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by David Zatz, with hefty edits by Lee N. Burns
The Chrysler Newport was the result of a push by Chrysler to build sales, at the expense of their brand equity; and it succeeded, easily becoming the top-selling Chrysler-branded car. Still, it was full-sized, a C-body car — albeit smaller than the “real” Chryslers.
The first Newport had been a 1940 parade car — only six were built. The second was a 1941 dual-cowl concept car.
Then the name “Newport” was used for trim lines in the 1950-56 Chrysler Windsor cars, and even for Imperials.
The Newport came out while Chrysler Corporation brands seemed to be more intent on grabbing sales from each other, than from competitors. It was basically a Dodge with the more exclusive Chrysler badge, recently burnished by the 300 “Letter Cars,” and some visual changes.
Letting people buy into the Chrysler name without paying Chrysler prices was quite popular, for a while: they sold 96,000 in the first year. Many of those sales may have come from Dodge and DeSoto buyers; the Newport undercut the similar DeSoto by $200, and was $5 cheaper than the Dodge Polara.
“A 1962 tear-down showed that the 1961 Chrysler Newport design cost $85 per vehicle less than the 1961 Oldsmobile 88, but the Chrysler’s price was higher. This convinced management to give us $100 more for the 1963 Chrysler Newport reskin: we could add pleats to the seats, carpet the trunk floor, add wheel opening moldings, etc.”
— Burton Bouwkamp, product planner
Through its life, the Newport had rear wheel drive, a standard V8, and unibody construction with separate subframes connected by the body; the front suspension was a torsion-bar setup, launched in 1957, which provided superior ride and handling over other domestics. Rear leaf-springs were cleverly set up to reduce diving during panic stops. Hypoid rear axles moved power from the three-speed manual transmission or pushbutton three-speed automatic.
The Newport had a standard 361 cubic inch V8, rated at 265 horsepower, a smaller engine than the Chrysler Windsor (383) or the New Yorker (340-horse 413). The top sport Chrysler, the 300G, used a 375-horsepower 413. Of those engines, only the “Golden Lion” 361 standard in the Newport ran on regular gas.
All the Chryslers still had fourteen-inch wheels; power steering was optional on the Newport, standard on the New Yorker. Pushbutton radios, thermostatic heat, pushbutton automatics, and cruise control, among other features, were optional. The attractive three-dimensional AstroDome control panel was used on all the Chryslers, including the Newport.
The 1961 Chrysler Newport won its class in the Mobil Economy Run, racking up just 20 mpg over 2,500 miles. It was the basis for the single-year Chrysler Enforcer police car, with a 383 V8 that did 0-60 in 8.3 seconds with a sub-17 quarter mile.
In 1962, a thinly disguised Newport — the Dodge 880 — was rushed out, midyear, to rescue Dodge dealers whose other cars had all been downsized at the wrong time; it sold fairly well, though it was ironic that a Dodge was made into a Chrysler which was then transformed back into a Dodge. The Newport’s front styling was similar to 1961, but the huge fins were knocked down to vestigials, with neatly integrated tail-lights.
The 1963 was restyled again, with a smoother, rounder look; the slant-stacked headlights were made horizontal, and tail-lights were round. Closed crankcase ventilation was added to the engines, for cleaner air with no performance hit. A new five year, 50,000 mile warranty successfully tried to combat lingering quality questions from the disastrous 1957 Chryslers. The powertrain remained the same; sales were quite good, with around 75,000 Newports made.
Burton Bouwkamp wrote, “Cliff Voss designed the 1963 Chrysler. A great design on too narrow a rear track because we couldn’t get the management to spend the money for a new rear axle housing. Also, we did not put enough money in appointments - I cringe when I think/see the stamped grille that we put in the Newport. (I was the product planning manager on the Chrysler car line at that time.)”
The 1964s saw another mild restyle, and somewhat higher sales.
The 1965s were thoroughly remade, visually; with a lower base price and the restyling, sales shot up. As in past years, the best seller was, by far, the four-door sedan. Newport buyers got a new base engine, the 383 V8, rated at 270 horsepower; the carburetor moved from the 361’s Stromberg to a two-barrel Carter BBD (based on the Ball & Ball design).
The gauge cluster looked like a flattened version of the “astrodome” 1960-62 version. A new six-window Town Sedan was added, and did fairly well in sales, though not coming close to the base four-door sedan. The hardtop roof was redesigned to emulate a convertible, right down to a stamped crease across the C-post.
In 1966, the interior was restyled somewhat, and telescopic/tilt steering was added, along with thin shell bucket seats and four-passenger seat belts with optional front shoulder belts. In another safety inspired move, the door handles were mounted at the front edge of the door armrests, where they looked like seatbelt latches. This design, which would remain on Chrysler cars from Valiant to New Yorker, reduced the chance of a door accidentally opening if the handle was caught by clothing or used as a hand grip.
The Newport came with the 270 hp 383, but could be purchased with the 325 hp 383 or the 365 hp 440.
The 1967 Newport had a new Custom trim; there were minor changes, the Town Sedan was dropped, and the car went to a “ribbon” speedometer. The “convertible-style” hardtop was turned into a “fast top.” Sales continued to be strong, with the hardtop shooting up; between Newport and Newport Custom, the company made well over 150,000 cars. The 1968s had the usual minor restylings, but continued along the same lines, with production reaching roughly 180,000 cars.
1969 brought the Fuselage Look to Chrysler’s entire lineup, with rounded sides that would not be out of place on today’s cars. The interiors also had new instrument panels that stretched across the dashboard; the panel was tilted to the driver for easy reading and fewer reflections, and covered by a brow to minimize sun washout. Numbers were white on black; at night, the entire cluster was externally lit. Gauges included an alternator gauge (charge/discharge, rather than voltage), gas level, and trip odometer. Sales were quite good, with over 200,000 Newports changing hands.
The 1970s were similar, adding a steering wheel antitheft lock: when left in Park, the steering wheel would lock into place, and couldn’t be moved without turning the lock. Newport production were nearly halved, down to around 110,000. The engine was still the 383, and the TorqueFlite was still optional; bench seats were standard. The difference was the nation’s economy, including high unemployment; the big C-bodies were spurned, and Americans flocked to the cheap old A-bodies, particularly that runaway hit, the Plymouth Valiant Duster. Chrysler snagged 39% of the domestic compact market, the largest share of any company; but the profitable big cars were hurting. Still, corporate planners planned new C-bodies for 1974, postponing investments in the break-even A-bodies.
The 1971 Chrysler Newport (and Newport Custom) continued, with new front and back styling. A cheaper Newport trimline, oddly dubbed “Royal,” was the only Chrysler to use the new LA series 360 V8. The Newports, together, sold over 100,000 units, and were by far the most popular Chryslers, led by the four-door sedans — even if they were not nearly as popular as in 1969.
New for 1971 was the Torsion-Quiet Ride suspension; a new type of rubber isolator was used in a large number of suspension locations in front, in rear, and along the steering gear.
Also new for 1971 was the part-throttle downshift on the TorqueFlite automatic; it allowed the transmission to drop a gear when the driver put their foot around a third of the way into the throttle. Evaporative emissions rules now applied to cars sold anywhere in the United States and Canada, so Chrysler installed a system that stored vapors in the crankcase, to be pulled into the engine later.
For the 1972 model year, all of the corporate C-bodies were restyled, with new sheet metal and rooflines. The Newport coupes gained a higher beltline, giving the cars a more tank-like profile; the “loop” bumper had an eerie similarity to the 1971 Barracuda. Tail lamps were made vertical and cut into the bumper.
The new corporate 400 replaced the 383, corporation-wide, compensating for lower compression ratios; it still ran on regular gas, as the 383 had. That was the new Newport base engine; a four-barrel 440 was optional, with either single and dual exhausts. The 360 didn’t appear in the brochures, apparently having been dropped, but the lower-cost Royal continued.
For 1973, a Federal mandate required new vehicles to survive a 5 mph barrier impact without damage. As on many other Chrysler products, this meant adding massive rubber guards. While some retained their loop-bumpers, the Newport front end became much more conventional. Tail lamps also received minor changes.
The company reported the length of the car as being 230.8 inches, with a 79.4 inch width. Brochures again noted just two engines, the 400 and 440, and bragged about the new electronic ignition system — standard on the Chrysler line, and in advance of competitors. The system eliminated breaker points and condensors, and made tuneups that much faster while improving cold starts.
Perhaps to stir interest in a year before a complete redesign, a few one-off C-body cars were put onto the auto show circuit. Chrysler’s was a marine-themed two-tone turquoise 1973 Newport coupe, with a porthole window (“Mariner” was etched into the glass), mahogany interior trim, special upholstery, and a ship-hull hood ornament. White side stripes terminated with a ship’s keel on the front fender. (This car was eventually purchased by an employee; the photos were taken in 2014.)
For 1974, the Newport was a completely new car — one inch lower, one inch wider, and a full five inches shorter than in 1973. An upper-level vent system kept fresh air moving around the passengers; the 50/50 front bench seats could be individually adjusted. Standard features included wheel covers, rear-seat ashtrays, dual horns, thick, color-keyed carpeting, power front disc brakes, and a big, 400 cubic inch engine. Thermostatically controlled climate control was optional. The Newport also used a modular instrument panel, with related controls placed together.
Sales still fell, as a result of the continuing gas shortages, even though Chrysler allowed buyers to swap in a 360 V8 for the standard 400 V8 starting in mid-1974. Only 70,000 Newports were made in 1974, well down from recent years, though still respectable for big cars in the gas crisis age. Chrysler Corporation had invested a huge amount in their re-engineering, and had reaped benefits in quietness and cornering; but these “C-bodies” came out at just the wrong time, as fuel crises meant that those who could find gas had to pay high prices for it.
Four door sedans were most popular Newports during these years.
Chrysler made around 60,000 Newports in 1975, another shortfall but not as bad as it could have been.
The grille was slightly altered from 1975 to 1976.
The 1977 Newports continued alongside the New Yorker Brougham, both keeping their 124”-wheelbase size. They had different front and rear styling but similar sides; both had velour seats, dual folding armrests, a reclining passenger seat, and optional leather.
The 1978 Newport was the last year for the full size cars; it had a standard 400 cubic inch Lean Burn V8, with an optional 360. The transmission now locked up in third gear (except for non-California 360s, towing packages, and high-altitude cars). The changes were new paint and vinyl-roof colors, optional sill moldings, and a Tuscany textured velour fabric; the coupe could be ordered with a “St. Regis” padded formal roof. Sales still languished; the company made under 6,000 Newport coupes, and just over 24,000 four-door sedans. That put sales below the pricier New Yorker Brougham, and well under the 108,000-strong Cordoba.
It was not the end for the name, though — the 1979 Chrysler Newport kept the flag flying, though the car was smaller, riding on a “completely new” chassis. Like the 1961 Newports, it was shared with Dodge, and the 1980-81 would be shared with Plymouth, too. Keep going for the R-Body Newports...
We also have a C-body chronology and pages for the Monaco, Fury, and Chrysler Newport in 1974-75.
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