’t find many for sale I’m thinking because of the Rarity they should be going up in value
A high school friend’s parents had a ‘62 wagon with a /6 & stick. Though not fast, I recall the Plymouth as giving little to nothing away in impromptu races with newer small block Chev & Ford wagons that seemed to be everywhere in the 60s.
Was the “smaller Chevy” that the ’62 Plymouth was supposed to go against the 1961-62 models? They were smaller than the gull winged 1959-60.
The ’62 full size Chevy and Ford were really not that “gigantic”, compared to early 70’s versions. So, average buyers were not as swayed as ‘car guys’.
The way I heard it, is that Chrysler execs caught wind of a “smaller” Chevy that was coming in the near future, so they tried to jump the gun on GM and bring the smaller Plymouth to market early. I’d always heard the “smaller” Chevy was the ’64 Chevelle, but more recently I’ve heard talk that it was actually the ’62 Chevy II!
I’ve also heard the whole Mopar reaction to this “smaller Chevy” regardless of whether it’s a Chevy II or a Chevelle, is an urban legend. My guess is that Chrysler execs were noticing a backlash against larger cars, rising popularity in smaller cars, and thought that smaller would be a good way to go.
I’ve wondered if the popularity of the ’60 Dodge Dart had anything to do with it? That car was a smash hit for Dodge, and outsold the standard-sized Plymouths in 1960. While not exactly tiny, it was still smaller than the ’59 Coronet, and perhaps showed the market for standard-sized cars that weren’t quite so huge. Chrysler’s own Windsor and then the Newport, which were on the shorter Dodge wheelbase, rather than the “traditional” 126″ DeSoto/Chrysler wheelbase, were also popular, in the face of a shrinking middle-price market, and were pretty much carrying the show, as the larger Saratoga and New Yorker were comparatively slow sellers. So with this line of thinking, that the cars could stand to go on a bit of a diet, the ’62 Dodge/Plymouth models might have seemed like a good idea.
I wonder too, if the ’62 Ford Fairlane/Mercury Meteor had any influence on Chrysler’s decision to field smaller Plymouths and Dodges?
I encourage you both to read my take on this subject:
The decision was primarily taken because the cars that had been planned for ’62 were very large, sharing the same body with Chrysler and even Imperial. This trend was suddenly seen as a dead end due to the ’58 recession, which hit large cars very hard. There was a massive backlash against the constant growth of large cars.
It’s the same reason GM downsized all of its 1961 large cars; not quite to the extent of the Dodge and Plymouth, but they were a bit smaller and lighter nevertheless. Chrysler just took it a bit further.
I’ve pretty much debunked the “overheard conversation” theory in that article, but it doesn’t matter much because downsizing was on everyone’s mind. Ford couldn’t afford to, as they had just come out with a much-too-big 1960 body and were stuck with it, but they had the Falcon.
The “mistaken” “full-size” 1962 Plymouths & Dodges were excellent cars, ahead of their time. If the US industry had followed this trend instead of constantly up-sizing for the next 10 years to follow, things may have turned out very differently.
My Grandfather traded his ’57 Dodge Coronet for a ’62 Dart 440 w/ 318 and TF in April of 1962, and about 6 mos later Dad bought a ’63 Ford Country Sedan 352 at Thorne Ford in Catonsville, this right after test driving a left-over ’62 Dodge Dart wagon similar to Grampy’s (not the big 880). I went with him, and it was so clear to me the Dodge was superior: more lively, better handling, no doubt better gas mileage, the better car all around. Comparatively the Ford was a slug. He thought the Dodge was noisy, it had the typical TF whine, so we got the Ford instead. That Ford became my first car in college 5 years later, and while it has many good memories, I still wish he’d gotten the Dodge!
I’d add that I’ve considered looking for one of these, but the obsessive “Max Wedge” morons have blown prices of ’62 and ’63 B bodies (not called that then) way out of proportion, and even mundane 4 door models have become expensive or sacrificed for parts. As we Irish say ‘feckin’ eedjits”!
So the critics loved them and the buying public hated them. The Plymouth does look better than the Dodge to me, but Exner’s original designs for the “S” series cars for the whole Chrysler lineup looked good to me. Shame they didn’t build the original ones instead.
Didn’t Ford provide a downsized choice in ’62 with the Fairlane, leaving its compact and full size cars alone?
These were eight or nine years old when I first started noticing cars as a pre-teen but even then comparing them to similar era Fords and GMs I thought they looked funny. It sounds like they were very good cars in many ways, though, especially the powertrains.
I liked the styling of these, and even liked the styling of the Dodge even better!
IMHO, it was the ’61 Dodges and Plymouths that were hit with the ugly stick.
But then I like my 2016 Civic Coupe, so I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. 🤣
Yes I like the Dodge better, but the Plymouth is good too. I think the curved side glass originally planned would have helped a lot. Mopar got their NRE back based on the longevity of the “B” body structure.
I have a JoHan ’62 Plymouth in model stash, and I’m going to be a cretin and combine it with a Lindberg ’64 Dodge chassis and 426 wedge. Looks the same as a 413. They are just bad to the bone.
The styling is what initially sunk these cars. If they had debuted with the revamped 1963 designs, they would have sold well. Not only did Chrysler improve the efficiency and performance of these cars compared to their predecessors, but their build quality was much improved, as well.
I’m always amazed at the fine-textured grille on these cars. I saw a lot of perforated sheet on juke boxes back then; that’s what the grille reminds me of.
It looks expensive (maybe too expensive for a Plymouth), but it doesn’t look as though it could pass enough air to cool the V8s. Presumably it did, or we’d hear about it.
The tires look very narrow. I’d want to upsize.
Definiitely. At first I thought it was just us being used to modern widths, but you’re right. Dad’s ’67 Falcon ran 6.95x14s, and this has 7.00s on a larger, ~400lb heavier car? And the track looks too narrow; it’s especially apparent in the lead photo.
For the 1962 model year, Chrysler Canada used the Dodge Dart instrument panel on the 1962 Plymouth. Kept the Dart, Dart 330 and Dart 440 series names/scripts.
And no Polara 500 in Canada. Base V8 was the 313.
My first car-loved it-jacked up with ET mags L60 tires-still have it
I had one as a 10 yr old rust bargain for a hundred bucks, 6 cylinder and three on the tree. I was amazed with its performance in blizzards and even the interior room! Ugly as hell, but thoroughly dependable. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it, by trading it in for a brand new 73 Buick Apollo, again with a 6 cylinder three on the tree!
My buddy has a ’63 Dodge 440 w/318 4bbl. (has earlier manifold and Carter WCFB as 4 bbl’s were not available after ’62). When it is said that engine was a “torquer”, you better believe it! That engine has such creamy torque and so smooth. I love that motor. If anyone finds a car of this vintage with the 318, snap it up, you will absolutely love it.
Family car was a 55 DeSoto 🏆 which I loved. Parents passed up chance to buy last 61 DeSoto at dealer.😟. About a year later, traded 55 for 62 Belvedere! Ugliest car ever! 🤮. Chrysler paid dearly with lagging sales. DODGE Custom 880 tried to boost sales. Car manufacturers still don’t get that there is a strong market for BIG traditional OTT luxury sedans! Sell your small vehicles to whoever wants them. Currently have beautiful low mileage Town Car Signature Limited. Last of great American luxury sedans.🏆Virgil Exners finned fantasies sent styling in a whole new direction. Unfortunately the 62 restyling went in the wrong direction. Downsizing came about due to misinformation that GM was downsizing it’s entire line. Have seen proposals for full size 62s. Not sure they would have sold much better. 🤔 At least DeSoto went down with FINS flying high!
I owned, until recently, both a 1962 and a 1963 Dodge Polara 500 convertible. There was also a 1963 Plymouth Sport Fury hardtop. Each had big blocks and drove wonderfully. I was very pleased with the styling and features. I was fine with the Ford’s and Chevrolets but for my taste the Chryslers of that time we’re superior except for build quality. Still, I defend the styling and features as excellent.