Chrysler Corporation Cars of 1965:
On the Upswing With Imperial, Dodge, and Plymouth

The 1965 Chrysler Corporation cars, under lead stylist Elwood Engel, looked larger and longer, after the fashion of the times. Following a foolish downsize-and-redesign for 1962, the company had used visual cues to make their cars seem larger in 1963 and 1964; but now, the company finally had new full sized cars to match General Motors and Ford.

imperial limousine

The Chrysler line was conservatively and tastefully styled, albeit somewhat derivative. Chrysler’s last two major styling deviations, in 1957 and 1962, had led to quality and sales disasters, respectively. Grand styling statements would not be in the cards for many years.

Still fighting the curse of 1957, Chrysler Corporation also launched the world’s first five year, 50,000 mile powertrain warranty — though it had a large loophole, requiring 3 month/3,000 mile oil changes and other maintenance, with receipts. The warranty and cars were prominently mentioned on the popular Bob Hope Show.

imperial lebaron

All Chrysler Corporation cars, from the lowly Valiant to the top Imperial, had a front torsion-bar suspension, new to the Chrysler brand; it pushed them well ahead of GM and Ford in ride/handling. The implementation differed from body to body, particularly with the A-bodies, but it was a fairly similar system across the board, and many of the parts were interchangeable between bodies, making for easier upgrades for Dodge and Plymouth owners. (As with GM and Ford, they used rear leaf springs.)

There were no more “pushbutton automatics,” which had ended with the 1964 model year. Lanny Knutson, of the Plymouth Owners Club, proposed theories of reduced costs (by $1 per car, a large amount), a desire to increase sales to GM and Ford owners, and new SAE standards to prevent accidents when drivers got into unfamiliar cars, while John wrote that the federal government mandated a “PRNDL” sequence to be eligible for fleet purchases.

In any case, the Torqueflite transmission itself was unchanged; for this one year, Chrysler used the same kind of cable they had used for pushbuttons, and for 1966, they switched to a linkage.

Imperial: Crown and LeBaron

Imperial Crown

Imperial was the only Chrysler CorporationCorporation car that had not yet been converted to unit-body, sticking to body-on-frame design, because sales were so small — it was one of the priciest cars available, but was sold through Chrysler dealers, and never built up the credibility of Cadillac, the default for large American luxury cars.

imperial crestImperials were powered by a 340 horsepower 413 V8 engine with 470 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to a three-speed Torqueflite automatic. They used the torsion-bar front suspension, a Hotchkiss drive, 60-inch-long rear leaf-springs, and Oriflow shock absorbers, with self-adjusting drum brakes were used at all four wheels. These were all standard Chrysler technologies.

Closed models had a 129 inch wheelbase with an overall length of 228 inches and a width of 80 inches. The cars were 57 inches high, loaded.

imperial dashboard

The Imperial line was mostly carried over from 1964, with minor styling changes outside, given its low volumes. The company made around 16,000 Imperial Crowns (mostly four door hardtops), with 2,164 of the higher-end LeBarons, and just ten Crown Imperial eight-passenger limousines with Ghia bodies, which were dropped at the end of the model year.

imperial rear seats

Aside from engine, transmission, and numerous underlying parts, the bodies were totally different from Chryslers. Imperials started at $5,772 and worked up to $6,596, not including the $16,000 limousines. The most expensive Chrysler, a New Yorker wagon, cost $4,856 (substantially more than the sedan), while the Dodge-based Newport started at $2,968. Just 18,399 Imperials were built, 87% with air conditioning.

C-Body: Fury, Polara, Monaco, Custom 880, New Yorker, 300, Newport

Most Chrysler Corporation cars were variations on the “full size” unit-body chassis. Air conditioning was optional on all the C-bodies, using new in-dash vents.

Chrysler

Chrysler used a 124-inch wheelbase, which gained 240 pounds over the prior year — which they bragged about in their brochures. Their engines were the 383 and the four-barrel performance 413; Chrysler upgraded their materials and appointments, adding a stronger heater, fresh-air cowl vents, pull-out dashboard drawer, and a map tray and tissue holder in the glove compartment.

Chrysler sold, in order of increasing price, the Newport, 300, 300L, and New Yorker. About half of sales were Newports, and about half of those sales were the standard four-door sedan (61,000 made); they only made around 12,000 of the new six-window “twin sedan” Newport, which was later dropped. The Newport Wagon had 97 cubic feet of space but, partly due to its high price, was not a big seller. The company also made around 26,000 300s, 50,000 New Yorkers, and under 3,000 of the Chrysler 300L, the last of a series that began with the C300 (there were no 300A or 300B cars).

The 300L was a high-performance car, tuned for handling and acceleration, while New Yorker was the top luxury Chrysler. All had standard power steering, brakes, reverse lights, and turn signals on the fenders. New Yorker and 300L came with the 413; 300L, Newport, and 300 had a four-speed manual transmission option (no-cost, with floor shifter and tachometer).

This was the last year for the 300 “letter cars” and the 413 engine, but on the lighter side, it was the first year that the Chrysler brand ever sold over 200,000 cars in the United States.

Dodge

Dodge’s three full size cars were, in order of cost, Polara, Custom 880, and Monaco. They had a 121 inch wheelbase; even Polara (starting at $2,770 for the four-door sedan) included a 383 V8. Dodge sold 75,100 Polaras, including 22,800 wagons (both Polara and Custom 880; figures were not broken out). The Custom 880 was a higher trim level, with air-foam front seats, stainless steel window frames (on four door sedans and wagons), and 23,700 car sales.

The sales for Polara might not seem particularly high, but this was still a moderately pricey car, available in cheaper Plymouth form, and it was both a hefty achievement and a new high for the car, which would rarely be beaten.

polara sales

Finally, at the top, the Dodge Monaco was positioned against the Pontiac Grand Prix, as a two door hardtop only; it included the trim of the Custom 880, with a 315 horsepower 383, clock, remote control outside mirror, console, day/night mirror, three-spoke steering wheel, wheel covers with spinners, and other trim details. Just 13,200 were sold, with a starting price of $3,308 and a weight of an even two tons.

Plymouth

The big Plymouth Fury — a name once given only to a high performance Plymouth that beat the top Chryslers and Dodges — was sold in easily delinated trim-lines, Fury I, Fury II, Fury III, and Sport Fury (which had bucket seats, a console, special trim, and V8, but was only sold as a two-door hardtop or convertible.)

Plymouth Fury

The Fury, like all Chryslers and Dodges (but Coronet) of 1965, was on the C-body platform; the downsized “main” Plymouth from the past was now dubbed the “B” body. The basic body was shared with Dodge and Chrysler, though the latter also sold it as a six-window sedan, and Plymouth had its own, unique two-door sedan. All of the three brands used a 121 inch wheelbase for the wagons.  (The smallest cars were “A” bodies: Valiants and Darts.)

1965 Plymouth Fury dimensions

Fury I

1965 Plymouth Fury dashboard

The B-Body: Plymouth Belvedere and Satellite, Dodge Coronet

The 1964 “full size” cars were restyled and called new and “midsized;” the Plymouth was a little bigger then the Chevelle and Fairlane, both of which would grow over time. Base Plymouth cars had one tail-light on each side, upper models had two. Dodges lost two inches of wheelbase.

The B-body Plymouths were called Belvedere, a name used in the past for mid-priced cars, with Belvedere I and II models; on top, instead of Sport Belvedere, buyers found the Plymouth Satellite. The four-door hardtop of past years was dropped, and other mid-sized cars from 1964 stayed the same except for badging and trim from the cowl forward. The new Belvedere’s front end was changed to look like the Fury, as was the speedometer, which went from round to square. Bevledere started at $2,198 for the two-door, and ended at $2,827 for the Satellite convertible. Overall, a bit under 160,000 1965 Plymouth Belvederes were made.

belvederes

The Super Stock hardtop coupe, officially a Belvedere I, cost a stunning $4,671, but came ready to race.

Dodge’s B-body was the Coronet, which had been last used in 1959. The base model used a 225 slant six; 63,100 were made, mostly sixes, not including wagons (25,600 Coronet wagons were made, mostly V8s, but Dodge did not differentiate between Coronet wagon trim levels). Coronet started at $2,267 for the four-door sedan, which weighed in at 3,140 lb (price and weight for the slant six).

The Coronet 440 did not have a 440; the V8 engine was a 273. They were more popular than the base Coronet, with 75,600 made, the vast majority having V8 engines. Finally, there was a Coronet 500, with a standard 273 V8 and higher trim (around 33,000 made).

A-Body: Valiant, Barracuda, and Dart

The Plymouth Valiant was unique among American compacts, meant to be a compact car from the start; it was not a downsized version of a larger car. Its engineering was far ahead of the equivalent Ford, and its performance beat both Ford and Chevrolet.

Valiant and Barracuda

1964 had been the Valiant’s peak year of U.S. sales (227,585), if one excludes the later Valiant Barracuda, partly because it stood alone in the Plymouth line. Technically, the new 1965 Barracuda was a model within the high end Valiant Signet line, though it had no Valiant badge.

The four-barrel 273 became an option on the V-200; buyers of the base V-100 series had to settle for the two-barrel 273. Every Valiant had a heater/defroster, vinyl trim, turn signals, courtesy lights, and front armrests, starting at $1,980 for the two-door sedan with a six (the V8 was $128 more); it weighed 2,560 lb (the eight added 180 lb). Production of the base V100 ended up at around 93,000, with the V200 at around 60,000. Both were available in wagon form. Finally, there was the Valiant Signet, the top trim level, with fewer than 13,000 made.

1965 plymouth valiantBarracuda didn’t seem to add sales; its additions were countered by drops in Valiant sales. For 1965, 167,153 Valiants and 64,596 Barracudas were sold in the US, ending up with a slight sales increase over 1964, combined.

The famed Formula S package was launched in 1965; it included a 235 horsepower 273 four-barrel, a heavy duty suspension, special tires, and special trim, all of which resulted in handling that magazines said could beat many European sports cars.

Valiant and Barracuda helped Plymuth reach a new high in model year production — 683,456 (with 728,228 U.S. sales for the calendar year).

As for Dodge Dart, a long-wheelbase version of the Valiant, it was largely unchanged. The base was the Dart 170, with a 170 cubic inch slant six, starting at $2,112 and 2,660 lb. The company made 73,700 1965 Dart 170s, nearly all sixes; there were 29,400 Dart station wagons in various trims, also nearly all with sixes.

Dart 270, despite the name, kept the 170 engine, but added trim features including carpet. The price rose by around $100, yet only 52,900 were made. Finally, the Dart GT was the top trim level, with a padded instrument panel, wheel covers, bucket seats, emblems, and various bits of trim; just 40,700 1965 Dart GTs were made, all two-doors, with hardtops ($2,372) and convertibles ($2,591). The 273 V8 was around $90 extra, but still the mix was mostly sixes. (The Dart hardly fit into the rest of the Dodge line, given its current status, but would feel at home today, in V8 form.)

David Belau wrote (some duplicate information removed):

The 1965 Dart was given a minor facelift with a new front clip and oval taillights. A hotter 273 four-barrel was added to the list of engines. The stronger 8.75 rear end was now optional, along with four-piston front disc brakes.

1965 dodge dart charger

The Dart Charger is a rare edition that combined the 273 four-barrel, heavy duty suspension, mag wheels, special badges, and a unique soft yellow color exterior. A cheaper version did not include the badges.

Under the Hood: 1965 engines

Depending on the car, buyers could get [see our engines pages] the 170 or 225 slant six, and the 273, 318, 383 (four barrel), and 426 wedge V8s. Buyers could also get the 426 Hemi launched in 1964, but only for off-road racing.

The 383 two-barrel was oddly nicknamed Firebolt 270 at Chrysler, while the 383 four-barrel was nicknamed Firepower 315. The 413 (Firepower 340) had a four-barrel.

Over at AMC

1964 rambler american

American Motors was now just twelve years old, a result of the merger of Hudson Motors and Nash-Kelvinator.

by Chad Quella. The popular Rambler American had just gotten its first redesign. The Ambassador and Classic were sold in two-door hardtop form, the first AMC full-sized two-door hardtops since 1957. The “Typhoon” 232 six had been launched in 1964 as well; it would be the basis for the famed 4.0 Jeep engine, still competitive when retired in 2006.

1967 Marlin 343For 1965, Ambassador was lengthened and given a V-shaped front end with stacked headlights. Classic was restyled as well. Midway through the model year, a new midsize sport fastback was introduced on the Classic chassis, the Marlin, which sold a little over 10,000 cars despite fine, sporty styling (including an available red-and-black two-tone setup with a black roof and trunk stripe) and decent power under the hood. The Rebel, a two-door coupe derivative of the Classic, was also launched, with the four-barrel 327 V-8 four speed and dual exhaust as optional equipment.

There was not much going on at the Jeep front, with the Wagoneer launched the year before; the revolutionary independent front suspension, the first ever for a 4x4, did not make it to 1965. Jeep also sold the Universal series (CJ), and J-series “Gladiator” trucks.

Trucks

Dodge made trucks from ordinary pickups through to Class 8 tractors, using engines from slant sixes to 426 Wedge V8s and diesels.

1965 Dodge D-500 tow truck

For 1965, a major resylting brought a new grille and headlights to the D-series pickups, along with tougher new double-wall boxes that included a full-width tailgate. Wheelbases increased for some models. The D-500, pictured above, had a maximum gross weight rating of 19,500 pounds; and could accommodate up to a 14-ton hoist with extension boom. All the D-series trucks had been launched in 1961, bigger and tougher than before, with stronger frames having industry-standard 34-inch cross-members and straight frame rails for upfitters.

The standard engine was the 225 slant six, with 318 and 361 V8s optional. The new LA series 273 V8, lighter yet as powerful as the old A-series 318, was optional in 1965, as well. (See 1966 Dodge trucks in detail). The tough, powerful 383 because an option in 1967 across the board, pumping out 258 horsepower and a stunning 375 lb-ft of torque.

Sales were nowhere near as high as today, with six figures for all trucks combined being considered a good year.

U.S. Sales: a major success

As the 1965 model year was closing, the 14 millionth Plymouth rolled off the line (some claim this car was a 1966 model), setting Plymouth’s production at an average of 370,000 cars per year since 1928.

At 683,456 (others claim 746,434), Plymouth's production — including the Valiant— was up nearly 19% over 1964, its best year since 1957.

Profits were way up, given that most of the company’s costs were essentially fixed. Market share rose from 13% in 1963, to 15% in 1964, to 16% in 1965, topping out at 18% in 1967-68. The Chrysler brand was a big winner, thanks in part to the new bodies, and largely to the Newport, which dipped down in price to enter Dodge turf. In any case, it was an unusually good sales year for the brand.

chyrlser production 1960-1970

The Canada-United States Auto Pact of 1965 let manufacturers ship cars and parts across the border without dutys; so Chrysler Canada switched from making every car sold in Canada, to making single lines for the entire North American market, with others being imported as needed. Most of the uniquely Canadian cars would stop.

The Racing '65s (by Lanny Knutson)

racing scenes from 1965 - Plymouth - Richard Petty and NASCARChrysler was heavily invested in racing by the mid-sixties, battling to outdo Ford’s “Total Performance” claims on both oval and quarter-mile tracks.

Ford, taken aback by the Hemi’s rapid dominance of stock car racing in 1964, countered with a hemispherical-head of its own, this one with overhead cams. NASCAR, fearing that manufacturers would escalate into producing all-out racing engines, refused to certify not only Ford’s SOHC, but also Chrysler’s Hemi.

The Mopar people got a double whammy when NASCAR also refused to certify the Belvedere body that had been used for the past three years. Now that Plymouth had a big car, NASCAR reasoned, they could race it just as Ford and Chevy had been doing with their full size cars.

Chrysler cried “unfair,” since it was not something new that was being banned, and pulled its factory racing teams, including the popular Richard Petty. With the Mopar big boys on the sidelines, Plymouth’s colors had to be carried by a few independents, such as Buck Baker, running 426 Wedge engines in the bigger Fury bodies. Even with those handicaps, they managed moderate success. (This was the only time the C-body was seriously run in stock car racing.)

The Petty team built a Hemi-powered Barracuda, aptly dubbed “43 Jr.,” for drag racing. The car was campaigned at drag strips throughout the summer, with some success, until tragedy struck. The car flipped out of control into a crowd, killing a boy and ending Petty's drag racing venture. By this lime NASCAR was relenting on its ban, and Petty was back to racing a Hemi-powered Belvedere.

Plymouth and Dodge provided the drag racing world with a name that is now in common use. Halfway through the season, Belvedere and Coronet axles were moved forward, with the rear wheel where the back seat would normally be, to gain traction with the engine being closer to the driving wheels. Some of these altered wheelbase cars used a straight front axle from the Dodge A100 van.

With their wheels way out of place, these cars looked “kinda funny.” A new drag racing term was coined: Funny Car. “Funny Car” would come to mean a racing chassis with a flip-up fibreglass body that caricatured the real thing. But it began with those wild ’65s from Chrysler — which, like the more normal Belvedere I Super Stocks, were factory-built cars.

In-depth looks at other years • Plymouth carsDodge carsChrysler cars • Imperial carsRacing

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