by John Samsen
After Virgil Exner had returned (after his heart attack) and Bill Schmidt had left, we Desoto designers began work on the all-new models for 1962. I was unhappy with the “canted” headlamp styling on the 1961 Desotos [and Chryslers], and was hoping to do better on the new designs.
Exner showed us his latest concept car, named Flite Wing. I liked this design better than those Exner had been doing previously. Ex told us to incorporate the basic theme of this design into the new Desoto. The design had a flat “wing” shape that flowed from over the headlamps back into the front door, and a somewhat similar shape in the rear quarters. (This was the theme he had previously used on the 1960 Valiant).
I did some sketches and a more finished rendering of my concept, and some of these ideas were incorporated in the full size clay. The designs for all the Chrysler products were about finished and presented in the show room with large black-paper renderings for company execs; then we were told to stop work. Chrysler's president, William Newberg, had overheard a GM executive talking about a smaller Chevrolet for 1962, and had demanded that a downsized Plymouth and Dodge be created.
I was assigned to John Schwartz' Dodge Studio, and we worked in shifts around the clock to produce a smaller Dodge clay. We tried to incorporate the Flite Wing theme, but the shortened design would not look as good as the full size one had. We had to use flat side glass instead of the curved glass that had been designed into the full size proposals that were now scrapped. The new designs were finished in record time, and, as is well known, were not received enthusiastically by the car buyers. Chevrolet and Ford presented full-size models for 1962, as well as mid-size ones.
It was decided to end the Desoto line, and I was then assigned to the Valiant-Lancer a/k/a Dart Studio for a short time, working on 1963 models, and then to the Plymouth Studio, where we worked on an extensive facelift for the 1963 Plymouth, trying to make the cars look longer and wider. Exner was still directing the design department at that time. I clearly remember Exner gathering the studio designers together and telling us that the cars of the future would be wedge-shaped, with high, short rear decks, and exposed wheels. I think he would have been pleased to see how cars had evolved by the 1990s and into the new millenium.
In 1961, Exner was suddenly removed from the Styling department. I was told his car was stopped at the security gates, and he was not allowed into the building. His personal possessions were brought down to him. We heard that he had been fired; years later, I learned that he had been given a room in another building, and had several years left on his contract. We designers were unhappy that he had been the scapegoat for Newberg's folly, as we understood it..
The D series, the first pickup entirely styled under Virgil Exner, was launched in 1961. Compared with the C series, the wheelbase of each model grew by about six inches, while the frames grew stronger and added a crossmember. They were harder to drive and did not handle was well, but they were also tougher and more capable.
On the light duty models, the overall height dropped by seven inches, matching the popular “long and low look” (especially with the stylish Sweptline pickups). By 1962, the flat-head sixes had been almost completely replaced by the slant six, the holdout being the Power Wagon.
The 1960 heavy duty models continued to carry over, having just been redesigned.
Chrysler's latest technological wonder, the alternator, had also been added to its trucks in 1961. This was a major advance, because it did not cook batteries like generators, yet were able to charge the battery during idle. New manual transmissions were added, as well, with greater capacities; a four speed automatic was also available.
The unique Power Wagon, sticking to its 1940s basic design, gained a 251-cube Six, and a Chrysler alternator with optional Leece-Neville alternator. The 251 had replaceable hardened exhaust valve seats, full flow filtering, and full pressure oiling, and was rated at 115 hp at 7:1 compression until 1966.
Dodge sold 140 basic models, and the gross vehicle weight range went from 4,250 lb to 76,800 pounds, including school buses and tandems.
At AMC, the slanted petite tailfins on Classic and Ambassador were eliminated for a rounded back end; the Ambassador was shrunk to the 108" wheelbase, and shared the Classic's front end clip. Otherwise, AMC’s full line, from Rambler Classic to Ambassador, continued.
The Fleetvan, developed for the Post Office, had been available to buyers outside the post office starting in 1961.
Today’s buyers associate Jeep most closely with what was then called the Universal, which was sold in three basic flavors: CJ-3B, CJ-5, and CJ6. The various CJs ranged in weight from 2,132 to 2,225 pounds, astounding light by today's standards — not just for four wheel drive vehicles, but for any cars or trucks — and they had a gross vehicle weight of 3,500 pounds, giving them a hefty payload.
The CJ3B was the oldest of the range. Most CJ6 models were exported, largely to Sweden and South America, or used by the U.S. Forest Service; it had a 20-year run, ceasing production in 1975. The Universal and Dispatcher had no automatics in 1961, and due to engine bay length, could only fit a four-cylinder (V6 engines would be used in later years).
Servo-type drum brakes were used on all wheels, with bonded linings and ten inch drums. Springs were variable rate for a good combination of smooth ride (for an off-roader) and high capacity. Metal tops and metal cabs were sold.
Not much was standard on the Universal: oil filter, oil bath air cleaner, anti-freeze, windshield wipers (without a washer), closed crankcase ventilation, front driver's seat, 35-amp alternator, and single lever transfer case. Even direction signals were optional. The frame had heavy steel channel sides with six crossmembers.
The DJ (Dispatcher) had rear wheel drive, a lower grille and hoodline, a special suspension, a single bucket seat, and different gearing from the standard Universal; its main function was to be a lightweight courier vehicle that could brave snow and unpaved roads, without needing the extra armor or bulk for snow plowing, farm duties, or rock crawling. The DJ was mainly used by the Post Office, and many came with right hand drive and a special rearview mirror on the left hand side, by the front of the hood; a full cab enclosure with sliding doors and a rear door could be added. DJ models starting at a mere 1,769 pounds for the soft-top model, and the price was lower than CJ, but they also had a less powerful engine; the F-head four would not fit under the hood, so the old L-head engine was used (thanks, S. Cook).
The Jeep Fleetvan, available to the general public starting in 1961, was essentially the DJ Dispatcher with a van body; their basic look continued onward to the later AM General postal vans. All were made in Toledo. The FJ-3 had an 81 inch wheelbase and 135 inch length, and was 90 inches tall and 65 inches wide; the basic chassis was very similar indeed to the DJ, and the exterior size of these vehicles was quite small, with no room wasted on a separate hood. The F-head four was used.
Forward Control trucks were had pickup beds or Jeep-tested-and-endorsed specialized bodies from other suppliers including tow trucks, fire trucks, and even dump trucks. Mahindra produced FC-150 models in India, after assembling Jeeps from knockdown kits starting in 1947. The FC-150 was powered by a four cylinder, the FC-170 by a six; both were available in chassis-cab, pickup, and stake forms, in four wheel drive only.
The F4-134 series of four-cylinder, trucks included chassis-cab and delivery trucks in the half-ton range, with chassis-cab and pickup trucks in the one-ton range. L6-226 trucks were sold as delivery and wagon in half-ton form, rear or four wheel drive; and as one-ton 4x4s in chassis-cab, pickup, and stake form.
The heaviest truck weighed a mere 3,564 pounds (the FC-170 stake truck).
Jeep also made station and utility wagons, essentially the same design introduced in 1946 (rear wheel drive; 4x4s came in 1947). The Station Wagon was rear wheel drive, and the Utility Wagon was four wheel drive; a Panel Delivery was also made, with windows deleted. These closely related models stayed in the Jeep lineup until 1965. The four cylinder was standard, with an optional six cylinder, and 1,000 pounds of cargo capacity. One of these wagons can be seen in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
Chrysler engineers’ third generation turbine was put into a new, Elwood Engel-designed car as well as a 1962 Dodge truck. It also went into a modified 1962 Dodge called the Dodge Turbo Dart. Styling was adapted to reflect its power plant; the bladed wheel motif of the grille and wheel covers reflected the appearance of the vital components of the gas turbine.
The car left New York City on December 27, 1961, to begin a coast-to-coast engineering evaluation. After traveling 3, 100 miles through snowstorms, freezing rain, subzero temperatures and 25 to 40 mile per hour head winds, it arrived in Los Angeles just four day slater.
The turbine exceeded expectations; every part of the engine was in excellent condition, and gas mileage was better than the “chase” car.
Lynn Townsend was president of Chrysler; he was highly respected for cutting fat and, later, for instigating Chrysler’s involvement in muscle cars. As Curtis Redgap wrote, “Townsend was an accountant by trade, however, he was also an administrative vice-president, and he was a ‘car guy.’ Townsend was horrified at the 1961 models. ... ”
Airtemp launched its new 35,000 BTU room air conditioner, designed to cool entire houses.
Sales rose above 1961 levels, but it would not be until Engel’s extensively restyled 1963 models that they would exceed their 1960 figures, much less reach 1955’s 1.5 million (plus) units.
Chrysler had been contracted to build 20 Saturn S-1 boosters in 1961, and work proceeded through 1962. Redstones made by Chrysler had a 95% successful-flight rate, while Jupiter firings were all successful. Chrysler moved into a huge plant in Michoud, since the massive Saturn rockets would not fit in Warren.
The Warren plant built the first stage of the Saturn booster.
Chrysler produced M-60 combat tanks in Warren, and Airtemp made fire control systems.
Chrysler International owned 25% of SIMCA, and had local plants in Rotterdam, Venezuela, Australia, the UK, and South Africa, with interests in Mexico (Automex) and Argentina.
In South Africa, the Valiant and Lancer appeared. The local Valiant R series started sale in January 1962.
Chrysler’s Rotterdam plant, purchased from Kaiser-Frazer, had stopped making Simcas at the end of 1961. The new Valiant and Lancer compacts were popular and became a plant mainstay.
The highly successful Simca Mille entered its first full year, with 4 wheel drum brakes, Gemmer worm and roller steering, and 5.60 x 12 tyres. With a wheelbase of 86.6 inches and a length of 149.6 inches, it tipped the scales at a mere 1,584 lb; but it was a genuine four seater with four doors, and would quickly become France’s most popular car. Once the engineers had completed the Mille, they went to work on a new car — the front wheel drive Simca 1100, the car which would spawn imitators at GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and Chrysler itself — possibly one of the most influential cars ever made.
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